OnTheHouse Express

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Grip-Tite Wrenches
Grip-Tite Wrenches

New England Arbors
New England Arbors


Rebuilding Together
Rebuilding Together


Tahoe Creamery
Tahoe Creamery


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Arbors: The perfect Functional Garden Accessory


When shopping for an arbor consider whether the arbor will be purely decorative or if will be supporting plants or flowers, how much time you want to spend maintaining your arbor, and also your personal style. Some arbor manufacturers offer additional accessories such as ‘wings’: small panels of fencing that attach on either side of the arbor to create a more decorative and impressive entrance, and also gates that can attach directly to the arbor to add interest as well as for more practical purposes such as containing animals and children in a fenced area (or keeping them out!)

If you are looking for an arbor onto which you can train flowers and vines, post size is a consideration. Vines such as clematis, can be trained up an arbor with post sizes as small as an inch and a half square. When it comes to heavier and more aggressive plants such as grapes and wisteria, which can crush thin wooden posts, larger post sizes, such as four or five inches square become necessary.

Stylistically, although Arbors can have many unique variations, there are two main types: Arch top and Flat (Pergola Style) top. Arch top arbors are very traditionally elegant. Paring the arch top with different side panels can change the look drastically, from a romantic, English garden look to a more traditional and understated New England style. Flat top arbors have one advantage over their arch top counterparts: They can be made to span larger areas, including walkways large enough to drive a riding lawn tractor through, without losing any of their stylish charm.

There are three materials from which arbors are commonly manufactured: wood, vinyl and metal. Wood Arbors usually are less expensive initially, but need extensive maintenance, requiring painting, staining or sealing every year or two. They also typically have no in-ground allowance, and simplistic styling. The typical warranty for a wood arbor is one or two years. Iron Arbors also require some elbow-grease to maintain their looks, although they will eventually rust, and in particularly sun drenched spots, may heat up enough to burn plants and vines. Metal Arbors typically carry a one year guarantee. Vinyl arbors are a relative newcomer, having been on the market for a little more than a decade. More homeowners have found that Vinyl is a smart alternative to both metal and wood, as they require virtually no maintenance aside from perhaps an occasional rinse with a garden hose. Vinyl arbors will not damage your plants, can be securely installed with either pressure treated lumber, post extensions, or an easy to use auguring system (one brand name is “Aussie Auger”). Because of modern manufacturing techniques Vinyl arbors are able to incorporate architectural detailing much less expensively than comparable detailing would be available in the other two materials (and in some cases- such detail that it would be virtually impossible to replicate in other materials.) Warranties on Vinyl arbors vary, but one manufacturer—New England Arbors—offers a twenty year warranty on all of their products.

Repairing Blemished Furniture

. Our Aunt Edith was an expert when it came to acquiring and holding on to fine home furnishings. She bought wisely, collecting only high-quality items. When Edith inherited a large dining room set, brother Morris proudly accepted her old dining room table and chairs that she and Uncle Bert had purchased as newlyweds 35 years earlier. The table was a masterpiece as were the six matching chairs. The tabletop was solid oak and in excellent condition. The baroque design was unusual, and, except for stain wear at the edges, every piece looked factory fresh.

Several years passed and sometime just after the set's 45th birthday the grand old heirloom finally began to show signs of use. So, a visit was made to the refinisher. A modest sanding and new coats of stain and varnish resulted in a set that was more beautiful than ever. The nice thing about that piece of furniture and others made of solid wood is that they can be sanded, repaired, restained and varnished and kept looking new for hundreds of years.

Not all of our furniture is solid wood or as easy to maintain. Veneered furniture, laminate-covered furniture and furniture with a photo-finished surface are not subject to periodic overhauls. But, with a little patience most furniture can be become an heirloom if properly cared for and maintained.

One of the reasons for furniture replacement is that items become worn out. People tire of scratched furniture with varnish that is wearing off.

Often scratched furniture can be repaired with nothing more than plain old coffee. Dip a soft clean cloth into a cup of black coffee (it doesn't have to hot), and wipe it onto the scratched surface. Suddenly light scratches on medium toned furniture will simply disappear. Of course, this depends on how hard the wood is and the color of the existing stain. For darker wood, Old English furniture polish is good for scratches. When you look at the bottle it appears so dark brown in color that it almost looks black. It contains a dark colored ingredient that masks lightly scratched dark wood and hides imperfections beautifully. But sometimes, dark colored polish isn't enough.

Note: the previously mentioned techniques and the methods to follow normally won't work if a coat of wax exists on the surface to be repaired. Turpentine or commercial furniture cleaner (not polish or wax) should be used to clean the surface before attempting to mask any scratch. Use caution; turpentine should be used in a well-ventilated area. The aroma is less than pleasant, but usually dissipates quickly.

More obvious scratches can be repaired with a wax pencil. These pencils are available in about every color imaginable. If a piece of the furniture to be repaired can be taken to the store, color-matching can take place. Liquid touchup kits also are available. If you are artistic, you can purchase artist brushes, and custom-mix colors that can be painted onto the surface and protected with a light coat of clear polyurethane spray. Paints and stains can be mixed with drawing pens to achieve a realistic match. This technique known as faux-finishing is especially handy when using putty to patch larger tears and gouges.

Small dents easily can be repaired. Place a drop of water in the dent, cover it with a towel and apply heat with a clothes iron set to medium. The iron will turn the droplet to steam and moisten the dent. Within 15 seconds, the dent will pop up and disappear. Caution: this repair only works on dents. It does not work on tears or gouges where the fibers of the wood have been torn. When you are repairing furniture and want to remove a small area of the finish, use 400 to 600-grit sandpaper. Sandpaper that is courser than that can leave deep, ugly scratches.

Crazing, alligatoring or crackling (a finish that contains a pattern of fine cracks) also can be repaired. But this is a tougher task, one we don't recommend to the light of heart.

There are three common finishes that will alligator: shellac, lacquer and varnish. The three are quite different. To find out which is which, start by applying denatured alcohol. If the finish is shellac, denatured alcohol will dissolve it. If the surface is lacquer, the alcohol will slowly soften (not dissolve) the lacquered finish. Next, try the lacquer thinner. It will dissolve a lacquered surface and slowly soften a shellacked surface. Since each solvent causes the non-matching finish to soften and swell, test it in an obscure area first. In contact with varnish, either solvent will cause swelling. For varnish a very light sanding and a new coat of varnish will mask alligatoring.

Shellacked and lacquered surfaces don't have to be sanded or recoated. Alligatoring can be repaired with a technique known as amalgamation. Here an artist's paintbrush is used to carefully apply the appropriate solvent (alcohol to shellac and lacquer thinner to lacquer) to the crack lines until the finish softens and fills the cracks. Let the finish harden overnight, then buff with paste wax.

Hopes and dreams


Yet there are people who will pray on our emotional attachments with false promises and instant results.

I am constantly approached by individuals promising that magic elixer that will do everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more.

My clients, some of whom I’ve been working with for over 12 years and run businesses all over the California Bay Area, TRUST me.

That trust is much more valuable to me than making a quick buck.

But then I’m old school or maybe just an old fool.

Live strong and long.

For more fitness tips and to order a copy of my ‘Living Proof’ DVD, go to www.overthehillfitness.com.

Building an In-ground Garden Bed


Gardening is a favorite pastime for both of us. While neither claims to have a green thumb, we can hold our own.

When we were kids, we and our two sisters helped our dad tidy up the garden every Saturday. Weeding, raking, trimming, sweeping and planting were a weekend ritual.

James acquired experience at an early age. From the time he was 9 until he graduated from high school, he cared for an elaborate and large garden of an aunt and uncle.

The garden consisted of four large turf areas, a formal rose garden, a baronial hedge that bordered the property, a fruit orchard, decorative planting borders and potted plants galore. James soon discovered that there was more to gardening than pulling weeds and raking leaves... although there was plenty of that, as well. The art of pruning roses, trimming hedges and tilling soil soon became a part of James' routine.

What we once considered drudgery would someday be a wonderful source of pleasure and relaxation.

Among the lessons we learned early on is that plants flourish when they receive ample sunlight, water and fertilizer. Equally important is the quality of the soil. Soil that is too alkaline, too acidic or poorly drained can spell disaster for even the best-cared-for plants.

If you have less than desirable soil, take several samples gathered from various locations throughout your yard to your local nursery or garden professional. The pro will be able test the pH of the soil and make specific recommendations concerning the types of organic material that should be used to "amend" the soil. Soil amendments should be mixed in with the existing soil using a rototiller. Premium topsoil can be used at the surface followed by a top dressing or mulch that will keep the soil moist and prevent weeds.

If the idea of major excavation and soil replacement or amendment isn't your cup of tea, and all you want are a few top-quality planting areas for vegetables or flower beds, think "garden beds." There are two types of garden beds... one is dug directly into the ground... an "in-ground bed" and the other is raised, and is appropriately named a "raised bed."

In both cases, a wood frame is built as a border to the bed. In the case of the in-ground bed, the wood framing at the perimeter is partially embedded into the soil with about 6 inches exposed above ground. The boards for a raised bed are higher (about 1 inch to 18 inches above ground) and essentially act as retaining walls.

What's the difference between the two? Is one better than the other? Actually both styles accomplish the goal of better quality soil and improved drainage. The raised bed, however, has a couple of advantages that the in-ground bed doesn't. The soil in a raised bed warms earlier in the spring and has better drainage. What's more, since raised beds aren't subject to foot traffic, the soil remains loose and easy for roots and water to penetrate.

Making a planting bed is easy. You'll need a circular saw (a hand saw will work if you need the exercise), a driver-drill, a small sledgehammer, a pick, a shovel and a steel rake, some lumber, wood stakes, construction screws and soil.

First, decide how large you want your planting bed to be and whether you want it in-ground or raised. When considering size, remember that the center of the bed should be reachable from the edges. Say your bed will measure roughly 4 feet by 8 feet and be in-ground. Your material list should consist of two 4-foot pressure-treated 1-by-8's and two 8-foot pressure-treated 1-by-8's. Don't forget six 1-foot redwood or cedar stakes and construction screws to attach the boards to the stakes.

Note: pressure-treated material is suggested because it is more rot-resistant. If you will be using the garden bed for vegetables, use redwood or cedar due to potential soil contamination from the toxic chemicals contained in pressure-treated material.

Before building the frame, lay out the location on the ground and rototill and amend the soil. This will prevent damage to the frame by the rototiller after installation.

Start the box construction by attaching the two 4-foot lengths of wood to the 8-foot lengths, using the construction screws. Next, place the box in the desired location and use a pick and shovel to create a shallow trench that the box will recess into... a few inches will be adequate. Drive stakes at all four corners and one at the center of each of the two long sides for added stability. The top of the stake should be driven slightly below the top of the boards. Drive construction screws through the outside face of the boards into the stakes.

If you have your heart set on a raised bed, substitute the 1-by-8's with 2-by-12's and use 2-by-2 stakes that are 18 to 24 inches long.

Finish the job by filling the box with premium soil, seeds or plants and water. You'll be the envy of your neighborhood.