Q: Please help me with a problem on how to store firewood. I want to invest in a cord of wood and had planned to have it stacked against the house. My neighbor informs me that this would be a big mistake because insects often live in woodpiles and could invade my house. What would you recommend?
A: Your neighbor is correct. Firewood should be stored well away from the house. Termites, carpenter ants and wood beetles are among common inhabitants of woodpiles and can do serious damage to houses. Woodpiles can also harbor cockroaches, mice and other pests that come in with uninspected wood to take up residence in your bookcases, furniture and walls.
Here are some suggestions from an exterminator to reduce or eliminate pests in the woodpile and the house:
* Build a rack for the woodpile--try two-by-fours on concrete blocks--so the wood is stacked at least 10 inches from the ground.
* Rotate the woodpile; logs should not remain at the bottom of the pile for more than one year.
* Cover the pile with plastic in the winter to keep it dry.
* Do not store firewood in a heated garage or basement.
* Do not spray logs with residual insecticides--such wood can emit dangerous materials into the atmosphere when burned.
* Take only two or three pieces of wood inside at a time as needed; do not store wood inside the house.
* Before taking logs into the house, remove the bark and pound each log on the ground to shake off remaining pests.
Q: I found an old-fashioned cast-iron skillet in my mother's attic. It is dirty, with some rust spots. How can I clean it so it is reusable?
A: Cast-iron cookware is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. It's very likely that your skillet can be restored.
To loosen dirt, grime and cooked-on food, boil in a solution of 2 teaspoons of baking soda per quart of water. Do not use harsh powders or steel wool for cleaning except for the rust spots. Scrub those spots with steel wool and clean in hot sudsy water. Dry thoroughly. To fully dry the skillet, heat it briefly over a stove burner.
When the skillet is clean it will need to be re-seasoned. To season, clean the skillet in hot soapy water, dry and then coat lightly with shortening or vegetable oil and heat in an oven at 200 degrees to 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Let the skillet cool and wipe off the excess oil with a paper towel.
After each use, gently clean the pan in hot sudsy water (without heavy scrubbing), rinse and dry. Finally, wipe with a thin coating of oil before storing.
To avoid rust, store cast-iron utensils in a dry place. Never leave lids on because condensation can cause rust. Your iron cookware will need re-seasoning occasionally to avoid rusting.
Q: I have just finished stripping coats of varnish from a long, narrow table that is ideal for my entrance hall. I believe that the wood is cherry. Do you have any suggestions for applying a finish that would enhance the natural patina and also provide protection?
A: Here's a finish that was recommended to me by a friend. It's excellent for small projects and is particularly suited for woods such as oak, cherry and walnut.
Start by applying a light coat of an oil finish such as Danish oil or Deft oil. These oils dry to a hard surface. Wipe thoroughly and let it dry completely--for a longer time than the manufacturer recommends, such as 48 hours. Then apply two to three coats of a semi-gloss aerosol lacquer. A brand with an adjustable spray tip on the can is best. Sand lightly with 600-grit wet or dry sandpaper between coats.
This finish gives you the advantages of both oil and lacquer: the warm rich color of oil and the gloss and surface protection of lacquer.
Write to Here's How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, Calif. 92112-0190, or e-mail email@example.com. Only questions of general interest can be answered.