Thirteen (Advanced?) Do-It-Yourself Ideas

   1) Oak boards and battens make attractive rustic siding.  Typically they consist of  about 8 inch boards mounted vertically with gaps of a couple inches covered by the 3½ inch battens.  The boards are nailed to the purlins (the horizontal boards to which the boards and battens are attached) on one side only so that shrinkage does not split one or both sides of the boards and the battens hold the un-nailed side.  Oak is so strong that when it tries to warp, it usually succeeds and pulls some of the nails part way out. 

  By screwing the battens to the purlins from the back side we have had no warped boards or battens in 20 years.  Another small advantage is that there are no exposed nail heads showing or to rust and make stains that trickle down.


  2) Here is a method for temporarily using a 220 volt appliance in the absence of any 220 volt outlet.  Put a 220 volt socket in an unattached box with the hot terminals connected to two 110 volt cords and plugs and connect the grounds and neutral wires normally.  Plug the two plugs into 110 volt sockets that happen to be connected to opposite sides of the split phase in the circuit breaker box. The welder, or whatever, will perform normally. There is one caution: if a circuit breaker or fuse blows, watch out that the other circuit may still be hot from the other circuit breaker that did not trip.


   3) I had a Mercedes Benz in 1970 which could perspire at least temporarily.  We bought it for the price of five airplane tickets to drive home from Afghanistan in June through Asian deserts.  Reasoning that even a new car in good repair might overheat, I rearranged the windshield washer so that instead of squirting on the windshield it squirted on the air conditioner condenser (in front of the radiator).  Without even having to refill the water reservoir we drove six hundred miles from Teheran to Tabriz in eight hours with the desert temperature at 130° Fahrenheit—each small squirt nipped incipient overheating.  I am proud to state that these arrangements were in place before any overheating could occur.

       The road looked like a four-lane highway, but it was two lanes with paved shoulders, and you could see for ten miles.  We did not exceed the speed red-lined at 84 miles per hour by the manufacturer (it was a diesel and got nearly 30 miles per gallon at that speed)—Iran didn’t believe in speeding tickets.  I knew from physical chemistry that evaporating a given amount of water takes about ten times as much heat as bringing it from the ambient temperature to boiling.  If you use this method with any regularity, use rain water so you don’t lime up the radiator from the outside.


  4) Rusted and leaking flashing and a ridiculously easy way to prime rusty metal are really two related but separate precepts.

       Thirty years ago I had repeatedly fixed some leaky flashing around the chimney of our old house.  The black roof cement that I used kept drying and cracking right where the rusty holes were, and resumed leaking in just a few months.  Finally I succeeded in preventing the cracks by painting the black cement when it first formed a paintable skin with bitumen based, aluminized roof paint intended for cheap trailer houses.  The paint prevented further drying and cracking resulting in a repair that lasted for a decade or more.

       One of the times when I was on the roof for painting the repair on the flashing, I noticed a very rusty galvanized iron air vent for the attic and casually painted it with some of the paint that I would otherwise have had to clean out of the brush.  Surprise--the paint covered the rust completely in an extremely durable way with just the one casual coat equaling the result with that of meticulous cleaning of rust, primer, and two coats of out door trim paint.  Later, on other rusty metal outdoor objects I found that, after a couple of months curing, the aluminized paint would accept outdoor trim paint (only needed for decoration).  So far none of the objects treated in this way has resumed rusting even after decades..  I have touched up places where the trim paint was worn off by hands on a railing or lawn mowing around clothes line supports without need for further priming.


  5) This one is from my brother-in-law.  Spinach is a cold weather crop and can be planted very early in the spring, but it doesn’t germinate right away in the cold.  Solution—plant it in the fall.  It will go dormant until very early spring and then grow like gang-busters.  It makes tasty, high vitamin A greens and you can have enough to freeze a month sooner than any other method short of a green house.  Compare with winter wheat. 


  6) Here is a method to at least partially rehabilitate leaky thermo-pane windows.  I have some double glazed Pella windows with the extra panes removable from indoors.  They have a rubber gasket all around the frame to prevent humid inside air from entering the space between the panes especially in winter and several small vents to the outside that permit condensation on the inside of the outer pane to evaporate and be expelled during changes in temperature and barometric pressure. 

       A few years after I figured how Pella was doing it—they don’t explain it in their brochures--I fixed some leaky thermo-panes by creating such vents to the outside.  To avoid hitting the glass and breaking it during drilling the outdoor moldings, I made a jig with its hole properly angled and lined with copper tubing so the hole didn’t enlarge with use.  Thermo-panes are mounted with a narrow gap all around the glass.  If your upward and outward angled hole digs into the frame a trifle, that is OK as long as the hole still opens into the space between the glass and the frame, and if you do break the glass you would have had to replace it anyway except for reading this.  Of course if you are installing new windows, the holes can be drilled in the moldings before mounting and wouldn’t be needed until the thermo-pane happened to start leaking. (However, I have noticed a few instances where this space around the edge of the thermo-pane was so tight that expansion of the trapped air had extruded the sealing tape between the inside of the pane and the molding).  Pella’s holes are about 3/16ths of an inch, too small for wasps to crawl through.  A considerable advantage of Pella’s construction is that you can easily take them apart for washing.


  7) Before multiple viscosity oil was marketed, I used to create it at airports where I was parking for a week or so in the winter by adding a pint of white gasoline to the crankcase just before shutting off the engine.  After my return the engine turned over faster, thereby getting better compression and with less voltage drop from the operation of the starter, resulting in a hotter spark and more likelihood of a prompt successful start.  During the drive home from the airport the gasoline evaporated restoring the original viscosity.  I never ruined an engine this way.  Of course the idea is obsolete now.  (I wrote this as an ego trip).


   8) Red elm is the most difficult wood to split in my experience, especially forks in the main trunk. To make it a little easier, first split off the outside halves of the smaller upper segments.  Then turn the remaining hulk over and split it exactly in the middle in such a way that both of the upper smaller segments will also be split exactly in half.  If the main trunk is most of the length of the fork, the splitting force of driving the wedge in from that much farther from the crisscross reaction wood near the fork will be multiplied by the longer lever arm of the only normally difficult to split red elm main trunk, and this effort will also be reduced by the absence of the outer halves removed in the first two steps.  Do you share my Paul Bunyan complex?  Mine is a mild case because I do not insist on doing it the really hard way.

  9) So-called disposable bow saw blades can be sharpened with a Dreml.  The trick is first sharpen the triangular teeth with the set (every other tooth bent out in opposite directions) after noticing how much longer they are than the bifid double teeth without any set.  These are raker teeth to remove the chips created by the cutting teeth.  They need to be shorter than the cutting teeth so they don’t drag in the bottom of the kerf and to have no set so they don’t drag on the sides of the kerf.  A fine point: the harder the wood that you are cutting the longer the raker teeth can be without causing drag because less hard wood is cut per stroke of the saw—more Paul Bunyan complex.

  10) When constructing a stair railing if you screw the verticals to the risers instead of doweling them into the treads, the railing can be made sturdy without newel posts.  Of course these verticals must be longer by the height of the risers.                                                              

  11) It is a difficult, irksome process to get a permit for a dry well, a gravel filled underground space to persuade water to soak into the ground instead of running off along the surface(or into the basement).  My purpose was to dispose of water from the drainage tile around the foundation of my new house. I obtained a de facto dry well, required by the code, but not labeled as such by specifying a plastic sewer line to the street.  The code requires plastic pipe in this context to be backfilled with gravel because it is weaker than iron and might crack during backfilling—gravel flows to fill the space without compaction.  The plumber was quite willing to be sure that there was an adequate length of this required gravel near the house and its drainage tile.  Does this count as do-it-yourself?  Conceptually, maybe.

  12) Soon after the Second World War Mau Tse Tung perceived that the universal practice in China of fertilizing crops with “night soil” (human waste) was a major source of disease.  However, the crops needed the fertilizer and there was no prospect of the infrastructure for sewage disposal by any other means anytime soon.  His experts came up with a program of composting the night soil for six weeks—long enough to kill disease germs—and then spreading it on the fields in the old way.  The entire population accepted education in carrying out the new program successfully, and the crops grew as before. 

       The composting toilet was invented in Sweden in 1939.  Many brands are now manufactured worldwide, the Clivus Multrum being the most available one in North America.  It produces a liquid fertilizer without much odor and solids that pass for topsoil.  For obvious reasons this product is not popular here and consequently is very expensive, but some are in use particularly in remote State Parks.  Here is what you can do without spending any money while the rest of us get used to the future.

Urine contains most of the nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus in human waste and is normally sterile.  A year’s urine from an adult contains the quantities of these nutrients in a 100# bag of 10/10/10 commercial fertilizer. The numbers are the percentages of the above named nutrients.  Unlike the bag of 10/10/10, urine is also rich in trace minerals.  A dash of hydrogen peroxide (1/2 tablespoon) will suppress odors for 24 hours—better than Chlorox because of no residual chlorine by-products.   

  13) A few years ago I helped my son-in-law with the electrical wiring in a new room in a previously unfinished attic.  Later Paul told me that the building inspector said, “We don’t do it this way but this is better!”  I had stripped short segments of the wires in the boxes which go from outlet box to outlet box without cutting it--greatly reducing the number of connections.

  14) I have a method for rinsing my metal roof with the first 55 gallons of each new episode of rain before any of the new water enters our cistern and without any moving parts except the water.  This avoids much dirt entering the cistern.  If you are interested in the details, get in touch or figure it out now that you know that it can be done.

John A. Frantz, MD, 812 22nd Ave, Monroe WI, 53566-1772  May 15, 2006. more at: