Inside the World of 'Do-It-Yourself' Looking for new furniture, clothes or a remodeled house? Maybe it's time to "do-it-yourself." A peak at the curious and creative world of DIY.
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Inside the World of 'Do-It-Yourself'

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Inside the World of 'Do-It-Yourself'

Inside the World of 'Do-It-Yourself'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Andrea Seabrook in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

`Do it yourself' means drastically different things to different people. It might be knitting your own sweater, brewing your own beer, macrame or decoupage. But DIY culture is always evolving, and today's hobbyists are just as likely to build a lamp out of old water bottles or hack into their TiVo and rejigger it. If you find yourself planning weekend projects while staring at old furniture in your neighbor's trash day pile, or if you can't remember the last time you gave a present that came straight from a shopping mall, you're probably hooked on DIY. If you have a memorable do-it-yourself project, whether it totally flopped or turned out fabulously, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK.

Later in this hour, what do we call this decade: the nils, the double-Os, the naughts? Send us your suggestions. The e-mail address is

First, we'll talk to Mark Frauenfelder. He is the editor in chief of Make magazine. He joins us by phone from his home in California.

How are you, Mark?

Mr. MARK FRAUENFELDER (Editor in Chief, Make): Hi, Andrea. How are you.


You know, I sort of think of ReadyMade magazine, which is kind of the crafty, hip, modern do-it-yourself magazine when I think of this. But Make magazine makes all kinds of things, although it's a little bit geekier, isn't it?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Yeah, it is. It's--our subtitle of the magazine is Technology On Your Time. And basically what it's about is taking your existing technology and tweaking it, hacking it, modifying it to suit your own ends.

SEABROOK: What's your favorite thing from the most recent magazine?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: From the most recent, it's probably our electric cigar-box guitar, where...


Mr. FRAUENFELDER: know, a quick trip to Home Depot and a cigar box lying around, you can make a really cool electric guitar in a few hours, a three-stringed guitar, and put a little piezoelectric buzzer that you pick up at RadioShack and you can plug it right into your computer and start jamming with Garage Band or plug it into a little amp.

SEABROOK: Did you make one of these?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Yeah, I actually did make one and put a little video of it up on the magazine Web site. It's surprisingly easy to make. It took me a few hours to put together and it has a really sweet sound. Cigar box guitars have a really neat history to them. Jimi Hendrix got his start on a cigar box guitar and so did a lot of other guitar legends.

SEABROOK: Huh. Wow, I didn't know that.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Yeah, it's really a lot of fun to make. And there's a whole cigar box culture out there and, you know, you can Google it and see all the cool guitars and ukeleles and even banjos people have made out of scrap parts.

SEABROOK: And you don't have one lying around right there near your phone, do you?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: I don't actually. I'm in the home office right now. Otherwise, I'd be happy to strum a song.

SEABROOK: Well, I seem to remember an episode--an issue of Make magazine--my husband gets it--that entailed welding things to your car.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Well, we do have a primer on welding and we showed people how to make jack stands that could possibly support, you know, vehicle parts and things like that. But we do, you know, talk about car modifications so that you can, you know, run your car on biodiesel or, you know, hook your iPod up to it or hook a camera on it with the GPS satellite system so that you can track where you're going and display photos to your friends on your Web site that show exactly where your car is headed.

SEABROOK: So tell me, Mark Frauenfelder, cigar box guitars, as you said, have been around for a while. I mean, what's new? Are you basically just an updated version of Popular Mechanics? What are you plugging into here?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Well, in a way, we are definitely informed by the Popular Mechanics of the old days, and even the trim size of the magazine is almost exactly the same size as the old Popular Mechanics. I loved those old magazines. My next-door neighbor, my dad's friend, had a whole bunch of those old Popular Sciences and I used to read them when I was a kid and just look and be amazed of, you know, people taking their lawn mower engine and turning it into go-carts, stuff like that. And so Make magazine is very similar to that, but we take newer technology and do things with it. You know, like, we have instructions on how to take a disposable or a cheap digital camera and put it in a little rig and send it up in a kite so that you can take pictures from 250 feet up in the air of your neighborhood or your ...(unintelligible) or something.

SEABROOK: Wow, your neighbor's yard.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Yeah, if you want, sure. And it uses a little timer mechanism that's made out of Silly Putty and rubber bands, so that you wind it up and send the camera and the kite up there. And after a minute or so, the timing mechanism presses the shutter of the camera and then you can just walk the kite line down and advance the film, wind up the Silly Putty timer and you're good to go again.

SEABROOK: Wow. Let's bring in another editor in chief of a fancy, hip magazine, Shoshana Berger of ReadyMade magazine.

Hi. Are you there?

Ms. SHOSHANA BERGER (Editor in Chief, ReadyMade Magazine): I am. Hi, Andrea.

SEABROOK: You know, how is ReadyMade different from Make?

Ms. BERGER: Well, ReadyMade takes the stuff of everyday life and kind of reinvents it. So it's less about the tech angle, though we do have tech projects in the magazine. And then there are a lot of articles just about how stuff works in the world: So, you know, how you get that dream job, how you have a creative kind of, alternative wedding, how you buy property and build on it.

SEABROOK: So what's the sort of defining factor there? I mean, what is it that defines those three things you just mentioned?

Ms. BERGER: It's really all about how stuff works and understanding the processes of life. So a lot of the magazine is built out of do-it-yourself projects. So we give people instructions for how to take just kind of ordinary castoffs, ordinary castoffs of consumer culture, and to reinvent them as extraordinary design for the home.

SEABROOK: I know this is playing into gender roles that most people don't believe in anymore, but I like to call ReadyMade magazine the sort of girl version and Make magazine the boy version. Is that fair? No?

Ms. BERGER: Well, in a way it is fair, but I have to say, we have a very strong male readership, too. And I think that's partly just baked into the generation of readers who are attracted to Make and ReadyMade, which is that they're much more gender neutral than our parents' generation were. You know, they--the couples that we hear from are doing projects together. It's not so much the woman is buying the furniture and the guy is, you know, in the garage on the weekends; it's really that they're tackling home projects together.

SEABROOK: Do you have any idea what the demographics are of the people who get your magazine, what age group, where they're from?

Ms. BERGER: We do. I mean, we'd like to say that it's more of an attitude and a lifestyle than it is an age, because, you know, we have people as young as high schoolers reading the magazine all the way up through, you know, peoples' grandparents. But I'd say the median age is around 28.

SEABROOK: And what is your favorite recent project in ReadyMade magazine?

Ms. BERGER: Oh, God, you're going to make me choose?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: A few ...(unintelligible).

Ms. BERGER: Well, in this last... last issue, it was our holiday issue, we had a couple of really fun projects. One was a disco ball made out of used CDs.


Ms. BERGER: So, you know, you're always getting CDs that, you know, either to burn yourself or just stuff in the mail or AOL discs, and there's this great, you know, glut of CDs in our lives, used CDs that we can't use again or that are just too scratched to play. And we have a disco ball where you actually attach these CDs to a paper lantern and it has the same shiny effects.

Another really fun project from the magazine is this last issue, we had a scarf made from old sweaters. And the idea there is that you launder your sweaters so they get really tight and shrunken up and you cut little pieces out of them and you sew them together into a scarf.

SEABROOK: OK, Shoshana Berger and Mark Frauenfelder, hang on here. Let's go to some of our callers. We've got lots of calls hanging on. Laurel(ph) in Sterling Heights, how are you?

LAUREL (Caller): Good.

SEABROOK: Go ahead.

LAUREL: Hello?

SEABROOK: Yes, go ahead, Laurel.

LAUREL: Hi. Yes, I told your caller I had probably my best success this Christmas and also my biggest failure. My best success was I made a family tree quilt for my grandmother.

SEABROOK: Well, that's nice.

LAUREL: They have the photo paper now...


LAUREL: can burn onto the fabric. That turned out really well.

The disaster was I made a scarf, a hat and mittens for my mother-in-law, ran out of yarn, accidentally bought the wrong weight and ended up with two different-sized mittens. So she did not get her mittens for Christmas.

SEABROOK: You didn't give them to her even still?

LAUREL: No, I figure I'll make her another set. She did get the hat and the scarf, but not the mittens.

SEABROOK: Thanks for your call, Laurel.


SEABROOK: Let's go to Adrian(ph) in Muncie, Indiana. Hi, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.

ADRIAN (Caller): Hi, how's it going?

SEABROOK: Good, what'd you make?

ADRIAN: Well, I tried to make a TV stand for my brother. It was supposed to be made out of logs and have this really cool drawbridge, you know, kind of castleish.

Ms. BERGER: Neat.

ADRIAN: You know, kind of like the door for the TV and gates for the Xbox and stuff like that. And I tried making it and it was too big and it was too awkward and it was wobbly. And so he--I don't even remember what I got him that Christmas, but I ended up buying something small.

SEABROOK: Is your brother the kind of guy who would like a castle for his...

ADRIAN: Oh, yeah. Oh, he's really into fantasy and all that stuff. He would have loved it.

SEABROOK: OK. Thanks so much, Adrian.

ADRIAN: Thanks.

SEABROOK: Let me ask you two on call. You are experts in this kind of DIY realm. What is it that's attractive to people about a medieval television stand? Mark Frauenfelder.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Well, I, you know, the personal factor of it is really the thing that's important, I think. You know, when you make something, you have a part of yourself in it. And so every time you use it or look at it, there is this feeling of satisfaction in just knowing that you made it. And then to give that somebody, I think you kind of transfer that, too. And your friend or relative who gets that thing will always remember you for it, you know. If it falls on you and breaks your foot, you'll probably remember it.

SEABROOK: They'll really remember you.


SEABROOK: Shoshana Berger, do you agree?

Ms. BERGER: Well, I mean, who doesn't need a medieval television stand? But yeah, I mean, it's really--you know, we live in this kind of mass-produced culture where, you know, there are just a few big box stores to buy things in and the experience is fairly cold. And when you make something yourself, there's this enormous reward out of having actually done it, and it does have that kind of personal element. Our readers are constantly customizing things and they--you know, they take our instructions and they take it a step further. So we're just kind of a pit stop in their creative process.

SEABROOK: We're talking about modern-day DIY, and we want to hear from you. Call us with your DIY disasters or the thing that worked out perfectly. The number is (800) 989-TALK, or send us an e-mail,

I'm Andrea Seabrook. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Andrea Seabrook in Washington.

We're talking about DIY today, or do it yourself. Whether it's turning a record album into a bowl or a hubcap into a clock, our guests can help. ReadyMade magazine founder Shoshana Berger joins us from the studios of KQED in San Francisco, and Make magazine editor in chief Mark Frauenfelder is with us on the phone from his home in California's San Fernando Valley.

Welcome back.

Ms. BERGER: Thanks.

SEABROOK: I'm so glad to have you guys here, and I want to ask you the next question on my mind, which is it seems like there's a lot of recycling here. There's a lot of taking old trash and making new things. Is that sort of part of this new DIY ethic, Shoshana Berger?

Ms. BERGER: Well, it definitely is. ReadyMade is really about creative reuse. It's about taking everyday castoffs and reinventing them. And, you know, young people probably should care a little bit more about the environment than they do. They tend to be fairly cynical about how much their personal choices can affect things and feeling like it's really big business' job to conserve. But they really can, and ReadyMade--sort of the project of ReadyMade is to get them to be pragmatic environmentalists. You know, it's not really about, you know, building a fleet of wind turbines in your backyard to power your house; it's more about just being a conscientious consumer and being more aware of the way that you use things in the world.

SEABROOK: And, Mark Frauenfelder--I mean, yours is a little bit more technology oriented. Does that mean less recycling? You there, Mark Frauenfelder? I guess you aren't. OK.

Shoshana Berger, we'll stick with you then. Let me ask you this. As the editors and producers were sitting around thinking about this show...


SEABROOK: ...we started thinking about D--not DIY, but DIFM, do it for me, people who will pay to have anything done for them. They've got a fleet of cars waiting for them outside, an army of people ready to take care of their children, cook their meals, etc., etc. Isn't there--isn't that pulling on our culture as well right now?

Ms. BERGER: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, `customization' is kind of the buzzword of the day. And I think it's partly because of the Internet and technology where we feel like we should be able to customize everything. We should be able to publish our own stuff. You know, this is the blog generation; they're used to that. They're used to being able to see what they make instantaneously and being able to customize technology. So that really is a huge part of what our readers are interested in, and our culture is providing that. I mean, you can, you know, have your mini modded out. You can have Nike build a sneaker for you based on a scan of your foot. So there's an enormous amount of this going on out there.

SEABROOK: Let me ask you, Mark Frauenfelder, are the people who are modding their computers the same people who are hiring personal chefs, or are these two different populations in the US?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: I think they're probably two different populations. You know, I think one of the great things about makers are they're generalists, and someone who wants to mod their computer case probably is also very interested in cooking, as well.


Mr. FRAUENFELDER: You know, I've been interested now in things like canning and making my own sauerkraut and things like that just because making things is addictive. And once you've, you know, made something in one area, you want to try everything else, too.

SEABROOK: Do you get ReadyMade magazine?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Oh, yeah, I do. I am a longtime fan of the magazine.

SEABROOK: And, Shoshana, do you get Make?

Ms. BERGER: Oh, yes. I love Make magazine.


Ms. BERGER: It appeals to the geek in everyone.

SEABROOK: Boy, this--I wonder when I talk to you guys, how big is this community, really? Maybe they are just, like, 20 people out there doing this.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Ms. BERGER: Well, it's really--go ahead.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Oh, I'm sorry, Shoshana. You know, Make--we were hoping to have, you know, like, 10,000 subscribers by the fall and we ended up with 40,000 subscribers.


Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Our circulation is over a hundred thousand now, so I think it's growing a lot.

SEABROOK: Shoshana Berger, what do you think?

Ms. BERGER: Yeah, I think there's a really large sitting duck audience that was waiting for magazines like ReadyMade and Make. I mean, there was really nothing out there on the newsstand that spoke to us. There was, you know, the kind of weekend warrior, Norm Abram's "This Old House"-type of magazine, and then there was the Martha Stewart magazine, which is really about being the perfect hostess and learning how to choose, you know, your antique French tea set. So there was nothing that spoke to people in their 20s and 30s who were just starting out, maybe they're on a budget and they're trying to find a creative way of living.

SEABROOK: Well, the perfect segue. Later in the hour, we're going to have Tom Silver--Silva, a general contractor on "This Old House." So we will not forget the part of this that is the weekend warrior.

But you would not believe how many TALK OF THE NATION listeners are working on big projects right now. Let's go to Mark(ph) in Saranac, Michigan.

Hi, what are you working on?

MARK (Caller): I am just finishing up a 5,000-square-foot, three-story house made out of rocks.


Ms. BERGER: Whoa.

MARK: That was a unique experience.

SEABROOK: That's a big house, Mark.

MARK: Yeah.

SEABROOK: How long has it taken you to do that?

MARK: Oh, it's about two and a half years so far.

SEABROOK: That's all?

MARK: Yeah. Well, I--my wife had the idea. About two and a half years ago, we had paid off everything that we owed money on and she said, `OK, now quit your job and build me a great big stone house.' And...

SEABROOK: How do you move the rocks?

MARK: Well, I've developed enormous muscles.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: I don't believe you, Mark. How do you move the rocks?

MARK: Well, I'm exaggerating.

Ms. BERGER: This is another medieval project.

MARK: I bought a little truck for $500 and I bought some property years ago that had a lot of rocks on them. So that's what sparked the idea to begin with.

SEABROOK: It's recycling the rocks. Thank you very much, Mark.

Let's go now to Todd(ph) in Athens, Ohio. What are you working on?

TODD (Caller): Hello.


TODD: Yeah. Hey, just a quick story that turned out fun. We were at my grandmother's house and we were moving her. And she was in Buffalo and her husband had built her house, and we came across a whole bunch of tongue-in-groove oak flooring that was all in its packages from 1951.


TODD: And it was kind of, you know, special. It was my grandma's. So we were working on our kitchen, we had a tile floor and I wanted to put in a little wooden--you know, wood floor inset so it'd be warm as I cooked. And we put in that in a real complex sort of neat pattern and it came out so beautifully that we--my wife and I actually really got involved with this flooring and we ended up covering all of our cabinets and our pantries and our bar.


TODD: And we, you know, did real complex patterns. And so we spent a whole winter doing this and it was great fun. And now it's a couple years later and it's just the most solid cabinetry and it's a beautiful, unique look, and it was just a fun winter's project.

SEABROOK: So is it worth it, Todd? Was all that work worth it?

TODD: Oh, yeah, 'cause every time I walk into that kitchen, it's great. It's just--it's beautiful, it's nice and it's so unique that people notice it and they enjoy it.

SEABROOK: Great. Thank you so much, Todd.

Let's try one more. Tom in Nashville, Tennessee, what are you working on?

TOM (Caller): Yes, hello. Thanks for taking my call.

SEABROOK: Yeah. Tell us what you're working on.

TOM: Well, it was a project I did a long time ago. Somebody gave me a futon...


TOM: ...a wooden futon and it was really uncomfortable, didn't have the mattress. I didn't need a futon; I needed a coffee table. So I took it apart, cut it up a little bit, put it back together--Poof!--it's a coffee table.

SEABROOK: Do you--are you--do you still use this coffee table?

TOM: Well, most certainly. I've had it for six, seven years now and it's still as sturdy as it was the first day I put it together.

SEABROOK: And does your wife like it?

TOM: Well, I'm single.


TOM: But every girlfriend I've had has really marveled at the construction of it, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: She just hasn't moved in with you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOM: Well, I'm in the process of moving to Indiana right now. So...

SEABROOK: Oh, OK. Thanks for your call, Tom.

Let me go back to Shoshana here. These sound like much, much bigger projects than we would find in your magazine. You're sort of more crafty oriented, right? Or am I wrong?

Ms. BERGER: No, no, we actually do have big projects like that. And, you know, that was--that last caller was like the classic ReadyMade project, where you find something that--or you have something that's lost its utility and you reinvent it, you create a new use for it. And that is really what the whole ReadyMade project is about.

And, you know, thinking of the bigger projects in the magazine, we had this whole package about taking IKEA parts and kind of modding them out. It was like the "Pimp my IKEA" show. So we took parts--we took these "Billy" bookshelves from IKEA and actually built a platform bed out of them, which was a great project, also a bigger project, kind of a craftsman project.

SEABROOK: And, Mark Frauenfelder, are we more likely to find out how to add memory to our TiVo than we are how to make a medieval TV stand?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Well, you know, we do have all sorts of tech, from low-tech stuff to high-tech. You know, one is a potato cannon. Those things have been around for at least 50 years.

SEABROOK: A potato can?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: A potato cannon, where you can shoot...

SEABROOK: Oh, cannon.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: ...potatoes through a piece of, you know, clear plastic PVC about a hundred yards.

SEABROOK: I don't think our listeners' 11-year-olds want to hear about this.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Oh, I think...

SEABROOK: Or they do want to hear about it; it's the parents that don't.

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Yeah. And then, you know--but you know, adding memory, that's something we probably wouldn't be interested in because that's just something that a regular computer magazine would have. We'd be interested in, you know, like taking the old Atari 2600 video game console...


Mr. FRAUENFELDER: ...from the late '70s and gutting it and then putting a fully functional PC in there so that you could run old retro video games using emulation software and then have, you know, like, thousands of video games in this old, like, you know, late-1970s cabinet hooked up to your TV that would also play DVDs and stuff. That's, you know, our idea of reusing technology, is taking, like, old stuff and doing things that you would never expect.

SEABROOK: I want you to listen to some of the e-mails we're getting here. This is from Ada(ph) in Alameda, California: `I grew up making things from boxes, glass jars, paper and glue all the time. Captain Kangaroo was a great DIYer. And I'd like to suggest for--a suggestion for how to reuse packing material, Styrofoam and bubble wrap.' OK, she wants a suggestion for this. Any suggestions, Shoshana Berger?

Ms. BERGER: Well, this is a great one for us because we actually have a "MacGyver" challenge in the back of the magazine, where we challenge readers to make something out of an obsolete material. And packing material isn't really obsolete; we're just swimming in it. And so we challenged our readers to find a new, creative use for packing peanuts.


Ms. BERGER: And the winning submission was a woman who had strung curtains out of packing peanuts.


Ms. BERGER: She and her daughter had just strung packing peanuts on thread and made this beautiful kind of white, glistening curtain out of it. But we got everything. I mean, we got, you know, footstools and ottomans stuffed with packing peanuts. We once ran a Halloween costume called Bubble Wrap Man where you wrap yourself in bubble wrap. So there are all sorts of uses.

SEABROOK: You know, I'd love to sit at you guys' editorial meetings. Where do you get the ideas for the things in your magazines, and what ideas don't get in there, Mark Frauenfelder?

Mr. FRAUENFELDER: Well, you know, I think that most of our ideas actually come from the readers now. We've kind of become this hub for this community of makers, and so we get hit up with ideas constantly. And, you know, the thing we're always looking for is something that surprises us. That's the main thing. It's got to be surprising and fun, and the thing that you make actually has to have a purpose. And, you know, that purpose can be just pure entertainment, but it does have to be something that you would want to have around and be able to use again and again.

SEABROOK: Shoshana Berger, what doesn't get in ReadyMade magazine, things that become total flops?

Ms. BERGER: Lots. A lot doesn't get into ReadyMade magazine, because, like with Make, we get 60 percent of our content from our readers. So we get a lot of treasures and we get a lot of flops. One notable submission that we got that did not run in the magazine, but which we all marveled at, was we challenged readers to do something with VHS tapes because, of course, nobody uses VHSs anymore.


Ms. BERGER: And we got a submission from a woman who had knitted an entire ball gown out of VHS tape.


Ms. BERGER: Yeah, it was pretty...

SEABROOK: I would love to see a picture of that.

Ms. BERGER: It was pretty amazing.

SEABROOK: We're talking about DIY projects.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

We don't want to forget a big, huge portion of DIY projects, and this is the so-called weekend warriors. We'd love to hear from you about your house, what you're doing in your house, problems you're having and so on. And we also have special guest Tom Silva, the general contractor on PBS' home improvement show "This Old House."

How are you, Tom?

Mr. TOM SILVA (General Contractor, "This Old House"): I'm very well, Andrea. How are you?

SEABROOK: Good. Thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. SILVA: My pleasure.

SEABROOK: I have a feeling we're going to get a lot of questions from our listeners for you.

Mr. SILVA: Well, let's hope so. We're ready.

SEABROOK: But first, let me ask you--Do you know about ReadyMade magazine, Make magazine, this sort of younger trend in craftiness?

Mr. SILVA: Actually, I don't know about that magazine.

SEABROOK: You're a little bit more old school, huh?

Mr. SILVA: Yeah. Well, I know about This Old House magazine.

SEABROOK: Well, maybe the tool belt doesn't quite fit with the glossy mag, huh?

Mr. SILVA: Yeah. Well, I'm really not into the design end of it. I leave that to the specialists.

SEABROOK: So what is it--for those of our faithful listeners who don't watch PBS quite so much, what is it that you do on "This Old House"?

Mr. SILVA: Well, I actually get the projects done on time, bring them in and do--coordinate the process of the job to make sure that everything is done right, correctly, make sure there's no corners cut and make sure that it comes in on time, because the production schedule is very demanding and you have to push the project along to make it happen without cutting corners.

SEABROOK: OK. Let's go back to some of our callers. Leslie in Okemos, Michigan, hi. What are you working on?

LESLIE (Caller): Hi. How are you?

SEABROOK: Good. What are you working on?

LESLIE: Good. Well, I just finished an excellent Christmas challenge for my husband. We challenge each other every year, and this year he asked for a side table for his office. And I have to admit, part of the reason I built it was so his colleagues could come in and drool over it. But I used plumbing supplies, three-quarter-inch galvanized pipe, as kind of the stilts for it with MDF in between so that he could put some hanging files and a shelf and some other fun things in there. It was great, and he loved it.

SEABROOK: And what did you challenge him to make?

LESLIE: Oh, he's not the handy one. I just asked for a Pigs in Space lunch box, and he delivered.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Merry Christmas, Leslie.

LESLIE: Thank you.

SEABROOK: Tom Silva, do you do things like make anything but plumbing out of plumbing?

Mr. SILVA: Well, I--we use plumbing for water heaters and toilets and stuff like that. But actually, we recycle a lot of things on a "This Old House" project. We just are right now in the process of building a staircase for our project that we recycled a lot of teak that was actually buildings that were dismantled and they actually built them with teak timbers. And we resawed all the teak and had them saw it into planks and made the stair treads and all of the landing details on them. And then we also recycled some old redwood that was actually made of--used for holding olive oil, and we had that milled into siding. And we're covering our project with that on the outside, and inside is teak treads and teak railings.

SEABROOK: Tom Silva of "This Old House," hang on for a couple of minutes. We've got callers interested in bugging you for free advice.

Mark Frauenfelder is editor in chief of Make magazine, and he joined us from his home in California's San Fernando Valley. And Shoshana Berger is the editor in chief of ReadyMade magazine. She joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco.

Thanks, guys.

This is TALK OF THE NATION. We'll be back after this break, and we'll keeping about DIY.

We also want to ask you: What do you call this decade? We had the '70s, the '80s, the '90s and what's next? Send your e-mails to, or give us a call; it's (800) 989-TALK.



SEABROOK: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Andrea Seabrook in Washington.

Tomorrow, as we say goodbye to 2005, we'll look back at some of the year's top stories and ahead at those likely to continue dominating the news in 2006.

Today, we're still talking about do-it-yourself projects. Still with us is Tom Silva, general contractor on PBS' home improvement show "This Old House." He joins us from member station WGBH in Boston.

Tom Silva, "This Old House" is almost a legend for those weekend warriors. Are you able to go anywhere without people asking you for free advice?

Mr. SILVA: Oh, there's a lot of people out there who watch "This Old House." It's been around a long time. We're going into 26 years, the longest-running how-to show in the world, and I'm proud to be part of it. And, yeah, it's difficult to go anywhere where someone doesn't recognize you. And it's fun because a lot of people are loyal viewers and they have some great questions.

SEABROOK: OK, let's go to some of those loyal viewers. First up, Katherine in Nevada City, California. What are you having problems with?

KATHERINE (Caller): No problems, just been watching "This Old House" a long time. Been building our own house for 12 years, and we've been using all kinds of recycled stuff. My partner's a general contractor, and she comes up with great stuff all the time. We use the packing crates, old packing crates, plane down the wood and use it for drawer faces and paneling on a project that we put in, drawers underneath the stair.


Mr. SILVA: You know, packing crates--there's a lot of great wood in those packing crates and it's very hard. And the biggest pain in the neck is getting the nails out.

KATHERINE: No kidding. That's my job, and so I learned how to use the planer.

Mr. SILVA: Yeah. Well, a planer is a handy investment, and those packing crates are great to do that.

SEABROOK: Thanks for the call, Katherine.

Tom Silva, what else do you use them for?

Mr. SILVA: Packing crates? Well, they're used for all kinds of great things. I mean, you could build doors, you could build backing for cabinets. You know, I've actually done a project I remember that we milled the products up--the boards up and we actually made flooring out of it and stained it a deep color of--I think it was a walnut stain. And because of the--well, actually, the imperfections in the wood, it really added a nice flavor to the room, and it was something different and inexpensive.

SEABROOK: So it doesn't look like you've made a wall out of packing crates when you're done?

Mr. SILVA: No, it actually looks like you've made a floor--and in this case, it was a floor with shorter pieces. But if you look at, like, an oak floor or a maple floor and it's called stripped flooring, those are actually short pieces of wood that are milled up, tongue-in-grooved and put together. And you can actually do the same thing with packing crates. I mean, they're one-by-four pieces of metal--pieces of wood and they're in, oh, three- and four-foot increments, so they're pretty long. It's time consuming to mill them up, and if you've got the time, you can save yourself a lot of money.

SEABROOK: Let's go to Karen in Buffalo, New York. What are you working on?

KAREN (Caller): Well, we're working to put in a granite countertop in our kitchen. And obviously, it's a very expensive project to do, so we're looking at possibly saving some money and still having a desirable effect by using granite tile.


Mr. SILVA: Granite tile...

KAREN: And what we're looking to do is--obviously, since it's going to be a working countertop, of not having so much in way of the grouting. Is there a way of--what can be used instead of the regular grouting that you'd see on a tile floor to get the tiles close enough together that it will almost look seamless? I realize it won't look seamless, but almost?

Mr. SILVA: Well, the idea of it is to put--with granite tiles, you can actually place them really, really tight together and minimize the size of your grout line. And if you want the grout line to disappear, you can actually choose a grout that will match the color of your tile.


Mr. SILVA: And then you want to make sure that you seal the tile--or seal the granite and also seal the grout.

KAREN: Right. Yeah. And so you'd want to use like a sandless grout then?

Mr. SILVA: You could use a sandless grout because it allows you to go tighter. But again, the key to it is you want to make sure you seal it.

KAREN: Right.

Mr. SILVA: Granite will stain and so won't your grout.

KAREN: Right.

Mr. SILVA: So by putting a sealer on it about every three years, it protects it against sealant--staining.

SEABROOK: Thanks for the call, Karen.

Damon in Oakland, California, what are you working on?

DAMON (Caller): We're trying to put in--well, we put in a doorway, a door inside another room. And when we put it in, after we finished, the door is crooked.


Mr. SILVA: Don't you hate that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: This sounds like a pretty common mistake. Isn't this why people buy prehung doors?

Mr. SILVA: Well, you can buy a prehung door and put it in crooked.


DAMON: That's pretty much what happened.

Mr. SILVA: It's very--yeah. What happens...

SEABROOK: ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. SILVA: To hang a door is very difficult. You want to make sure that it's not only plumb in two or three directions, but it also has to be level across the top, and that's the tricky part. Most mistakes are done when people install doors and they don't shim them or plumb them up correctly.

SEABROOK: What does that mean? Speak English.

Mr. SILVA: And--plumb means--a plumb line is a line that runs up and down, and a level line runs left to right.

SEABROOK: And so a shim is, like, something you put under the coffee table to make--to keep it from rocking back and forth. Right?

Mr. SILVA: Exactly. When you hang a door into an opening, you have to shim the door against--you have to shim the door frame against the structure that it's going into. And you have to shim that door frame plumb up and down. It has to be--you may know it as level, but it's really not the right terminology. So you want to shim between each hinge, or behind every hinge, to the structure and level it as it goes up.

SEABROOK: Tom Silva, you heard some of our conversation from earlier in the hour from sort of this young, hip generation of DIYers making bowls out of old vinyl records and modding their computers. Has "This Old House" had to change its projects over the years? I imagine you're doing at least more granite countertops than you use to.

Mr. SILVA: Well, trends are--you know, people all want changes and they're always up to--we're always up to the latest and greatest things because, you know, we have a lot of designers that are involved and a lot of decorators. And homeowners like granite countertops, they like wood floors. We show them about radiant heat.

SEABROOK: OK. And so what sorts of projects do you think people should take on themselves and not hire someone to do?

Mr. SILVA: I lost some of my connection there. I lost you for a second.

SEABROOK: Well, which kinds of projects do you think people should be able to do in their own houses?

Mr. SILVA: There's a--you know, it really is a matter of how much confidence you have in yourself to know the projects that you want to take on. I mean, I think that most projects that people take on are painting their room, but I would think that--well, actually, I know this for a fact, that one of the most sought-after projects in weekends in the spring and the fall and the summer that homeowners do are building a deck, because it's something that a lot of homeowners can do in a week and you can sit on and play on and entertain on that deck and be proud of the fact that you built it and you can tell your friends that you built it. But you know, it's really in the confidence that you have in yourself.

SEABROOK: Let's go back to one more caller, Avery in Boulder, California. Hi. What are you working on?

AVERY (Caller): Well, I actually live in an older mobile home that I have, you know, done a lot to to make it soundproof and also to keep the hot sun out and the cold wind out. And I've found that my use of Styrofoam sheeting is to hang it on hooks in the window at night in the winter and during the daytime in the summer.

But my question is--and I love your show, all your shows...

Mr. SILVA: Thank you.

AVERY: one of the things in my home that saves me a lot is a wood-burning stove. And it has a metal flue that goes up, you know, through the roof...

Mr. SILVA: Mm-hmm.

AVERY: ...and unfortunately, that is the one place that I cannot soundproof. Do you have any ideas of what I might put around the outside of it, above the roof, to keep the noise from the neighbors and traffic--and mostly, airplanes is a real problem--from just coming right down through the chimney and it vibrates, you know, just like at the base of a musical instrument?

Mr. SILVA: Right. Well, you have a hole in your roof...

AVERY: Yes, I know.

Mr. SILVA: ...and sound is going to enter into that.


Mr. SILVA: You have to take into consideration that you burn wood and wood is hot.


Mr. SILVA: So whatever you put around that chimney needs to be completely non-combustible. There are insulations out there that are called thermafiber...


Mr. SILVA: ...for one of them is basically fireproof. But you're still going to get the noise that comes down the chimney. And if you're trying to make it soundproof, it's practically--it's very difficult to make anything soundproof. In most cases, I think of it as sound-deadening.


Mr. SILVA: But in your case, if you have a short chimney, you have a mobile home, you have a low-pitched roof...


Mr. SILVA: ...and you have a short chimney that's probably an eight-inch round, and it's going to let in a lot of noise that in some cases will irritate you. But you're doing the right thing. With energy today--you know, you want to make sure that you use good energy-efficient windows; Styrofoam works great if you want to cover your windows to make it tighter. And the wood stove--you're saving on your fuel, but it is work.

SEABROOK: Thanks for the call, Avery.

AVERY: Yes. I have one question just--I want to say for the next segment. I call this decade the '00s (pronounced oh-ohs).

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: We'll take that into account, Avery. Thank you very much.

And I have one last question for you, Tom Silva.


SEABROOK: What projects should people not take on?

Mr. SILVA: Well, I always worry about people taking on structural issues that they're not sure about. I actually went into a guy's house one year; he had called us up. I was working for my dad and it was quite a few years ago, and he said, `Could you come by my house?' He said, `I tried to take a wall down between my kitchen and my living room and I don't think I should have done it.' And when we walked in, the ceiling of his house was sagging about a foot and a half in the middle. His house was ready to collapse in.

So if you don't know what you're doing, if you're unsure about something and something doesn't look right to you but you think you might be able to do it, don't do it. Get someone in there that can at least assist you or tell you what to cut out and not to cut out.

SEABROOK: One last e-mail from Susan. She says, `My brother made lawn furniture out of chicken wire with grass growing over it. It made a couch and a chair. They were very comfy until he and his daughters stood up and realized they were covered in bites. The mosquitoes and other bugs liked the furniture, too.'

Mr. SILVA: Right.

SEABROOK: So, a DIY obstacle, a thing to be worked around.

Tom Silva is a general contractor featured on PBS' home improvement show "This Old House." He joined us from member station WGBH in Boston.

Thanks so much.

Mr. SILVA: Thank you, Andrea.

SEABROOK: And coming up in just a few minutes, we'll be talking about what do we call this decade coming up.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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