Saturday, October 24, 2015

What’s in Your Pocket? A Mini Kreg Pocket Screw Jig

Kreg MKJKIT Mini Jig Kit

There are many ways to create strong, secure joint in wood; but only the more difficult methods leave a finished surface unscathed. A glued joints doesn’t hold up with constant stress, doweled or biscuit joints take time and patience, and so do countersunk screws with wood plugs. Is there another solution?

Yep, there’s the pocket screw. To use pocket screws, you come in from the back side of the finished board at a shallow angle (about 15°) so that the screw exits near the center of the edge. Screws naturally draw two pieces together without additional clamping, and they hold better than nails or glue. You'll find pocket screws used to build high-end furniture as well as DIY projects.

The hardest part of using pocket screws, however, is getting the holes located at the right entry point and set at the correct angle. Good carpenters use jigs when they’re repeating a task; and if that is drilling pocket screw holes, they probably use pocket screw jigs. Mine’s a Mini Kreg Jig Kit MKJKIT, a simple tool that, when used correctly, lets me todrill holes for pocket screws in ½”, ¾”, or 1½” stock. The jig kit includes 3 pieces:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

This Stud Finder from Stanley Conforms to the KISS Principle

Stanley 47-400 Magnetic Stud Finder

Included in the wisdom my Dad taught me decades ago is what’s known as the “KISS principle.” That’s the acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” advice I came to remember the last time I shelled out double-digit dollars for some bright-colored, battery-driven stud finder, which – of course – was a waste of hard-earned cash.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

You’re Your Own Locksmith with Kwikset’s SmartKey System

Kwikset Smartkey System

Not long ago, we did what most Americans seem to do every five years or so: we moved into a new house. Although it’s the sixth home-buying trip for us, this time we did something for the first time: We changed all the door locks. You would have too, if you’d seen the dude been living there (the previous owner’s son-in-law – we think).

The three outside doors and the fourth into the garage all have deadbolts, and three of them also have locking knobs. The sellers turned over three keys, claiming that was all they had. The people had five kid, but only three keys? I became more concerned by the minute. No question I was changing the locks – the problem was how to get all seven locks keyed to the same key.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

For the Times Ordinary Lumber Doesn't Cut It: Resawing on the Band Saw

Kreg 4-1/2-Inch Resaw Guide

Your typical amateur woodworker is well-equipped for making straight-line cuts; normally using a table saw and a power miter saw or (perhaps more rarely) a radial arm saw. When it comes to cutting curves, though, a portable jig saw is often all that can be found in the tool chest. If your favorite projects call for curved cuts, you know that the next bench- or floor-mounted tool you’re gonna buy is a band saw.

Monday, July 6, 2015

In a Tight Spot? That’s Where You Need Some Finger-Bit Screwdrivers

Titan 3-Piece Finger Bit Screwdriver Set

All you toolheads out there have heard someone say, "A thousand clamps is a good start." The same adage works for screwdrivers: just when you think you have a screwdriver for every situation, a different screw proves you’re wrong. So I'm quite likely to buy the next weird screwdriver design when I have the chance. That’s the main reason I have a Titan 3-Piece Finger Bit Screwdriver Set


Unlike a traditional screwdriver with its long handle and integral shank, a finger bit design is stubbier than the stubbiest screwdriver in your toolbox. Each driver consists of a 1” disk about ½” thick with a 1-inch cylinder centered in the disk. The cylinder has a female hex socket on one end and a female ¼-inch drive socket on the other. The disk’s rim has a diamond pattern for better grip. The whole assembly is somewhere about the size of a ping-pong ball, and all told weighs maybe 1¼ ounces. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sometimes, Building a "Better" Mousetrap Doesn't Make Sense

Lufkin L725SCTMP 25-foot x 1-inch Self-Centering Tape Measure

It used to be that products stood on their own because of their virtues, whether they be convenience and quality or something else that's intangible. Apparently now, manufacturers believe every product must always be continually “new and improved” or the shareholders won’t get their dividends. Who cares what the customers need, let’s give them what we think they might want! 

KomelonUSA 2125 Gripper-X Tape Measure ~ 1" x 25'

from: Hardware World
A while back I inherited (that’s a long story) a Lufkin L725SCTMP 25-foot x 1-inch tape measure. Like almost every other tape measure in its price class, this product has the obligatory belt clip, inch-wide fluorescent yellow tape marked for 16-inch stud spacing, thumb lock, and power return. It’s a bulky package at 3” high, 3½” front to rear, and about 2” thick (including the belt clip). It’s beefy, too, sagging those jeans with a whoppin’ 14 ounces of high-visibility orange plastic and black “ergonomic” rubber trim. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Electric Receptacle Safety Checks, Easy and Inexpensive

Gardner Bender Receptacle Tester and Circuit Analyzer GRT-3500

Buying your first house can be an educational experience. By the time you get to the fifth or sixth purchase, you notice patterns – and one such pattern seems to be how many do-it-yourselfers are confused about the simple task of wiring an electrical outlet. I’m happy to say that not a single outlet in the house we just sold was wired with reverse polarity. Not so with the new house, which features a finished basement where work was done by “an engineer.” I suspect an engineer of the software variety, since an electrical engineer is pretty unlikely to install the light switches upside down. Ya think?

Oh, well, at least he didn’t use lamp cord instead of 12-gauge Romex® to control ceiling fans on 20-amp circuits – been there, seen that, about three houses ago…

Saturday, May 30, 2015

One Room Down and Eight to Go: Replacing Ugly, Dated Ceiling Fans

Harbor Breeze Springfield 52-inch Fan

Realtors tell homeowners that painting the walls white makes it easier for a potential buyer to visualize his or her stuff in place, and therefore more likely to sell. Maybe that’s why the previous owners of our house turned everything white: the walls and ceilings, the floor tile, the kitchen appliances, the molding, bathroom fixtures.... and ceiling fans. There were nine ceiling fans in the house, all totally white or white trimmed in bright brass. "Yuck!" We replaced them all, one after another. 

The first fan out the door was the noisy, wobbly critter in the upstairs room. It was also butt-ugly and not big enough for the space. The neighborhood Lowe's sold us a Harbor Breeze Springfield 52-Inch model. It didn’t have a bit of white: it was black. The next day, the old fan came off and the new one took its place in a fairly typical DIY fashion (I estimate that I’ve installed almost enough ceiling fans to be considered a “pro”)

Friday, May 29, 2015

You're Still Running Black Tires? Mine are Bright Orange!

Fenner Urethane Bandsaw Tires

I once picked up a 14-inch band saw for free – all I had to do was haul that hefty ol’ Delta 28-243 from Houston to Austin, Texas. You can’t beat that kind of deal with a stick. When I got it, it was about fifteen years old and had spent its entire life in an un-air conditioned Texas garage. In other words, the original rubber tires pretty much disintegrated the first time I used it, so I picked up a pair of replacement tires online – Fenner Urethane Band Saw Tires, most notable (at least at first glance) for being the precise shade of orange of a Tennessee Vols fan’s favorite t-shirts. More to the point, though, I slapped them on and the saw has functioned just fine ever since. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Is a Framing Nailer for You? Heck Yeah: Hammers are so Twentieth Century!

Porter-Cable FR350 Round-Head Framing Nailer

In case you hadn’t noticed, no one uses a hammer on a construction site any more. Instead, at most sites you’ll find air hoses snaking everywhere and the air filled with the sounds of the “sneezes” that are the trademark of air nailers. After owning a Porter-Cable FR350 Round-Head Nailer for several years, I know why: they beat the heck out of a hammer!

Specifications and Usage 

If you thought your bulging biceps would miss that 22-oz framing hammer, you’ll appreciate the 12.7 pound heft of the FR350, about the same as other brands’ competing models. Using the nailer is easy once you get used to the weight and bulk, thanks to its dual-mode trigger and quick-load magazine. The nailer is shipped with a ¼” male quick-connect and an adjustable exhaust vent, You'll be glad you can rotate the vent after one a face-full of exhaust! The nosepiece comes with a removable rubber cushion to protect more delicate surfaces, its removal reveals a barbed foot that improves toenailing. The FR350 comes with a bottle of oil, the 3 hex wrenches you’ll need to adjust it or clear nail jams, and a plastic carrying case. The case has space for about a dozen nail strips. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

If You’re Building a Cabinet with Plywood, Here’s how to Hide the “Sandwiches”

Band-It Wood Veneer Edge Banding

Every time a woodworker plans a new project, he (or she) must make a choice:  build with solid lumber, or use furniture-grade plywood? It’s easier to decide when we're building a project without large, flat elements; but if you’re crafting a cabinet or some other enclosed piece, quality plywood means saving on material cost; plus plywood is sometimes easier to work with than solid lumber. I've used plywood to build bookshelves from birch and maple, and built a Mission-style media cabinet with oak. Most times the "sandwich" edges of my plywood are hidden by solid-wood face frames, but in some cases the edges remain exposed. Where an edge would be prominent, like the top of a cabinet, I’ll use solid wood to frame the plywood; but for the surfaces that remain hidden most of the time I use Band-It Wood Veneer Edging

Friday, April 24, 2015

Find the Right Circuit Breaker the Easy Way

Sperry CS550A Circuit Breaker Finder

Remember the last time you did any electrical work at your place? Maybe it was installing a ceiling fan, putting up a security light, or replacing a toggle switch with a dimmer; but it’s a safe bet the first instruction went something like: 

"Shut off power to the circuit." 

Oh, sure. Easy for the writer to say: he probably has every circuit in the breaker box labeled. If you’re like the rest of us, your breaker box is labeled (if at all) with little notes like "Sara's rm," "mst bth" or "dk lts." It’s more likely that the breaker box has no labels at all. So how to turn off the circuit without resetting all the clocks in the house? Plug in a boombox and crank Katy Perry up to eleven? Do you use a helper and a cell phone, asking each time you click off a breaker, "still on?" Been there, done that - and found out  the correct breaker is always at the opposite end of the board from where you start. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Band Clamps: The Answer to a Question You Haven't Yet Asked

Pony 1215 Band Clamp

Band clamp in use
Despite the name, band clamps have nothing to do with Sousa marches. They’re different animals from other clamps: while most clamps are rigid metal or metal and wood (or plastic) devices that use levers and screws to force the pieces together, band clamps manage to be both simpler and more complex. 

They’re a lot like the belt you’re wearing, except that instead of 30-some inches of leather, this belt is fifteen feet long and made of nylon webbing an inch or so wide. Instead of a "buckle," there's a gear-and-pulley device, spring-loaded. You use it by looping the band around a work piece, like looping a belt around your waist. Then you use the pulley system to tension the band. Think of someone with a 42” waist buckling a 36” belt, and you see how such clamps can apply great pressure. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

When It's Time to Move, I Break Out the Milwaukee Hand Truck

Milwaukee D-Handle 800-Pound Hand Truck

My hand truck, ready for action!
Back in olden days, having a pickup truck meant that at the end of the month, you often seemed to have a lot more friends than usual. If you happen to won a hand truck – also  known as a two-wheeler, but never a “dolly” – you seem to have even more. I have both – the pickup’s a Toyota, the other is a Milwaukee D-Handle Hand Truck.

Right now I’m in the middle of a move – I’ll be loading the ol’ U-Haul (Penske, actually) rental tomorrow for a 1000-mile move, my third this century. I don’t rent one of their hand trucks, though – I’ve had my own for at least twenty years. This is precisely the tool you need for moving stacks of boxes, of which we have maybe a million. When we're not moving across country, we use ours to truck around trash cans and other large items, though it’s of little use when it comes to moving furniture and appliances.


Milwaukee’s design has a frame of tubular steel with a D-shaped handle at the top center. The frame’s maybe 50” tall and 14” wide. A pair of 10” pneumatic tires are set on a full axle at the rear of the frame, positioned so the truck stands by itself and the front edge of the tires is still behind the frame - including the tires, the truck is about 18" wide. A solid steel plate about 7” deep runs the width of the frame, across the front to support the load of up to 800 pounds. This isn’t wide enough for appliances, which is why there’s a special dolly (complete with straps) for them.

I’ve shifted hundreds of tons of stuff with mine and similar trucks (I worked in a warehouse for a year). They’re not pretty, but they are marvels of design. Even a lightweight can move a stack of boxes that outweighs him or her with one, and the design’s excellent balance means you can guide the truck around the room with one hand. Having beefy 10-inch pneumatic tires means it runs across rough surfaces easily, too.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Got a Fence in Your Future? You Need a Post Level

Irwin Tools Magnetic Post Level

The house and all the trees survived the big wind, no problem – but like several of our neighbors we came outside after the storm to find several sections of our six-foot privacy fence leaning drunkenly into the yard. That meant a trip to the local BigBox hardware store for new cedar pickets, stringers, a few bags of cement, and half a dozen 4-by-4 posts. I had everything else I needed, including my Irwin Tools Magnetic Post Level

I bought mine years ago (back when they were still bright green) because I got sick of trying to get my posts vertical with just a carpenter’s level. Now I use it whenever I set a post for a deck, a fence or mailbox, a bird feeder pole, or anything else that has to stand straight.