Tip 1: Featherweight tile backer
Dean Sorem, our tile guru, had this to say about one lightweight tile backer:
“Custom Building Products’ EasyBoard is a dream. An average shower requires
two to three hundred pounds of cement board, and six to eight trips from the
truck to the shower—on the second floor, if you’re lucky! My eighty-year-old
grandmother could carry 120 square feet of half-inch EasyBoard in one trip,
assuming I held the doors for her. Installation is even easier. One steady pass with
a sharp utility knife and the board is cut clean through. Fasten it with the same
screws used for other backers. Another advantage: no cement dust.”
These new super-light backer boards have a hard foam core and water-resistant
coating and can be used anywhere you would use other tile backer
boards. Custom Building Products’ EasyBoard and Schluter’s Kerdi-Board
are two common brands. EasyBoard costs about $16 for a 3 x 5-ft. piece.
You probably won’t find foam-core backer board at home centers. Instead,
search online for a local source or visit a professional tile shop.
Tip 2: Instant electrical connections
Traditional twist-on wire connectors
can be a bother to install. The
wire ends have to be held in perfect
alignment while you twist on the
connector. And then you have to
fit all those wires and connectors
neatly into the box.
Try push-in connectors instead.
They’re simple to use and almost
foolproof. Just strip the wires to the
length recommended on the package
and press each wire end into
a separate hole in the connector.
And since they’re smaller, they take
up less room in the electrical box.
They’re also the perfect solution for
extending wires that are too short.
A few downsides: You’ll need
to keep a greater variety of connectors
on hand, since it wouldn’t
be economical to use a connector
designed for six wires to
connect a single
pair. Also, push-in
cost a little
more than the
You’ll find push-in
connectors (about $25 for 200) at
home centers and online.
Tip 3: Sticky sand for pavers
Tired of replacing the sand
between the pavers on your
walk or patio? Sick of pulling
weeds from between
the stones? Here’s a solution.
Vacuum or blow out
the old sand and replace it
with polymeric sand. It’s just
sand mixed with a glue-like
polymer. When wetted, the
polymer binds the sand, holding
it in place and creating a weed-resistant
barrier. It’s a little fussy
to install because you have to be
careful to clean it off the face of
the pavers or stones before wetting it,
but it’s worth the extra effort.
Polymeric sand is available at landscape
suppliers and some home centers for about
$12 for a 50-lb. bag.
Tip 4: Flat-proof wheelbarrow tire
Is the tire flat every time you go to use your wheelbarrow? Do you use your
wheelbarrow on construction sites where nails can be a problem? If so,
then you need a “flat-free” wheelbarrow tire. Flat-free
tires are filled with foam or made of urethane
so they never need air and won’t
go flat if you run over a nail. And
they’re not just for wheelbarrows.
You can also buy flat-free tires
to fit lawn mowers and lawn
tractors, handcarts and
golf carts. Expect to
spend about $30 for
a wheelbarrow tire.
Find flat-free tires at
home centers and
Tip 5: Paint-job insurance
Let’s face it. Sometimes it’s too much
work to remove old exterior paint down
to bare wood. Zinsser’s Peel Stop and
XIM’s Peel Bond ($22 and $32 a gallon,
respectively) are two clear, binding
primers that are formulated to seal the
edges of paint and prevent peeling. It’s
a good solution for painting over an
area that you’ve scraped, but that has
patches of sound paint you don’t want
to peel later.
Tip 6: Faster toggle bolt
Old-fashioned “butterfly”-type toggle bolts are a pain to install.
Toggler brand Snaptoggles is a vast improvement. Just drill a
hole and slip the metal toggle in. Then slide the retainer along
the plastic strips until it’s snug to the wall and snap off the
strips. With the metal toggle mounted on the wall, it’s easy
to attach whatever you want by simply screwing in the
included bolt. And you can remove the bolt without
losing the toggle in the wall. Look for Snaptoggles
(about $1 each) near drywall anchors in home
centers and hardware stores.
Tip 7: Waterproof wood glue, with no mixing
out there may
having to hunt
glue. Now you
can just reach
for the glue
bottle (about $4 for 8 oz.) to get a waterproof
glue-up. It’s probably wise to
stick with epoxy for boat building, but
for everything else these waterproof
glues are all you need. Elmer’s Wood
Glue Max and Titebond’s Titebond III
Ultimate Wood Glue are two brands.
Tip 8: Ever-straight wall studs
In most areas of a house, a little wave or bump in the wall
caused by a crooked stud won’t matter a bit. But in kitchens
and bathrooms where you’ll be installing cabinetry or tile on
the walls, a wavy wall can raise havoc. That’s where engineered
studs are worth the premium price. Because they’re
made of laminated lumber or finger-jointed lumber,
they’re perfectly straight and more stable than
standard studs. Plus, they’re available in long
lengths for extra-tall walls. They don’t come
cheap, though. An 8-ft. laminated strand
lumber (LSL) stud from LP Building
Products costs about $8. Ask for
engineered studs at your local
lumberyard or home centers.
You may have
Tip 9: Adjustable depth electrical box
An electrical box that can be adjusted
until it’s flush with the wall is a perfect
solution when you’re thinking
about adding tile or paneling but
aren’t sure how thick the finished wall
will be. There are a few different versions
of adjustable boxes. Turning a
screw in the Carlon box shown here
moves the box in and out and allows
you to fine-tune the box position after
you’ve completed the wall covering.
Adjustable-depth boxes cost a little
more than regular boxes ($2 to $2.50
each) but are worth every penny in
areas where you think you’ll add tile,
paneling or cabinetry and don’t want
to guess at the depth.
Tip 10: Faster fastening with better screws
Premium construction screws have a
few big advantages over the drywall
screws we’ve all been using for years.
For starters, most have improved
head designs: tight-fitting hex, Torx or
Spider head driver bits. This eliminates
the annoying tendency of Phillips head
screws to strip out or slip off the bit.
Premium construction screws are also
less brittle than drywall screws, so they
won’t break off as easily, and they’re
coated to resist corrosion. Special self-drilling
thread designs coupled with a
thin shank means you rarely need to
drill a pilot hole. Large structural screws
can replace lag screws, and the smaller
ones are better than drywall screws for
woodworking and framing projects.
There are several brands. You’ll find
GRK screws online and at contractor-oriented
lumberyards. Spax and
FastenMaster screws are readily available
at home centers and hardware
stores. Like any premium products,
they cost more. Expect to pay about
5¢ each for 1-1/2-in. GRK screws.
Tip 11: Arrow-straight drywall joints
This extra-stiff, extra-wide drywall corner system is expensive,
but there are a few situations where the additional
money is well spent. First, if you’re a novice drywall
taper, it absolutely ensures straight inside corners.
The stiff material goes on straight, no matter how
unskilled you are with a taping knife. For the
experienced taper, this stuff makes it easier to
handle situations like oddball corner angles
or drywall over sloppy framing.
An added benefit is that you only need
to apply an additional thin coat or two
of joint compound over the outermost
edge to finish the job. The remainder
of the tape is paint-ready and
doesn’t require more mud. This
feature also makes it handy
for all inside and outside
corners. These products
are available at drywall
suppliers and online.
A 100-ft. roll of
450 costs about $60.
is a similar product (about $43).
Tip 12: Waterproof tile is now brush-on simple
A top-notch tiling job in wet areas like showers and
around tubs requires a waterproof membrane under the
tile. RedGard is a liquid waterproofing that you apply with
a brush, trowel or roller. When dry, it forms a flexible
membrane that’s perfect to tile over.
Here’s what our tile consultant, Dean Sorem, has to say:
“RedGard saved my sanity! This handy waterproofing has
made the installation of a watertight tile job as simple as a
brush stroke. Once the tile substrate is securely installed and
seams are taped, all you need to do is apply a coat of the
pudding-like liquid to the surface, let it dry, and it’s waterproofed.
This makes waterproofing shower curbs, benches,
tub decks and steam showers a breeze.”
You’ll find RedGard and other brands of brush-on waterproofing
at home centers, tile stores and online. A 1-gallon
bucket costs about $40.
Tip 13: Moldable wood filler
Nothing beats two-part epoxy wood filler for rebuilding
moldings or other architectural elements that have missing
or damaged parts. The most common brand is Abatron’s
WoodEpox. When mixed, WoodEpox has a consistency like
Play-Doh that allows you to hand-mold it into the approximate
shape of the damaged part. Unlike less expensive fillers,
it’ll stay put without sagging or running. When the “dough”
hardens to about the consistency of soap, you can shave and
carve it into the final profile. When it’s completely cured, you
can sand and plane it like wood. Epoxy wood filler costs about
$40 for two pints. Find a local WoodEpox retailer or purchase
online from abatron.com.
Tip 14: Ultimate water-base trim paint
A decade ago, if you asked any painters what type of paint
they preferred for getting a smooth coat of finish on woodwork,
most would have said oil-base paint. But now there are
several modern paints that combine the best advantages of
water-base and oil paints. These new water cleanup paints
have a lower percentage of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
than oil-base paints, so they’re better for the environment. And
they brush on and flow out like oil, allowing you to get that
smooth, brush-mark free finish that is the hallmark
of a classic oil paint job. Two
popular examples of
this new type of paint
and Benjamin Moore’s
Interior Alkyd. Like any
superior paint product,
these aren’t cheap.
Expect to pay about
$45 a gallon. But if
it’s a smooth, durable
paint job you’re after,
water-base alkyds are
worth every penny.
Tip 15: Cheap, versatile, durable wood filler
Durham’s Water Putty is a powder that hardens
after you mix it with water. It’s a great
product to keep on hand for when you need
economical, quick-setting wood filler for
things like woodpecker holes in your siding or
knotholes before painting. You can mix it thin
and use it as a floor leveler, or mix it thick for
making wood repairs. You’ll find Durham’s
Water Putty at home centers and hardware
stores (out $10 for a 4-lb. can).
Tip 16: Perfect crack filler
If you’ve ever tried to
fill a crack in concrete with
regular caulk, you know what a
mess it can be. Self-leveling concrete
crack filler solves this problem.
Just fill the crack and a few minutes
later the caulk settles to form a perfectly
smooth joint. For wide cracks, insert lengths of
foam caulk-backer first to create a better caulk
joint and reduce the amount of caulk needed.
Self-leveling caulk (about $6 a tube) is available
at home centers and hardware stores.
Look for the words “self-leveling”
on the tube.
Tip 17: Better foam control
If you’ve ever used expanding foam
with the plastic straw applicator, you
know what a mess it can be—sticky
foam all over everything and half-used
cans that end up in the trash. But it
doesn’t have to be that way. Applicator
guns have an adjustment screw that
allows you to fine-tune the flow rate.
That, coupled with the long nozzle and
trigger valve, gives you much more control
over the foam so you don’t end up
wasting it by overfilling. Plus you can
leave the can of foam on the gun for
about a month and still use it. You only
clean the gun if you remove the can.
Then you simply screw a can of foam
gun cleaner (about $6) onto the gun
and dispense it through the tip.
Foam application guns cost $30 to
more than $100. The Great Stuff Pro 14
gun shown here is about $50.
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Tip 18: Instant, permanent hole fix
Stephen Evans, one of our Field Editors, has a favorite
wood filler for special jobs. QuickWood putty stick
is a two-part epoxy filler that is the size and consistency
of a large Tootsie Roll. Stephen uses it to fill
screw holes and make repairs where high strength
and a fast set are important.
To use it, just slice a chunk from the tube and
knead it until the color is consistent. This activates
the epoxy, allowing you about 15 to 25 minutes to fill
holes or dings until it starts to harden. A 1-oz. tube
costs about $5. Two brands are QuickWood and
JB Weld KwikWood. You’ll find them online or at
woodworking stores and home centers.