1. Archive

The proper height for a chair rail

(ran HL HS editions)

Question: How high should a chair rail be? I have chairs that are 42 to 48 inches high. Wouldn't that be high for a chair rail?

Answer: Okay, still another opinion, but this one is based on common sense and logic. The chair rail goes wherever the backs of chairs hit the wall. Since your chairs have different heights, you could be a pioneer in house design and put a rail at 42 inches and another at 48 inches.

There is no standard height, just as there is no standard height for wainscoting, the paneling that goes along the bottom part of a wall.

There are also no standards as to what the chair rail should be made of. An ordinary 1 by 3 or 1 by 4 will do with a bit of molding top and bottom. You can get plainer or fancier. Even ceramic tile will make a good chair rail.

Soap dish replacement

Question: The ceramic soap dish broke in my bathroom. How can I remove it to replace it, and where can I find old tile fixtures?

Answer: If the dish is set in mortar or grout, it may take a lot of chipping to get it off. If it was applied with an adhesive, you might be able to tap a chisel on an edge and pop it off. In either case, chip out the grout bordering the dish first. Once the dish is out, remove all grout and adhesive or anything else.

Then put the replacement dish on with construction adhesive or PhenoSeal adhesive caulk, which are the only adhesives other than epoxy that perform well, then fill in the edges with grout.

For old tile and fixtures, try your Yellow Pages for a supplier of tiles or salvage material.

Brass restoration

Question: Some kind of solution took the brass off the legs of my dining-room table. How can I restore that brass color?

Answer: The solution may have just tarnished it, so to restore the brass color polish it with Noxon or similar high-quality brass polish and buff with a power buffer, which will work on solid brass, but it might make brass plate worse. If it doesn't work in either case, chances are it was not brass in the first place but some kind of brassy paint.

Solid brass may be just a hollow leg, perhaps wrapped around a wood leg. To determine if it is solid, put a magnet on it. Generally, solid brass will not magnetize, but, if it is solid brass shell over steel, the steel will make it magnetize. Brass plate will magnetize.

If it is brass plate, you could take the legs to a metal plater who could replate them. Check the Yellow Pages for one near you.

Concrete paint

Question: I would like to stain a concrete floor, but I understand that the standard concrete stain is not available anymore. I don't want to paint because of possible peeling.

I saw in Home Depot a Behr product, a concrete stain. Would that work?

Answer: You're right. Benjamin Moore used to make a concrete stain, and it was a cure for tough concrete floors. I think the Behr may work, but double-check to make sure that it is not a solid-type stain that could peel. The whole idea of a concrete stain is that it will not peel.

If you're concerned about peeling, I suggest that you choose a semitransparent stain, one that normally goes on cedar clapboard or shingles or other outdoor wood. If you ever have spilled such stains on concrete, you know that they seem to last forever, so why not do it on purpose.

Be sure to have plenty of ventilation when using such stains and apply sparingly. Only one thin coat is needed, but the odor is strong and will take a while to dissipate even with full ventilation.

Brass polish

Question: What's a good polish for brass?

Answer: There are tons of them out there, each claiming to be better than its predecessor. Noxon is good, but needs power buffing. So is Maas, an old name in brass cleaners. Don't use them on lacquered brass, however.

Twinkle and Goddard's Long Shine are two other polishes.

Here's a homemade formula: 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup salt, \ cup flour. Mix into paste and wipe on metal, let dry and wipe off.

Send questions to Peter Hotton, Boston Globe, Boston, MA 02107.