Author Archives: Bob Vila

Bob Vila

About Bob Vila

You probably know me from TV, where for nearly 30 years I hosted a variety of shows – This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, Bob Vila, and Restore America with Bob Vila. You can now watch my full TV episodes online. Now it's this website that I am passionate about and the chance to share my projects, discoveries, tips, advice and experiences with all of you.

How To: Grow Potatoes

So filling to eat, so versatile to cook with, and so satisfying to plant, the lowly potato is a rewarding crop for any backyard or container gardener—even a beginner!

How to Grow Potatoes

Photo: shutterstock.com

If you’ve never tasted homegrown potatoes, prepare to be amazed. A hundred days or so after planting—more or less, depending on the variety you choose—you’ll have an abundance of spuds. Of all vegetables, these are among the easiest to grow, making them a good choice for gardening neophytes—but even veterans would do well to observe the following guidelines for success.

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- Seed potatoes
- Hoe
- Garden container (optional)
- General-purpose compost
- Watering can

STEP 1
Though it’s sometimes possible to grow crops from store-bought potatoes, it’s best to purchase chemical- and disease-free seed potatoes. Doing so gives you the power to choose a specific variety, something that’s important because different potatoes have different needs. Whereas some varieties mature in 90 days and can be planted more closely together, others mature in 110 days and should be spaced farther apart. Knowing what variety you’re planting means you can meet its specific requirements. Generally speaking, the best time to plant potatoes is two or three weeks before the final frost, once the soil first becomes workable.

How to Grow Potatoes - Detail Plant

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Potatoes are hardy and are able to adapt to different soil types. If you can, however, it’s wise to add compost to the soil in the fall, several months before you actually put the seed potatoes into the ground. When you’re ready to plant, clear away all weeds and use a hoe to break up the soil surface. Adding a few handfuls of general-purpose compost per square yard at this stage will further improve the nutrient value of your soil.

STEP 3
Plant each seed potato about six or eight inches into the prepared ground. As mentioned previously, the ideal distance between each seed potato depends on the variety of potato. A rule of thumb: Potatoes that take longer to mature often need more growing room. Before planting an individual seed potato, make sure that it has at least two eyes—bulbous protrusions from which roots grow. The eyes should face up. Cover each seed potato with three or four inches of soil, leaving the area slightly below grade.

STEP 4
As hardy as potatoes are, they are quite sensitive to drought, so remember to water on a consistent basis—once a week should suffice. If your region sees an exceptionally sunny period, however, water more frequently. By the same token, if it rains, lay off for a few days; it’s best not to let the soil become soggy.

STEP 5
Before they bloom, when the potato plants are about six or eight inches high, rake or hoe soil against the base of each plant. Known as “hilling,” this process not only supports the plants, helping them to stay upright, but it also cools down the soil in which the roots are growing. Two weeks after your initial hilling, replenish these mounds with another few inches of soil. Then—or in lieu of the second hilling—lay down a loose layer of breathable mulch (for example, leaves or straw) to protect the vines from insects.

STEP 6
The last step—perhaps the most satisfying—is to harvest your crop. For new potatoes, harvest two or three weeks after the plants flower. Harvest all mature potatoes once the plant vines have died back and lost most of their color. Bear in mind that it’s easiest to dig on a dry day, when the soil isn’t moist from watering or recent rains. Depending on the quality of your soil, you can dig with your hands right off the bat, or you may need to use a tool to loosen the ground first. The potatoes will be four to six inches below the surface, ready to be brushed off and stored in a cool, dry, dark place.

Additional Tips
- If in doubt as to when it’s appropriate to harvest, pull up one plant and assess its growth.

- About two weeks before you harvest, cut the leaves off at ground level. That gives the potato skins time to toughen, which makes the vegetables easier to store.

- Because washing potatoes shortens their storage life, don’t rinse a potato under the faucet until you’re actually ready to use it in your cooking.


How To: Use Wood Filler

Use wood filler to repair scratches, chips, gouges and other surface imperfections in the furniture and trim work around your home, effectively and efficiently.

How to Use Wood Filler

Photo: suemartinteam.com

Scarred flooring, rotted window frames, chipped furniture—common problems like these can be time-consuming and expensive to repair. Or they can be dealt with quickly and affordably by homeowners who know how to use wood filler. If you’ve never worked with this stuff before, get excited: It might soon be your favorite item in the toolbox. Simple in concept and easy to apply, wood filler works wonders to remedy surface imperfections in a vast, varied range of household items.

Which type of wood filler should you use? The answer depends largely on the job. As the name suggests, stainable wood fillers are receptive to staining so that once you’ve applied the product, you can stain over it to ensure the repaired section matches the rest of the piece that you’re fixing. Typically, water-based wood fillers may also be stained (or painted), but unlike other products in the same category, these are specially formulated for use indoors. Common applications are molding, paneling, and cabinetry. Heavy-duty solvent-based wood fillers are meant primarily for outdoor use and perform well on exterior siding and trim.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Sandpaper
- Shop vac (or tack cloth)
- Wood filler
- Putty knife
- Polyurethane sealer
- Paint or stain

How to Use Wood Filler - Exterior Detail

Photo: diyadvice.com

Working with wood filler may at first blush strike you as messy and haphazard, but precise results are not only possible, they are in fact rather easy to achieve. It’s important to note, however, that wood filler is intended strictly for superficial issues, such as scratches and gouges. If the damage calls for a proper repair, wood filler is no substitute. That said, there’s no shortage of ways in which to use wood filler to improve the look of both practical and decorative elements that have seen better days.

STEP 1
Start by preparing the surface to which you are going to apply wood filler. For one, that means removing any loose chunks of wood or flaking paint. Next, sand any rough edges in or immediately adjacent to the damaged area you wish to repair. Finally, clear away all lingering dust and debris by means of a shop vac or moistened tack cloth (if you use the latter, wait for the area to dry completely before you proceed).

STEP 2
Now, apply the wood filler using a putty knife. Start at the edge of the damaged area, pressing the wood filler into the depression. Overfill slightly to allow for the fact that the filler shrinks as it dries. Once you have applied as much filler as necessary, smooth over the filled area with a clean part of the putty knife.

STEP 3
Allow as much time as needed for the wood filler to dry. Depending on the depth of the application, that could take anywhere from 15 minutes to eight hours. Once dry, sand the filled area so that its height is flush with the surrounding wood. When you run your hand over both the undamaged and freshly filled parts of the item you are fixing, you should feel only the slightest difference between the two.

STEP 4
Having sanded the area smooth, complete the project by applying your choice of finish. In most cases, the goal will be to make the repair virtually unnoticeable. So if you’ve been working on a baseboard painted white, concealing the fix is simply a matter of painting over the filled area in the same shade.

Stained pieces are trickier to deal with. For the best possible match, it’s recommended that you dab some wood filler onto a piece of scrap wood. Wait for it to dry, then test the stain to see how it looks. Depending on the test results, you may then choose to thin out the stain, use a different color, or (if you got a close enough match) proceed to apply the stain to the item that you’ve now successfully fixed—cheaply, easily, and possibly in less than an hour.


How To: Sharpen a Chain Saw

A chain saw with a dull, poorly maintained chain won't cut cleanly or effectively—and it's a safety hazard to boot. Follow these guidelines to sharpen a chain saw sharp and keep your trusty tool in good working order.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

Photo: shutterstock.com

Like any other tool in your arsenal, a chain saw must be properly and consistently maintained in order to perform effectively. Of course, you can hire a professional to sharpen your chain saw, but most do-it-yourselfers can handle the job on their own, saving some money in the process. So if you’ve noticed that your chain saw no longer cuts as easily and cleanly as it once did, read on to learn how to sharpen your chain saw and keep the tool in good working order.

Chain saw maintenance requires a basic understanding of the tool’s component parts. The models owned by average homeowners typically include the following:
- Engine
- Drive mechanism
- Guide bar
- Chain

Lubricate
Different chain saws operate slightly differently and have different maintenance requirements. Study the manual that came with your chain saw to understand the needs of your specific model. That said, it’s almost invariably true that every part of a chain saw either must have or would benefit from lubrication. Besides occasionally inspecting the motor and chain, confirm on a regular basis that there’s a sufficient quantity of oil in the tool’s reservoir. Also check the guide bar, which holds the chain in place. It can become twisted or bent during use. Avoid problems by ensuring the integrity of the guide bar before you start up your chain saw, each and every time. Even while you’re working, it’s wise to occasionally spot-check this crucial part of what is, after all, a powerful and potentially dangerous tool.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw - Detail Blade

Photo: shutterstock.com

Sharpen the Chain Saw
There are two approaches to sharpening a chain saw. You can handle the task by means of an electric sharpener—and if you fell trees frequently, electric sharpeners are an indispensable convenience—or you can accomplish the same result manually, using a combination of muscle, sweat, and sharpening files. Electric sharpeners are used mainly by tradesmen, so these tips focus on the manual method, which is more accessible to DIYers.

The chain comprises a series of teeth. You are going to need a file that precisely matches up with the size of an individual tooth in the chain. For reference, the most common sizes are 3/16″, 5/32″, and 7/32″.

Once you’ve obtained a file of the correct size, begin work by thoroughly cleaning the chain, removing all oil, dirt, and debris. (Depending on the condition of the chain, mineral spirits may be either essential or excessive.) Look closely at the chain as you’re cleaning it. If any of the teeth are damaged, the chain may be unsafe to use, in which case you should repair it (if possible) or swap in a new chain.

For best results, you need to firmly stabilize the chain saw before attempting to file the chain. Some choose to place the chain saw in a vise, with the clamps holding the guide bar in such a way that the chain can rotate freely. Alternatively, you can enlist a helper to keep the tool steady while you work.

Locate the shortest cutter blade on the chain (the cutters are the ones with flat tops). This is where you should begin sharpening. If all the cutters are the same height, then you can start with any tooth on the chain, but remember to mark—with a pencil, marker, or even nail polish—the first one that you sharpen.

Set the file into the notched section at the head of the cutter. Holding the file at an angle—the same angle at which the notch was initially ground or most recently filed—slide the file across, twisting it somewhat so as to create friction. From that initial cutter, proceed to file every second cutter around the chain. Now reverse the saw and proceed to file each of the teeth that you left alone in the course of your first pass. When you’ve finished, the flat tops of all the cutters should be more or less precisely the same length.

Finally, inspect the depth gauges (these are the curved links between the cutters). Each depth gauge, or raker, should be shorter than the adjacent cutter. If you find a depth gauge whose height exceeds that of the closest cutter, file down the raker so that it sits about 1/10″ below the height of its cutter counterpart.

Now that you know how to sharpen a chain saw, bear in mind that the more frequently you use the tool, the more often it’s going to need maintenance. In fact, if you are using the chain saw for hours on end over the course of a day, you may need to pause at some point in order to restore the chain’s sharpness. Also, be aware that chain saws are likely to show wear in some areas more than others. Pay special attention to the area near the tip of the saw, particularly if you often use it for cutting tree limbs.


How To: Install a Window Air Conditioner

With these simple tips, it's a breeze to install a window air conditioner quickly and securely!

Whereas putting in a central air conditioning system typically requires a professional crew, installing a window air conditioner is a cinch. Even a self-described hopeless amateur ought to have little trouble here. In fact, you’re likely to become somewhat of an expert on the process, being that most homeowners choose to remove window air conditioners at the end of the summer and reinstall the units the following year. Bear in mind, however, that not all window designs are meant to accommodate such a large, unwieldy box. The following instructions apply only if you wish to install a window air conditioner in a sash or double-hung window.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Window air conditioner
- Drill
- Screwdriver
- Insulating foam strips

STEP 1
Window air conditioners are sold in a variety of sizes, and each model has a different cooling capacity, rated in BTUs. Many online calculators exist to help you identify the number of BTUs needed to efficiently cool a room of a given size. BTUs aren’t your only concern, however. You also need to be certain that the unit physically fits in your window. Before you shop, measure the width of the window opening and don’t purchase any air conditioner whose housing wouldn’t leave about two inches of wiggle room on either side.

How to Install a Window Air Conditioner - Exterior

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Once you’ve purchased and unpacked an appropriately sized air conditioner, you’re ready to install it—but first, grab a friend. Two pairs of hands are best for all but the very smallest air conditioners. Before you move on, attach any provided rails, flanges, or accordion-style panels (or wings) according to the manufacturer’s instructions, using the provided screws. Now your first step is an easy one: Open the window! Open it wide enough to accommodate the height of the air conditioner. Next, pick up the unit and rest it on the bottom of the window frame. Have your helper hold the unit in place while you see to the remaining tasks.

STEP 4
Most window air conditioners are designed with two flanges—one that runs along the top of the unit, another along the bottom. These flanges facilitate the installation process and improve the air conditioner’s stability. After positioning the bottom flange so that it abuts the windowsill, proceed to lower the window sash (which you had raised in Step 2) until its bottom rail meets the top flange on the unit. The air conditioner should now be held in place by the top sash, but have your helper keep hold of it lightly until you’ve completed the next step.

STEP 5

Your air conditioner probably came with one or two small angle brackets that must be used to secure the two sashes together, preventing them from slipping apart or from being accidentally opened, either of which occurrences could cause the air conditioner to fall out of the window. Place the angle bracket against the top sash where it meets the top of the bottom sash. Mark where the screws should go, drill pilot holes, and tighten the screws using a screwdriver. Extend the accordion-style panels (which you attached in Step 2) and secure them to the window using the manufacturer-provided screws. At this point, make sure that all screws that came with the unit have been secured according to the instructions.

STEP 6
The last step is to seal the opening between the upper sash and the lower sash, which has been raised to accommodate the unit. Your air conditioner should have come with a foam insulating strip. Cut it to length, then fit it snugly into the gap between the lower sash and the glass panes of the top sash. If your unit didn’t come with an insulating strip, you can—and should—buy one at your local home improvement center and install it.

Additional Tips
- If you choose to remove the air conditioning unit before the winter, remember to store it upright in a dry location.

- If your air conditioner came with L-brackets, be sure to put these in place before lifting the unit into the window.


What Would Bob Do? Leveling a Concrete Floor

There are a number of options for leveling a concrete floor. Read on to learn which approach is best for your needs.

How to Level a Concrete Floor

Photo: shutterstock.com

I’d like some advice on how to level a concrete floor. We plan to finish the basement in my house, and there are going to be a couple of sump pumps, so we no longer need the old drain in the middle of the floor. Thanks!

There is no one way to level a concrete floor. Of all the methods available to do-it-yourselfers, which should you employ? That largely depends on how level you want to make the concrete. And that question, in turn, hinges on a related but different question: What type of flooring do you plan to install in your basement?

If you envision carpeting or another type of floor that forgives minor variations in subfloor grade, such as engineered wood or click-and-lock vinyl, then you can probably opt for the least labor-intensive method. Here, a concrete grinder would do the bulk of the work. (You can rent this tool from your local home center.) You’d use it to grind down the most prominent ridges in the floor. To finish the job, you would then mix up a small batch of concrete and use it to fill in any dips or depressions.

If you want to install tiles that glue down, things get a bit trickier. For a successful installation, the concrete floor beneath the tile needs to be more or less perfectly level and smooth. That’s true for compact tiles and even more critical for larger ones, including the popular 1-by-2-foot size. With small tiles, the maximum differential between the lowest and highest point on the floor is 1/4 inch per 10 feet; with larger tiles, the acceptable differential is a mere 1/8 inch per 10 feet. To achieve such flatness, use a self-leveling compound. These come in powdered form and are mixed with water and a fortifying agent. You end up with a thin liquid that when poured from a bucket flows across the existing uneven concrete. Gravity will bring the liquid to a level, but you can help the process along with a broom or trowel.

When it comes to mixing and applying the self-leveling compound, closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions, because every product differs slightly. Generally speaking, though, no matter what compound you choose, you’ll need to take similar steps to prepare the basement beforehand. For one thing, it’s important to remove any flaking paint or loose adhesive from the floor to ensure that the compound can get a good grip on the concrete. Also, so you don’t need an excessive quantity of compound, it’s not a bad idea to grind down any spots on the floor that are especially high. And of course, if there’s a drain—and you mentioned that there is one—it must be capped and sealed around the seams of its cap. Word to the wise: Wear cleats in case you need to walk across the compound while it’s still wet.

Once the self-leveling compound has set, you can proceed to install your chosen flooring. Alternatively, if you’ve had enough DIY for now, remember that you can eschew a finished floor, opting instead to stain, paint, or polish the compound that now forms the top layer of your concrete basement floor slab.


How To: Get Rid of Wasps

How to Get Rid of Wasps

Photo: shutterstock.com

Springtime and summer are lovely times of year, but they do usher in a host of seasonal hazards, perhaps none more fearsome than wasps. Not only are wasps annoying, buzzing in your ears and hovering over your picnic, but they are also more likely than most bees to actually sting you. To minimize the presence of these pests on your property, the most important thing you can do is to destroy any wasp nests that you come across. Although it’s not especially difficult or time-consuming to get rid of wasps in this way, you are going to need courage, first and foremost, and like any soldier heading into battle, you must arm yourself with the right weapons. Many potent (and oftentimes toxic) chemicals are sold commercially for the purpose of ridding homeowners of wasps, but we recommend handling the problem the old-fashioned way. Continue reading to learn how you can get rid of wasps using little more than soap and hot water.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Large bucket
- Dishwashing liquid
- Water
- Protective clothing
- Courage!

STEP 1
If you haven’t done so already, the first step is to locate the wasp nest. There are at least two strategies, one more sophisticated than the other. First, if you are able to distinguish the species of wasp, you can then proceed to research its nesting habits. Some wasps prefer trees, while others prefer manmade structures. Knowing the enemy enables you to narrow the search range so that you can find the nest more quickly. Alternatively, simply walk around the property, checking all those snug, out-of-the-way hiding places that wasps are known to haunt—roof eaves and rafters, wall cavities, crawlspaces, railings, fence posts, and tree branches.

STEP 2
When you set out to get rid of wasps, let’s face it: You face the risk of getting stung. That’s why it’s only common sense to wear full protective gear. No, it’s not necessary to go out and buy a beekeeper’s suit. But it’s only prudent to cover up well, and in layers. Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt under a thick jacket, gloves, socks and shoes, and a hat paired with a bandana (the latter to cover your face). Oh, and don’t forget to tuck your pants into your socks!

How to Get Rid of Wasps - Nest

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 3
Having properly equipped yourself for battle, you are now ready to attack. Choose your battle plan:

Boiling Water
Pouring a bucket of boiling water onto the wasp nest accomplishes two things. One, it immediately kills scores of wasps and two, it ruins their nest. However, it may take a few buckets full to destroy the nest and to completely detach it from where it was hanging. Meanwhile, you’re likely to have upset dozens of stinging wasps. The wise course is to stage your attacks several hours (or even a full day) apart.

Water With Soap
A second method—similar but slightly superior to the first—involves the addition of liquid dishwasher soap to the boiling water before you pour it on the nest. OK, why the soap? Because it bogs down the wasps, making it more difficult for them to counterattack. Again, it’s probably going to take you more than one bucket to destroy the nest, but this way, you’re less likely to get stung in the process.

STEP 4
Timing is everything. It’s best to approach the nest at night, when most or all of the wasps are inside it. While it may seem counterintuitive to mount your attack when the wasps are “at home,” but experience has shown that wasps pose less of threat inside the nest than flying around it.

Good luck, noble warrior!


How To: Install a Medicine Cabinet

Add beauty and storage to your bath by installing a medicine cabinet. Choose one that is wall-mounted—rather than inset—and the project becomes even more suitable for DIY.

How to Install a Medicine Cabinet

Photo: hgcinc.biz

Add storage to your bathroom—and in the process, give the space a jolt of fresh style—by installing a medicine cabinet. Even if you’re new to home improvement, installing a medicine cabinet makes for an excellent do-it-yourself project. That said, the process entails complexities best addressed through a careful, deliberate approach. Read on to learn how to install a medicine cabinet that mounts to the wall (as opposed to being recessed into the space between wall studs behind the drywall or plaster).

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Pipe locator
- Flush-mounted medicine cabinet with fixings
- Spirit level
- Pencil
- Drill
- Screwdriver

STEP 1
To install a medicine cabinet, you’ll need to drill into the walls. Since bathroom walls often conceal a warren of pipes and wires, it’s only prudent to make sure you won’t accidentally disturb any vital conduits of water or electricity (in the worst case, such a mistake could bring about extensive, expensive damage to your home). Stay on the safe side and run an electronic pipe locator over the area of the wall into which you are planning to drill. So long as the “coast is clear”, you can proceed.

How to Install a Medicine Cabinet - Chest Detail

Photo: signaturehardware.com

STEP 2
Next, position the medicine cabinet flush to the wall, approximately where you are planning to install it. Is the face of the cabinet mirrored? If so, pay close attention to the cabinet height; it should be at eye level. Finally, confirm that nothing (doors, fixtures, etc.) would be obstructed were the cabinet to be permanent.

STEP 3
Having determined the best place in which to install the medicine cabinet, enlist a friend to continue holding it in place. Meanwhile, reach for the spirit level, placing it on top of the cabinet (assuming there’s a ledge; if not, simply hold it against the top edge.) Make minor adjustments until you have gotten the cabinet to be perfectly level, then draw lines where the top and bottom edges of the frame meet the wall.

STEP 4
With your helper still holding the cabinet, open its door (or doors) and find the holes on the rear interior. On the wall, pencil an X-mark to correlate with each one of the installation holes that you identified on the cabinet. For the time being, take the cabinet away from the wall and set it aside at a safe distance.

STEP 5
Look at the hardware that came packaged with the cabinet; outfit your drill/driver with a bit whose size matches that of the hardware; then drill holes in the wall wherever you penciled an X-mark in Step 4. Tread carefully here; if the drilled holes are too large, then chances are the cabinet is going to wobble.

STEP 6
Position the cabinet back on the wall, matching its top and bottom edges to the pencil lines you drew in Step 3. While your helper holds the cabinet, screw the fasteners through each of the holes on the back of the cabinet. Don’t attach them tightly until you are satisfied the cabinet is precisely where you want it.

Additional Tips
• Temporarily tape the door (or doors) closed so as to safeguard against damage caused during installation.

• Power tools and moisture don’t mix: Before using the drill/driver, make sure the area is completely dry.

• Don’t worry about the pencil marks remaining visible post-installation. They can be removed via eraser.


How To: Hang a Hammock

Who doesn't dream of whiling away the afternoon cradled comfortably in a hammock? Make it your summer reality by following these easy tips on how to hang a hammock in your backyard.

How to Hang a Hammock

Photo: shutterstock.com

Laying in a hammock is the epitome of summertime relaxation. Getting the hammock set up, on the other hand, can be a frustrating endeavor. Consult the tips below to make quick and easy work of the process so that soon, you will have gone from hanging the hammock to hanging out in its comfy, swaying embrace.

Location
Choosing a location for your hammock is perhaps the most difficult part. While you probably don’t have the perfect pair (and ideally spaced) palm trees on your property, you might very well have two healthy oak, maple, or beech trees that are strong enough to support your weight. Ideally, those hardwoods would be as far apart as the total length of your hammock, fully stretched out.

If the trees are too close together, the underside of the hammock is going to scrape along the ground. If the trees are too far apart, you’ll need to extend the reach of the hammock by means of an added-on rope or chain. While there’s a simple remedy for the latter problem, there’s unfortunately no fix for the former (other than to buy another, smaller hammock). Note, however, that it can be a mistake to extend a hammock any more than 18 inches at each end. Doing so leaves it vulnerable to ripping. So if you fully anticipate having to add extensions, only consider buying a hammock outfitted with a spreader bar to inhibit rips.

How to Hang a Hammock - Detail Suspension

Photo: shutterstock.com

Suspension
For obvious reasons, it’s important to establish a secure connection at each end of the hammock. One option is to use tree-fastening straps (which may or may not be included with your purchase). These straps feature a loop on one end and a metal ring on the other. Simply wrap the strap around the tree, pass the loop through the metal ring, then attach the hammock to the ring with S-hook hardware. One virtue of tree-fastening straps is that while effective, they cause no harm to the trees involved.

Though there are countless hammocks on the market, most fall into one or two design categories. First, you have traditional hammocks, and then you have hammocks with spreader bars (like the one pictured at right). Traditional hammocks are meant to hang loosely between two trees, with the center dipping down. Since they get attached to points that are six to eight feet high up on nearby trees, you can, in a pinch, consider using tree branches, not tree trunks—so long as the branches offer sufficient heft.

The other type of hammock involves spreader bars, which force the hammock to remain open, so the occupant never becomes wrapped up in a hammock burrito. Unlike the traditional design, hammocks with spreaders hang only four or five feet from the ground. Also, whereas a traditional hammock hangs loosely, these hammocks hang taut; when unoccupied, they are virtually parallel with the ground.

Remember that the wonderful thing about hanging a hammock is that once you’ve finished the job, your reward is right there in front you. Collapse into your new favorite spot—hey, you’ve earned a break!


How To: Start a Lawn Mower (and Troubleshoot Common Problems)

Starting up a lawn mower should be easy, right? But occasionally, particularly after a long, dormant winter, a mower can be tough to start. To get your mower humming along, follow these simple steps—and if it balks, try our tips for troubleshooting.

How to Start a Lawn Mower

Photo: shutterstock.com

Regular mowing is not only beneficial to the look of your lawn, but also to its health. Whether you’ve recently purchased a new grass guzzler or have finally dragged out your old machine for the new season, it’s not uncommon to be frustrated when trying to start up the lawn mower. Of course, different mowers operate slightly differently, but the following guidelines can help you start a lawn mower of the most common type—that is, gas. If you’ve followed the steps outlined here and still cannot start your lawn mower, be sure to consult the troubleshooting tips offered at the bottom of this post.

STEP 1
Safeguard the mower blades against damage by taking the time to remove all objects from the parts of your property given over to grass. Clearing the way entails not only picking up children’s toys and moving lawn furniture, but also addressing any tree branches that have fallen or rocks that have been unearthed.

STEP 2
Next comes a step that may seem glaringly obvious, but which, on account of its simplicity, some homeowners forget: Confirm the presence of oil and gas in the mower. Are you readying a new gas-powered mower for its first go on your grass? Consult the manual to learn the fuel and oil recommendations for the specific model you now own.

STEP 3
With the mower all set to go, press the primer button three to five times in order to channel gas into the engine. If, however, you’ve used the mower recently, you should be able to skip this step. Priming the engine is necessary only after a prolonged period during which the lawn mower has not been used (over the winter, for instance).

STEP 4
Notice how there are two handles on the lawn mower, each running horizontally only inches apart from the other. Press and hold these handles together, keeping them together as you pull the starting rope. Do so quickly and with considerable force. That action should cause the mower engine to turn over. Sometimes, as you have likely experienced in the past, it can take several attempts before pulling the starting rope achieves the intended result: a purring motor.

How to Start a Lawn Mower - Detail Mower

Photo: shutterstock.com

Troubleshooting Tips
You’ve checked and rechecked the mower for oil and gas. You’ve pulled the starting rope so many times that your arm is sore. You’ve flipped through the owner’s manual, muttering curse words all the while. At times, lawn mower maintenance can be truly exasperating. When all else fails, consider these possibilities:

• If you know that there’s oil and gas in the mower, but the engine still refuses to start, it’s possible that either the carburetor has flooded or the cylinder has become soaked with gas. (The smell of unburned gas is a telltale symptom.) Leave your mower on level ground for at least 15 minutes, which should allow enough time for the gas to evaporate from within the mechanism.

• If you are returning to your lawn mower after having left it to spend the off-season in your garage, any gas that was left in the machine may have gone bad. If you think that could be your issue, observe the mower the next time you try to get it going. Does it appear to start up, then quickly stall out? The fix is simple: Siphon out the old gas, replacing it with fresh fuel.


What Would Bob Do? Installing a Screen Door

A screen door is a great thing to have. It lets in cooling breezes in the summer and protects your front door from harsh weather in the winter. If you're in the market for a new screen door, or just want to replace the one you have, here are some tips on purchasing the right door for your house.

How to Install a Screen Door

Photo: smithandvansant.com

I’m going to install a new screen door. Any advice or time-saving suggestions on how to go about it?

It’s relatively easy to install a screen door, but to avoid hassles it’s imperative that you choose the right kit (these are commonly sold at brick-and-mortar home centers as well as through online suppliers). But of all the many screen door kits on the market, how do you know which one is right for your home?

For one thing, the screen door must be the right size. If you are putting in a screen door where there wasn’t one before, you must start by determining the dimensions of the door opening. Measure the width and height of the space within the door trim; do so at a few different points along each side (chances are things are not perfectly level or plumb). Now select the standard door size that corresponds most closely to the smallest width and height measurements that you took. If there’s only a small deviation between the opening and the nearest standard door size, filler strips can help you achieve a snug fit. If, however, the door opening is 3/8 inch wider than the nearest standard width, or if it’s more than 7/8 inch taller than the standard height, you are going to need a custom door.

How to Install a Screen Door - Detail Door

Photo: maplestone.biz

If, on the other hand, you are installing a new screen door to take the place of an older one, there’s much less measuring to do. Confirm the dimensions of the door you’re replacing so that you know what size door you need to buy. Also, note the locations of the hinges on the existing door. If the latch is on the right side and the hinges are on the left (when you’re looking at the door from the outside), that means you have a right-hand door, also called a right-swinging door. The opposite, of course, is a left-hand door. Your new screen door should match not only the size, but also the door-swing direction of the panel you are replacing.

I highly recommend opting for a screen door that comes preassembled. Installing these novice-friendly designs requires only basic tools and a minimal investment of time. The popular manufacturer Andersen, for example, estimates it would take the average do-it-yourselfer in the ballpark of one hour to install its “rapid-install” series 3000 preassembled models.

Here’s another tip to help you save time: Choose what’s known as a self-storing door. These designs greatly simplify the twice-a-year task of exchanging the screen for a glass panel and vice versa. In the manner of a triple-track storm window, the door integrates both screen and glass panels; you can easily slide one or the other into use as the season requires.