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50 Nifty Handy Hints for Cheapskates

Some may think these ideas are kind of crazy. While that may be true, we also think they're kind of brilliant.

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Correcting Sagging Shelves 2Family Handyman

Quick fix for sagging shelves

Here’s a clever way to stop shelves from sagging in the middle. Cut plywood panels sized to fit inside some unwanted books. The panels also need to be the height of the space between your shelves. Cut out enough pages to fit the panels’ thickness. Then, build up the sides and front edge of each panel to match the size and shape of the book. Round the edges and corners of the panels to match the books, then paint the panels to match the books or any inconspicuous color and glue them into the books. Stagger the supports a bit so they aren’t lined up right in the center. Here are the home projects you can do by yourself instead of hiring a professional.

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HH Handy hint ice cubes wrinkle remover dryerFamily Handyman

Get wrinkles out of your laundry with zero effort

Ditch the time-consuming iron or handheld steamer to get wrinkles out of a shirt or slacks. Throw a few ice cubes or a wet washcloth in the dryer with your wrinkled clothes. As the ice melts and the water turns to steam, it will remove the wrinkles. This trick isn’t as effective with heavier clothing but is a miracle for lighter fabrics. The best part is that you don’t have to set the dryer for longer than 10 minutes for it to work.

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make your own shims 1Family Handyman

How to make your own shims

Run out of shims? Don’t panic. Just grab the nearest piece of two-by and start making alternating angled cuts down the length of the board. Then chop off the end of the board…There you go, a handful of perfectly reliable shims. — Associate Digital Harrison Kral

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frozen envelopeFamily Handyman

Why you should put an envelope in the freezer

I like to mail cash for family birthdays, but sometimes I forget to include the money before sealing the envelope. My solution is to place the envelope in the freezer for an hour or so. The seal opens up without any problem so I can fill the envelope and tape the letter shut before sending it on its way. – Reader James Staley. Even if you’re cheap, you should never try to DIY these home projects.

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Family Handyman

Stain unfinished wood with used coffee grounds

No need to buy a stain for your next woodworking project. It only takes a few common household ingredients: steel wool, coffee grounds, and vinegar. Place a steel wool pad into a mason jar and add about 1/4 cup of used coffee grounds and about 1 to 2 cups of vinegar. Close the container, shake the mixture, and let it stew overnight. Open the container and gently mix the stain. Using gloves, remove the steel wool and apply the stain to the project. As the stain dries it will become darker, so let the stain set for 20 minutes before applying the second coat. Repeat until you get the desired color.

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HH Handy Hint Plant seeds in toilet paper tubesFamily Handyman

Start seeds in toilet paper tubes

For an easy and green way to start seeds, save your toilet paper and paper towel tubes. Cut the tubes into 2 in. lengths and set them in a waterproof tray. Fill the tubes with potting soil and plant your seeds. When the seedlings are ready to move to the garden, plant them right in their cardboard tube. The cardboard will decompose. Be sure to keep the tube below the soil surface, so it doesn’t wick moisture away from the roots.

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reinvigorate dry puttyFamily Handyman

The easiest way to refresh dry wood putty

Coming to the final steps in a project and finding my jar of putty as dry as the Serengeti and hard as a rock is frustrating. My solution is to remove the putty with a screwdriver and knead it with canola oil until it’s a usable consistency. The putty isn’t quite as good as new, but it works in a pinch. It’s a messy job, so wear latex gloves. – Reader Richard Ryder. 

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HH Handy Hint vacuum cleaner spout hack condiments nozzle Family Handyman

Makeshift vacuum cleaner attachment

Sometimes you need a little bit of creativity to deep clean hard-to-reach areas. If you have a plastic squeeze top bottle, try fitting the tip onto your vacuum nozzle. If it fits, great, if not, there’s always tape. You’ll have a powerful machine to get rid of dirt and dust in even the tiniest of spaces, like a keyboard, headphone port or for detailing your car. Try these clever home improvement projects for under $200.

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HH under sill trim diy blade gaurdFamily Handyman

Easy vinyl blade guards

I am a stickler for keeping my cutting tools sharp and protected when transporting or storing them. I have tried almost every technique known to man when it comes to blade guards. But, I believe I have found the best blade guard yet in a simple piece of trim used when installing vinyl siding. I use under sill trim as DIY blade guards. I cut the trim piece a little long so as to cover the saw blade or knife blade fully. A heat gun can be used to flare out one end to make the guard easier to slide onto the blade. The friction holds the guard on the blade quite strong and will not easily come off. — Reader Neil Long

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milk jug watering can 2Family Handyman

How to turn an empty milk jug into a watering can

I only own one watering can, so I need to refill it four or five times to water all of the plants on my patio. Instead of buying more overpriced watering cans, I use old milk jugs. I drill a few holes in the caps, fill up the jugs with water and I’m good to go. — Reader Harrison Berg

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HH improvised caulk gun clamp zip-tiesFamily Handyman

Improvised caulk gun

Over the years, I have accumulated quite the collection of caulk guns because I’m always forgetting to bring one along to the job site. This time, I improvised a caulk gun instead of buying yet another one. I zip-tied the tube of caulk to the bar of a trigger-style clamp and stuck a wood scrap in the tube’s end to act as a plunger, dispensing caulk as I squeezed the clamp’s trigger. — Reader Frank McDonough

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HH eye level cookbook pants hangerFamily Handyman

Right-height cookbook

A countertop isn’t the best place to set a recipe or cookbook while you’re cooking. It takes up counter space, is difficult to read and is likely to get splattered with ingredients. Instead, I clip my recipe onto a clothes hanger with pants clips and hang it from a cabinet handle. Open your recipe book or web printout to the desired page, and close the hanger’s clamps on each side. You now have a hanging recipe stand.

If your cookbook is on the thicker side, it may not be able to hold the weight of the book. However, if you are using a relatively small cookbook, a magazine or just a single-sheet recipe, this life hack will work perfectly for you.

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HH handy hint swiffer sweeper dryer sheetFamily Handyman

Use dryer sheets to clean your floors

Don’t throw away used dryer sheets. There’s another use for them. Wrap a couple of dryer sheets onto the flat head of a sweeper. The dryer sheets pick up dust and hair just as well as name-brand sweeper refills. Say goodbye to those dust bunnies! These home improvement fails will make you cringe.

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Paint Mixing 3Family Handyman

How to use every last drop of leftover paint

I have several rental properties that seem like they’re always in need of repainting. Instead of throwing out leftover paint, only having to buy more later, I put it to use. I take multiple cans of interior latex, partially used paint and primer, any sheen, any color, and mix them all together. It doesn’t matter how much junk or debris is in the paint. Just pour it all in. I use a power mixer to blend them, and then dump all of the mixture into a bigger container. I did 20 gallons of paint once using a big round plastic tub. After all the assorted paints are in the vat are mixed, it usually ends up an off-white or antique white. The sheen is usually an eggshell to satin. If the color is too loud, I tone it down by adding a can of white paint. Now, I pour the paint into 5-gallon buckets with strainer bags inside. Lift out the strainer bags to remove any debris and pop on a lid to keep the paint fresh. This is a great way to use up leftovers when you do a lot of painting. — Contributing editor Tom Dvorak.

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HH Handy Hint Micro Green house pop bottleFamily Handyman

Micro greenhouse

Do you have a hard time starting seeds or cuttings? Try soda bottle greenhouses. Cut the bottom off 2-liter soda bottles and remove the labels. Each seed gets its own micro greenhouse! Remove the greenhouses once the seeds have germinated and cuttings are rooted.

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Lint Starter Log 2Family Handyman

DIY lint fire starter log

To properly build a fire, you need to have tinder (easy-lighting material), kindling (finger-size sticks) and fuel (logs). We all have a readily available supply of tinder: dryer lint! To make fire starters, I stuff empty toilet paper tubes with dryer lint. My dryer lint “logs” light quickly and easily burn long enough to light up the kindling. And I don’t have to resort to lighter fluid!

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Make Your Own Car Air FreshenerFamily Handyman

Make your own car air freshener

Freshen your car with scented candle wax. Punch holes in the lid of a mason jar using a hammer and a large nail. Add wax to the jar and replace the lid. When the temperature in your car rises, the wax will melt, filling your car with a lovely fragrance.

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Picture Frame Bumpers 2Family Handyman

Instant (and inexpensive) picture frame bumpers

Stop wall frames from slipping out of place and scratching the wall paint by putting small dots of hot glue on the back corners of the frame. The hot glue not only prevents movement, but it also holds the picture away from the wall to prevent scratches and nicks.

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No-Slip Clothes Hanger 1Family Handyman

Practically free no-slip clothes hanger

Sometimes you get one of the really cheap, plastic hangers when you need an anti-slip hanger. One solution is to wrap pipe cleaners around the clothes hanger. The pipe cleaners add a grippy stop to these otherwise slippery hangers.

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Clothes Hanger Drain CleanerFamily Handyman

Clothes hanger drain cleaner

Hair clogs in the drain are inevitable, and they’re more likely if there are longhaired people in your home. I’ve found that a wire coat hanger is the most effective tool for removing them. First, untwist the wire under the hook. This leaves the hook at one end and a miniature “auger” at the other end. Push the auger end down the drain up to the clog. Bend the free end 90 degrees, forming a handle. Crank the handle so the auger bores into the clog, allowing you to pull it out.  — Assistant Digital Editor Matt Boley

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HH handy hints spaghetti noodle lighter candleFamily Handyman

Lighter not long enough? No problem

We’re sure you’re stocking up on sweet-smelling candles to make your home extra cozy for the colder months. But, if your candles are burning too low to reach the wick, there’s no reason to go without your favorite scent. Instead of burning your fingers, light a piece of uncooked spaghetti. It’ll reach into those deep candles and burn long enough to light the candles on grandpa’s birthday cake! These home projects practically pay for themselves.

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HH Handy Hint broom wide tooth comb dust bunny dustpan hackFamily Handyman

Dust bunny broom cleaner

Every time you sweep, clumps of dust and hair collect at the ends of the broom’s bristles. To solve this problem, hot glue a wide-tooth comb to the top of a dustpan. Just run the bristles through the comb to remove any excess gunk dangling from the broom.

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Rice and sock heat padFamily Handyman

Homemade heating pad

Next time you have a sore neck or back, don’t reach for an electric heating pad. Instead, fill a sock with uncooked rice, tie the end and microwave it for two or three minutes. It’s better than a heating pad, as it conforms to whatever body part that needs heat. You can even put in some fragrant herbs like cinnamon or lavender to make it smell nice!

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HH handy hint DIY picture frame message board Family Handyman

Make a message board with stuff you already have

I’m all for dry-erase message boards, but they’re usually pretty unattractive. So I make message boards using nice picture frames. To make these message boards, grab a picture frame and some paper. Cut the paper to fit the frame and set it in behind the glass. The glass makes an excellent dry erase surface! — Reader Jessie Dawson

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HH Handy Hint Sponges stay plants stay hydratedFamily Handyman

Cheap planter upgrade

Water settling at the bottom of pots can lead to root rot. To combat this problem, cut up old sponges and put them in the bottom of the pot. The sponges retain moisture and create necessary air space. They also help prevent water from flushing out the bottom. The sponge acts as a water reserve and keep soil moist longer.

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Thinning Glue 1Family Handyman

Get the most out of your wood glue

I recently wrote to the Borden company, asking what to do when their Elmer’s wood glue gets too thick to use. They wrote me back and suggested mixing in a drop or two of vinegar. It sounded like an old wives’ tale, but I tried it and found it really works!

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HH Handy Hint reuse vacuum cleaner bag stapler Family Handyman

How to reuse your vacuum cleaner bags (Yes, it’s possible!)

“In a pinch, a vacuum cleaner bag is actually reusable. The bottom end of the bag is usually folded over a few times and glued shut. To reuse a bag, unroll its end, being careful not to tear it, and then empty the contents into the trash. Refold the end and staple it back together. This hint definitely deserves a cheapskate award, but it works when you need it to.” — Senior Editor Travis Larson. These home projects will double the value of your home.

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HH handy hints lays chips can painting roller storageFamily Handyman

An excuse to snack while painting

Washing a roller cover between coats of paint is a waste of time and paint. So one of my painting necessities is a can of chips; preferably the plastic cans. Before I start painting, I eat the chips and then clean out the can. I don’t want any unintended texture on my walls! Between coats, I slip the wet roller cover in the empty chip can and pop on the lid to keep it from drying out. — Reader Thomas Nolan

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HH Handy Hint color coded key nail polishFamily Handyman

Color-code keys on the cheap

“It seems the older I get, the more keys I carry around. Between the car, house, shed, and garage, I have a whole pocket full of keys. To make it easier to quickly find my most used keys, I paint both sides of the key head with brightly colored nail polish. I use a different color for each key. The nail polish is extremely durable and you’ll be surprised how much longer it lasts than spray paint.” — Reader Joseph Grayson

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rubber gloves rubber bandsFamily Handyman

Rubber gloves rubber bands

Ingenious reader Keith Opdahl says: Extend the usefulness of old, leaky rubber gloves by recycling them as rubber bands. Cut them into various lengths and widths with a sharp pair of scissors, store ’em on a nail and surprise yourself with how handy they are around the shop. They not only bind together power cords and dowels but also work well as glue clamps for repair and assembly jobs.

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HH Handy Hints Pop cans save soil gardeningFamily Handyman

The easiest way to save on potting soil

For deep planters, fill the bottom with old cans and plant pots. The cans and pots improve drainage and create air pockets for better aeration and healthier soil.

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coins to shim a toiletFamily Handyman

One cent toilet shims

When leveling a toilet, I often use coins or washers as toilet shims. Coins or washers provide a firm seat and come in different thicknesses.

Simply slide as many coins as necessary under the toilet until it’s completely level. Then caulk along the floor as you normally would to hide the coin toilet shims. — Reader Les Zell

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Toilet Paper Roll Wrapping Paper SleeveFamily Handyman

Toilet paper roll wrapping paper sleeve

This hint will save you from wasting wrapping paper each time you bring it out of storage. Rather than sticking a piece of tape along the loose edge, cut an empty toilet paper tube lengthwise and wrap it around a roll of wrapping paper. Cinch it up and secure the sleeve with a piece of tape. Next time you use the wrapping, you may rip the sleeve when removing it, but your wrapping paper will remain intact.
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HH lazy susan fridge condiments organization Family Handyman

Lazy fix for a disorganized fridge

Digging to the back of your fridge to find a certain ingredient is a pain. Instead, use a Lazy Susan to bring that food to you! Simply place a lazy Susan on a shelf in your fridge and stock it with condiments and other small containers. Nothing could be easier than spinning your ingredients around to find just what you need.

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HH Handy Hint Wine Cork Fire StarterFamily Handyman

Wine cork fire starters

Fill a mason jar with wine corks and rubbing alcohol, and let the corks soak. The corks will burn ok in a couple days, but for best results, soak them for a week. Be sure the corks are natural, not synthetic.

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Store Spray Paint in a Wine BoxFamily Handyman

Store spray paint in a wine box

Corral your pile of spray paint in a wine box for storage. The interior dividers in a wine box are sized perfectly for the narrow cans, and the colorful lids remain visible when you look inside.
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HH newspaper streak free glassFamily Handyman

Get streak-free glass

If streaky mirrors and glass tug on your nerves, we’ll show you how to get streak-free glass with a couple of items already lying around your home. To get started, you’ll need window cleaner and newspaper. Spray window cleaner on your dirty glass and then scrub in a circular motion, using the newspaper. Switch to a vertical, and then a horizontal stroke until all the liquid has dissipated and you’re left with shiny, streak-free windows!

Note: for vinyl windows, we’ve found that the newsprint leaves a mark on the white frame. Avoid rubbing the window frame with newspaper and stick to the glass.

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Grass Seed BroadcasterFamily Handyman

Grass seed broadcaster

When it’s time to clean out the refrigerator, be sure to save those plastic berry containers for repurposing ideas. You can toss the mushy raspberries, but wash and dry the container—it’s perfect for spreading grass seed on your lawn!
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Grocery Bag Shoe CoversFamily Handyman

Grocery bag shoe covers

Reuse plastic grocery bags as shoe covers. The plastic keeps dirt and water contained, and the handle loops can be tied around your ankles to keep them on when you step inside your house for a quick break.
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HH painters tape temporary mixing surfaceFamily Handyman

Quick epoxy mixing surface

Instead of using a container to mix a small amount of epoxy, just make a mixing surface on your workbench using painters tape. Simply lay down strips, overlapping the edges so the epoxy doesn’t get on your bench. When you’re done, peel off the tape and throw it away. This mixing surface will work for more than just epoxy, you can use it for wood glue or any other material you need easy access to while working on a project.

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Shoe Box Touch-Up Paint KitFamily Handyman

Shoebox touch-up paint kit

Create a reusable paint touch-up kit with an empty shoebox. Fill the box with a small roller and roller cover, a paintbrush, paint can opener, gloves, stir stick, etc. Then cover the shoebox lid with saran wrap, fill it with a bit of paint and use it as a roller tray.
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HH phone charger heat shrink tubing pen spring hackFamily Handyman

Extend the life of your phone charger

To make your otherwise fragile phone charger last for more than a couple of weeks, try out this simple hack! Start by removing the spring from a pen. Next, stretch one end of the spring out a bit so it can fit around the charger cable. You might need to use pliers for this. Now, wind the spring around the cable until it is completely on the charger cable. Next, take appropriately sized heat shrink tubing and slip it over the phone charger and spring. Use a lighter to warm the heat shrink tubing until it conforms around the charger and spring. This simple hack will keep the cord from breaking any further or from even breaking in the first place!

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oil bottle toteFamily Handyman

Oil bottle hardware storage

Here’s a fun little project to keep your screws, nails, nuts and electrical whatsits handy and neatly organized. Fine the full step-by-step plans for this nifty project.

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Hanger Magazine RackFamily Handyman

Hanger magazine rack

Create a quick magazine rack for your bathroom or bedroom using a hanger. Place the magazines on the horizontal bar of the hanger; then hang it on a drawer pull or cabinet knob for reading material at the ready.
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Safer Blade DisposalFamily Handyman

Safer blade disposal

Save that empty spice container with a removable lid—it makes a great blade disposal container in the workshop. That’s what reader Bill Nelson does! The container is durable and can hold several used utility blades, damaged nails and other sharp objects to be thrown away without cutting the trash bag open or posing a hazard in the shop.
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Organize Small Cords with Toilet Paper RollsFamily Handyman

Organize small cords with toilet paper rolls

To keep small cords organized, try this handy hint: Fill a shoebox with as many empty toilet paper rolls that will fit vertically; then place a single small cord in each tube. It’ll keep your cords free of tangles and in one place. Anyone can do these home repairs.
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Greenhouses from the Salad BarFamily Handyman

Greenhouses from the salad bar

Reuse a plastic clamshell container from the salad bar as a mini greenhouse for starting seeds in the spring. After washing the container, punch a few holes in the top. Fill the bottom with potting soil and plant your seeds. Close the lid and place the container in a sunny spot. It acts like a mini-greenhouse, allowing the sun to reach the plants while holding in moisture.
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Tin Can Glue Bottle StorageFamily Handyman

Tin can glue bottle storage

Reuse a tin can for storing glue bottles upside down in your workshop. Then you won’t have to wait for the glue to slowly reach the top of the bottle in order to squeeze it out—it’ll be ready to go when you reach for it.
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Bread Tabs for Labeling CordsFamily Handyman

Bread tabs for labeling cords

Not sure which cord goes with which electronic device plugged into your power strip? Save yourself the hassle of following the cord from the plugin to the device for each item you need to move by labeling them. Plastic bread tabs are perfect for labeling cords that are plugged into a power strip because they’re sturdy, have enough room to write on and can easily clip around the plugin end of a cord. Plus, they often come in different colors. You’ll be able to easily identify and move your electrical devices.

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Egg Carton Painting PropsFamily Handyman

Egg carton painting props

Keep a few empty egg cartons with the rest of your painting supplies. They’re great for lifting a small project off of a work surface, making it easier to paint nooks and crannies and along the base of the project. To save more money, try using these extraordinary uses for household staples you already have.
The Family Handyman
Originally Published on The Family Handyman