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Handyman Q&A

With Stucco, Third Coat's a Charm


Question: I need to know how much coverage an 80-pound bag of stucco mix will provide if I want a quarter-inch thickness.

Answer: Stucco is usually applied in three coats and is referred to as 7/8-inch, three-coat stucco. The first coat is known as the "scratch coat," the second is known as the "brown coat" and the final coat is known as the "color coat" or "finish coat." There are various other processes, but the one we refer to is most common.

The first coat is about a half-inch thick, the second coat is about a quarter-inch thick and the final coat is about an eighth-inch thick. The first coat is troweled onto the paper-backed wire lath and then the surface is scratched with a comb-like trowel, which results in a ribbed or grooved finish. The scratched surface provides an irregular plane that provides lots of "tooth" onto which the second or "brown" coat can bond.

The color coat is nothing more than stucco with color in it. For patchwork, use plain gray for your final coat and paint it to match. The color coat is usually applied in two phases: first a smoothing layer and then texture. The texture can be troweled, sprayed or splattered on.

Each of the first two coats must cure for a minimum of seven days before application of the following coat. Stucco cures best at temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

For each 80-pound bag of mix you can figure on getting about 40 square feet of coverage for your first (scratch) coat and about twice as much per bag on your second (brown) coat.

A Miniature Drill Motor Will Make the Job Easier

Q: We've put laminate flooring in the living-dining area. I have located replacement stair treads (oak) and cut them to length, finished and varnished them. The stringer is routed for the treads and risers. The treads and risers are installed from underneath.

The underneath area of the staircase is accessed from within our shop area. I can access four of the five steps and treads. I anticipate the fifth will be cut out in pieces because it is not accessible from below (due to a finished wall that encloses the shop).

I anticipate the sequence will be as follows: remove old wedges from risers, remove risers, remove wedges from tread and remove tread. I was thinking that the risers could be spared, but the more I look and ponder, I anticipate that even the tread will be difficult to remove. Any easy way to remove wedges or shims to make the replacement process easier?

A: Sometimes a project seems so complicated we tend to overlook the simplest alternatives. Getting out old hardwood wedges with a chisel can be a bear, especially if the area is tight. You need "little" here--not "big."

Try a miniature drill motor. Several companies make really good ones for use in crafts and model building. You probably can pick one up with many attachments for less than $40.

Once you own one, you and your family will fight over who gets it next. Use a tiny grinding tip or an emery wheel. It acts just like a tiny reciprocating saw.

Gently Remove Rust From Around Stove's Damper

Q: The flue is rusted shut on my earth stove (fireplace insert). How can I get this unstuck?

A: The thing that is rusted shut is called the damper. This is going to be a tough one if you can't get to the damper itself. Rust is not uncommon at this location, and if not dealt with on a regular basis it can rust to the point where replacement will be the only way to get it open.

Spraying the perimeter of the damper with cutting oil is the first order of business. Spray on an ample coat of WD-40 and let it sit for an hour or so. Next, gently tap the perimeter of the damper with a small heavy object such as a hammer. Repeat this process as many times as necessary.

If it doesn't come loose after several hours, you might have to pull the stove and use heat. A propane-soldering torch (in a can) can be used to warm up the area surrounding the damper. Usually, once heat is applied, the metal surrounding the damper expands just enough to break the rusted connection.

Whatever you do, don't get rough. Anything other than a gentle hand here could damage the damper.

Rosin Paper Can Help Level Uneven Floor

Q: Do I need to put a floor leveler over a plywood subfloor before laying down an unfinished floor (3/4-inch x 2 1/4-inch oak)? What about rosin paper? Do I need it and how do I place it on the floor?

A: We would not use a floor-leveling compound between the subfloor and the hardwood floor. They tend to break up over time. If the floor is way out of level, the house might be due for a jack-up to correct this.

In any event, we suggest that you attach the hardwood planks directly to the subfloor with only a coat of rosin paper overlapped 2 inches each way, and stapled in place. Don't use solid plastic sheeting.


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