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: Make Your Own Furniture Polish

A coat of polish adds shine to furniture, restoring luster you didn't even know was lost, while preventing the wood from drying out and becoming brittle. Here's how to save money and make your own polish.

Homemade Furniture Polish

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Wood furniture is no small investment. In covering the expense, we are comforted knowing that what we are buying can last a lifetime or longer. For that to be true, however, a modest degree of care is required. The benefit of polishing is twofold: Not only does it add shine to the wood surface in the short term, but it also prevents the wood from drying out and becoming brittle, which benefits the piece over the long haul. Of course, anyone can buy a product in the local hardware store, but homemade furniture polish is so easy to make that you might consider spending your money, not on polish, but on more furniture!

Homemade Furniture Polish, Unscented
You will need:
- Oil (preferably pomace or jojoba)
- White vinegar

Mix either pomace or jojoba oil (both of which are cheap, non-food-grade oils that have long shelf lives and little color) with white vinegar. A ratio of around ¼ cup of oil to a few drops of vinegar is standard, but you can vary the amounts to experiment with the consistency of the polish. The more oil you add, the more lubricating the polish. Just know that using too much oil can leave the homemade furniture polish a bit oily to the touch. Increasing the amount of vinegar gives the final product a sharper scent and improves its cleaning ability.

Homemade Furniture Polish, Lemon Scented
You will need:
- Lemon oil
- Squeezed lemon
- Oil (preferably olive or jojoba)

Homemade Furniture Polish - Detail Ornament

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Make a small amount of scented polish using 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2-3 drops of lemon oil, and 2-3 drops of oil (again, we suggest pomace or jojoba oil for their long shelf lives and colorlessness). You can double or triple the batch depending on the size of your project. Combine the ingredients well to make a homemade furniture polish that leaves a lingering citrus scent.

Applying the Polish
Simply dip a soft cloth into the homemade furniture polish, using the moistened cloth to rub down your wood furniture, always in the direction of the grain. You should see the furniture start to regain its luster almost immediately. So as not to miss a spot, be certain to rub the polish thoroughly into any intricately carved areas. Once finished, leave the wood to air dry.

Additional Notes
Before you polish, check the wood for any water marks; these often appear as white spots or rings from where a hot plate or a cool glass sat on its surface. One popular method of removal involves a little mayonnaise. Squirt a dot of the real, full-fat variety—not a light version or a mayo substitute—and gently rub it into the stain. Let the condiment sit for 15 minutes (or a few hours, if it’s a stubborn spot), then wipe it away. The mayonnaise should pull the moisture out of the wood’s surface. When the wood is clear again, proceed to polish the table in the manner described.


Bob Vila Radio: How to Hush a Noisy Radiator

If your steam-heat radiator is keeping you up all night, banging and clanking, here are a few quick fixes.

Steam-heat radiators may be good at keeping you warm, but their banging and clanking can also sometimes keep you up at night.

Noisy Radiotor

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Listen to BOB VILA ON NOISY RADIATORS or read the text below:

Most steam radiators are connected to a pipe that’s fitted with an intake valve. That pipe doesn’t only feed steam in; it’s also supposed to release the steam that’s condensed into liquid water. When enough water accumulates to block steam from entering the radiator, that’s when you hear noises.

So if your radiator starts serenading you, try tilting the radiator slightly toward the intake valve. You can do that by inserting a couple of shims under the end that’s opposite the valve.

If that doesn’t work, it could be the steam is losing heat and condensing before it even gets to the radiator. Think that’s your problem? Try insulating the pipes.

Another possible cause: The steam vent on the radiator isn’t working properly. Replace it.

Chances are one of those fixes will work and you’ll soon be getting your shut-eye.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


How To: Dispose of Paint

Improper disposal of household paint cans is bad for the environment, potentially dangerous for sanitation workers, and—in some localities—subject to fines. Here's how to do it safely.

How to Dispose of Paint

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No matter what you’re painting—your home’s exterior, the living room, or the dresser you recently bought secondhand—every project seems to leave you with a frustratingly minute quantity of leftover paint, usually much too little to keep for future use. So how do you get rid of it? Well, there are several ways to dispose of paint. The best method depends on the type of paint in question. Read on to learn how to dispose of the three types of paint most commonly used in homes—latex, oil, and spray paints.

How to Dispose of Paint - Can Detail

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Latex Paint
Due to environmental concerns, leftover latex paint can neither be poured down the drain nor thrown in the trash. If there’s really only a tiny bit left, either air-dry it or use up the remainder on some cardboard. You can then recycle the empty paint can, if not through curbside pickup, then at a local waste facility.

If there’s more than a little paint left, take action to harden the paint. You can try materials you have on hand, such as sawdust or scrap paper, or opt for a waste paint hardener. The latter is readily available in hardware stores and home centers. Simply mix the hardener into the paint, closely following the instructions provided. Let it stand for the recommended period of time, after which the paint should be hard as a rock. You can now throw the can away (but you cannot recycled a can with hardened paint).

If it’s a full or nearly full can and you simply no longer want the paint (and you cannot return it to the store where you made the purchase), call your local home resale store or a charity with an office nearby.

Oil-Based Paint
Oil-based paint qualifies as hazardous household waste (HHW). As such, it comes with limited disposal options. You may recycle a completely empty can, but things get tricky if there’s paint left. If you’re prepared to spend money to avoid a hassle, you may want to contact a hazardous waste vendor. Alternatively, consult your local government for advice, or contact the big-box home improvement store closest to where you live. In many counties, there are drop-off dates on which HHW material is accepted. A full (or nearly full) can of oil-based paint would be much easier to donate than to dispose of properly.

Spray Paint
Half-full cans of spray paint are potentially dangerous; they can explode under heat or pressure. It’s important not to throw out a can until it’s completely empty. Spray the remaining contents on a piece of cardboard until you’re certain there’s nothing left. Once empty, add the can to your regular recycling.

As you can see, disposing of paint properly isn’t always a breeze. One thing is certain, however: No matter the type of paint, it’s easier to deal with an empty can than with one that’s half full. So if you’re stuck with leftovers, you’ve now got a very good reason to get started on that painting project you’ve been thinking about!


Bob Vila Radio: Protect Trees from Lightning

This time of year, thunderstorms are inevitable. Before bad weather comes to your neck of the woods, consider taking steps to protect the trees that contribute so much to the beauty—and value—of your property.

Beautiful trees enhance the look and value of residential properties, so no wonder people spend so much time trying to keep them healthy. One step you can take to ensure trees stay healthy is to protect them from lightning.

How to Protect Trees from Lightning

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Listen to BOB VILA ON PROTECTING TREES FROM LIGHTNING or read the text below:

Trees attract lightning for a couple of reasons. One, they’re tall. Two, they’re filled with an excellent conductor of electricity—water. Protection usually involves installing a copper cable that’s affixed to a lightning rod at the top of the tree and runs down to a long copper stake that’s driven into ground beyond the tree’s drip line. The cable isn’t attached directly to the tree. Instead, it’s mounted with special fasteners that keep it away from the trunk.

Protection doesn’t come cheap. The tab for protecting a large tree can run into several thousand dollars. If that gets you thinking of installing a cable yourself, you’ll want to ensure it’s done right. Nailing a cable directly to the trunk of a tree can attract strikes and end up doing more harm than good.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.



Bob Vila Radio: Dodge the Dangers of Demolition Work

Before you dive into demolition, understand a few things about how to safely undertake these types of jobs.

Demolition is one part of the remodeling process that most homeowners can lend a hand with. But there are some important points to keep in mind.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON DEMOLITION or read the text below:

Before you start cutting into sheetrock, make sure you know where all your plumbing, electric, and cable lines are located. Same for heating and AC components.

If you’re planning to do anything with a wall, first check in the basement to see if the floor joists run parallel with the wall upstairs. If they do, chances are it’s a load-bearing wall, meaning it’s integral to the structure of the house and should only be altered by someone who’s qualified.

Having the right tools makes demolition jobs a lot easier. The basics include hammers, screwdrivers, pry bars, and a reciprocating saw. It’s also a good idea to have a dumpster handy to keep the work area clear.

And don’t forget safety gear—eye, ear, and lung protection are all important. So too is a hard hat. They’ll lessen chances your job will be postponed by a trip to the emergency room!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day. 


Bob Vila Radio: Pros and Cons of Cathedral Ceilings

There are many reasons to love cathedral ceilings—and one big reason to temper your affection.

Vaulted ceilings, also called cathedral ceilings, have some great attributes, but others you may not be so fond of. On the one hand, they do give your room a light and airy feel, and they can make a small room appear bigger than it really is.

Cathedral Ceilings

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Listen to BOB VILA ON VAULTED CEILINGS or read the text below:

But when it comes to energy efficiency, cathedral ceilings a bit of a bust, especially during the winter. That’s because air you’ve spent your money to heat ends up at the peak of the ceiling, not down where it can keep you warm (although a ceiling fan can help with that).

As an energy-saving alternative, you might consider what’s called a ‘tray ceiling.’ Tray ceilings look like conventional flat ceilings, except all but the outer part of the ceiling is raised a foot or so. The reduced height of a tray ceiling can help keep your heating bills within reason, but you’ll still get some of that light-and-airy feel.

Before you start cutting into collar ties, be sure to check with a contractor or structural engineer.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


How To: Remove Poison Ivy from Your Yard

If poison ivy crops up on your property, you can remove it chemically, naturally, or—if you're ready to get your hands dirty—physically.

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Homeowners know too well that not all greenery contributes to the beauty of a garden. Weeds, for instance, are a chief nuisance, and the meticulous among us have spent countless weekend hours picking dandelions, nettle, and thistle out of the ground. But even in their multitudes, weeds are more or less benign when compared to the itchy threat posed by poison ivy. If you spot these vine-like plants, with their telltale trio of pointed leaves, you can resign yourself to the inevitability of suffering a painful red rash, or you can take action. We highly recommend the latter! Read on to learn three different ways to get rid of poison ivy.

Chemicals
Upon realizing there’s poison ivy growing on their property, most people enlist a store-bought herbicide. Before purchasing any, double-check that the product in question contains either glyphosate or triclopyr. (Because both of these chemicals kill most other plants in addition to poison ivy, you may wish to use an alternative method, depending on whether or not the poison ivy abuts plant material you would like to keep alive.) Closely following the product directions, fill up a spray bottle with the herbicide and apply it directly to the leaves of the poison ivy. Remember: Herbicide is potent stuff, so be careful where you’re spraying. If, for instance, the poison ivy is climbing up the trunk of a tree, take pains not to get any herbicide on the tree bark. Instead, dab a bit of herbicide directly onto the individual leaves of the poison ivy plant. Once you’ve finished treating the area, monitor it on and off for the next couple of weeks, reapplying if and when the poison ivy reemerges.

How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy - Leaf Detail

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Naturally
If you steer clear of commercial herbicides because of the chemicals they contain, experiment with an organic approach. You need not look any farther than your kitchen pantry for an active ingredient. It turns out that salt, in high enough concentrations, works to kill most unwanted plants, including poison ivy. But you can’t simply sprinkle it around. First things first, concoct a saline solution by mixing three pounds of salt, a gallon of water, and a quarter-cup of dish soap. Fill a spray bottle with your homemade herbicide and apply it directly to the poison ivy leaves. Do so on a clear day, allowing the salt the opportunity to do its job before rain washes it away. Check back occasionally and continue to re-apply the herbicide until the poison ivy no longer returns. Be careful not to spray the herbicide onto neighboring plants, unless you’re willing to bid them farewell.

Get Physical
The least hands-off method is perhaps the most effective way to get rid of poison ivy. Provided you own a good pair of work gloves (and a set of full-sleeve clothing), the answer to your problem can be as simple as digging up the poison ivy with a garden trowel. To remove all the roots, be sure to excavate each plant to a depth of around eight inches. Also, take extra care in outfitting yourself for the task. It’s not a bad idea to go so far as using duct tape to seal the seam between your gloves and shirtsleeves (and between your pants and socks).

Whatever method you choose, fully getting rid of poison ivy requires patience and persistence. If a plant reemerges, keep at it with your chosen method, always being careful to keep your skin protected as you work.


Don’t Forget to Fertilize Your Lawn This Fall!

Spring may be the season of growth and renewal, but if you're serious about cultivating healthy and beautiful grass, it's what you do in fall that makes or breaks next year's lawn.

How to Fertilize Lawn in Fall - Spreader

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Autumn is generally seen as the season of winding down before winter dormancy. But when it comes to lawn care, fall is a busy time. What you do now goes a long way toward safeguarding the health your grass, not only for the immediate future, but also for the next growing season. While on the surface your fall lawn may look a bit bedraggled, the roots below ground are still hard at work, storing up the reserves they’ll need to survive the winter and to thrive come springtime.

Though at other times of year there are reasons to choose a fast-acting liquid fertilizer, in autumn—about a week after you mow the lawn for the last time—it’s best to apply a slow-release granular fertilizer. While the liquid stuff delivers a sudden jolt of nutrients, the granular variety feeds grass slowly over time. In most parts of the country, that’s exactly what you want. In very cold regions, pick a fertilizer specially formulated for winter protection, one that’s high in nitrogen. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm, you already know that fertilizing is a year-round affair. For you, fall isn’t so critical. (Boy, you’ve got it made!)

How to Fertilize Lawn in Fall - Loading

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Theoretically, you could spread granular fertilizer over the lawn by hand. The reality is, however, that doing the job manually leaves too much room for error. While underfertilizing isn’t a catastrophe, overfertilizing is a real concern, and it’s easy to apply fertilizer too abundantly if you’re totally winging it.

Indeed, there’s a reason why professional landscapers use walk-behind spreaders. These outdoor tools include a flow-rate lever, which enables the user to set the precise amount of fertilizer to be dispersed per square foot of lawn area. If you’re serious about lawn care, a spreader is a tool worth buying.

You’ll notice that on your purchased package of fertilizer, the manufacturer lists the ideal number of granules to be applied per square foot. You can set the spreader to output precisely that amount, but here’s a superior method: Set the spreader to disperse half of the recommended volume, run the spreader over the lawn in one direction, then take it in the reverse direction, hitting the areas you initially missed. Because the effects of fertilizer are confined to the area immediately surrounding the spot where the granule hits the ground, the key to success is even dispersion. But when in doubt, underfertilize.

Once you’ve completed the work, clean the spreader before storing it away. Otherwise, the metal components might rust over the course of the off-season. If you’re left with a partially full bag of fertilizer, seal it airtight and keep it in a dry place. Exposed to the air, fertilizer hardens up and becomes unusable.

Additional Tips
• Fill the spreader in the driveway, not the lawn, to avoid spilling and overfertilizing one particular area.

• For the spreader to operate correctly, both the tool and the fertilizer granules must be dry.

• Wearing gloves is a sensible precaution to take when you’re handling fertilizer granules.


How To: Remove Vinyl Flooring

Have you had it with that dated, dirty, and dilapidated vinyl floor? Here's how to remove it, so you never have to look at it again.

How to Remove Vinyl Flooring

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Let’s be clear: It’s no fun to remove vinyl flooring. Peeling up the material itself is no picnic, but the real trial is to get rid of the glue that had been securing the vinyl to the subfloor. The only silver lining here is that while tedious and time-consuming, it’s certainly not complicated to remove vinyl flooring. No special tools or advanced skills are required. It’s really only a matter of elbow grease. Follow the steps below to get the job done with a minimum of frustration.

How to Remove Vinyl Flooring - Process

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The first step is to take all furniture out of the room so you can have unimpeded access to the floor. You’ll also need to carefully remove all baseboards and any other trim that meets the floor.

Next, locate a section of the floor with no glue underneath. Start here, using a utility knife to cut the vinyl flooring into 12-inch strips. Pull up each one gently. Where you encounter resistance from the glue, use a scraper tool (or even a kitchen spatula) to get the strip loose. In places where the glue is especially tenacious, you can use a hammer-and-chisel combination to chip at the hardened adhesive.

If you’re stuck with an area where the vinyl has been removed but the glue remains lodged on the subfloor, try this: Combine warm water and soap in a bucket, then apply it liberally to the glue, allowing time for the mixture to soak in. When you return, the glue will have softened and become easier to remove.

No dice? OK, it’s time to bring some heat into the equation. Buy or rent a heat gun—or in a pinch, use your hair dryer—and hold it directly over the stubborn adhesive long enough to soften the glue (but not long enough to cause any damage to the subfloor). Then go at the glue with your trusty scraper.

Finish with some cleanup: Use a broom or shop vac to pick up all the debris that now litters the room.

If the above seems like way too much work, there’s always the option of renting a power scraper from your local home center. There’s a cost attached to bringing in such a tool, but it will certainly make much quicker work of things. If you opt for the power scraper, be sure to test it first in an inconspicuous area; you will need to adjust its angle so that it removes only the vinyl-and-glue layer, not the underlying subfloor. Score the vinyl into 10-inch sections with the utility knife, then turn on the scraper and get busy.

Safety Precautions
Until the mid-1980s, asbestos often served as an ingredient in vinyl flooring products. If you know that the installation you’re dealing with has been around that long—or if you’re not certain how long the vinyl floor has been there—it’s only common sense to have the material tested before proceeding. I believe in hiring pros when it’s appropriate, and in the case of asbestos-laced vinyl flooring, it’s eminently appropriate to pay people who know what they are doing.


How To: Clean Pewter

Regular cleaning helps preserve of pewter pieces. Whether you're simply dusting or administering a full tarnish-removing shine, these steps can help you care for this soft, durable, and beautiful metal.

How to Clean Pewter

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Used in everything from caskets to kitchen utensils, pewter remains popular with artisans and crafters in part because it does not easily rust or corrode. Pewter’s easy-clean, low-maintenance requirements make it the perfect material for jewelry, vases, picture frames and sculptures. On the flip side, the soft metal is susceptible to nicks and scratches. But kept clean and protected from extreme temperatures, pewter pieces keep their beauty for generations.

To clean pewter, start by filling a bucket with hot water. Squirt in some mild dishwashing soap. Dip in a sponge and squeeze out the excess water, then proceed to wipe down the surface. You’ll find that doing so eliminates a surprising amount of dirt and tarnish. Finally, rinse off the piece and dry it with a soft cloth.

At this point, you may wish to brighten the pewter with a polish. The best approach depends on the type of pewter you own:

How to Clean Pewter - Plate

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Polished pewter has a smooth, shiny surface that’s easier to clean but also shows more imperfections on its reflective surface. Polish this type of pewter regularly with an all-purpose metal polish or a homemade cleaner (see recipe below). How often you polish depends simply on how shiny you like your pewter to be.

Satin pewter has a rougher-grained matte patina that requires only annual washing. If it’s time for a touch-up, the best way to clean such pewter is with a mildly abrasive homemade scrub (see recipe below). Apply the polish with very fine steel wool in the direction of the grain; be careful not to leave scratches.

Oxidized pewter has been treated with a darkening agent to give it an antique look. It should not be polished. A gentle wash is all you want to keep it clean.

If you do choose to polish your pewter, remember that while there’s nothing wrong with store-bought metal polish, you can achieve similar results for less money with an easy DIY concoction:

Mix one cup white vinegar with a half-cup white flour to create a paste (for grainy-finished satin pewter, add in one teaspoon of salt, which makes the paste slightly abrasive and improves its cleaning ability). Use a soft cloth to apply the cleanser, rubbing it in with a circular motion. Leave it in place for 30 minutes, then rinse off with warm water and let dry.

Optional: Boil a small amount of linseed oil, then mix in rottenstone (a powdered limestone available at your local home center). Apply this second paste with a soft cloth. Rinse immediately, then dry thoroughly.

If a pewter piece has sentimental or monetary value, the wise course may be to leave it alone. Talk to a professional jeweler; some collectors prefer not to clean or polish pewter, because the metal gradually takes on a patina that people prize. To preserve this aged finish, many choose to maintain pewter simply by dusting it occasionally.