Books, brochures can help build up your knowledge


January 29, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

One person's junk mail is another's catalog heaven. We get a lot of mail promoting new products and systems, extolling new books, reminding recipients about old standbys. It's stuff that in some place might go straight from the mailbox to the waste basket. But we consider the flood of fliers to be part of a continuing education.

Construction, renovation and rehabbing today require the wisdom of the ages and state of the art expertise. Each piece of mail is another entry in an encyclopedic work in progress. If you care about old houses, it's a great way to stay current.

Here are a couple of recent items from our mailbag that could be of interest to anyone working on a house.

* Varathane brand wood-floor finishes have been around for a while, but now the manufacturer, the Flecto Co. of Oakland, Calif., is putting everything in one place to make it easier for do-it-yourselfers to sand and finish wood floors.

The Varathane Floor Finishing Center includes sander for rental, plus sandpapers, stain, top coat, applicators, and an instruction brochure. There's also an entertaining video you can borrow that offers some truly practical tips. Among them: Stuff newspapers in a plastic bag and push them into heat registers to seal; simply remove all surface nails in tongue-and-groove flooring -- they were put there in a vain effort to make the floors stop squeaking, which can't be done from above. The video emphasizes cleanup, both before and during the application process. Sander dust is "extremelyplayful," intones the video's droll host, David Stringer; it will cling to the wall until a wet surface is available, then leap in to create bumps.

The sander that rents with the system is an orbital type, which is a lot easier to use than traditional drum sanders. Drum sanders must work with the grain of the wood and can't be maneuvered in tight spaces such as hallways where the grains runs crosswise. In the past, such spaces had to be sanded with smaller hand sanders, a dismayingly knee-intensive activity. The traditional drum sander is also heavy; the orbital sander is light enough for women and other non-NFL body types to use.

In addition, the sander also uses self-adhesive sandpaper, eliminating the need for wrenches and screwdrivers, and avoiding the onerous task of wrapping tough sandpaper around a drum. Because it's an orbital sander, it can be used on parquet -- a type of flooring that was virtually impossible to sand with the drum sander. And, although the orbital sander is slower than the drum type, it's less likely to gouge the floor.

Look for the Varathane Floor Sanding Centers at hardware stores, paint stores and home-improvement centers nationwide. Flecto will be expanding outlets throughout the spring.

* A book that no construction person or rehabber should be without has just appeared in a 90th anniversary edition. It's "The Gypsum Construction Handbook," from United States Gypsum Co. This densely packed paperback may be the best source of technical information on drywall, plaster, cement board, framing, finishing, insulation and decorating. USG claims the book has "the newest developments in products and systems, including time-saving, lower-cost methods of installation to simplify construction."

The $16.95, 528-page book is not exactly light reading, but it's chock full of drawings, pictures, tables and charts as well as the text -- in short, a great reference book for all types of construction issues.

The book is available at building trade bookstores, or, to receive an order form, write United States Gypsum Co., Dept. 193-Handbook, P.O. Box 806278, Chicago, Ill. 60680-4124.

* Are you one of those people who can't resist "shopping" for houses? Not necessarily with an eye to buying them, but just seeing something you like and saying, "That's a neat house." Some people have favorites they make a point of driving past occasionally, just to look.

But besides neighborhoods, there's another major "shopping center" for houses: House plans. A new source of plans, all of them based on historical patterns and including the kind of detail that makes old houses so special, comes from that bastion of sensitive renovation, the Old House Journal. "New-old house" styles include "Colonial, Victorian and Revival: Queen Anne, Farmhouse, Saltbox, Craftsman, Creole, Tudor, Georgian and More." The magazine-type book has 86 house plans and 19 plans for outbuildings, such as garages, gazebos, sheds and barns. Some of the plans have been published in the Old House Journal, which, when it began including one or two plans in the magazine a few years ago, stirred up some controversy among folks who thought there was no such thing as a "new" old house. But OHJ insisted that ensuring the perpetuation of American house styles was as important as preserving the past. And there certainly are people who love the look and feel of old houses, but want new materials or a new location.

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