The 100 Handiest Shop Tips
You won't find a better collection of the most brilliant workshop secrets you've ever seen, brought to you by the readers and editors of The Family Handyman.
Twist Tie Hacksaw Hack
Here’s a sharp tip from reader George Sarna. Use tape or twist ties to attach spare blades to the frames of your hacksaw and coping saw. The next time a blade breaks or dulls, you won’t scratch your head trying to remember where you put the spares. Put that hacksaw to use creating convenient PVC hacks for your lawn mower or as a way to clean gutters.
Oil Bottle Hardware Tote
Here’s a fun little project to keep your screws, nails, nuts and electrical whatsits handy and neatly organized. Get all the detail and tools to make one. Check out what you do with an old oil bottle when you tip it on the side.
Easy-to-Access Cordless Tool Chargers
Mount charger stands for your cordless tools on scrap pieces of pegboard and hang them on a pegboard wall so they don’t become an octopus-like tangle on a shelf or workbench. Just pull one out for charging, or plug it into a power strip under the pegboard and charge batteries right on the pegboard. Most chargers have mounting holes or keyhole slots on the bottom. For those that don’t, use a large hose clamp ($2 at a hardware store) to mount them. Thanks to George Moyer for ending our charger clutter.
A table saw—with the blade retracted!—is the perfect spot for biscuit joining. The fence keeps the boards from sliding around while you’re cutting the slots, and it provides easy access for clamps. The flat metal table aligns board edges with the cutter to ensure that your biscuit cuts line up every time. Thanks to Warren Tryndahl for this slick tip.
Pencil Sanding Aid
Here’s a great old tip that’s worth revisiting. Can’t tell where you’ve sanded and where you haven’t? Scribble light pencil lines over the surface, and then sand away until they’re gone. You’ll sand the entire surface without missing a spot, even out hard-to-see high and low areas, and know when to switch to a finer grit of sandpaper. The finer the grit, the lighter the pencil lines should be. It’ll take forever to sand off dark lines with fine grits. Find the best sander for finishing cabinets and learn all the sanding secrets. Our thanks to Karen Dybdahl for this smooth tip.
Solo Plywood Transport
You can easily move 4 x 8-ft. sheets of plywood by your lonesome with this plywood carrier recommended by cabinetmaker Graham McCulloch. It’s a 30-in.-long x 12-in.-wide piece of 1/2-in. plywood with a carrying hook at the end. Make the hook by attaching a 2-in. and a 4-in. piece of 3/4-in. plywood with glue and screws. Cut a handle slot 2 in. down from the other end. This carrier is designed for people of average height. If you’re on the short side, nest your underarm over a sheet of plywood, mark your hand position on the sheet and lengthen the carrier accordingly. Avoid falling from a ladder when flying solo on DIY work and make working on your DIY ideas easier with ancient technology.
In-the-Bag Wood Filler
Mix up your own perfectly matching wood filler in a disposable sandwich bag dispenser. First, put a couple of squirts of two-part epoxy into a plastic bag and add some sanding dust from the project (to match the wood). Knead the dust and epoxy with your fingers. Add more dust or epoxy as needed to create the right color. Protect the surrounding wood with masking tape, then nip off one corner of the bag and squeeze out the filler like toothpaste. Smooth off excess filler with a putty knife and let it dry to form an unshrinkable, rock-hard patch. Even better, you’ll walk away without epoxy smeared all over your workpiece—or your fingers! Also, fix up rotted wood with epoxy to make it look new. Thanks to tech-ed instructor Bill Waite for this tip.
You can get good-looking joints on your boxes and drawers without taking a lifetime to cut them by hand. To cut these joints, you’ll need a router that accepts bits with a 1/2-in. dia. shank, a router table with a sturdy fence, and a lock miter router bit. (The bit shown and other lock miter bits cost $25 and up at specialty woodworking stores.)
When you’re routing, the bit remains at the same height setting for all the pieces. All you do is shift the fence when routing each part to expose more or less of the bit. To ensure perfectly ﬁtting joints, the height adjustment has to be just right, so make practice cuts on scrap boards from your workpieces.
These joints are easier to glue than a miter joint because they can’t slide out of alignment when you tighten the clamps. And because they have more glue surface, they’re stronger, too. Thanks to reader Fred Forquer for this tip.
Fence-Straddling Push Box
This little three-sided, handled box keeps your fingers a lot safer when you rip boards on a table saw. And you can make it in about 30 minutes.
Cut a 10-in.-long piece of 3/4-in. plywood the same width as your saw’s fence, and then saw out and screw on a comfortable handle.
Cut a notch on the front end of the1/4-in. plywood sides a little deeper than the board you’re sawing, then screw the sides to the top piece. Mount the push box on the fence. As you saw, the notches lock down on the end of the board to hold it flat on the table. You can further ensure safety and accuracy when you cut narrow boards by using a second push stick in the opposite hand to lightly press the board against the fence. Thanks to Bryan Fehn for this tip.
Slant-Ruler Board Divider
Want to divide a board or sheet of plywood perfectly in half, thirds or any other equal fractions? Grab a Speed Square or try this tip. To halve the board, line up the end of a ruler or tape measure on one side, slant the tape to read 8 in. on the right edge and make your mark at 4 in. To divide it into thirds, slant the ruler to read 9 in. and mark the board at 3 and 6 in. The key is to select a measurement that’s easily divisible by the number of spaces you want. For example, if you want to cut a sheet of plywood into six sections, use the 60-in. mark on your tape measure. Measure at a 90-degree angle from one side to each mark to get the real numbers to transfer them wherever you need them. Also, see what a plumb bob can do to make a job easier. Thanks to John Vitka for this time-saving tip.
Space-Saving Cutting and Finishing Bench
Save space and make plywood cutting easier by building this hinged, flip-up, open-web bench. It’ll take some care and patience to cut the interlocking joints, but after that, assembly is a cinch. Make everything from 1x4s. The bench shown is about 3 x 5 ft.—a good size for nearly any plywood cut. Keep the screws at least 1/4 in. from the top edge. Get it out of the way by tipping it up against the wall and locking it into place with a wooden turnbuckle, turned behind a 1×2 catch block that’s mounted with the thin side against the front board.
The grid work provides solid, even support for sawing or finishing. But make sure to set your saw to cut only 1/8 in. into the table so you don’t hit any of the assembly screws or weaken the table. Thanks to Bob Dawson for this cutting-edge tip.
Sandwich Sheet Metal Sawing
Ever gouged up your hand while plowing through sheet metal with a pair of snips? Or been dissatisfied with an uneven, crinkled edge? Next time, try readers James Nelson’s sacrificial plywood sandwich technique. You’ll bid farewell to wavy edges and undeleted expletives, and cut a dead-straight line every time. Here’s how:
Clamp the metal between pieces of 1/2-in. or 3/4-in. scrap plywood and clamp on a straightedge to guide a circular saw. Now just saw through the sandwich using a carbide blade. This tip is for cutting thin sheet metal only, not thicker plate steel. P.S. This sandwich technique also produces great results when you’re drilling holes through sheet metal.
Flashing Shield for Sanding
Careful! When you’re sanding in the corner of that next masterpiece, your vibrating or random orbital sander can dig some nasty scratches or dents with the sander body and the sandpaper on adjoining surfaces. And they’re nearly impossible to fix.
Try this bulletproof tip from Leo Tellgren. Hold a small sheet of metal flashing or plastic laminate between the sander and the surface you don’t want dinged up, and then sand as close as you want with no worries. Scratches go on the metal, not on the wood.
Double-Duty Sanding Drum
If you sand a lot of thin wood on your drum sander, you’ll wear out only the bottom part of the drums. Flipping them over allows you to use the top, but the middle remains unused. Here’s a frugal solution, courtesy of reader Robert Allen: Cut the sanding drum in half and flip the parts end for end.
End eyestrain when you’re hunting for the right wrench or socket. Wrap each one with a couple of layers of bright-colored tape, then write its dimensions on the tape with a permanent marker. (After a bit, you’ll remember the colors and their corresponding sizes and won’t even need the numbers.) Your eyes will thank you each time you change the oil, assemble that new wagon for the kids or work on the lawn mower. Thanks to reader Jason Nash for this visionary tip.
Here’s a great way to scribe lines when you’re fitting countertops, cabinets and built-in furniture against irregular walls. Tape a pencil to a clothespin with the tip pointing away from the clothespin’s jaws. Wedge the jaws open with a chunk of wood until the pencil matches the widest gap between the workpiece and the wall. As you scribe, the flat side of the clothespin spaces the pencil point to exactly match the wall contour. Sand to the line for a perfect fit. Thanks to master furniture maker Bruce Kieffer for sending this great tip.
Carpet Cushion for Project Sanding
Don’t scratch up the workpiece you just sanded by flipping it over on a dinged up workbench. Next time you sand a project, lay down a scrap piece of carpet to protect the wood, keep it stationary as you sand and dampen the sander vibrations on your hands. No scrap carpet around? A 2 x 6-ft. washable runner works great—just shake it out between jobs and roll it up for storage. Thanks to Dan McGuinn for this neat tip.
Homemade Miter Gauges
End frustration when you are trying to dial up that perfect angle on your disc sander’s miter gauge. With a table saw, cut frequently used angles on scraps of 3/4-in. plywood and screw them to wood “runner” strips to slide into the miter slot on the sander’s table. To get the angles just right, screw the plywood and runner strip together with one screw, then position the miter gauge on the table and set the disc-to-gauge angle with a drafting triangle.
Now gently slide the miter gauge out, clamp and drive in a second screw. Test the angle by sanding a scrap workpiece. If the angle’s a little off, unscrew the second screw, adjust it and drive another screw in a new hole. Thanks to reader Bernard Lewan for this helpful tip.
Stick-On Scroll Saw Patterns
Here’s the quickest way to lay out patterns on wood for scroll saw work, courtesy of Greg Schowalter. Invest in a pack of Rayven Repro Film Clear No. 400. This adhesive film, which architects use for speedy design transfers, also works great for transferring scroll saw patterns to the wood you’re cutting. All you do is photocopy the plan or pattern from a book onto the adhesive-backed film, then peel off the film and stick it on the wood. The thin (1-mil) poly film adheres well and the pattern looks like it’s traced right onto the wood. The old method entailed spray-mounting paper patterns to the wood, then hassling with removing the spraymount adhesive before sanding or finishing. And the poly film also lubricates the saw blade with each stroke, so you won’t get any burn marks.
Paper Towel Dispenser Upgrade
Give your paper towels a brake! Cut a 6-in.-wide section from the rounded side of a 1-gallon bleach bottle, then attach it to your paper towel rack so one edge presses against the roll. The inward-flexing edge holds the towels for easy one-hand tearing and works as a brake to keep the towels from unraveling. We mounted our rack vertically so it’s even easier to tear off a towel. Our thanks to reader Ken Hanneman for this tight tip.
Putty-Good Finish Nailing
In seventh-grade shop class, we were famous for slathering our nail holes with oversized lumps of putty. Even after sanding, the huge glob of putty showed through the finish. Sound familiar?
Here’s the A-plus alternative: Before you nail, apply strips of lightly adhering masking tape, then drive the nails through the tape. After you set the nails, press putty in the holes and let it dry thoroughly. Remove the tape and sand off the putty nubbins. Our thanks to Mike Janney for this slick tip.
Cannery Row Hardware Storage
Don’t recycle those steel or aluminum cans quite yet. Set aside a few months’ worth of fruit and coffee cans and put these cannery rows to work organizing all of the small hardware in your shop.
All you need are some homemade wood clips and a hunk of 3/4-in. plywood screwed to a wall. To make the clips, rip a 3/4-in.-thick board into 1-3/8-in.-wide strips. Saw or rout a 3/8-in. x 1/4-in. rabbet along one edge. Drill 1/8-in. screw holes every 3/4 in. and then cut off 3/4-in.-wide clips. To mount the clips and cans on the plywood, screw on a clip, notch end down, then set a can on the clip and screw on a second clip overlapping the can’s rim about 1/4 in.
That’s it. Keep adding clips and cans until every screw, bolt, nail and nut has a can it can call home. Label the cans, and keep one loaded with surplus clips and screws for adding on. Thanks to Armand Bruggert for this tip.
‘On the Level’ Table Saw
You’ve finally got your table saw on a mobile base so it’s easy to pull out and put away on the weekend. Finish the job by finding a level spot on the floor that’s also convenient for sawing boards without obstruction. Mark the wheel positions with bright-colored duct tape and now you can roll the saw to the same flat spot every time you saw. Many thanks to reader Larry LeMasters for this level-footed tip.
Flux Brush Glue Applicators
Keep a few plumber’s flux brushes ready for spreading glue on your projects. They’re perfect for brushing on just the right thickness of glue. Bend the handles into U-shapes so you can hang the brushes on the edge of a jar half-filled with water to keep them from drying out. No cleaning needed. Just wipe off the excess water with a paper towel before use. Thanks to furniture maker Bruce Kieffer for brushing us up on this great gluing technique.
A vinyl tablecloth—any size—comes in handy for all kinds of woodworking jobs. Put it under boards you’re gluing together. Any glue drips will easily peel off the plastic surface after they dry. Or place the tablecloth as a thin cushion under workpieces you’re sanding and finishing, and use it as a protective barrier between the workbench and project parts when you’re tapping that next masterpiece together. Many thanks to reader Kate Gallivan for serving us this tip.
Storable, Portable Turntable
If you do a lot of spray painting and finishing but don’t have room for a permanent finishing bench, give this turntable a spin. It’s surprisingly sturdy, and because it rotates, you can get to all sides of your project while standing in one spot. It’s lightweight, so it can easily be taken outside. When you’re done, just unscrew the pipes from the flanges and store all the parts out of the way in the corner of your shop. The pipe parts are available at home centers, hardware stores and plumbing stores. Don’t try to use pipes with diameters other than 1 in. and 1-1/4 in. These are the only pipe diameters that telescope together well. The plywood top is 36 in. in diameter and the base is 24 in. in diameter. The total cost of the turntable, including the plywood, is about $40. Our thanks to Michael Dresdner for this tip.
On-the-Go Paint Shield
Thanks to reader Bill Chamberland’s great tip, we’ll be spending a lot less time applying masking tape and more time painting trim and baseboard molding. Firmly press a wide-blade drywall knife alongside the trim or molding and brush on the paint. Excess paint goes on the top side of the knife if you press it down firmly, but it’s smart to check the underside occasionally while you work and wipe the knife clean as needed with a solvent- or water-moistened rag.
Pick up a few guitar picks (about 25 cents each at a music store) and use one the next time you feel the urge to use your fingernail as a tool. They’re practically perfect for applying wood putty to nail holes and scraping squeezed-out glue from project corners. Use one any time you need a mini scraper or spatula. Thanks to reader Bill Waite for hitting this high note.
Stretchy Pipe Clamps
Moaning again that your pipe clamps aren’t long enough to assemble your new “monsterpiece?” Pipe down and quit whining. A few extra 2- and 4-ft. pipe segments plus a handful of pipe couplings are all you need for the extra-long or extra-wide job. Screw couplings and extra pipes to those too short pipes to create the needed lengths. If the clamps are under the wood, add spacers slightly higher than the couplings perpendicular to the pipes. When you’re finished, unscrew and store the extra pipes with couplings and you’ll be ready for the next jumbo project that comes down the pipeline. A big thanks to Jeff Poirier for tipping us off to this great idea.
To keep your hardware neat and accessible, thread nuts, washers, sockets and other items on short pieces of 12- or 14- gauge electrical wire, then hang them on a toolbox handle or a pegboard hook. Twist the ends of the wire into hook shapes that interlock for easy closing and opening. Many thanks to reader Roger Swanson for tying up this neat tip.
Here’s how to cut an inch off a nicely finished door or workpiece when you don’t want to risk dinging up the surface with that scratched-up shoe on your circular saw. Apply painter’s masking tape to the shoe and you’ll saw scratch-free every time. Thanks to reader Chris Siemasko for this tip.
Pie Plate Storage Pockets
Screw cut-in-half pie tins and heavy-duty paper plates to a shop wall and you’ve got space-saving storage for the sanding discs, circular saw blades and abrasive discs that like to hide in a drawer. Be sure to tape the sharp edges on the cut pie plates to protect your fingers! Our thanks to reader Bill Weiss for this ingenious after-dinner idea.
Snip ‘N’ Grip Wire Cutters
Here’s a time-saving tool modification from reader Clay Hickman. Fill the concave section of a wire cutter with silicone caulk, let it dry overnight, then slit the silicone with a razor blade to create a soft-jaw section on the wire cutter. Now when you cut off nails or pieces of wire, the cut pieces will stay in the cutter and not fly across the room. No more getting out the reading glasses and flashlight to hunt down cutoffs on your shop floor!
Project running you in circles? Trace perfect arcs or circles in an instant with a ballpoint pen, an awl or a nail, and a short length of plumber’s chain. The pen pokes through the chain’s smaller links just enough to create an exact radius when you keep the chain taut while tracing. As a bonus, each link provides a 1/2-in. increase or decrease in radius for quick adjustments without measuring. Thanks to reader Bill Waite for hooking us up to a well-rounded tip.
Ever scratched your head over how to position clamps on a project that requires clamping from all four sides? This gluing pedestal makes the job a breeze. Buy a 12-in. pipe nipple with pipe flanges on both ends and screw it to a couple of scraps of 3/4-in. plywood. Cut the pedestal top an inch or so bigger than the project to make clamping easier. Now, with the base of the pedestal clamped on your workbench, you can crank on the clamps from every angle; up, down and sideways. (Be sure to cover the top with plastic sheeting or wax paper, or the top will become a permanent part of the project.) Thanks to Travis Larson for this high-flying tip.
Glue-Go-Round Glue Caddy
Here are four good reasons to build this glue caddy for your shop. First, no more hunting for the right type of glue; they’ll all be right at your fingertips. Second, you can store the containers upside down. That keeps the glue near the spout—no more shaking down half-filled bottles. Third, upside-down storage helps polyurethane glues last longer without hardening because it keeps the air out. Last, the caddy is so doggone handsome.
Here’s how to make yours: First, arrange all your glue bottles in a circle with 1-in. spacing between the bottles. Add 2 in. to the circle diameter and cut out two 3/4-in. plywood discs. Drill 7/8-in. holes in the center of each one. Measure the various bottle diameters and drill storage holes around the top disc a smidgen larger than the bottles. Glue the discs on a 12-in.-long, 7/8-in. dowel, with a 5-in. space between the discs. Add a knob of your choice, load up your glue, and you’ve got an instant grip on every type of sticky problem that comes your way. Our thanks to Paul Gentry for rounding up this great tip.
Really Cool Hole Sawing
Dread using a hole saw? The friction heats up the blade to the point where it dulls the blade, burns the wood and actually heat-bonds the plug inside the hole saw.
Today, thanks to John Baker’s great tip, a cooler head prevails. Before sawing the hole, run the saw lightly on the wood to scribe the hole’s circumference, then drill two 3/8- in. holes just inside the circle. As you saw, sawdust falls through the holes rather than binding, clogging and burning against the cutting teeth. The saw runs cooler and cuts faster, and the sawn plug pulls out much easier. P.S. If you saw the hole until the pilot bit just breaks through the wood, then flip the board over and saw from the other side, the plug will practically fall out on its own.
How to Build a Classic Sawhorse
Here’s a classic sawhorse that’ll take a ton of punishment with nary a wobble. The key is a boxlike construction where the legs join with the top board. For each one you make, you need:
- 1 42-in. long 2×6 for the top board
- 4 28-in. long 1×8 boards for the legs
- 4 8-3/4 in. x 7-in. x 3/4-in. thick boards for the gussets
- 2-in. drywall screws
Cut the gussets with 14-degree angled sides. Cut leg notches on the top board 6 in. from the ends and with 14-degree angled sides so the legs will cant outward when screwed on. Cut 14-degree angles on both ends of the legs with your circular saw’s table set at 14 degrees. Cut the taper along the inside edge of the legs, and loosely screw the legs in the notches. Now, screw and glue the gussets to the edges of the legs. Because you haven’t tightened the legs in the notches, they’re easy to line up with the gussets. After attaching the gussets, tighten the screws that hold the legs to the top board, and you’re done.
Thanks to reader Ernie Brown for this thoroughbred tip.
Comfortable Shop Apron
The string of a light-duty shop apron can really slice into your neck when you load up the apron with screws and tools. Resourceful reader Steve Dailey advises: Replace the neck and waist strings with heavy-duty suspenders ($5 at home centers). Once you adjust the suspenders, they do a great job of comfortably distributing the load.
Homemade Edge Banding
If you’re building a project from ﬁr plywood and you need edge banding that’s an exact match, check out Sue Barlow’s revolutionary idea. On a table saw, cut 7/8-in. wide strips of the same ply-wood you’re using for the project. Then rotate the strip 90 degrees and slice off a 1/8-in. thick strip for the edge banding. This tip lets you be creative—you can cut off long grain strips to match the wood surface, and then cut strips with cross grain to create a “fold-over” effect on the other two edges of the plywood. Caution! Use a hold-down stick and a push stick when sawing narrow pieces on the table saw. Note: This tip doesn’t work well with hardwood plywood; the hardwood veneer is too thin.
Sticks of a Thousand Uses
Faithful reader Tammy McBride offers this great idea: Craft sticks and their larger cousins, tongue depressors, are handy for all kinds of shop tasks. Use them to spread glue, mix stain and epoxy, measure and transfer a cutting width, pad those metal vise jaws (hold them in with carpet tape), push putty into nail holes and hold little brads for nailing. Keep them conveniently stashed around your workshop—you’ll be surprised how often you reach for one.
Well-Aimed Angled Holes
Here’s an improvement on the tried-and-true angled drilling block. Cut a curved opening in the bottom of the block where the drill comes through so you can set the drill point exactly on the mark before starting to drill.
Tapered Legs on a Thickness Planer
Using plywood or particleboard, make a skid for the legs, elevating them on one end with a wood strip to control the amount of taper. (This is the red strip in the photo.) Screw cleats on the skid to hold the legs while they go through the planer.
Taper one side, taking 1/16 in. per pass, then rotate each leg one turn and taper the next side. Add a second strip (shown in blue) and taper the remaining two sides. Note: Stop the taper 2 in. from the end when planing the last two sides so you’ll have ﬂat areas for attaching apron boards.
Expand closet space with some particleboard shelves.
Our thanks to reader Robert Brundage for this slick, timesaving tip.
Quick-Wind Cord Holder
Tired of untangling those long extension cords every time you need one? Cut notches in the ends of a scrap board, glue in a couple of 1/2-in. dia. dowel handles and reel in every cord in your shop. There’s enough room for 150 ft. of medium-duty (14-gauge) cord if you cut the holder the same size as ours.
Easy Glue Bottle Cap
A medium-duty hollow wall anchor is the best glue bottle cap we’ve found. The narrow rectangular tip seals the opening of every glue bottle we tried. And the hollow wall anchor is much larger than the cap—so it’s that much harder to lose. Or try swapping out the cap with one that closes.
Circular Saw Cutting Guide
Who needs a table saw anyway? With this cutting guide, you can make accurate 90- and 45-degree cuts with your circular saw. Cut the guide to the size you need, checking its angles with a framing square. Screw a 4-in. cleat board on one side, positioned so that the guide will extend beyond both edges of the board you’re cutting. You’ll get a straighter cut because the saw will be supported as it begins and ﬁnishes the cut.
Drum-Sander Dust Collector
Capture the dust that flies off a sanding drum before it ﬁlls your shop and lungs! All you need is your shop vacuum, a 3 x 2-in. PVC reducing coupling and a pot magnet. Bolt the magnet to the coupling and put the coupling over the end of the vacuum hose. A 2-1/4 in. dia. shop vacuum hose ﬁts snugly inside the coupling’s smaller end without clamps or glue. Then just set the hose on the drill press’s metal table and let the shop vacuum eat your dust. You can use this setup on any power tool with a metal table.
No-Slide Miter Fence
Reader Ed Dies has a smart idea: Press strips of stair tread safety tape on your table saw’s miter gauge fence. The tape’s rough surface keeps the board from sliding after you’ve lined it up for a cut. And both the adhesive and abrasive are tougher than self-stick sandpaper’s, so these no-slide strips should last the life of the miter fence.
The Well-Clamped Work Table
When you make a table for a portable workbench with a clamping top, bevel the edges of the auxillary table’s cleats at 10 degrees. Beveled cleats will keep it from popping up when you’re working. And using two cleats on the outside, instead of one in the middle, lets you store the table flat between jobs.
Easy-to-Read Nail Sizes
We’ve all stored nails in old coffee cans and used a piece of masking tape taped to the outside of the can to record the type and size of nail. Here’s a better and more permanent labeling method. Spray a stripe of white appliance paint across the outside face of each coffee can. When it dries, write the nail specs on the paint with a permanent marker. Appliance paint has a tough, gloss ﬁnish so it doesn’t chip easily.
Pencils at the Ready
Reader R.B. Himes sent several cool tips for keeping pencils handy. Insert pencils into holes drilled in the edges of shelves, or put small screw eyes into the erasers and hang ’em from nails. Reader Jerry Seaward has another: Glue a scrap of window screen to the bottom of a piece of 1-1/2 in. dia. PVC pipe and clamp or screw the pipe to your workbench for a dust-free pencil holder. Other pencil hangouts? Wrap a strip of self-stick hook and loop fastners around a pencil and put a corresponding strip wherever you need a pencil. To make a pencil stay put on metal surfaces, attach a piece of magnetic tape ($2 a roll at fabric stores) to it.
Need another? Buy plastic coaxial cable holders, reverse the brad direction and tack ’em on the side of a work-table or tool rack. You can quick-draw the pencils out of the plastic jaws. Or try adding a piece of tape the end of a pencil to stop it from rolling around.
Use a couple of rubber sponge ﬂoats to hold down boards on your jointer. They grip boards tightly, keep your hands far from the cutter head, and put a stop to vibration. Thanks to reader Clarke Green for this very useful tip.
Build this box from plywood or medium-density ﬁberboard and use it to cut tenons, lap joints, rabbets and other joints on the ends of boards. It makes accurate cuts and keeps your hands well away from the blade.
Make the box wide enough so the clamp handle will ﬁt inside, and screw a board on the side at 90 degrees to support the piece you’re cutting. To use the box, slide it against the table saw fence. To ensure accurate cuts, build the box with parallel sides that are 90 degrees to the saw table.
Far-Reaching Stop Block
Staple a 1/8-in. threaded rod to a fence board attached to your table saw’s miter gauge. Use electrical staples (the kind you pound in with a hammer). Slide a stop block on the rod between pairs of washers and wing nuts, and use it to cut a number of boards to the same length. The stop block stays put board after board. Check out the stop block in action to help save time.
An oral syringe works great for precisely injecting putty into nail holes or other dents and cracks, according to reader Jim Tennessen. You won’t have to sand away putty smeared around the hole.
Oral syringes are also perfect for injecting wood glue into narrow crevices for furniture repairs. Hot water cleans the syringe in a ﬂash.
Cut strips of router or carpet pad and stick them on the bottom of workbench legs with double-faced tape. Now your workbench won’t slide around when you’re bearing down on project parts. Add some rollout drawers to a workbench for additional storage.
Stay-Flat Plywood Spacers
Plywood or other sheet stock can warp, especially if it’s stored surface to surface. The blocks separate the sheets so air can circulate on both sides. Flat sheets from the lumberyard stay flat this way, no matter how long they’re stored. The leather is flexible, so you can use them on any combination of thicknesses of sheet goods. The blocks are a snap to make from scrap wood and leather. Cut two 1-in.-wide strips of leather (or vinyl or heavy cloth) and space and screw 2-in. x 3/4-in. x 1-in. blocks along the strap. The air space also keeps them a lot easier to grab when you need to pull one out. For full sheets, use three sets of spacers, one at each end and one in the middle.
Find-Anything Hardware Drawer
Nothing has a chance to randomly accumulate in the workshop—not in apron pockets, on cabinet shelves, not even in a drawer. There is truly a place for everything, everything goes in its place, and no usable area remains empty. One of his hardware drawers is a sublime example.
In this drawer, movable partitions are held in place by strips of foam weather stripping at the front and back. The 44-plus boxes rest on edge, labels up, for easy grabbing and stowing.
Think of never having to wonder where to find a 1-in. drywall screw or a 3/8-in. washer!
Just cut some 2-in.-wide plywood scraps and screwed them together to form T-blocks and store the plywood over them. If snow, slush or rain sneaks in on the car tires and gets the floor wet, the wood is safe.
Stay-Put Driver Bits
Try sticking a few magnets to shelf standards inside cabinets with assorted driver bits attached to keep bits organized and magnetized. A magnet in a medicine cabinet can help with storage.
Want to know how to avoid drips and messes when you apply polyurethane varnish to large surfaces or multiple pieces of trim? Try this “High-Tech Glue Bottle Poly Applicator” (an ordinary squeeze bottle) and squirts narrow beads of finish onto the boards, then rolls them out. The poly flows neatly onto the wood and rarely drips onto the floor. After practicing a few beads, you can squirt out just the right amount for each board. Check out other pro tips for using varnish.
Forget brushes when it comes to varnishing a ton of trim or big, flat areas like tabletops and cabinets. Use a 4-in. disposable roller and a nonstick, lipped baking sheet. Pour some varnish into the tray and use it just like a paint rolling tray. Keep adding varnish as you need it, but try to plan so you end up with an empty tray. When you’re through, toss the roller sleeve and let the wet varnish dry in the pan. When it dries, just peel the varnish film right out of the pan. Thanks to Aaron McKeever for this tip.
Title Your Finishing Cans
If you have 10 years’ worth of rectangular solvent and finish cans on your shelf, and it’s hard to grab the mineral spirits can without first pulling out the acetone, the walnut stain and the denatured alcohol cans. Try this great solution. Set all the cans side by side and spray them with white appliance paint. When the paint’s dry, write the names with a permanent marker or paint pen on the painted spines like a book title. Now you’ll instantly nab the can you need and say thanks to Bruce Ristow for such a speedy read.
Furniture Ding Fixers for Free
Fix dings and scratches on wood surfaces without spending a penny. You already have a palette of colors in your closet, desk drawer or makeup kit. Shoe polish, eyebrow pencils, markers, watercolors, fingernail polish and iodine thinned to the right shade with denatured alcohol are just a few of the possibilities. Before applying color to the marred area, try it on the part of the furniture that’s the least visible. You can even create a “test” scratch in a hidden spot. When you determine the right color, rub it into the scratch, then wipe off the residue from the adjacent surface. Many thanks to Nina Jacobson for revealing our true colors. Check out other furniture fixes that don’t include throwing a matchbook under a wobbly chair.
Flawless Surface Prep
Anxious to put varnish on that freshly sanded project? Well, just hold on for a second! Before applying the finish, rub the project (with the grain!) with No. 0000 steel wool. You’ll lift sanding dust from the grain and burnish and shine the surface fibers.
Follow up with a mopping pad cloth to wipe away any specks of dust or steel wool. You’ve now ensured a pristine surface for perfect results with oil-based (not water-based) finishes. Many thanks to Gabriel Shearing for this professional finisher’s tip. See why adding steel wool to a loose screw isn’t such a screwy idea.
Poly Finish with No Runs, Drips or Bubbles
If the project you’re finishing features spindles, legs, nooks or crannies, switch from a regular to a wipe-on polyurethane. This finish goes on like a hand-rubbed oil finish and won’t pool, bubble or drip to leave mini messes to sand off when it’s dry. A number of wipe-on poly finishes are available, but we like Rockler’s Polyurethane Satin Gel Finish (rockler.com, $10.59 a pint, $19.29 a quart). It wipes on smoothly, dries super fast and, when applied with a cloth, leaves zero lap marks. Our thanks to Sean Gerlach for this smooth tip. See why using a wood conditioner isn’t a bad idea when finishing wood.
Here’s some precise advice from Paul Schuessler: Keep a tweezers handy when you’re applying any type of finish. If a mosquito, housefly, strand of hair, a wood shaving or a speck of sawdust plops onto a wet finish, don’t use your fingers or a rag to remove it! That’ll always leave a mark. Pluck it out with the tweezers.
Most layout, assembly and finishing jobs in this shop happen on a 4 x 6-ft. rolling worktable. Below-table storage is impressive — drawers loaded with drills, routers and sanders pull out from one long side, and around the other three sides, essential tools are stowed in easy reach on shelves and racks. The table is a hefty beast, designed to take a pounding, yet it glides smoothly around the shop on casters to bring it to more convenient assembly spots or get it out of the way for those really big assembly jobs that are done on the floor. A bit too extravagant of a work table? Try a super simple workbench that will cost less than $100.
Euro-Hinge Drilling Jig
This homemade drill jig is eye-catching because it can drill holes for Euro-style hinges.
The jig is made from two short boards screwed together with a guide hole drilled in one board. Both sides of the jig are labeled “end” with an arrow pointing to the end of the door. Clamp the jig flush to the door side with the arrow end flush with the end of the door. Then drill the hole, flip over the jig and clamp it to the other end of the door. The “end” arrow automatically goes in the right direction.
1-in. Stop Block for Multiple Cutoffs
To get furniture-grade crosscuts, you have to use a table saw. When crosscutting a whole pile of short pieces to the same length, he clamps a specially dedicated block of wood to the table saw fence. It’s an old standard trick, but the difference is that his block is laminated for easy sliding, and more important, it’s exactly 1 in. thick. Clamp the block on the fence and adjust the table saw fence gauge to the desired length, plus 1 in., and saw the pieces. The 1-in. thickness eliminates any head-scratching and mistakes from using any old scrap block. For safety, position the block so the workpiece getting cut loses contact with the block before the cut begins. That all but eliminates any chance of kickback. Prevent kickback and serious injury by following simple safety guidelines.
Dust-Collectin’, Bit-Storin’ Router Fence
This router fence is a masterpiece of convenience and efficiency. The router is mounted under an extension table attached to his table saw. When routing, slide the table saw fence over and clamp on a 5-in.-wide box with a mouse hole on the side for the bit recess. A drawer for bit storage pulls out of one end, and a shop vacuum hose press-fits in a hole in the other end to spirit away nearly all the chips.
Band Saw Dust Port
Hook the dust collector hose to a reducer mounted on the saw’s lower cover to stop dust storms. It is super easy to cut out the reducer hole with a metal-cutting blade in a saber saw. Trace a circle, drill a small entry hole for the blade and saw out the circle. Caulk around the reducer on the outside of the cover, hook up the dust collector hose, and now there’s no more super-fine band saw dust filling the air. Trying to save money on a dust mask could end up costing you in the future.
Miter Saw Waste
This waste-management ingenuity is pretty handy at a miter saw station. Directly below the hole is a recycling bin resting on a rollout shelf. When the bin fills up, it’s off to the burn pile. Learn 11 things you didn’t know about recycling.
Here’s a featherboard that locks into your table saw’s miter slot so you don’t have to fumble with clamps to hold it in place.
To make one, saw a 45-degree angle on a 5-in.-wide x 15-in.-long scrap board and then cut the slots with the band saw, leaving 1/8-in.-wide x 2-1/2-in.-deep “feathers.” Saw parallel 1/4-in.-wide slots into the featherboard 2 in. apart, stopping them 2 in. short of the feathers.
Now saw a 1/2-in.-thick strip of hardwood a smidgen narrower than the miter slot (so it slides without wiggling). Drill and countersink 1/4-in. holes in the strip, spaced to match the featherboard slots, and attach it to the featherboard with two 1-1/2-in. x 1/4-in. machine screws, wing nuts and washers.
Create the “strip-lock” by drilling and countersinking a 1/4-in. hole centered 1-1/2 in. from the end of the strip. Saw a slot lengthwise through the hole and slip in a 1-in. x 1/4-in. machine screw, wing nut and washer. Tighten the wing nut and the end of the strip will fan out, locking the featherboard into the slot and holding it solid while you saw. Thanks to Larry Minish for this tip.
Electric Carving Knife in the Shop
Got some rigid polyurethane foam, Styrofoam or soft upholstery foam you want to cut? Smuggle the electric carving knife out of the kitchen and use that. It works fabulously for any cut you need to make. Just don’t get busted at the border by the kitchen cop! But if you do, it’s safe to say you didn’t wreck the knife. Thanks to Chip Larson for this sharp tip.
Legible Sanding Discs
Hook-and-loop sanding discs work great on sanding jobs, and you can reuse them several times before they’re worn out. But it’s almost impossible to read the grit labels on the discs after you’ve used them once because the markings get scrubbed off by the loops. Do what Matthew Holmes does: Whenever you open a new pack of discs, write the grit label on the back with a permanent marker. Now you’ll switch from grit to grit without straining your eyes. Keep your eyes safe and make things easier to read with a pair of bifocal safety glasses.
Pencils on the Double
Can’t find your pencil? Try this sharp idea from Ruth Brunner. Saw a package of pencils in half with a finetooth saw and stick pencil cap erasers on the eraserless halves. You’ve just doubled your stock of pencils and made them a lot harder to break! Pencils are invaluable around the house, pencils can even help unlock a door.
Do-It-All Laminate Samples
Pick up a few free laminate samples on your next trip to the home center and put them to work as glue spreaders, nailing shields, shims, scrapers and spacers. Use them once and you’ll discover a dozen other ways they can improve shop life. Thanks to Ron Kapala for this tip. Put a charge into glue spreading with a credit card.
Airtight Caulk Tube Seal
Done with the caulking job but the tube’s only one-third empty? Dip the caulk tube nozzle into a can of Plasti Dip rubber coating ($6 at a home center). You’ll create an airtight seal that’s easy to peel off when you need to caulk a shower. Thanks to Kevin Lind for this tight tip.
Easy-to-Find Drill-Driver Bits
You know you have the right-size driver head, spade bit, socket driver, bit extension or Vix bit—but where?
Now you can work more e-fish-ently with this tip from Fred Dorman. Pack a transparent plastic tackle box ($3 at any sporting goods store) with all the driver gear you own. Adjustable partitions let you create the perfect-size slots to fit the bit or driver size. A tackle box is also great for storing hardware and all those router bits that would otherwise hide somewhere in the back of a drawer.
Here’s a gripping, portable organizer for all those wrenches and sockets. To make your own, cut a 5-in. handle slot in a piece of 14-in. x 11-1/2-in. x 3/4- in. plywood and screw it to the middle of a piece of 14-in. x 8-in. x 3/4-in. plywood. Band the bottom with strips of 1-1/4-in. x 1/2-in. plywood to reinforce the tote and keep the sockets and accessories onboard. For wrench storage, fasten 13-in.-long magnetic tool bars ($10 each at leevalley.com; No. 99K45.01) halfway up on both sides of the handle board. Tack or glue divider strips to the floor as needed for better socket sectoring. That’s it—load and tote! Thanks to reader Stephen Balazs for this great idea.
Don’t want tote them around, use a tie hanger to store wrenches.
Tool Table Rejuvenation
Here’s a quick, two-step method for cleaning cast iron tables on power tools and protecting them from moisture and corrosion. And as a bonus, your workpieces will slide on the table like silk as you work. Apply automotive paste wax and buff the surface with a piece of felt stuck on 60- or 80-grit sandpaper on the bottom of a random orbital sander. (Felt adheres just like the Scotch-Brite pad to the hooks on the sander.) Our thanks to Serge Duclos for this tip. You could also buff the surface by hand with a soft cloth.
Copy Center Project Patterns
Enlarging scaled-down woodworking patterns to full scale is a lot of work, and the results are rarely accurate. But you don’t have to go through that exercise anymore. Just about any full-service copy center will do it for you in a couple of minutes for a couple of dollars.
Here’s how: Cut the pattern to the actual length of the drawing—our magazine pattern measured 3-13/16 in. Ask to have it enlarged to the size called for in the dimensions. The copy center magician will spin a circular gauge to determine the expansion percentage and punch that info into the copier. In less than a minute, the full-size pattern will roll out. Our 35-3/4- in. Adirondack leg pattern cost less than $2. Stick the pattern directly to the wood with spray adhesive, double-faced tape or masking tape and cut out the part—that’s it! Thanks to furniture designer/builder Bruce Kieffer for this miraculous, timesaving tip.
Perfect Miter Joints Every Time
Here’s the way to ensure gap-free miter joints when you’re edge-banding plywood. Before you cut the trim board miters, tape 45-degree “fitting” boards to the plywood corners. Now you can cut the trim to fit, shaving off a little wood at a time until you reach perfection. Once you’ve glued on two opposing sides, fit and trim the other two pieces using the glued-on pieces as guides. Thanks to Tom Huttemier for this new angle on miter joint making.
Everyone knows the old trick of wrapping tape around drill bits to gauge hole depths while drilling. But after you drill a couple of holes, the leading edge of the tape becomes tattered and less accurate. Here’s a simple variation on the theme from Madeleine Noland. Mark the depth on the drill with a bright-colored erasable marker. This tip works great with both twist drill bits and spade bits.
See what a drill can do for the dinner table, too.
Farewell, Planer Snipe
In a wood shop, a “snipe” isn’t an imaginary bird. It’s a long, shallow trough that gets carved into boards an inch or two from the trailing end just before a board exits a thickness planer. The smart way to deal with it is to plane boards before cutting them to length, then just cut off any snipes. But sometimes there’s not enough length to do that, especially when you buy small, expensive chunks of exotics. Here’s what to do then. Trace the last 4 in. of your “beauty board” on a wider scrap board of the same thickness. Saw out the notch, fit the two boards together and plane them as one. Any snipe or gouging will show up on the trailing board, not in your workpiece. Thanks to Wesley Ausdahl for this tip.
Bed-of-Nails Finishing Stand
Paint drips can’t collect on the bottom edges of your project if it floats a tad above the worktable while you spray it. To make this magic, push an army of pushpins into a piece of thin cardboard, then set your project on the pins and spray on the finish. Thanks to reader R. B. Himes for pointing out this sharp tip.
See how to keep pushpins sorted so no one steps on them.
‘Clamping’ With Clay
Reader Robert Cramer showed us a cushy way to make glue repairs on small or delicate objects without having to hold them together by hand until the glue dries. Flatten out a ball of modeling compound ($2 for a four-pack), then apply glue to the edges of the object you’re repairing and press the pieces into the clay. The clay will hold the pieces together while the glue dries, and then you can peel it right off.
See another clever tool that will do a clamping job in a pinch.
Table Saw Fence Sheath
It’s a lot easier to crosscut boards on a table saw or use the surface as a workbench without the fence in the way. But where do you put it? How about tucking it away in a piece of PVC pipe bolted to the saw base? Buy and install a length of 4- or 5-in.-diameter PVC (measure your fence first!). Rip the leftover pipe in half and screw it to the top of the sheath. It’s a great shelf for push sticks, wrenches, featherboards and other accessories. Thanks to Martin Kipp for inspiring this tip!
Check out some other savvy storage tips around the house and the garage.
Add an adjustable fence to your drill press to make it a lot handier for woodworking projects! A fence is especially useful for drilling rows of precisely placed holes. Also, boring holes in a small workpiece is a snap—just clamp the piece to the fence at any angle and drill the hole. You won’t struggle with holding small pieces in place while you drill. (That’s also dangerous!)
1. Attach a 2-ft. x 1-ft. scrap of plywood or particleboard to the drill press table with countersunk 1/4-in. flat head machine screws, fender washers and nuts. (Run the screws through the slots in the metal table. The fender washers will span the slots.)
2. Create the fence from a 2 ft. x 4-in. x 1-in. board bolted to a 2-ft. piece of 3-in. x 1/8-in. aluminum angle iron ($10 at a home center for a 4-ft. length). Again, countersink the holes in the board before bolting the board to the angle iron. Thanks to Bryce Schultz for this tip.
Discover other incredibly simple woodworking jigs that do wonders.
Vertical Drill Jig
If you’ve ever tried to drill a perfectly straight and centered deep hole in the end of a board, you know that it’s nearly impossible with a handheld drill. But add a drill press and a jig and the job becomes very doable. Make this jig from two 8-in. x 12-in. pieces of 3/4-in. plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Just screw the pieces together to form a “T” and reinforce the jig with a couple of triangles.
To use the jig, clamp it to the drill press table and the workpiece to the jig. Draw an “X” across the corners to find the exact center of the piece. You’ll have to adjust the height of the table and pivot it until you line everything up, but after that, drilling a straight, centered hole is a cinch. This trick will work for rectangular or square boards. Our thanks to Leon Stoker for this tip.
If your drill press table isn’t getting the job done, check out a drill table that will work for you.
Store router bits, drill bits, screwdrivers, awls, pencils, Allen wrenches and hole saws in a hunk of 1-1/2-in.-thick rigid foam insulation.
To make this pointy-tool pincushion, just glue the foam to 1/2-in. plywood sized an inch wider than the foam. Be sure to use foam-compatible adhesive (PL 500 is one). Then press the foam into place and let it dry for a few hours. Punch holes for the accessories by rotating a small-diameter Phillips screwdriver or an awl at a slight angle into the foam. The tools will widen the holes to fit as you push them in. Screw the plywood to a shop wall over your workbench and load it up!
Many thanks to Gary Weaver for this idea.
Mold attacks spots int he house that are poorly insulated, find out how to prevent mold.
Don’t let the hard metal jaws of a pipe clamp ding up your board edges when you glue your next masterpiece together. Buy a pack of adhesive-backed magnetic business cards ($6 for 25 at office supply stores) and stick them on scraps of 1/4-in. plywood. When you’re gluing, attach the magnetized blocks on the jaws to protect your workpieces. Thanks to reader Sam Gant for this soft touch of a tip.
Spotlight for Woodworking
Focus a bright beam of light on your layout lines when you’re doing fine work on a band saw or scroll saw. All you need is a 1-1/2-in. round base magnet with a hole in the center ($3 at home centers and hardware stores), a mini flashlight ($10 for the AA-cell model) and a 1/8-in.-thick steel rod ($1). Bend an eyelet in the end of the rod and bolt it to the magnet, then strap the flashlight to the other end with zip ties. The setup will stick to any steel or cast iron surface, so you’ll see what you’re sawing!
Our thanks to Gary Brandhorst for this tip.
Universal Outfeed Support
Need a hand to support jumbo workpieces at the table saw, drill press, band saw, router table or planer? You’ll work a lot safer and easier and achieve better results if you grab some scrap wood and construct this stand.
Check out the complete plans and how to build it.
Dead-Center Drawer Handles
Here’s a quick and easy way to perfectly center drawer handles and pulls and mark them for drilling. Use a straightedge and light pencil lines to mark diagonals from the corners of the drawer face to pinpoint the center. That’s all you’ll need for a single screw handle. For handles with two holes, adjust a try square to the center point and scribe the horizontal handle line. Divide the handle hole spacing (usually 3 or 4 in.) by two and mark the drill holes on the line on either side of the center. Thanks to Nick Paynter for this top-drawer tip.
Find the geometry of things by making sure a square is a square before leaving the home center.
Nail Bed for Trim Painting
Need to spray-paint or varnish a raft of trim pieces for that bedroom remodeling job? Here’s a cushy way to finish pieces without rotating or repositioning them. Cover a sheet of extruded polystyrene ($10 at a home center) with 1-mil painter’s plastic. (Spray paint will eat away at unprotected foam.) Now stick crisscrossed nails into the foam to hold up the pieces, then line up the trim and start painting. Thanks to Tom Lant for this great tip.
We’ve got the answer to the age-old question: paint trim or walls first.
No-Clean Varnish Brushes
If you do a lot of polyurethane finish work, here’s how to avoid cleaning your brush after every application. Slice a 1-in. “X” into the plastic lid of a coffee can to hold the brush handle so the bristles are suspended in thinner.
When varnish residue builds up to an inch or so on the bottom, pour off the uncontaminated thinner into another can and start over. You’ll rarely have to clean the brush and will save lots of money on thinner. You can dispose of the residue by letting it dry, then throwing away the can. Thanks to Jim Pearson for this tip.
Save a bundle of money by learning how to make paint brushes last.
Paper Cups for the Workbench
Load a cup dispenser ($4 at a grocery store) with 3- and 5-oz. paper cups and keep it handy for all kinds of jobs. Mix epoxy, measure liquids for finishes, hold glue, keep track of parts from disassemblies and hold paint for touchup jobs.
You’ll get so used to grabbing a cup that you’ll wonder how you ever worked without them. Thanks to Dan Allmon for this tip.
Repurpose items in the garage like a shoe pocket, you’ll never believe how useful it can be.
Airtight Finish Cans
Cling wrap can create an airtight seal on paint and finish cans. There’s no need to pound on the metal lid when you feel like calling it quits before the job’s done. It’s easy to unpeel and reuse sheets if you’re feeling especially miserly. Thanks to Ray McBurney for wrapping up this useful tip.