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Peter Hotton's Handyman column

Q. The plastic toilet seat bolt and nut seized up on one of my toilets, and I just cannot loosen them. I tried spraying with WD-40 with no success. I can't cut off the bolt because its head is embedded in the porcelain of the toilet. What else ca...

Q. The plastic toilet seat bolt and nut seized up on one of my toilets, and I just cannot loosen them. I tried spraying with WD-40 with no success.

I can't cut off the bolt because its head is embedded in the porcelain of the toilet. What else can I do?

A.R. Grafton

A. You could try heating the bolt and nut which will expand them and might make them yield. A hair dryer should provide enough heat. Cold will contract them and might make it still easier to loosen.

How to make the bolt cold is a good question, but you could pour ice water on it, with a catch basin underneath. I can't imagine that you can't find a replacement.

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Go to a plumbing supply shop and see if you can find one that will fit; then cut off the old one and put in the new.

Q. A contractor put new wood baseboards in my house. They look good but in some areas there is a small gap between the baseboard and the wood floor.

The gaps are even more obvious at the joints between ceramic tiles in the bathroom. Can I, or should I, caulk those gaps?

C.C.S., Boston

A. In a word, no. Caulking would be strictly cosmetic, and it is hard to install caulking in small gaps without making a mess. And when you are in the living room sitting or standing a ways from the baseboard, you will not even notice them.

If you really want to do something, you can install an oak shoe mold (a kind of quarter-round molding). Varnish it first and it will present a pleasant segue between board and floor, because the shoe mold will follow the contours of the floor. Voila, no gaps!

In the bathroom, forget about it. Nothing will fill the gaps between the tiles; it is the nature of the beast.

Q. The ceramic floor tile in my house is light gray and good looking, but there are a number of chips that show very dark clay underneath.

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Is there an epoxy paint that I can use to match the gray color?

J. E., Bourne

A. Epoxy can work but I don't think you can get it in small amounts. Therefore, you should be able to buy appliance touch-up paint in the right color. The paints come in small bottles with the brush in the cap.

The paint is oil-based and you can apply coat on coat to build it up, so, if your color match is good, the repair will be invisible, unless you get down on all fours and peer at it.

Q. My tenant is a smoker and is vacating after 10 years. I have to clean the walls of the smoke and nicotine stains, but how? My painter suggested using trisodium phosphate. Is this acceptable?

R.G., Chelsea

A. Yes, that is a good start; an extra strong solution will do, and Spic and Span or any heavy-duty detergent will also do. After washing, you can try spraying the walls with Febreze or another odor killer.

Then I think you will have to paint. When painting, use an oil-based Kilz to cover any remaining odor and to seal against the nicotine bleeding through.

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Q. A can left on my terrazzo floor made a large rust spot. I tried Rust Remover without success. What can I use?

T. F., Chamette, La.

A. Rub lightly with a Brillo pad. Or, wet the stain with a mix of one part household bleach and five parts water, then scrub lightly with steel wool. If this does not work, mix 4 ounces oxalic acid in a quart of hot water and apply this to the stain.

Q. A slightly long door has scraped against my parquet floor, making a mark that I really don't like. Can I refinish the floor to get rid of the mark? The parquet is one-quarter to three-eighths inch thick.

S. L., Quincy

A. Yes, it is possible to redo the floor without sanding to the bare wood. Sand, by hand, the part that is scraped. If you sand to the bare wood, you will have to put a light stain on that area so it will match the finish.

If you do not sand to the bare wood, you will not have to stain it. Now, sand the rest of the floor, just enough to roughen the finish and reduce gloss, which will allow the new varnish to stick properly.

The floor will look horrible with all those sanding marks, but it will improve when you varnish it. Apply two thin coats of an oil-based, semi-gloss polyurethane varnish. And trim the door bottom so it will not scrape.

Readers feedback

Always trust the readers, bless them all. Here are several ideas from readers who took the time to e-mail The Handyman.

  • From B.: An alternative to the "smoke stick" (to check drafts in the house) is a toy called the Wizard Stick. It's made by a company in Concord, and it works very well for tracking air movement because the volume of "smoke" created is greater than that of a smoke stick. zerotoys.com/newsite/products/wizardsticknohead.htm
  • From D.D., Quincy and Naples, Fla.: Concerning that green oxidation buildup on copper pipes, I have used household vinegar to remove it, with great success. It is widely used in Florida for similar problems involving water/condensation. Try it.
  • From J. T., Chelmsford: In the Sunday Globe you had a letter from someone who found a horizontal bulge around his room when he took down his wallpaper. I had a similar line in my 100-plus-year-old house.

Not only was there a bump, but the character of the plaster changed below the bump. We presumed there was a chair rail and maybe some wainscot on the lower wall (which had "unfinished" plaster). There was no fixing it, so I skim-coated the rough lower wall with drywall compound and put up a chair rail over the bump.
Thank you all, with special thanks to J. T. who did The Handyman one better with his idea that the bump was a chair rail. The Handyman should have thought of it, even though such a thing as plastering over a chair rail is preposterous.

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