New Tools for New Home – Get It Done THE St. Louis Handyman

I’m just about to purchase my first home and want to be able to make minor repairs on my own.  I don’t want to spend a fortune on tools.  Can you recommend which ones I should invest in?

Congratulations on your home purchase.  No matter what the age of the house, there will always be something which needs to be done, and if you want to do as much as possible, tools will be a requirement.

One of the first things I suggest you purchase is a book for home repairs.  Home Depot has one, Lowes has one, and I know bookstores have a wide variety.  These books are invaluable in gathering information either for repairs or for project planning.  They will usually cover all of the basics, plus give you information on larger items which you probably will get a professional repair person for.  I would suggest getting one which has ample illustrations, as these can be extremely helpful.  You’ll learn how to fix a toilet, replace an electrical switch, and so many other things!

In getting yourself equipped with tools, I would make a couple of suggestions.   You could go and spend a lot on a tool chest filled with hundreds of pieces, but I would pass on this:   start with a few simple tools such as a small hammer , a good set of screw drivers,  an adjustable wrench (perhaps a smaller one and a larger one), pliers,  a drill, a tape measure, putty knife, safety glasses, and a utility knife.  You may want to get an inexpensive tool box as well.

A couple of other things to think about are a step ladder, drop cloth, duct tape, a paint brush, extension cord,  a pair of work gloves, as well as a flashlight (at least one).

When purchasing tools, you can get the cheapest or the most expensive.  My philosophy is if you’re not sure how much you’re going to be using the tool, then don’t start with the most expensive.  Spend less and if you find you’re using the tool all the time, you can then look to replace it, and at that point you’ll have a better idea of what you want.  I could go on and on about tools that you might want, but I think it best to start with the basics and add on as you go.

If you have some large projects in mind, you don’t necessarily need to buy the expensive tools to get started.  Many hardware stores rent tools which you might need, such as a circular saw, tile saw, hammer drill, table saw, and pneumatic nail guns and compressors.  You will save a lot of money renting these items if you don’t think you’ll ever use them again.  And, you’ll have less clutter in your garage or workbench area.

Good luck!

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THE St. Louis Handyman

Dragging Doors After Installing New Carpet – Get It Done

I’ve just had new carpeting installed and now some of my doors are dragging on my new carpeting.  Can you suggest a quick fix?

Dragging doors are a common occurrence after having new carpeting installed.  The new carpet is just thicker (either by design or because it’s new) and the doors need to be planed, or sanded down on the bottom.

If you have more than a couple of doors, it will be easier and less time consuming to rent a “power planer”.  This is an electric handheld device which will very quickly take the required edge off the bottom of the door.  These can usually be rented from a larger hardware store, or at rental stores. If you have an orbital sander or belt sander, these will work also, but will take more time.  If you only have one door or don’t want to spend the money on renting a tool, then ordinary sandpaper will work, but it requires a lot more effort.

Take a visual look at the door to determine how much you want to remove.  It is also a good idea to put a piece of tape, or a sticky note at the bottom of the door, to be sure that once outside, you are sanding the bottom of the door and not the top.  You would be surprised how easy it is to work on the wrong end!

Next, remove the hinge pins on the door.  Usually a hammer and a small screwdriver will get the pin out.  Begin at any hinge and place the edge of the screwdriver just under the top of the pin, and tap it upward.  After it has moved up an inch or two, you should be able to pull it out.  If you have a decorative pin, with some type of fancy head on it, the head needs to be removed first, usually by just unscrewing it before taking the pin out.  Once you have the hinge pins removed, the door will come out.  If this is an entry door or solid core door, you may need a second person to help carry the door.

It’s best to do the sanding outside, as there will be a lot of sawdust.  If you have a set of sawhorses, set the door on these.  A pair of trash cans will work as well, but be sure to lay a drop cloth or old blanket over them to protect the door.  If you are using a power planer or sander, be careful, not only of the equipment, but of how much of the door you’re sanding down.  Especially with the power planer – it can take a lot of wood off in a short amount of time.

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THE St. Louis Handyman

Squeaky Floors – Get It Done “Ask The Handyman”

I have an older home and the floor squeaks are driving me crazy.  Any ideas how to stop them?

I sure hope so.  I know what you mean about the older homes, as my grandparents had the same noise, and every time I hear these squeaks, I think of them.  I’ve also found that the colder winter increases the volume of the squeaks.

There are several remedies, depending upon the flooring.  If you have carpeting, I’ve found a great product to help.  It is basically a special screw made for this.  The screw goes right through the carpet and subfloor, then into the joist.  When it gets into the joist, the screw head breaks off at just the right height, leaving no part of the screw above the subfloor.   Home Depot may carry these screws, called “Squeeeek No More”.  If you have trouble finding them in a store, give them a call at 1-800-459-8428 or visit them on the web at  They also have videos on the website that show you how to use them.

The hardest part is finding the joist and doing this takes a little time and guesswork.  Begin in the area where the squeak is.  Use a hammer and softly tap around the area to see if you can find where the joist is by listening to the difference in the sound.  This is similar to tapping on a wall to see where the stud is, but just a little harder to hear.

Begin by drilling one of the special screws into the floor.  If you haven’t found the joist, the screw will keep on spinning and won’t go down any further.  If you didn’t get the joist the first time, leave the screw there, as a marker.  Try another screw about two inches from the first, going in a straight line towards an outside wall of the house.  You’re trying to find the joist, so you should find one within 24”.  If not, go in a 90 degree direction, as the joists must be going the other way.

Once you’ve screwed one of these screws into a joist, you’ll know it, as it will be harder to get the screw in, and the next thing you know, the screw head will break off.  Once you now know where the joist is, place several screws along this joist and in the area where the squeak is.

Although there are other methods for squeaks in hardwood floors, vinyl floors, and stairs, we’ll have to leave them for another article.

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THE St. Louis Handyman

Instant Hot Water Dispenser – Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman

Is it possible to add an instant hot water dispenser if my sink doesn’t already have one?

Adding an instant hot water dispenser is not only doable, but for tea drinkers, makes things much easier.  The cost of an InSinkErator unit will range from about $200 for the basic unit to $275 for a deluxe model (with the looks being the only difference).  Some makes and models will come with a purification filter, but you will pay more for this type.

Adding the dispenser requires tapping into an existing cold water line.  This is the supply line feeding the cold water side of the faucet.  The unit also requires electricity, which usually will have to be added, as most sinks to not have an electrical outlet in the cabinet below.  Although a garbage disposal has electricity, it is usually switch controlled, so you can’t tap into that line.  If the basement is unfinished, it is usually fairly simple to bring power up to the sink cabinet and add an outlet, if you are electrically competent.

Installing the unit will require drilling a hole through the deck of the sink where you want it to be mounted.  The unit will come with a saddle valve which will allow you to tap into the cold water line.  Just follow the directions from the manufacturer.  Once the unit is assembled and in place, it is simply a matter of plugging it in.  Remember however, you will be working under the sink, on your back sometimes, so have the Ibuprofen handy.

The unit will make occasional slight noises when the water is being heated, so don’t be alarmed.  It is also a good idea, if you have children, to caution them about the hot temperature of the water.  They could get injured if they aren’t careful.  Although the water temperature will be near boiling, most models will let you adjust the temperature slightly.

Once you’re done you can sit back and enjoy a hot cup of tea – although hot chocolate sounds better to me!

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THE St Louis Handyman

Building Storage Shelves – Get It Done Ask the Handyman St Louis

What’s the best way to build storage shelves in a basement?

Getting things off the floor and onto a shelf will create tons of space, but be careful – you may find yourself purchasing a pool table or large screen T.V. to fill it!

The easiest and least expensive way to create utility shelving is to buy the units at the hardware stores.  These are usually strong plastic ones, and come in either 18” or 24” depths, have 3 or 4 shelves, and can be put together by anyone!  However, if you need heavy duty strength or prefer deeper widths, you might want to try building some yourself.

Normal units will have three shelves, but if you are storing small items, you can build the unit with as many shelves as you want.   Here is what you need to do.   Start with fairly straight pine 2×4’s and form a rectangle for the width and length of each shelf.  It will save some material and money if you have the shelves 24” deep (1/2 the width of a sheet of plywood).  A normal 2×4 will come in 8’ lengths.  If you plan on building more than 8’ of shelves, you can connect the 8’ units together later.

Once the rectangle is cut and laid out, screw the corners together with two 3” screws at each corner (drywall screws will be fine).  Next, cut 2×4’s to go inside the rectangle 2’ apart which will strengthen and hold your shelves.  Then screw these in, again, using two 3” screws.

The next stage is attaching the shelf frames to the wall.  If your wall has studs exposed, you’ll be able to attach your frames directly to these studs.  If it is a foundation wall, you will need to secure them into the concrete.  The easiest way to do this is with a 22 caliber nailer, which can be rented from various places.  Another option is to use lag bolts and anchors, but you’ll need to have a hammer drill for this.  If you have to rent either one, the 22 caliber nailer is much easier.

To hang the shelf frames, you’ll need a second person to help hold them.  Start from the top shelf frame, and when it is in position at the correct height, use the nailer along the 2×4 and nail it about 6 places along the 8’ section.  Do the same for each shelf frame.

When all shelve frames are hung, cut and install a vertical 2×4 for the front of the shelve frames at each end and one in the middle.  You’ll need to make sure each shelf frame is level, then use the 3” screws to screw into the vertical 2×4 and through the front 2×4 of the shelf.  Repeat this for each shelf frame.

Next, use ½” or ¾” plywood, to create the shelf.  If your shelves are 24” deep, cut the plywood down the middle, slide it into place, then use 5/8” screws to secure the plywood to the frame.

Then comes the best part:  storing your items onto your new shelves.  Or, if you like, crawl up on one of the shelves and take a well deserved rest!

Materials: 2×4’s and plywood (you’ll have to make a sketch and determine the amount you’ll need), a circular saw, drill gun, 22 caliber nailer with loads and nails, one to two pounds3” screws , one pound of 5/8” screws, level and some sort of sawhorse for cutting.

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THE St Louis Handyman


Faucet Diverter – Ask the Handyman Get It Done

My kitchen faucet is acting funny.  Sometimes the water won’t come out of the sprayer attachment.  Then other times, it will, but when I let go of the button on the sprayer, water doesn’t come out of the spout.   Can you tell me what’s going on?

Don’t despair, your situation is not that uncommon, and you likely won’t need a new faucet.

When a kitchen faucet comes with a separate spray attachment, there is a small piece called a “diverter”, which directs the water to go to the sprayer when the sprayer button is pressed.  Occasionally, this diverter gets stuck, which sounds like what is happening in your case.  To fix the problem, you’ll need to replace this part.

Diverters are usually just a few dollars, but you’ll need to get a specific diverter for your brand (and maybe model) for your particular faucet.  If you know the brand name, either call the company, or call a plumbing supply house and see if they carry it.  Not all plumbing supply companies carry every brand, so you may have to make a couple of calls.  If you don’t know the brand of your faucet, my best suggestion is to remove the diverter and take it to a plumbing supply store to see if they can match it.  Most of the diverters are similar and will fit other brands, but not always, so it is best to be sure.

To remove the diverter, you’ll have to turn the water to the faucet off.   If it is a single handle faucet, you’ll need to remove the handle and possibly the parts beneath the handle, as the diverter is usually located in the back of the area where the spout is.

Remove the spout piece, and you’ll likely see a small hole in the back of the area where the spout was.  The diverter is a cone shaped object, about ½” in diameter, with washers attached.  Using a sharp object, such as a knife, pry the old diverter out, and install the new one.  Then reattach the items taken off going back up to the handle.   If you have a two-handle faucet, you should only need to remove the spout and not the handles.

However, some diverters can be located in the spout piece itself, near the base.  If that is the case, when you obtain the piece from a supplier, have them show you where it is located.

When you’re done, test the sprayer aiming it into the sink – or at an unsuspecting family member if you want to have some fun!

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THE St Louis Handyman

Timer on Outdoor Lights – Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman

I have yard lights that come on at dusk and turn off in the morning.  Is there any way to do this with the two lights at my front door?  They are controlled by a switch on the inside.

You have a couple of options here.  The first is the easiest and least expensive.  Hardware stores sell a product that screws into the socket where the bulb goes and has a built in dusk to dawn sensor.  Once you install it, you simply screw in the bulb into the new sensor unit.  There are some possible glitches though.  The new product takes up an extra couple of inches in height, and some light fixtures may not allow for this, as the bulb may no longer fit inside the fixture.  You’ll just have to give it a try.

The second possible problem is that since you have two lights, when one sensor comes on at dusk and turns the bulb on, the sensor on the other light can pick up the light rays from the first one, and this can cause the sensor to think it is daylight, causing the second one to stay off.  Sometimes, this can be resolved by simply screwing the product a little tighter or loosening it, moving the “eye” of the sensor away from the other light fixture.

A second option is to consider installing new light fixtures.  You can get fixtures that have dusk to dawn sensors built in, or ones that have motion detectors built in.  A motion detector fixture will only come on if there is movement in the proximity of the light, then will go off after several minutes.   But the same issue with the dusk to dawn feature as mentioned above still exists.

The third option will eliminate any of the above problems, and that is to replace your inside switch with a programmable digital timer switch.  These switches cost about $30 and will fit inside any box where a regular switch is.  Most stores will carry them in white or ivory.  To install these switches, follow the directions which come with it.  Basically, you’ll need to turn off the circuit breaker to the switch and lights, then remove the switch, making sure to note which colored wires go where, and replace it with the new digital timer.   Then simply follow the instructions for programming the timer.  Basically, it will allow your lights to come on at a designated hour, and go off whenever you want.  There is also an override feature on most models, which will allow you to turn the lights on or off manually.  The only thing you may want to do twice a year, is adjust the timing for daylight savings time.

As long as you’re not afraid of electrical tasks, and you follow the directions carefully, this is an easy project.

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THE St Louis Handyman

Removing Stars from the Ceiling – Get It Done Ask The Handyman

When my kids were younger, they put stars on their ceiling that glowed in the dark. They were attached with an adhesive. The stars are falling off now and the adhesive is hardened and impossible to remove. I am afraid to try any of the products that remove sticky products because they are usually oily. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Oh, what we will do for our kids’ pleasures!

I have been in your situation myself, and I know what you are about to go through. However, the stars that we used were self-sticking, so they were somewhat easier to remove that what yours might be. Since I haven’t seen the room, let me give you a few options.

First, you might try a product called Goo-Be-Gone, or a similar adhesive remover. It is readily available in hardware stores. It will take grease and adhesive off, although it does require some scrubbing effort. This may leave spots but I’ll address how to deal with that later.

For another option, try using a stiff spackle knife to get under the adhesive and pop it off. It may or may not tear the paper of the drywall off as well, but this can be dealt with later.

Since you mentioned that some of the stars are falling off, hopefully the process will be an easy one. Once they are all off, I would recommend cleaning the ceiling with TSP (readily available at paint and hardware stores). Be sure to wear gloves while cleaning the ceiling, as well as lots of plastic to cover the floor and furniture.

If the removal of the stars has torn any of the drywall paper, you will need to do some skim coating to get everything smooth. For this, go back to the July 5 edition of LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE (which can be accessed on line at

Next, prime the ceiling with a primer. A primer looks and is applied the same as a paint, but this will seal the ceiling and any leftover adhesive. After this, you’re ready to paint.

If your kids are still at home, perhaps you can elicit a little elbow grease from them on this project. But if they’re grown you can simply forward a copy of this article to them as a reminder of the efforts we continue to give on their behalf!

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THE St. Louis Handyman

Removing Wallpaper – Get It Done “Ask The Handyman” THE St Louis Handyman

How do I remove wallpaper from my dining room walls?  I have decided I would rather have them painted.


Updating your home by removing wallpaper can make a dramatic difference.  In general, removing wallpaper is easy, but it is tedious, messy, and does take time.

If your walls were sized before the wallpaper was hung, the job may go a lot easier.  You’ll know as soon as you begin pulling it off.  It will likely come off in one sheet, just as it was hung.  If the walls were not sized, you may only get small, one or two inch pieces coming off.

To start with, get lots of plastic or drop clothes to cover the floor.  Once you get into removing the glue from the walls and wetting the walls down, it really gets messy!

Next, take a garden sprayer and fill it with hot water – as hot as you can get it.  Add a small amount of fabric softener, or you can purchase specialized wallpaper removal solution.  Then, you’re going to score the walls with a special tool.  A tiger wallpaper scorer will create the smallest of holes in the wallpaper, allowing the water from the sprayer to get behind the wallpaper and release the glue.  After you have scored a wall, then begin spraying the wall with the hot water.  Start at the top and by the time you get to the bottom, some of the water from the top will have run down, so don’t spray quite as much at the bottom just yet.

Wait for about 10 minutes.  During this time, you can start scoring another wall.  After 10 minutes, spray the wall again in the same way.  The trick to removing the paper is to have it wet.   Wait 5 more minutes, then spray it again – for a total of three soakings.  At this point, you’re ready to start removing the paper.  Using a 4” putty knife or scraper, or you can buy a paper removal tool with a blade.  Begin by gently trying to remove the paper.  It’s easiest to start at a seam.  Be sure not to put too much pressure into the wall, or you’ll damage the paper of the drywall, which will cause you slightly more work later.

This is the point where a good music selection or a book on tape can come in handy.  Continue all around the room until all the paper is off.   Then, you need to go back and get all of the glue off.  This is a repeat process of spraying the walls and scraping the glue until it is all removed.

Next, you’ll need to wash the walls, because there will still be glue residue.  Washing the walls can be done with a sponge and hot sudsy water.

At this point, you’re done with the removal.  However, if you scraped off any of the drywall paper, you will need to skim coat the walls with joint compound, commonly called mud.  Please see our column in the July 5 Lifestyle section of the Post Dispatch for instructions on skim coating.  After skim coating, you will be ready to prime and then, finally, paint the walls.

Some people like to use a steamer to get the paper off instead of spraying the walls.  A steamer can usually be rented from a paint store, or can be purchased as well.  Both methods are doing the same thing – getting the paper wet, releasing the glue, and letting you remove the paper.

Once you have painted the room, you won’t believe the difference.  It is a lot of work, but you will be proud of your accomplishments!

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THE St Louis Handyman