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HANDY MAC: Bob’s your uncle

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Long-time reader deserves a column dedicated to him for the years of advice, help and practical solutions

The column this week is dedicated to Bob Chilton-Young, my long-time reader and contributor, for all the help and advice he supplies to so many readers. 

However tricky the problem, Bob, who is 85 and has a workshop I marvel at, never fails to come up with practical solutions for things that are a little too technical for me. This type of old-fashioned DIY advice is irreplaceable, and Bob takes the time and trouble to help people and respond to queries by SMS. 

He really is a character of note. Recently he responded to a reader’s query about a dead Betamax video recorder, announcing that his hobby is collecting and restoring early wireless and crystal sets, something he has been doing since he was just 10 years old.

He said in his experience “dead video or electronic apparatus is much easier to fix than half-dead apparatus”. This information resulted in a spate of queries for Bob, including this one from Harold on October 19. “Hi Don I have an old Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder which emits a loud hum when switched on and the volume is turned up. How do I contact the gentleman who knows how to fix this problem?”

Yesterday I received the following from Harold: “Bob is trying to find replacement parts for my faulty 1960 Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder. Thank you for putting me in touch with this amazing man.”

Bob pointed out that stored vintage wireless sets from the 1920s to the 1960s would produce a loud hum after not being used for years because the internal smoothing condensers (capacitors) need replacement. I have just chatted to Bob, and with his permission I am publishing his phone number – 0823682690 – so people can contact him directly. It may take a while for him to respond, but you will love chatting to him. Bob, this week’s column is dedicated to you for your total support.

Q and A

Dry rot damp is the most serious form of fungus decay. Picture: Takafumi-Yamashita

Alex needs advice about rot.

Q: I recently discovered what I believe to be wet or dry rot in one of the beams in my loft. I am aware how fast this can spread and how dangerous it can be to the wood, but I am really struggling to find a specialist to advise and treat whatever it might be. Would you be able to advise?

A: Let’s start by explaining the difference between wet rot and dry rot. Dry rot is the most serious form of fungus decay in a building as it spreads on to and destroys much of the timber. Wet rot fungus occurs more frequently but is less serious.

The decay is usually confined to where it is found on the timber, which becomes and stays wet. Although the causes are slightly different, the treatment for both types is basically the same: almost like a medical operation, you need to study the disease, plan the operation, cut out the nasties and then plan the after-care.

At the same time the cause of t he problem has to be addressed to ensure there is no chance of recurrence. Unfortunately I can’t make personal recommendations about who to use to fix your problem as it not one I have often encountered.

However, a quick check on the internet shows there are quite a few specialists around. I would certainly recommend that because this is a specialist operation, you get a few quotations as specialists do not come cheap. Be aware there are contractors and handymen out there who will claim they can do the job, but would you let a plumber take out your gall bladder?

At the end of the day, some chemical application is going to be needed and you don’t want this being done by an amateur. The source of the moisture needs to be attended to by an expert.

Tip of the week

Let’s look at preparing to paint internally.  We will be faced with different challenges than those found on outer walls. Most internal problems are caused by damp or repeated over-painting.

It is pointless to begin internal repairs until the source of damp is identified and cured. There are paint products that claim they will prevent further ingress of water. At the top end of the price spectrum are products that will hold back the tide for a while, but rather spend on solving the problem. Once you have a cure, scrape or brush off all damp or flaking paint down to raw plaster.

Patience is key. Unless you use a forced drying method, a wall can take up to six months to dry. When it seems dry, tape clear plastic over the area and see if moisture condenses behind it after 24 hours.

When over-painting to change colours or upgrade, brush your hand over the wall to check for powdery or loose areas. Choose a relatively hidden area and scrape off paint down to bare plaster to see what is underneath the paint layers. If you find powdery surfaces, strip everything down to a solid base.

Before you start, protect and cover every surrounding surface from dust. Next week we’ll look at preparing other surfaces for priming. 


The iconic Newlands Stadium. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

I received the following note:

I was excited to read your article ‘Of cement and rugby’ as I thought you were writing about saving Newlands Stadium. It was disappointing to find there was no link to support the attempt to preserve an iconic place.

Don says: Unfortunately, there comes a time when the cost of restoration or maintenance on an iconic building becomes too much. If the costs are adding to the losses of an individual or company, hard decisions must be made.

Look at empty stands for anything other than a test match to understand Newlands can’t be maintained. I don’t want to see a beautiful building become an eyesore.

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