Q: The doors on my kitchen cabinets are ordinary fir plywood that has been stained and varnished. The grain is overpowering with a wild almost flamelike pattern and extreme contrast between the dark and light tones. Is there anything I can do to subdue the grain and still keep a natural wood-toned look? A: Probably the best solution, would be to use a product called varnish stain. It's nothing more than a varnish with transparent stain mixed in. Put in on over the existing finish and it will darken it and subdue the grain pattern. The more coats you apply, the darker the finish and the tamer the grain. For best results, remove the doors and lay them flat for varnishing. This will make it easier to get a good smooth finish without drips ans sags. That's important because these defects are quite conspicuous when you are using a varnish stain. Q: What's the secret to using a pipe wrench? Sometimes I can get mine to grip properly. Other times it slips no matter how I adjust it. A: I'd guess you're not holding the wrench properly. A pipe wrench is designed with a loose jaw that will grip only when the wrench is turned in the right direction. If you turn it the other way the jaws will slip. Q: I like using silicone rubber caulk, but I'm having trouble with it now. Last time I used it, I painted over it with no problem. I tried it again a while ago and this time the paint wouldn't stick to the caulk. Has the formula for silicone caulk been changed? A: Take a look at your container of caulk. Some silicone caulks can't be painted, while other brands can. If the brand you bought can't be painted, it will say so on the cartridge. If so, either paint first and use clear caulk, or switch to a brand that can be painted. Q: A joint in my heavy iron drain pipe is dripping, leaving an ugly stain on by basement floor. The joint seems to be stuffed full of coarse steel wool or something. Is there any way I can fix the leak, or will I need a plumber? A: Sounds as if your joint is sealed with oakum and lead wool. You may be able to stop the leak by packing or caulking the lead. Get a caulking tool (a sort of a bluntnosed offset chisel) at a plumbng supply house. Use it and a hammer to pound on the lead wool and pack it more tightly into the joint. An even easier solution would be to wipe the joint clean and dry, then seal the leak with epoxy plumber's putty.