Q: During the summer when the air is humid, the drawers of our built-in teak wall unit seem to swell. As a result, we are faced with the choice -- from June to September -- of either leaving the drawers shut all summer or leaving them partly open all the time so we can use them when necessary. We seldom use our air conditioner because we like to leave our windows open. Is there anything we can do to solve this problem short of buying a dehumidifier?
A: Installing a dehumidifier won't help if the windows are left open most of the time. But here is what you can do: Wait for a dry spell when the drawers open and close easily (or turn your air conditioner on for a few days to lower the humidity on the inside). When the drawers are working easily, take each one out and coat the sides, bottoms and edges with a coat of clear shellac. Allow this to dry before replacing the drawers. Then spray the guides inside the cabinet with silicone lubricant. The shellac will keep the drawers from absorbing moisture and swelling; the silicone will lubricate the guides and help keep them from swelling.
Q: My house has hand-split cedar shingles on the roof. These were treated with boiled linseed oil a few years ago and this darkened the roof considerably. Also, there is now a slight greenish growth on the shingles that is most apparent after a rain. I want to protect the roof and have been given contradictory advice -- from applying more boiled linseed oil to treating with a clear wood preservative such as Woodlife. What do you advise?
A: The greenish growth is mildew -- probably a result of having applied the linseed oil. I suggest scrubbing the roof with a mildewcide -- you can make your own my mixing three parts water with one part fresh laundry bleach -- then rinsing thoroughly with plain water. Allow to dry, then apply two coats of the clear wood preservative. Renew with a fresh coat every two or three years.
Q: Can you please advise me about getting rid of cigarette burns in my carpeting? I have been told that I can use strands from an unused portion and glue these strands in. What kind of glue should I use?
A: The technique described often works. First, carefully snip away the charred ends or scrape them away with the back of a knife. Then glue in fresh strands from the same carpet by dipping the lower end of each strand in some white glue -- the kind that dries clear although it looks milky white in the jar.
Q: A part of my kitchen ceiling is damp and paint has been peeling there. Since this is right under a bathroom, I made a hole in the ceiling and found a water pipe resting on the plaster board. I replastered the hole, but the plaster never dried. There does not appear to be any leak in the pipe. How can I prevent this pipe from continuously keeping my ceiling plaster board damp so I can once again paint the ceiling successfully?
A: If the pipe is keeping the ceiling moist, then either it is leaking or there is condensation forming on the outside if it is a cold water pipe. You will have to do more than just make a small hole in the ceiling. Cut away enough of the plaster board to see several feet of the pipe. Leave it open for a day or two and watch for leaks. If none are evident, wrap the pipe with insulation and try to prop it up an inch or two so it doesn't actually touch the ceiling. Finally, patch the ceiling properly, using small pieces of plaster board and joint cement, not plaster.
Q: A careless guest left a cigarette burn about the size of a quarter on my plastic counter top. The burn goes down to the wood and is very noticeable. The counter is white. Do you know how this can be even minimally repaired?
A: The best method would be to patch with a small matching piece of the same white plastic, if available. Use a sharp utility knife to cut out a small square of the plastic around the burn mark. Heat this with an iron set at medium heat, then pry it off carefully with a knife.
Next, cut a matching piece to fit the size of this patch, and cement the new piece down with contact cement. Use a file to trim the edges of the new piece for a snug fit before you cement it in place. Since your counter is white, there is another method that may be satisfactory, though it will be more noticeable.
Buy some white epoxy adhesive or white epoxy putty and spread this over the depression left by the burn. If you smooth it out carefully with a small knife, then sand or file to an even surface after it is hard, you should wind up with a patch that will be almost unnoticeable.
Q: My dining room tabletop always feels sticky to the touch, even after I clean it. I believe this is from a buildup of polish and wax over the years. I have been told that I can remove this with a clean rag dipped into paint thinner. Is this so and if so, is it safe?
A: If there is a buildup of wax and polish, removing it with clean rags and paint thinner is probably the most effective way to do the job. Dip the rag into the thinner and wipe it over a small area while rubbing lightly. Then immediately wipe off the softened film with another clean rag. The idea is to pick up the residue promptly rather than spread it around.
Paint thinner is highly flammable, so you must be sure the room is wellventilated and that there are no open flames or people who smoke nearby. The thinner will not harm most furniture finishes but, to be sure, test it on a small, inconspicuous area before doing the whole table.