Two rehab books hit the nail on the head


March 05, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

This winter just seems to go on and on . . . It makes even the most dedicated home rehabber want to do nothing more strenuous than curl up with a good book in an easy chair near the radiator. Of course, if it's a good home-improvement book, you can take comfort in the fact that there's plenty of time for project planning.

Even people who don't plan to do the renovation work themselves could benefit from some homework among the manuals. Knowing what's involved in a job -- such as adding a bathroom, or adding a room, or redoing a kitchen -- can make you a savvier employer when it comes to hiring a contractor or subcontractors. If you have no idea how toilets work, you can be seriously stumped when the plumber asks what kind of fixture he should buy.

Reading home-improvement books can make you a smarter shopper, as well. It helps to know you're looking for a double-acting hinge rather than "that thingamabob on the kitchen door," and it's pleasant to one's self-esteem to know the difference between "baluster" and "balustrade" and between "lintel" and "lentil."

Two books to turn to, one relatively recent and the other recently updated, are "The Reader's Digest Book of Skills & Tools," and "The Reader's Digest Home Improvement Manual."

The "Book of Skills and Tools," published last fall, is an encyclopedia of home-improvement materials -- from hammers to handsaws, from routers to ladders, from jointers to soldering tools -- grouped by use with illustrations and descriptions. There's a separate section on hardware -- nails and screws, nuts and bolts, hinges and latches -- with pictures and brief descriptions. More than half the book is a manual of skills -- an intensively illustrated description of how to do a wide variety of tasks: Woodworking, metalworking, masonry, ceramics, working with plastics and glass (including stained glass) and applying paint, wall coverings and flooring.

There's also a section on project planning, including tips on hiring a contractor, using standard measurements and estimating materials, and a buyer's guide that lists resources and customer-services numbers for dozens of companies.

"The Home-Improvement Manual," first published in 1982, has been updated to include current standards and building codes. This book deals with larger issues -- how to finance improvements, how electrical and plumbing systems work, how to build interior and exterior walls, how to install gutters and downspouts, how to add a dormer, enclose a porch, build a deck or put in a home-security system.

There are also sections on restoring old houses, rehabbing urban houses, building kit houses, and a section on energy-saving renovations.

Reader's Digest books have a reputation for clear, straightforward explanations and illustrations that really do illuminate a subject. These books are typical examples, with plenty of photographs and step-by-step drawings. They work for every level of expertise, from novice to expert. Each book costs around $30, and they should be widely available at bookstores and libraries. Or you can order them from the Reader's Digest Customer Service Center at (800) 234-9000.


Even if your project involves strictly indoor work, winter isn't necessarily the best time to do it. Tasks as simple as sanding and painting require good ventilation -- with doors open and a fan blowing out a window.

And some painting jobs require more than that. A reader in Baltimore, for instance, wrote to ask us about a problem with the woodwork in her house.

"After 45 years of applying paint to the woodwork as needed, we find the painted surface has taken on a cracked appearance, much like the skin of an alligator or crocodile.

"Can you please tell me what causes this and if it can be corrected."

There are two likely reasons for the "alligatoring" of woodwork paint, and one or both of them may be at work here. First, it's possible that the surface wasn't prepared properly between coats. The old surface needs to be clean, dry, completely free of dust or oil. And usually it should also be sanded lightly, to scuff up the old surface and allow the new paint to adhere properly. And second, a new layer of paint may have been incompatible with the old one. Oil-based paint is "hot" -- that is, it contains alkali. You can't put "cold" latex over oil; it won't adhere properly. Primers, however, can neutralize the surface and allow it to accept either oil or latex paint.

Unfortunately, once the alligatoring starts, it's hard to correct it. It's possible that painting all the woodwork with an oil-based primer and one or two coats of either oil or latex-finish paint will minimize the appearance of the cracking.

If the woodwork has a flat, or matte, finish, it can be painted once it's clean and dry. But if it has a satin or gloss finish, that will need to be scuffed, or very lightly sanded, first.

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