A pest deterrent for electrical switches, an improvised air circulator, and an improvised pig tranquilizer are a few of the ideas readers have come up with to solve problems at their homes and homesteads.
Crushed mothballs rolled up inside a piece of toilet paper are an effective pest deterrent when placed inside electrical switches.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
ELECTRICAL PEST DETERRENT: Mayhap the control unit on your freezer, one of your home's light switches, or the thermostat for the refrigerator started malfunctioning ... and for no clear reason? Austin, Texas's Eric Warren has found that ants and roaches — which like to nestle in such devices' warm crevices — will sometimes block the mechanisms' contacts or control levers. Eric's simple solution is first to clean the pests out, and then roll a few crushed mothballs inside a bit of toilet paper and tape that deterrent near the "workings" of the thermostat or switch.
Mr. Warren first used this insect-shooing ploy at a friend's home. Before long, so many other people were "bugging" him for similar assistance that he had to get the tip published in a local newspaper ... just to get some peace!
IMPROVISED AIR CIRCULATOR: "I spent my first wood-heated winter perched on top of a stepladder to stay warm, and became all too aware of that age-old law of physics: Heat rises!" recalls Martha Olson of Knoxville, Tennessee. "I didn't want to buy a fancy (and expensive) air circulator to remedy the difficulty, so I decided to suspend an ordinary window fan — face down — from the ceiling. (All it took was four screw hooks, some sturdy string, and a bit of effort.) That device not only keeps me warm down at floor level, but — when I hang my wet clothes on coat hangers from the fan's frame — the machine functions as a super-efficient clothes dryer (and room humidifier) as well!"
PIG TRANQUILIZER: When Karen Nunan's farrowing sow started having serious delivery difficulties, the Middleboro, Massachusetts homesteader called for the help of a local veterinarian. But her stressed hog was so skittish and hard to handle that the doctor couldn't examine the animal. Karen grabbed a meat taster and squirted a jigger's worth of vodka down the pig's gullet ... and within minutes, the sow was calm enough to be assisted through its birthing crisis. The porker apparently had no harmful after effects, either. Not even a hangover!
STOVE SHINER: Carol Santovi of Carver, Minnesota knows an easy way to shine the top of a wood burning cook stove: Simply rub the (hot) surface all over with a crumpled-up sheet of wax paper and watch that newly paraffined cooking top sparkle once again!
LOG CUTTING METHOD: 'Tain't always easy to saw up a felled tree without cutting through to the ground. Donald Houlihan avoids such chain-dulling accidents by first sawing off all but one of the log's limbs. He then makes deep cuts (a "stovewood's length" apart) along the trunk ... taking care that his machine never gets too close to the earth. When that's done, the Pontiac, Michigan wood gatherer grabs the one limb left on the tree and uses that handy lever to roll the whole log over. Dave can then finish his round-making cuts safely and conveniently!
AXE HANDLE PROTECTOR: You can help prevent your wooden sledge, maul, or axe handle from breaking when you're splitting firewood if you build a shaft protector for the tool. And how, you may ask, can one construct such a device?
"Simply wrap some baling wire and duct tape around the four inches of wood nearest the tool's head," advises Brian Tarrant of Bend, Oregon.
"Or heat an appropriate-sized length of plastic pipe in boiling water," suggests Saranac, New Yorker James Wood. "Then slip that malleable piece of hot conduit on the hardwood stem."
"Me, I like to weld a piece of angle iron onto the tool head just in front of the handle. That's a great maul protector," adds Yeagertown, Pennsylvanian William Wilt.
"Nah," rebuts Paul Snyder (who hails from Springfield, Ohio). "Just stick a four-inch piece of galvanized pipe over the wood and either weld that conduit section to the head itself or tape the pipe securely in place."
Well, reader, all you have to do is pick the idea you like and try it out. But don't dally ... time (and probably your splitter's handle) is a-wasting!
VINEGAR USES: You may remember the long list of constructive uses for household vinegar MOTHER EARTH NEWS ran in a previous column. Well folks, that piece prompted a whole swarm of readers to send in their own favorite uses for the versatile 5% acetic acid solution, and so many of the ideas are worth sharing that we're just going to have to run some of them.
 L.M. Knight from Weymouth, Massachusetts— stopped a nasty ant invasion in her kitchen by washing the room's countertops, cabinets, and floors with a half-and-half solution of water and vinegar.
 Several readers, among them Paul Bauhaus of Tulsa, Oklahoma, wrote us that they add small portions of the household condiment to their pets' drinking water when they want to rid their feline or canine companions of mange or fleas.
 And should one of your animals get itself into a "prickly" situation — that is, if the critter gets zapped by a porcupine — you can take a tip from Steven M. Waite of Starke, Florida and use a dash of "sour wine" to soften the embedded arrows so that they can be easily removed.
 A former chemist and technical bakery service director — Julian Hessel of La Belle, Florida — knows that substituting vinegar for a portion (as much as one-third) of the water in bread dough will retard the bacterial infection called rope ... which is a bread spoiler that often infests homemade loaves in warm weather.
 Sometimes when Lakeland, Florida's Billie Richley is working up a recipe in her kitchen, she'll add the acidic salad dresser to cream to make "instant sour cream" and to milk when she needs "quick buttermilk".
 Tallahassee's Leslie Campbell (another vinegar-loving Floridian) uses dilute you-know-what for a shine-producing hair rinse ... while Brenda Krupnau — a Hoxie, Arkansas resident — finds that the same treatment is an excellent remedy for head lice!
 As Edith Bernard of Manning, Oregon reminded us, sore throats can be soothed by gargling — and then swallowing — a solution of one teaspoon of vinegar in one glass of water.
 Some folks — like Melody Thennick — even splash the kitchen condiment under their armpits for an effective deodorant. This Evart, Michigan woman has also realized that a vinegar soaking is a good smell-removing laundry additive for odorous socks!
 A Phoenix, Maryland veterinarian named Michael Lynch routinely recommends a vinegar application for dogs and cats stricken with the common bacterial ear infection Pseudomonas. Dr. Lynch says that the pets' owners should first clear the animals' irritated hearing passages with cotton and oil, then pour in a teaspoon of the fermented liquid and massage the well of each ear. Repeat the treatment — everyday — until the persistent infection clears up.
 People who want to lose weight can try drinking a solution of two tablespoons of vinegar, one tablespoon of honey, and one-half cup of water 30 minutes before each meal. Both Mr. and Mrs. Jerry L. Fuller — two Muskogee, Oklahoma readers — say the mixture "will definitely curb any appetite".
 We've recently learned of an absolutely amazing use of vinegar, which is also one that we hope you never need to try. Tom Welling of Aurora, Indiana was the first person to tell us that — according to studies done in Korea — a good whiff of the acid juice is practically 100% effective in reviving persons and animals that have just suffered carbon monoxide poisoning!
And, lastly, more people than we have space to name told us they use vinegar (plain, heated, or combined with baking soda) to clean everything from grimy silverware to mildew to all their bathroom appliances. Folks, it all just goes to show: When we told you before that plain old household vinegar can be a genuine elixir, we weren't kidding!
MECHANIC'S STETHOSCOPE: "Often engines signal their internal problems by making knocking, hammering, or pinging noises," writes Embalse, Argentina resident Dave Johnson.
"And it's important to figure out which cylinder is the troublemaker before you begin to disassemble the motor, but you often can't discern the culprit by standing next to the machine and listening (even if you put a screwdriver between your ear and the metal) because engines are just too noisy!
"So I use a six-foot length of garden hose for a 'mechanic's stethoscope'. To do so yourself, simply stand well away from the vehicle, with one end of the rubber line held to your ear, and have a helper hold the other end close to (but not touching ) the motor. Your co-worker can move around until you're sure you've located that loud, defective cylinder.
"Of course, standing around with a garden hose in your ear may make you feel a bit silly . . . but you'll feel a darn sight sillier if you don't do so, and then find you've 'repaired' the wrong cylinder!"
Discover a dazzling array of workshops and lectures designed to get you further down the path to independence and self-reliance.LEARN MORE