Question: What's the best way to turn grass clippings and leaves into compost? Do I need to buy any kind of additives?
M.N., Santa Ana
Answer: "You'll need to build some kind of chicken wire or screen cage to put in your back yard," says Kelly Kong-Green of Flowerdale Nursery in Costa Mesa. "Try to find an inconspicuous place for it, since it will smell, then fill it with your leaves and clippings. You can even put things like banana peels, apple cores, any kind of fruit or vegetables. Then cover it with newspaper or plastic to help it retain heat and turn it or mix it every few months until it's fully decayed.
"You can add aluminum sulfate to speed up the decaying process, but it's not really necessary. Composting occurs faster when there's some humidity in the air, so if it's been dry for a while, try wetting your pile down and covering it."
Q: In paneling a room, I'd like to know how to make exactly the right hole for the electrical, phone and cable outlets. I'm afraid of just guesstimating, because I may end up with a hole that's not right on target.
A: "Try putting the outlet screws in their holes just enough so they're straight," says carpenter Brad Martin of La Mirada. "Then put a little paint on the screw heads, line up the panel where it's going to be placed and press it against the wall and the outlet. When you pull the panel off again, you find the paint left by the outlet screws and, from there, you can make an outline of the hole you'll need to make."
Q: I'm starting to repair some old chairs we have. In looking for materials, I've noticed both white and yellow carpenter's glue. What's the difference between the two and wouldn't a hot-glue gun be better than either of those?
L.O., Fountain Valley
A: "Yellow glue has special resins in it that make it set faster," says Robert Espland of Espland Furniture Repair in Orange. "When I have a gluing job that's a little tricky, and I'm not sure I can get the clamps on it right away, I'll use the white glue, because it gives you about five minutes before it really sets. With the yellow glue, you have about a minute.
"The glue gun glues are really a mistake when you're working with wood. They're never fully dry, and they stay rubbery. And when you're doing a glue job, remember the most important thing is not the glue but your clamps. It's the pressure applied to the job, not the amount of glue used that makes the difference. Without my C-clamps and pipe clamps, I'd be out of business."
Q: I've got to replace the fill valves in both toilets in our home. While I've heard that those plastic valves work great, they look cheap. Should I get one or should I stick with the brass-type valve that I'm replacing?
C.K., Seal Beach
A: "The good plastic-fill valves have just one moving part, and while they might look cheap, they're really good quality," says Dave Van de Aveer of Tustin Hardware. "They adjust to fit almost any toilet, and they're real simple to install. Not only that, they're a lot cheaper than the old-fashioned valves, now that the price of brass has gone up."