Handyman on Call

Take on weeds with flame — or just use vinegar

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / July 24, 2011

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Q. My gravel driveway is near a shallow well, so I can’t use weed killer on the weeds that come up through the gravel. But what about a flame-throwing weed machine? My wife said I’d burn down the town and myself, but I received a pledge from my son to stand by with a hose, just in case.


A. Such weed burners are indeed fairly easy to control, so I say go for it! In the meantime, you can sprinkle vinegar on the gravel whenever the weeds grow, and such treatment can keep the gravel free of weeds for a while. A bit of vinegar on the gravel should not affect the well, as long as you don’t overdo it. By the way, Clem, you have found a soulmate: me. My middle name is Clement, and I know you will defend your name and mine to the extreme.

Q. My house has a hip roof (four slopes) and a two-foot roof overhang. I read your recent story about the possibility of having no gutters at all. I’d like to take off my gutters, and wanted to get any more information you might have.


A. What I wrote is pretty much the whole shebang in a nutshell. And your house is ideal for no gutters, because of its wide overhang and hip roof, which allows less water to run down it because it has four slopes as opposed to two slopes of a gabled roof. The fact that you also have a concrete or paved area around the house is good, so you don’t have to build an apron to let the water flow away. And no foundation plants that you would have to move. Just make sure that concrete has a slight slope for proper drainage in the right direction. I don’t think my four-square Colonial (1768) with a hip roof has ever had gutters, and I am happy with that.

Q. The concrete floor in my garage is very smooth, so when it gets a little wet, it is very slippery, so much so someone took a bad fall. What can I put on it to make it less slippery?


A. You might be able to find thin self-adhering pads with a sandpaper-like finish, which can be placed on the floor. They are sold in specialty stores and some paint stores. Concrete floors in garages are often steel troweled, meaning that they are very smooth and slippery as ice when wet. An outdoor concrete walk or driveway is floated, meaning it is finished with a wood float (trowel), which makes the concrete rough enough to secure one’s footing. A better thing to do is to have the floor ground to make a rough finish. Any concrete finisher can do this.

Q. I am having a deck built, and somewhere in the specs the balusters are described as being 4 inches on center. What does that mean, and how far apart will the balusters be?


A. On center, abbreviated O.C., is an old measuring term, but a good one that assures that the space between a series of balusters, spindles, and studs is consistently equal. The measurement is from the center of one baluster to the center of the next. The center is of the width, not the length of the baluster.

The centers are 4 inches apart, but the balusters are 2 1/2 inches apart. If you draw a picture, you will see just how this measurement works.

Q. Parts of my log cabin are infested with powder post beetles. At least I have seen telltale signs of a very fine powdery substance on a few of the logs. How can I kill them and prevent reinfestations?

AL, from Plymouth

A. Some beetles come and go; that is, they work in the wood for a while and then leave. You can try varnishing the logs to fill cavities that often are used for egg laying. There are topical treatments; a good one is a borate, borax-based products sold perhaps in big box stores or by exterminators.

Exterminators also have a battery of borates and other beetlecides that can work. An ultimate treatment is to call an exterminator.

Q. When my house was built in 1974, the carpenters didn’t hit all the joists while installing plywood underlayment for my oak floors. The result is a lot of squeaks. I tried putting shims between the joists in the basement and the underlayment to bring the flooring and plywood together, but without much success. I was thinking of gluing the underlayment to the joists because there is a fair gap between them. But what kind of glue? Most of the glues are too runny.


A. Try construction adhesive. One brand is Liquid Nails. It comes in a caulking cartridge, and can be inserted between joists and underlayment without running. After you do this, be sure to put lots of weights on the floor to hold it against the joists while the adhesive sets. Overnight is a good interval.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to