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Handyman on call

Protecting vertical siding

By Peter Hotton
Globe Staff / June 16, 2011

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Q. Our cottage has vertical boards as siding and sheathing — only one layer of boards, and they are tongued and grooved and vertical. Since 1963, when the cottage was built, where the boards end, they are extending a little below the sill and beyond the framework. They are in good shape, except for the bottom two inches, which have become rather soft to the probing of a fingernail. How can I stop that softening and keep water from making it worse?

DESPERATE

A. The fact that there are no inner sheathing boards complicates the matter. Those vertical boards act as a drip edge at the bottom, and because they are not flared as is most siding (shingles and clapboards), water tends to percolate under the ends. And because they are vertical grain, they take up moisture very easily. Hence the softness, indicating decay. Eventually they will rot out. Your idea to treat the ends with a wood hardener that replaces the sucked up water with a drying agent is a good one. Let the boards dry as long as practical, then apply a heavy bead of adhesive caulk to the ends, pressing it in thoroughly to prevent absorption of more water. Minwax makes a good wood hardener.

You could also nail a pressure-treated 1x1 to the ends to seal the whole thing.

Another way, more complicated, may also work. Treat the ends as above, then install an aluminum drip edge: a 6-inch-wide piece of aluminum flashing slightly bent outward at the bottom, with the end bent 1/4 inch down. Install this inside the boards, with the slanted part (the drip edge) about 3/4 inch below the board ends. This will allow water to drip harmlessly away. Attaching this metal is another matter. You could pull the boards out a little and remove nails, then apply an adhesive caulk to the front of the metal and slip it up behind the inside of the boards, slipping it between framework and boards. Then tap the boards back to the studs and baseplate. Sounds weird, but what smart-alecky ideas aren’t?

Since it is a cottage, I think your idea will work better or as well as mine. And since it took 48 years for the wood to turn soft, I say your idea will be good for a lifetime.

Q. We are replacing some grout between our tub and tile. It is especially bad in the corners, where the grout has almost completely failed. How can we put in new grout so that it will stay?

DEBBIE & LARRY ONIE, Brookline

A. Basically, for grout to stay put for maybe 10 to 20 years, it has to be compacted very heavily. Corners are the worst culprit; there usually is a bigger void behind them because of the construction of the studs and plasterboard corners. So, insert the grout in the corners, and keep pressing it in until you cannot press in more. Sometimes it will take a goodly amount of grout. If you cannot get enough grout in that space, press it in and leave a little space at the surface. Let this grout set overnight, then put in new grout. If the old grout is strong enough, the new grout can be compacted. After a day or two, treat the new grout with a tile sealer, which will make it waterproof. Never put new grout over old; partial grout must be removed first. If the full grout is intact, leave it alone.

Q. We are putting in a new gravel driveway over our old one. What’s the best way to get rid of grass and weeds that have invaded the driveway?

CURIOUS

A. Douse the driveway with vinegar. Use a sprinkling can and “water’’ heavily. Vinegar is like acid rain and works well. Then cover the driveway with heavy black plastic before installing the new gravel.

Q. I have a nice cast or wrought iron bell hanging from a bracket in the form of a bird. The bracket broke, and I tried to fix it with epoxy, but it failed. Can it be welded?

MARCIA, from Duxbury

A. I don’t think iron can be welded, but contact a metal fabricator, who can weld it if that is possible, or install a mending plate to keep everything together.

Globe Handyman on Call also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (photton@globe.com) also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to www.boston.com