A fast way to cut brick
Angle grinders are handy tools, especially if you're working
with tile or masonry. Here's how to use one to cut bricks, if you
don't mind a bit of a rough edge. Equip your grinder with a
diamond blade, then score the brick on the back about 1/2 in.
deep where you want it to break. Put a brick chisel in the
score, give it a whack, and the brick will break.
Tool Tips From the Past
I've worked at this magazine (and
now Web site) for 20-odd years and
have learned a passel of great tool
tips and techniques during that time.
For this issue, which is all about
tools, I rummaged through the deep
archives to retrieve some of my personal
favorites. They cover home and
shop, indoors and out. I hope you
learn as much from them as I did.
Ken Collier, Editor-in-Chief
Run wires under a sidewalk
If you want to get power to a pond or just
want an outlet in the back 40, you may
have to run wires under a sidewalk. Here's
how to do it. The idea is to drive a length of
1/2-in. rigid electrical conduit under the
walk. You'll need to cap off both ends of
the conduit: one end to keep the dirt out,
the other so you can pound on it without
damage. We recommend a 1/2-in. coupling
and plug on both ends. Lift the conduit up
off the bottom of your trench with some
blocks, and bang away.
Quick-and-dirty support for long boards
OK, we admit that a proper miter saw stand is better, but if
you're just cutting a couple of long pieces, here's a quick way to
support them. Just clamp a piece of scrap on the back legs of a
stepladder. You'll have to snake boards through the ladder to
support them, but the ladder is rock-solid and you can adjust
the support piece so it's perfectly level with your saw table.
Mark pipe before gluing
When you're working with PVC pipe, dry-fit the fittings and the
pipe to make sure they're in the correct position. Use a level
where appropriate. Then mark the pipe and fitting so you can
get them back in exactly the same position when you're gluing
the joint. PVC cement sets quickly!
Dry concrete for fence posts
If you're setting fence posts in concrete and you want to get the job
done quickly, you can sometimes brace the posts and pour dry concrete
mix around them. Keep it a couple of inches below the soil line.
Continue with the carpentry, and when you're all done, soak the top of
the mix in each hole. You don't need to stir. The top will set quickly,
and the dry mix below will slowly absorb moisture from the soil.
Mark on masking tape
I use masking tape more for marking
than for masking. It's useful
when the surface is dark and
won't show a pencil line (like
the laminate countertop
shown) or when you want the
mark to be temporary, like
when you're marking stud positions
on a wall. You can use it to
mark a cutting line and just cut
right through it. On wallpaper, you
can use the white “delicate surface”
Make decorative joints in copper
Copper pipe is a perfect material for
long-lasting and decorative garden trellises
and other projects. However, if you
use regular plumbing fittings, your project
is apt to look more like plumbing than
art. You can solder copper pipes together
by bending one of them over a form
made from iron pipe. When you get the
end shaped so it makes good contact
with the other pipe, sand the area of
overlap with emery cloth, flux both
pieces, and solder.
Use epoxy for tough-to-clamp joints
Sometimes you encounter wood joints
that are very difficult to clamp—for
example, the odd-angle miter shown, or
very small pieces of trim. That's when
fast-setting epoxy comes to the rescue.
Mix it up, apply to both surfaces, and
hold the parts together in exactly the
position you want until the glue sets. You
can use 90-second epoxy, or if you want
more strength (and you have more
patience), use the five-minute variety.
Two tapes for large layout
To mark a perpendicular line on a large layout, use two tapes. Mark
an approximate center point on the baseline, and then mark end
points a few feet away on each side of the center point. Pull two
tapes and adjust them so the ends are on the end points and the
measurements are identical where the tapes cross. That's where to
mark the perpendicular line. Snap the line and you're all set.
Locking pliers for pulling nails
Vise-Grips locking pliers are a
great tool for pulling nails. I use
them in three situations. The
first, shown here, is to pull a
stubborn nail that has lost its
head. The second is to pull
trim-gun nails, which have such
a small head that a hammer
can't grab it. The third is to
remove nails that stay in the
trim you're removing. In that
case, it's best to pull them from
the back, using locking pliers.
My favorite is the type shown;
the curved ends of the jaws
make it easy to lever out nails.
Burnish an outside miter to close it
Sometimes just the act of nailing a miter
joint causes it to open slightly. If the gap
isn't too big, you can close it by rubbing a
smooth metal tool hard against the
corner. This crushes the wood fibers
inward. Just about any tool will work, like
the utility knife shown, or the round
shank of a screwdriver.
Glue baseboard to follow a hollow
Walls sometimes have gentle hollows
that are not apparent to the eye, making
it hard to attach trim without leaving a
gap. If the trim is at all flexible, you can
apply construction adhesive to the top
and bottom edges and then figure out a
way to apply pressure to it. A 2x4 against
the floor works for crown, and for baseboard
you can cut a couple of scraps and
nail them to the floor at an angle.
Perfect handrail position
Building codes usually require that a handrail
be 34 to 38 in. above the nosing (front edge)
of the stair treads. But how do you figure
that out and also get the handrail brackets
over a stud? You can draw all sorts of lines
all over your wall, or use the method shown.
Mark a vertical line where your studs are, lay
a 1x2 on the stairs, and slide a framing
square along the 1x2 until the end of the 2-ft.
leg of the square hits the stud line. For a little
more height, use a 1x3 or 1x4 instead.
“Shim” with a screw
If there's a gap, sometimes a drywall
screw is the perfect adjustable shim.
For example, when you're applying
baseboard, the drywall at floor level
often tapers back, making it hard to
get the baseboard corners to line up
well. A couple of screws driven into the
bottom of the wall will quickly solve the
problem, and do it a lot faster than filling
the area with joint compound.
Make a circle with a square
Here's a tip for laying out small circles or
parts of circles. Tack two nails to set the
diameter you want, then rotate a framing
square against the nails while you hold a
pencil in the corner of the square. You
might need to rub a little wax or some
other lubricant on the bottom of the
square so it slides easily. Don't ask us
why this process works; all we know is
that it does.
Hand screws for a quick vise
Old-fashioned hand screws still have a
place in the DIYer's tool kit, for several
reasons. Here's one. You can make a
quick vise for holding boards on edge
with a few hand screws and small bar
clamps. Set the hand screws to about
the thickness of your workpiece, clamp
them down, and you're set to go. You can
use the same trick for doors, but clamp
the hand screw so it extends past the
end of the sawhorse.
Use alignment cleats
Tacking on a cleat is one of the handiest tricks in the book. Use
the cleat to align tile, as shown, or cabinets, cabinet doors or anything
else that must be kept lined up or level. The cleat will often
serve to hold things up, freeing your hands to attach them.
Nail, finish, fill, finish
For natural trim and woodwork, it's best to
wait until the first coats of stain and varnish
are on the wood before you fill nail holes.
That way the wood is close to its finish
shade and color, and it's sealed so putty
stays only in the hole. Get several shades
of putty and mix them until they match
Calibrate your lawn spreader
If you have a broadcast spreader, there's a trick to getting the most uniform application
of fertilizer with it. First clean your driveway. Then fill the spreader, dial in the appropriate
setting and spread some fertilizer on your driveway at your normal walking pace.
Measure approximately how far the fertilizer is spread on both sides (it's common for
one side to be wider than the other). Write the measurement on a piece of duct tape on
the top of the spreader and use the information to guide your application. Sweep up the
fertilizer on your driveway and discard or reuse.
Back to Top
Install a door with corner cleats
To install an interior prehung door, a slick
trick is to screw cleats across the two upper
corners, and a 1x4 cleat across the opening
a foot above the floor. Pushing the doorjamb
against those cleats will ensure that
it's parallel to the wall. If you shim out the
cleats with a few sheets of heavy paper, the
jamb will stay slightly proud to the drywall,
so that the door casing fits nice and snug.