DIY
Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.

A Multi-Pronged Approach for Fending Off Fleamageddon

WindaMatisse1

Granted, living with 15 feline furbabies (12 indoor, 3 outdoor) isn’t a normal state of affairs for most households. However, most of us with furball family members have had to deal with fleas at one time or another. Depending on where you live, this can present a year-round problem.

We suspect that basement mice brought the first fleas in with them though we may also have carried a few in from the garden on our pant legs and socks. With a milder winter last year, I was afraid the flea situation might become worse than usual. I was not expecting to have to go to war.

We started out the season with an habitual dosing of our cats with Frontline Combo (not an inexpensive solution with so many cats) even though we both feel badly about assaulting our pets with these chemicals. In the past, we believed it helped to keep us flea-free. While the cats obviously don’t like feeling ill on the day they are dosed, they do enjoy life without being constantly bitten. Unfortunately, the effectiveness only seems to last for 7 to 10 days. Since redosing isn’t recommended for 6 weeks, that leaves more than 4 weeks of footloose and fancy freedom for the fleas—not good.

My husband began researching alternatives when an impending fleamageddon became clear. We started by adding non-toxic flea traps. We used both Aspectek and Victor brands. We haven’t noticed a difference in performance, though the Victor is a little easier to assemble. Plan on periodically replacing lights. We bought green lights to try since some people mentioned they are more attractive to fleas. They seem to work about the same.GatheredFleas2

Next, we tried Vet’s Best Flea + Tick Home Spray. This enabled us to spray carpeted areas that seemed to be particularly popular for flea parties. The drawbacks to this product are that it makes me cough and it cannot be used on the animals themselves. However, I still use it because I like to alternate products in order to foil the pesky fleas.

Our preferred sprays are Cedarcide Original and their 3% solution (D.A.S. Domestic Animal Spray). These can be sprayed on carpet, upholstery, bedding, and pets (with care). They can also be applied with a special brush. I’m not a fan of the smell of this spray but it’s a temporary drawback because I’m a total fan of the job it’s done in abating our infestation. I can spray it liberally without worrying about harming our cats or ourselves while it kills fleas dead.

Another major component of our battle tool chest is my beloved vacuum. I’ll admit that I don’t much like the chore of vacuuming. However, with the right vacuum it’s much more inviting. When my husband and I first married, we were fortunate enough to purchase an Electrolux (back when the canister was made of metal). I wore out two hoses with that old workhorse. It lasted 20 years before giving up the ghost. We then went through a series of much less expensive brands, most of which lasted a year or so.

A few years ago we found a suitable replacement that may seem expensive but has already taken hold of our hearts like the old Electrolux did. Our Miele Cat & Dog Canister vacuum successfully sucked up countless fleas over the past summer enabling us to fight off this infestation ourselves. We didn’t have to resort to the big-time chemical assault of the exterminators we used several years ago.

Without carpet, we might have gone with a less expensive version of the Miele. I’m guessing the bags are a large part of the success of these machines. I plan on taking out more of our carpet over the winter since it seems to harbor the little devils and their eggs.

Our last tool is the flea comb, which my sister-in-law calls her cat cuddle comb. I have to admit that it’s kind of fun to see the cats queue up in line once they see the bowl of soapy water and comb come out. Most of them really enjoy being combed and now associate the combing with having less fleas to deal with afterwards.

The proof of success from our recent battle against fleamageddon can be seen in the happiness of our relaxed cats and their spending more time on the floor. While it might be humorous to watch them try to get from point A to point B with as few steps on the carpet as quickly as possible, it becomes a lot less funny when considering their reasoning is based in pain, suffering, and fear. Suffice it to say that we are happy to be nearly flea-free again. I highly recommend using this multi-pronged, non-toxic approach in the battle against fleas.

2SibsCutest3

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


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Step-by-Step Garden Hose Repairs

 

Unavoidably, garden hoses spring leaks or get run over and cut by the mower. No need to be in dread of having to fix hoses. We have figured out a system that works smoothly, and gets you and the hose back into action quickly. We put our broken hoses next to the cold-frames by the greenhouse in a sunny spot. We wait for the right combination of desperation (need for another good hose), spare time and “ideal hose-mending weather” - when it is disgustingly hot, hoses become more flexible and easier to repair. Here's our step-by-step "how to fix a hose" process:

Gather the kit: Hose and fittings, sharp knife, Philips screwdriver, wooden dowel, dish soap and unbreakable insulated mug. The wooden dowel should be tapered to fit into the end of a hose and stretch it out.

Buy the heavy duty all-metal hose repair fittings, not the plastic ones. We find that the threads on the plastic repair fittings wear out, leading to leaks, and the ends sometimes just break off. The metal ones save frustration and are well worth the extra cost. If they last longer than the hose, you can simply remove them onto another hose needing repair.

If you are replacing an end fitting, be sure to get the right kind, so-called female or male hose fitting (with the threads on the inside or the outside.) If you are splicing in the middle of a length of hose, get a connector with two clamp pieces and a double-ended insert.

You can, if you like, permanently join two previously separate hoses to make one good hose, using a connector, or divide one broken hose into two shorter hoses using end menders. We sometimes do this if we are running short of spare repair fittings, just to get back in business. Also note that short lengths that fasten onto faucets are a handy thing to have, for filling buckets and cans, so if the break is near the female end, you might just make one very short hose and one almost-full-length hose.

Remove any old fittings from the hose. If you want to save the insert for re-use, slice the hose vertically over the insert, but make sure you don't cut a channel in the plastic, because that will create a leak. Sometimes it is easier to just make a fresh cut below the fitting.

The next task is to make a clean square-cut end on the hose with a utility knife, to ensure the fitting will be snug and not leaky.

Boil some water and fill an unbreakable insulated mug.

Put the hose end into the hot water to soften. Prop the mug against something solid and before you look away, make sure the arrangement won't tip over.

While the hose is softening in the water, loosen the clamp screws on the new fitting. You don’t have to take the screws all the way out. You can just loosen them enough to slide the clamp on the hose and up beyond the end you are working on.

Also while the hose is softening, lubricate the end of the repair fitting with dish soap. (Honest, this makes a lot of difference.)

Dowel stretching softened hose end.

Take the hose end out of the water and push the wooden dowel in the hose end to widen it. Some hoses are more flexible than others and don’t need this step.

Push the hose fully onto the fitting.  

Pull out the dowel and push in the soaped-up fitting, Push firmly until the fitting is fully seated. With female fittings it can help to use a male fitting in the one you are pushing on.

Next, push the clamp into place over the insert and fasten the screws up tight.

You might test the hose next, to look for any other problems, then drain and coil it. Or you might just coil it.

Loosely fasten the ends of the coiled hose, to stop mud-dauber wasps from setting up home, and to prevent the washer dropping out.

Bonus tip: If you have a stockpile of old plastic repair clamps, don't throw them all away. If a hose has a pinhole leak you can fix it by wrapping a piece of bicycle inner tube around the hose, then fastening just one of the clamps over the area.

Pam Dawling works in the vegetable gardens at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. She often presents workshops at MEN Fairs. Pam also writes for Growing for Market magazine. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at www.sustainablemarketfarming.com, Pam's blog is on her website and also on Facebook.


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Upcycled Solar Food Dehydrator from a Used Vehicle

Dehydrating Food An Flowers Truck 

Preserving your garden harvest is crucial to being able to reap the maximum benefits of your hard work. If you can some of your produce you will fully well know that there is a point when you will become exhausted with it and throw in the towel or run out of shelf space. Freezing food also has space limitations. Drying some of your produce is an excellent way to have access to your full harvest all winter long.

Commercial food dehydrators are wonderful if you are drying a very small amount of food. However, the amount of energy it takes is not worth the expense if you are drying a lot of produce or if you are on a limited amount of energy usage.

I had avoided drying my produce because of energy-usage issues, as we are in the process of transitioning to solar energy. So I sought out some groups in the area that were teaching about solar dehydration and making your own solar dehydrator. We helped to build one so we could really understand how it worked and be able to build one for ourselves. Then life happened.

Between all of the other projects on the farm, my job, and the kids, we put the fancy dehydrator low on the priority list. Buried under a sea of farm projects and my herb garden growing much more effectively than I had anticipated, I had to come up with a way to dehydrate.

Troubleshooting Food Dehydration

Herbs are tricky — they must be dried at a low temperature to retain their properties and will mold if they are dried too slowly. I tried hanging them in my porch kitchen and they molded, because our farm is in a hollow. So I began to have conversations with the veteran farmers in our area.

Our senior generation is often an untapped resource. I was told over and over, “We dried our maters in the back window of the old Buick.” I don’t have a beautiful classic car with a huge back window; but, I do have a broken down eyesore of a Jeep behind the barn and some old screens in the loft.

Some people like to keep everything and some people hate the thought of having something that is not being used. I am the latter and my husband is the former so this Jeep and the truck next to it, that I had been told are “jewels,” have been on my radar for things that need to go. But after all the wisdom I had acquired from our more experienced farmers, I began to see some value in those heaps of metal.

We have a minimal landfill waste system on our farm, roughly one garbage bag per year at the most goes to the landfill. Upcycling is the first step in disposing of our garbage in a responsible manner. Sending waste to be recycled is good. However, when it leaves your hands, it is hard to say how well it’s used and how much of it ends up in the landfill anyway. Knowing this makes you look at “junk” in a whole new way.

Closeup Flowers Dehydrating In Truck

Components of a Solar Dehydrator

An old vehicle has all the elements of a successful food dehydrator. There are likely an infinite amount of ways to dehydrate food by upcycling something old. They just need to have the following elements:

An enclosed space to keep bugs from laying their eggs in your food while it's drying.

Airflow so the moisture can be carried away. Car and truck bodies all have airflow.

Windows or plexiglass to allow light in and trap the heat. Tinted windows are the most beneficial to preserving the vitamins in your food. Some foods lose vitamin content when exposed to sunlight. Tinted windows eliminate that issue while still trapping heat.

A surface to lay out your produce that maximises the airflow around the food. I prop up an old screen on the top of the seats so there is airflow under and over the food, and the top of the vehicle is warmer.

Food Safety and Other Considerations

There are some issues with using a motor vehicle to dehydrate food. It has plastic in it. If you have read any information about the danger of plastics you will likely understand that plastic can give off fumes. That is the reason I would never dehydrate food in a newer vehicle. The risks of fumes emitting from plastic that is old is greatly reduced. That “new car smell” is likely toxic.

Of course, I do not hold a degree in chemistry or plastics, but I do err on the safe side as often as possible. Be sure the vehicle you are using is not only older but also is clean and has no toxic chemicals being stored in it, like motor oil or antifreeze. Whatever you would not put in your refrigerator is also what you should not have around your dehydrating food. This is what your grandmother would call “good common sense.”

Some of your dried foods will take longer than others. Things that have low water content like herbs need only two to three sunny days to dry. Produce that has higher water content can take longer. It is better to have your produce too dry. If you pull it and put it into jars when there is still water present they will mold and waste all your hard work.

I have enjoyed this method of dehydrating food so much that next year, I intend on converting two old truck cabs into permanent dehydrators by stripping the inside and building shelves in them.

Really the best way to find out what works is to be adventurous in your experiments. Don’t be afraid to fail at an idea the first several times. The process of innovation in food production will feed your mind and your stomach.

Holly Chiantaretto is an organic farmer and goat breeder in Kentucky where she also raises cattle, pigs, and chickens and preserves the harvests from her garden. Connect with Holly at Hallow Springs Farm and on Facebook.


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Building a Front Yard Pond

 

A couple weeks back we hosted a work bee with Reno's "Permaculture Northern Nevada" group to build a small pond in our front yard.  Our friend with pond building experience led about seven of us for three hours of pond making. Our motivation in building a small pond or water feature was twofold.  First, we sought to add the soothing qualities of water in a area of our homestead where we spend a lot of time in the summer hosting guests and eating meals.  Second, we wanted another habitat to diversify the little ecosystem of our land that would support birds, aquatic plants, and insects.  

Katy and I spent some time beforehand figuring out the future location and size of the pond with particular attention to how it would fit in with an raised sitting area we intend to build later in the summer.  The pond will anchor one corner of this future "outdoor room". 

Building Steps:

With the help of the group we dug a hole roughly seven feet long by four feet wide and two feet deep at its deepest point.  The edges we kept as vertical as possible.  The size of our our was in part determined by the size of the old pond liner our friend had for us to use.  We made it a bit irregular – one end wider than the other - to give it a slightly more natural look.  We also added about two feet to each measurement knowing we'd have to cover additional length over our earthbags (see below).

We used earth bags (sand bags) filled with the extracted soil to raise up the sides of the pond.  We stacked them two high to give us about 8" above grade.  Earth bags are great for this as they are malleable, smooth (no sharp edges to poke the pond liner), and easy to maneuver into place.

We leveled the bags using a long 2x4 with a level atop it and then tamping down or fluffing up the earthbags as needed.  We left a foot-wide spillway on one end intentionally lower by a couple inches.  This is the outlet should our pond overflow from rain or, more likely, our mistake in overfilling it.   

We filled in the gaps between the bags and the ground and between the bags themselves with wet clay-rich soil from what we dug out of the hole.  This served to make all the sides smoother and more plumb. 

We laid an old nylon/polyester blanket at the bottom and up the sides as much as possible to act as a cushion for the pond liner and reduce risk of puncture.  There were several roots we had to cut back before this, too.   

Using scraps of an old billboard sign we then lined the sides of the hole and up and over the bags.  We tacked the billboard vinyl to the bags with old nails. Old billboard signs are another great urban resource – call your local companies and ask for their old signs. They are usually 40'x14' and can be had for around $20. 

We then lowered the pond liner into the hole and over the other materials with a large rock placed roughly in it's center point.  The weight made it easy to lay the liner and knowing the middle helped us get the placement right quicker. 

Last, for the work bee day anyway, we filled the pond up with water.  As it filled we stood around the edges and made slight adjustments to the liner placement before it got too heavy to move. 

Since the work bee we covered and lined the liner with urbanite (salvaged concrete sidewalk chunks, in this case) and rocks to hide the plastic and help "ground" the pond in our yard.  We also added some aquatic plants, a log perch to make it accessible for birds, and a disc that promotes the growth of a certain bacteria which inhibits mosquito larvae development (gotten at the same place as the plants).  Mosquito Fish, which eat mosquito larvae, are on the way, too.  

In the future, as our outdoor room takes shape, we'll add flowers and plants in the urbanite and rock cracks and connect a small deck to one side so we can sit and dip our feet as we like.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada. They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world while having fun doing it. They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Shoot him an email.


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Upcycling Old Fence Boards

Recently, we’ve been doing some beautification projects on our half-acre urban homestead and Be the Change Project in Reno, Nevada.  Many of these have utilized salvaged fence slats.  The results have been so lovely that I wanted to share about them so others can make use of a great urban resource.  

In our neck of the woods old wood is hip and is prominent on bars and breweries, in café’s, and on houses in Reno’s up-and-coming Midtown District.  And why shouldn’t it be?  With weathered colors, lustrous grain patterns, and soft texture it is a material that helps give a place a stronger sense of belonging.  A lot of this wood is old barn board which is generally thicker than fence board but also more expensive.  Fencing is thinner but nearly as versatile and wonderfully free!   

slats

We’re located right in Reno and back up to a busy road.  For years we’ve thought about fencing off the back to give a bit of privacy and, as importantly, to give definition to a long stretch of our backyard. However, like much of what we do, we didn’t want to use new materials.  Using salvaged wood reduces logging and is more sustainable, is cheaper, and like I mentioned above gives new projects the aesthetics of aged materials which help them blend in and belong.  

Sourcing Used Wood 

I contacted one of Reno’s larger fence companies and they were glad to show me their “bone yard”.  Every old fence they replace is loaded onto their flatbed trucks and dumped in their bone yard until they have enough to load into a dumpster for a trip to the dump.  Being a large company they amass a great quantity of wood debris each week.  Some of this is truly garbage – ancient slats of cedar barely holding themselves together, 4x4’s ravaged by water or dry rot, and lots of broken slats - victims of the demolition process.  However, it is rare that a trip to the bone yard does not yield a full pickup truck load of quality, usable, beautiful wood.  This includes slats of many widths, 2x4’s and 4x4’s (regularly of 8’ and longer lengths), and includes cedar, spruce/fir/pine, and redwood.  And, as an added bonus and (and following the permaculture principle of stacking functions), each trip doubles as firewood collection be it from what I intentionally grab at the yard for burning or from the scraps I’m left with after my building projects.  

Here’s an assortment of what we’ve done with this great resource:

Fences
Raised garden beds (as cladding)
Exterior siding over ugly particle board
Interior siding 
Trim and detail work inside our home
Art projects
As partial siding on our hybrid cob cabin  

So give your local fencing company a call and see how you can make great use of this underappreciated urban treasure.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada. They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world while having fun doing it. They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Shoot him an email.


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Cheap Lumber: Find Great Furniture Wood in Piles of Floor Joists

Next time you visit a lumberyard, check out the piles of cheap lumber 2x8s, 2x10s and 2x12s meant for framing houses. Where I live the best planks must come from huge, old trees because the growth rings are tight, the grain is beautiful and the very best boards have almost no knots. You may never have considered using framing lumber for fine furniture, but I know from nearly 30 years experience that cheap lumber like this is a diamond in the rough. The woodwork you see here is made entirely from cheap lumber milled for construction.

Before I tell you more, let me make it clear that I’m not talking about throwing together rough tables, cupboards, boxes and stools with deck screws.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but that’s not what this blog is about. What I’m talking about is making finely finished, ultra-smooth, refined furniture from wood that starts off as big, wide planks for house frames. I mill, joint and plane these with the same care I apply to the furniture-grade hardwoods I use in my shop and the results are every bit as refined at a fraction of the cost.

I discovered the secret of cheap, high-quality framing lumber for furniture back in the late 1980s. The 1/4”-thick shop-cut “veneer” you see on the drawer face here is an example of the kind of thing that’s possible. But what got me thinking about all this most recently is a YouTube video I posted in 2010. Until a couple of months ago, this video only got a few thousand views. Earlier this year something clicked, and now it’s my most popular video – about 75,000 views per month. Many of the comments are positive, but some are skeptical, like these:

“That kind of wood doesn’t take a nice finish”, some people warn.

“Framing lumber warps too much”, others proclaim.

“Don’t waste your time. This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about”, offered one armchair expert.

After decades of experience, I can say for sure that none of the prejudice against building fine furniture from framing lumber is true. If you select boards carefully, then joint and plane the wood the same way you’d work any kind of expensive, rough hardwood lumber, you can get terrific results.  The glass-smooth finish you see here was applied to a piece of 2x12 floor joist.

Here’s are the basics:

1. Always choose “kiln dried” framing lumber. Avoid the stuff labelled “S-Green”. The high moisture content will have triggered mold stains all over it.

2. Always dry your framing lumber before and during building sessions. Even “kiln dried” construction lumber is wetter than the 7% to 9% required for interior projects.

3. Learn to recognize stable, high-quality grain patterns. Tight growth rings, freedom from knots and annular rings as close to perpendicular to the board face as possible is what you’re looking for.

There’s more to success building fine furniture with framing lumber than I have room for here. In response to those skeptical YouTube viewers I told you about, I’ve put together a detailed how-to post on the subject. Learn all the details for free at baileylineroad.com/cheap-lumber-makes-fine-furniture

Great wood at low prices. This is what building fine furniture from framing lumber is all about. So why is there this opportunity? Most of the softwood lumber industry in North America still thinks of itself as a bulk producer of low-value commodity wood. This means that wood from the biggest, best logs isn’t selected out for sale at higher prices. It’s just lumped in with all the knotty, low value lumber that makes its way to house frames. Once you learn this fact and you find a lumber yard that trusts you to pick through piles while keeping things tidy, you’ll get some very nice lumber at very attractive prices. All you need are eyes to see what quality looks like.

My post includes downloadable plans for a bunkbed I made using framing lumber. This project was originally published in 2001, but you can get the plans here: http://baileylineroad.com/cheap-lumber-makes-fine-furniture.


 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Ugly Truth About Staining Your Old Deck

 

After three decades of watching people struggle to maintain a finish on their wooden decks, I’ve come to realize something. If you want something fancier than a weathered wood deck, successful deck staining boils down to one rare personality trait. How well can you keep your enthusiasm under control?

While it’s oh-so tempting to open up that new can of stain and slap some onto the cracked remains of a long-dead finish, that’s a recipe for disaster. If you do this there are two reasons why your deck will look crummy again in 6 months or less:

1. Most deck stains don’t work all that well even if you do apply them properly.

2. You need to delay gratification for a few painful hours while you deal with all that peeling, worn out stain and tired looking grey wood.

The trick involves finding a deck stain with a proven track record, and  doing the prep work simply, effectively and in the least possible amount of time.

The best way to start depends on what you’ve got. If your current deck finish is just starting to show age wrinkles around the ears, then you’re in luck.  Act now. All you need is simple top-up maintenance – a light sanding and another coat or two of finish.

Light sanding is crucial because it removes those tiny bits of loose stain that are just starting to let go around wood knots, and it slightly roughens the remaining firm deck surface so new coats stick long-term. Don’t sand right through the existing finish, just scuff the surface. That’s what you see here.

A variable speed random orbit sander spinning a 100-grit disk at half speed is ideal for this job. Go over the whole deck lightly, sweep or vacuum off the dust, then brush on a coat of the same stuff that was applied before. One thing to remember: too many coats of stain causes peeling, even on otherwise well-prepped wood. One top-up coat will probably be enough, two at the most.  

If more than 10% of your deck surface is peeling or grey, it’s time to get serious. Start by rolling on a generous coat of water based deck stripper to loosen as much of the old finish as possible. Let it sit, then remove the goop with a pressure washer. Today’s best strippers are safe around plants, though they do tend to foam up in a way that reminds me of the bio-digestion pond at a pulp and paper plant. Despite a great deal of concern from the head gardener at our house, I’ve never killed plants with deck strippers labeled as garden-safe.

Use a pressure washer (the power of a gasoline unit is especially valuable) to clean the wood after 20 or 30 minutes. You might need to apply more stripper and wash again if any old finish remains after the first assault. Do patches of grey wood remain? Deck brighteners that I’ve used eliminate this problem very effectively.

When the wood is completely bare, let it dry for a couple of good days before sanding with a 60-grit abrasive in a random orbit sander running full blast. Why sand now and not before? Two reasons.

A stripper and pressure washer always removes old finishes faster than sanding. And when it comes to deck stripping, faster is definitely better. But stripping and washing do have their side effects, nonetheless. By the time your deck is stripped, washed and fully dry, it will almost certainly show fuzzy fibres of wood sticking up.  If left alone, these always lead to a rough finished deck surface, but that’s not all. Fuzzy fibers also short-circuit your finishing efforts because they lead to premature peeling. Since they don’t have a firm grasp on the underlying lumber, fuzzy fibers break loose in time, bringing your new deck finish with them. Sanding off the fuzzies is fast and easy. One quick pass over dry wood and its gone. Just be sure to wear a tight-fitting dust mask as you work.

There are more deck staining details than I have room for here. That’s why I maintain an in-depth webpage on deck staining and refinishing. It’s free and I keep it updated with all the latest information about deck stains that work, prep techniques that save time, and alternatives to finishing.

Above all else, stay patient. Don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of you. A long lasting deck finish depends on it.

Learn for free at baileylineroad.com/how-to-stain-deck-properly/


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