15 Classic Handy Tool Tips and Tricks
After decades of collecting tool tips, our brains are so full that there isn’t room for much else. For this article, we sifted through those thousands of tips and selected a few that have been most useful on our own projects. Tuck them away in your memory and they’ll come in handy for you, too.
Hand Screws to the Rescue
When I started woodworking, I thought hand screw clamps were old-fashioned school-shop tools, not something any modern woodworker would use. Boy, was I wrong. Sure, fast-action metal clamps are better for most jobs, but for anything out of the ordinary, reach for a couple of hand screws. Why? First, the jaws can clamp tapered parts or parts that aren’t parallel. And second, because they’re made from wood, you can cut them, drill them and screw stuff to them.
Here’s just one example: This oval stool seat would be tough to clamp with standard clamps. But with hanger screws driven into a hand screw clamp, it’s easy. Drill a couple of holes into the seat, insert the hanger screws and squeeze the split seat together.
Ken Collier, Editor in Chief
Upright for Edge Work
A woodworker’s vise is the best way to hold boards on edge. But a pair of hand screws works almost as well. Depending on how you set it up, you may want to insert strips of cardboard under the board to protect it from the hand screws’ sharp threads.
Straight-Up Drill Guide
To bore a perfectly perpendicular hole, you need either a drill press or a couple of scraps of wood screwed together. The corner created by the scraps will steer the bit straight in every time. But if you’re looking for an excuse to buy a drill press, forget you ever saw this tip.
Instant Saw Support
Simple T-blocks have endless uses. They support long boards, raise projects off your workbench so you can work more comfortably, prop up assemblies so you can slip clamps under them, make a drying rack for finishing projects—the list goes on and on. Build a few from scrap wood and you’ll find uses we haven’t even thought of.
An old hollow-core door isn’t trash; it’s the perfect portable worktable. Set it on a couple of sawhorses and you’ve got a surface that’s flat and strong but lightweight and easy to store.
Hank Huff, Field Editor
Cordless tools are the greatest advance in human history. Well, at least for some of us. But they’ve also brought charger chaos. We recommend herding all your chargers into one place and plugging them into a power strip. You’ll get organization, surge protection and an instant way to switch them all off after the batteries are charged.
Magnetize a Screwdriver
This old trick could save you hundreds of dropped screws over your DIY lifetime. Grab a magnet and rub it along the shaft of a screwdriver a dozen times or so. Rub in one direction only, kind of like sharpening a knife. In about 10 seconds, you’ll have a magnetic screwdriver. Repeat as needed.
Two-Stage Speed Painting
A roller lays on paint fast, but a brush leaves a smoother finish. To get the best of both, roll on the paint then immediately brush it out. The quicker you get to the brushwork, the better. In warm, dry conditions, the paint will start to dry and lose its self-leveling ability in a minute or two.
Belt-Sander Stop Block
A belt sander is a great tool for sending boards flying across your shop. If you don’t want that to happen, clamp a stop block to your workbench. A block of the same thickness as your board will also prevent the sander from tipping down and tapering the end of your workpiece.
Clamp a Nail
When there’s no room for a hammer, sink the nail with a C-clamp. This trick works for plumbing and electrical straps, junction boxes, and even joist hangers.
Stop a Wandering Bit
Even the sharpest bit tends to skate across hard materials like tile, metal or glass, leaving loopy scratches behind. To steady a wandering bit, give it a softer place to start. Thin cardboard (the stuff cereal boxes are made from), taped firmly in place, works perfectly.
Extract a Stuck Plug
Struggling to pry the plug out of a hole saw might make you mutter, “Aw, screw it.” And that is indeed the correct approach. Drive a long screw into the plug. When the screw hits the back of the hole saw, keep driving and the screw will magically pull out the plug. If the plug is really stubborn, you might have to add a second screw on the other side of the drill bit. Then alternate between the screws, turning one and then the other until the plug is out.
Is Your Level a Liar?
Once upon a time, a man built a house using a lying level, so his floors were not level and his walls were not plumb. And all of the interior work, from installing cabinets to hanging doors, was a real nightmare. If you want to live happily ever after, give your level a 60-second checkup. Set it on your workbench and slip a shim under the low end until the bubble is centered. Then flip the level around, positioning the other end on exactly the same point on the shim. If the bubble isn’t centered, the level is a horizontal liar. To check vertical accuracy, follow the same steps against a wall.
Final Paint-Prep Step
Prep is the key to a fine paint job, says a 35-year veteran painter. Here’s how he does it: First, patch the walls, then sand down all the walls with 100-grit paper. (He uses a drywall pole sander.) That leaves a bunch of dust and debris on the wall, so the next step is to vacuum with a wide floor brush. It’s faster and more thorough than a damp rag, and it gets rid of any cobwebs at the same time. You’ll still need a rag or small vacuum brush to reach into corners, but then it’s on to taping off the woodwork.
Belt Sanders Aren’t Just for Wood
Any shop teacher will tell you: Use a tool only for its intended purpose. But I confess—I often use a belt sander for jobs other than sanding wood. It works great to scour dried gunk off putty knives and trowels, and I use it to sharpen chisels, scrapers and shovels too. In fact, I’m a double offender: I use my chisel for all kinds of rough jobs that it wasn’t intended for, then I sharpen it with a belt sander. My belt sander actually gives my chisel a better edge than a grinder does.
Jeff Gorton, Associate Editor