Copyright 2002 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
Regular readers of this column already know about Adaptive Re-use, the way I turn old ironing boards into
barbeque buffet tables and old C-band satellite dishes into gazebos rather than see them end up in the landfill.
Today's subject is somewhat related, although it doesn't put the same emphasis on recycling things that have
outlived their original purposes. Instead, I'd like to show you how to craftily subvert common household objects
and appliances to other uses without altering their intrinsic natures.
Every winter, I go on a candle-making kick, partly because it's fun, partly in an effort to stay warm in a drafty
old building, and partly because we burn up a lot of candles by using them as a supplemental heat source during
those chilly evenings. My friends save me their "dead wax" from candles that have burnt down to dribbles, and
sometimes I get a windfall of wax from candles that have failed to burn properly. Those triple-wick jobbies are
notorious for this; if you want to use a candle for anything but a non-functional decoration, stick with tapers and
pillar candles. Anyway, along with the dead wax, I often inherit drecky glass jars that began life as container
candles. Plus, my own votive candle holders and brass candlesticks get pretty waxy after a few weeks of intense
Rather than attempt a risky break-and-scrape operation with a dull knife in my efforts to remove the old wax
from the jars and holders, I use my oven to melt it out. An old cake pan with an elevated screen of bent
hardware cloth (that wire grid stuff that rabbit hutches are made of) works great; just put the jar, votives, or
candlesticks upside-down on the grid over the pan, turn the oven on as low as it will go, and pay attention. The
old wax melts out soon, and the residue can be polished out with paper towels if you wear old gloves and do it
while the candlesticks are still hot. Be careful if glass objects are involved; always let them warm up and cool off
gradually to avoid breakage from temperature shock, and, just to be on the safe side, don't try this with granny's
antique crystal candlesticks.
I hardly ever make muffins or cupcakes, but somehow I've ended up with several muffin tins. I do make
jewelry, however, and I use muffin tins for sorting beads and buttons. Muffin tins are also useful for making small
candles or just as a handy receptacle for leftover wax (there's always either a little too much or not quite enough
for every candle I make.) Pour the wax into the muffin tin, let it harden, pop the wax out, drill a hole in the
center, and thread it onto a wick that's been stiffened with wax beforehand, just like stringing beads.
My blow dryer frequently sits in the cupboard while I wander around the house with wet hair; unless it's the
middle of winter or I need to go out in a hurry, I tend to let my hair dry without heating it up. This doesn't mean
that I don't use my blow dryer much; I get it out a couple times a week, because it's the best way to soften up
sticker glue, especially old sticker glue or masking tape stickum from price tags at thrift stores and garage sales,
where the folks who priced the item put the tag smack dab in the center of an otherwise perfect antique, and
pulling it off will probably ruin the paint or take part of the original paper game box or sheet music or magazine
cover with it. Even brand-new plastic laundry baskets and storage bins have pesky stickers that tend to rip when
you try to peel them off, and warming them up with a blow dryer prevents this. Clean off leftover stickum with
lighter fluid and a cotton ball; it doesn't hurt most plastics, and will evaporate out of old shiny paper without
leaving a big greasy discoloration. Remember this hint if you ever need to remove 20-year-old Con-Tact paper
from kitchen cabinets or a bathroom window.
When I need to "polish" a candle that came out of the mold with hazy white patches on it, I use my blow
dryer. If I need to freshen up a dusty, slightly knicked candle, I'll "sand" the surface with a plastic scrubby pad to
take off the grime, then gently "erase" the scrubby lines with a little heat from my dryer, being careful not to get it
too hot and make it drip (although that can lead to some interesting effects, too.) If you're afraid that you'll forget
about the candlesticks in the oven, you could probably soften the old wax out of them with a blow dryer, too.
And they're good for drying out that paperback that you dropped into the bathtub when you fell asleep; get out
of the tub and dry yourself off first, though.
The microwave..........it's not just for popcorn. A few years ago, I experimented with dyeing plastic and
pearl (clamshell) buttons with various fabric dyes, so I could use them in jewelry. A big vat of dye on the stove
would have been overkill; I needed to do small batches, in many colors. I used my microwave to heat the water,
melt the dye crystals, and "cook" the buttons; wax paper over a nuke-able bowl kept the purple spots and
splashes to a minimum. Sometimes, I used the microwave to heat warped plastic buttons in a bowl of water, and
then I used my iron as a weight to flatten them out. I'd like to try the same hot water technique to soften plastic
so I can bend it, but haven't gotten around to that yet. And lately I've been toying with the idea of trying to dye
buttons by using an old electric coffee percolator, so the buttons get a hot dye shower instead of a bath. A small
pressure cooker might yield interesting effects, too.......
I use pinking shears to trim my hair, to avoid pesky flat edges. When I had to inflate 144 balloons for party
decorations, I used my vacuum cleaner, with the hose plugged into the exhaust vent. I've used featherdusters,
plastic pot scrubbers, and whisk brooms to experiment with paint effects on my floors and walls. I've never
baked a chicken dinner on the engine of my car, but I have cooked frozen pizzas and egg rolls on a glass
tempering furnace. I enjoy finding new uses for mundane things, because I have subversive tendencies. I'm not
alone; if you've ever used a wire coat hanger as an antenna, you have them, too.