Loose screws and cracked caulking


February 20, 2000|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

EVEN THE savviest do-it-yourselfer gets stumped sometimes by problems that crop up in the middle of some mundane chore. Pros expect these things and know how to fix them -- without spending a couple of hours on a Web site.

Here are some common problems and what to do about them:

Screws in a door are loose because the threads in the wood have been stripped. First, remove one screw at a time, so the door will stay in place with the remaining screws. Use a toothpick, or for larger screws, a wooden match. Dip the end of the match in wood glue (Elmer's will work fine), stuff it into the hole and break it off at the surface.

You may need to do this several times to fill the majority of the hole. It should be filled, but it doesn't need to be packed solid. When you reinsert the screw it will be tighter -- but don't overtighten it; the screw will hold when the glue dries. Repeat this for all the loose screws, one at a time, and the problem will be fixed. Caulk can be a wonderful substance, the fix-all of the home-improvement industry. When you have a gap, you caulk it. It can blend woodwork seamlessly to walls, put the finishing touch on kitchen cabinets, seal windows and doors, and a myriad of other helpful things. If it's done neatly, it looks great. Unfortunately, if it's done badly, the job will look sloppy even if the work being caulked looked good.

The simplest caulk to use is latex -- it cleans up with water, unlike oil-based or pure silicone caulks. First, the surfaces to be caulked must be clean, dry and dust-free. If you are recaulking, remove all the previous caulk. This is the most common mistake people make: trying to caulk over old caulk. Removing it will be the hardest part of doing it right, but it's also the most essential.

When you have a clean surface to caulk you need the right tools: a clean, wet rag that has been wrung out and your finger.

The trick to a good job is to use your finger to smooth the caulk (there's a name for this: it's called tooling) on both surfaces at the same time and feather the edge to nothing. You have to keep your finger clean as you go, so tool about a footlong section, then clean your finger with the wet rag.

Don't try to caulk too much at once. You should apply only about 4 to 6 feet at a time. Different caulks and different conditions will cause the caulk to set up (cure) faster. Only apply as much caulk as you can tool before it starts to set.

The second most common mistake is to put on too much caulk. Getting this right will take some practice. Generally, a good bead of caulk is a quarter-inch in diameter. If you have a gap larger than that, it will need to be caulked at least twice, because caulk shrinks when it dries. If there's still too much caulk, wipe your finger and tool the caulk again until all the excess is removed. You have to apply enough pressure to remove the excess while you leave a bead where you want it.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at hwrenovator.net. Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 2/20/00

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