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If you use your wood-burning fireplace a lot, then it’s probably due for a midseason checkup about now. Here is a list of things you should take a close look at monthly during a long, cold winter.

Some ashes are OK, but you should clean them out when they start piling up. Your fires will burn more efficiently with less ash buildup. Just make sure you put the ashes into a metal container, and take them outdoors and wet them to put out any hot embers that might still be alive.

While it’s fairly clean, take a close look at the mortar between the bricks to make sure it’s still in good shape. Gaps could create a fire hazard, so make repairs with high-temp mortar before using it again.

Try to burn seasoned wood, because fresher wood will create creosote in your flue, which can start a chimney fire if it’s allowed to build up too much.

A metal screen placed in front of the firebox is a good way to prevent embers from accidentally blowing out into the room, but it probably isn’t strong enough to stop a log from rolling out, so don’t leave your fireplace unattended.

Glass doors can be closed when hot embers are still burning, so you can leave the damper open and go to bed. The doors should fit tightly so you don’t lose a lot of heating up the flue. Make sure to close it in the morning if you are not using it any longer.

Make sure you have carbon monoxide and fire detectors in the home, as well as a fire extinguisher.

If you have other concerns, have your fireplace and chimney inspected by a professional.

Stay warm and be safe!

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Q: I have been working on a wood project, and glued an extension to a table before nailing it in place. I thought I wiped off all the excess wood glue, but now can see the sheen of it on the wood. I really want to stain it, but am afraid the glue will show when I try to apply it. How can I get it all off before staining it? – N.B.

A: You’re right to remove any trace of glue, as it will prevent even staining of the wood. Just use a damp rag and a plastic scrubbing sponge to remove it. You also can sand the surface if you need to, in order to remove any raised grain and to open the pores of the wood again. Always make sure to use a tack rag after sanding to remove any trace of dust.

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In reference to the previous reader’s question, you might not have ever used a tack rag. The fact is that if you have spent a lot of time and money to get a piece of furniture to the stage where it’s ready for a good finish, you really don’t want to skip this step. You can buy tack rags at your hardware store if you like, but you also can make them. For instructions, download them off of our website, www.thesuperhandyman.com.

A good tack rag will last you through several woodworking projects and will make your efforts worthwhile. You even can reuse them over and over again.

Shoptalk

The TwinTec Ratcheting Wrench from Stanley is a super tool for the DIY handyman. The Quick Adjust Dials eliminate the need for any sockets. They are easy to adjust to fit exactly what you need to in both metric and standard sizes.

This is a very tight fit, and not like some other lightweight, adjustable wrenches. The ratcheting feature is easy to operate and works smoothly, and it’s made of a very strong composite material that is tough enough to have a lifetime warranty.

Check out this wrench at your local home center or hardware store, or online at www.stanleytools.com.

Got a question or a handy tip? Send it to The Super Handyman at www.thesuperhandyman.com. Those of general interest will be used in future columns.