Maybe it's because of the rocky New England soil where I live, but it seems to me that I've broken more than my share of shovel handles. As a result, I've had a lot of experience at replacing shovel handles. Over the years I've developed a system that works well with a minimum of effort.

The first step is to get what's left of the old handle out of the shovel. It's probably held in place by a couple of large rivets. Remove these by grinding or drilling their heads off. There's no need to take the head off both ends - look at the rivet and see which head is smaller; that's the one to attack.

Then drive the rivet out, using a hammer and a bolt as a punch. The remains of the old handle should now come free. If not, you may have to drill and chisel away at the handle stump to get it out of the shovel socket piece by piece.

Now take your shovel blade to the hardware store, and find a handle that fits as well as possible. Also check for strong grain structure. The best grain will be straight, with the lones close together. When you look at the end of the handle, holding it as it will be when in use, the grain should run up and down, rather than crosswise.

Most likely, the handle won't fit your shovel exactly. Take it home and work on it with a rasp, a plane, a Surform tool or extra-coarse sandpaper until it does fit. Check your progress from time to time by slipping the handle into the socket and rapping the tip of the handle on the floor.

This is the hardest and most time-consuming part of this job, so I no longer try for a perfect fit - I just try for a good fit. Then I remove the handle and clean out the socket with a wad of coarse steel wool.

Next, mix up a blob of polyester auto-body filler, about the size of a golf ball. You can get this jar at an auto-parts dealer - it's very handy stuff to have around the house. Trowel the filler into the socket, taking care to coat the surface all around. Slip the handle in and again rap the end of the handle down against the floor, to drive the handle as far into the socket as possible. This will also squeeze excess putty out of the socket. Wipe it off and set the shovel aside for half an hour or more. At the end of that time the putty will have set up and you can, if necessary, use the shovel.

There's no need to worry about replacing the old rivets - the putty will effectively glue the handle in place. At the same time, it will also fill any voids between the handle and the socket, compensating for a somewhat sloppy fit. An by eliminating the need for rivets, the putty does away with holes - which are potential weak spots - in the handle.

Q - After years of use, the rubber feet on my aluminum stepladder have worn out, and I can't find replacements anywhere. Can you supply the names of some sources I could try?

A - If I had your problem I'd forget about buying replacement feet and concentrate on making some. Pick up some rubber heels at a shoe-repair shop, or find an old worn tire. Cut the pads you need from either of these materials, and fasten them in place. If your ladder is like mine, you can simply glue the new pads in place with silicone caulk. Note: The rubber will be easier to cut if you wet your knife with water before slicing.

Q - I'd like to make a couch and bed for a 3/4-size mattress, but have not seen a pattern. Can you tell me where to get plans for this kind of project?

A - I rarely work from plans - they force me to build something that may not fit my specific need - and I don't know where you can find plans for what you want. But a good book, which your library may have, that will give you the ideas and guidance you need to develop your own plans is "Designer Furniture Anyone Can Make," by William E. Schremp, published by Fireside Books, Simon & Schuster. It gives details on building a number of sofas and beds.

Q - I have put up fake wooden beams made of plastic on the walls of my den. Now I want to give the walls between the beams a troweled-stucco look. I tried troweling on a skim coat of ordinary wallboard compound, and it looked good except that the trowel marks were too smooth. What should I do to get a rougher, more porous look?

A - The simples way is to add some fine sand to the wallboard compound you already have. Mix it in well, and trowel it on. The sand will give you the grittier texture you're after.