Q: As part of the restoration work on a 95-year-old house we decided to strip the plaster off an interior brick wall. The red bricks were cleaned with muriatic acid and look great. My problem now is finding a clear, non-glossy sealer for the brick that will seal the surface and prevent dust, without discoloring it. What do you suggest?
A: No matter what you use, any clear sealer will slightly darken the color of the raw bricks - about the same as water does. Your best bet, for the least darkening and the dullest finish, is one of the silicone sealers sold for use on masonry.
Q: Recently someone was careless with his cigarettes and burned two small holes in my nylon carpet. Can you tell me how to fix this?
A: If the burns do not go all the way through you can get by with just using a sharp scissor to snip off the burned tips of the fibers. If the holes are too deep, the next step is patching. Cut a piece of the same carpet from under a large pice of furniture here it will not show (unless you have scraps left over). Lay the piece over the damaged area, then use a sharp knife or razor blade to cut through both pieces of carpet at once (the one on the floor, and the scrap piece). Now you can lift the damaged section from underneath and put the new tailor-made patch in its place, cementing it down with a little white glue. If the old carpet has faded there may be slight difference in color.
Q: My hardwood stairs are badly in need of refinishing after more than 10 years of simple waxing. Either varnish or shellae was originally used, but now the center of each tread is worn and turning dark where the dirt has been ground in. Can you advise how to bring the wood back to its original appearance? What finish should be applied to preserve it?
A: First you will have to sand the treads down to the bare wood. You can rent a sanding machine to speed the job, but you will have to use a hand scraper and do hand sanding in the corners where the machine will not reach. Sand with medium grit paper first, then finish with fine grade to get each tread smooth. If the treads are also hollowed out in the center, you may have to start with coarse grit to level them. After the wood is clean and smooth, dust thoroughly. For hardwood steps I recommend a penetrating sealer. Apply two coats, then a coat of wax.
Q: The hearth floor in my 70-year-old beach cottage is beginning to show its age. The surface of some of the fire bricks has chipped, and the mortar has pitted in places, leaving shallow holes. Is there a premixed mortar suitable for resurfacing the hearth floor that will withstand the heat of wood fires?
A: When you say the hearth floor, I assume you refer to the floor of the firebox inside the fireplace, where the fire actually burns. This is normally covered with firebrick or high-temperature mortar. If you want to resurface this floor area, and if it is only a shallow depression that must be filled, your best bet is a product commonly referred to as stove lining. It is a type of refractory cement most often sold in powder form, but it is also made in ready-mixed form. Try lumber and building materials dealers, stove dealers, or mason supply houses.