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47 Handy Hints for Your Workshop

From tool hacks to genius storage ideas, these handy hints will help you save money, complete projects more efficiently, and definitely have more fun in your workshop.

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Reinvigorate Dry Putty

Reinvigorate Dry Putty

Coming to the final steps in a project and finding my jar of putty as dry as the Serengeti and hard as a rock is frustrating. My solution is to remove the putty with a screwdriver and knead it with canola oil until it’s a usable consistency. The putty isn’t quite as good as new, but it works in a pinch. It’s a messy job, so wear latex gloves. – Richard Ryder

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Ad-Hoc Micrometer

Ad-Hoc Micrometer

Measuring diameters can be difficult. Sure, it works OK to just measure the end, but if you need accuracy, here’s my method. Take apart one of your combination squares and slide the head to another square so that the straight edges are facing each other. Set one of the square heads at an even measurement and then slide the other head until both are touching the part you’re measuring. Read the measurement right off the ruler!
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Use a Sneaker to Clean Sandpaper

Use a Sneaker to Clean Sandpaper

Make sandpaper nearly new again with a lowly old sneaker. Start up your power sander and dust collection system (remember to wear hearing and eye protection). Then slowly press the rubber sole of an old sneaker along the sandpaper—you’ll see a difference instantly!

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Sanding Sponge Grit Label

Sanding Sponge Grit Label

When you crack open a new sanding sponge, don’t throw away the packaging! Well, at least not until after you write the grit number on the sponge with permanent marker. That way, you’ll know which sponge to reach for during future sanding projects.

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Copying Cuts

Copying Cuts

When I need a just a few boards cut to the same length, instead of setting up a stop, I use the first board as a template. Just set it on top of the next piece, line up the ends, slide the template piece against the blade and cut. – Brad Holden

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Paint Can Opener on Hand

Paint Can Opener on Hand

Always have a paint can opener on hand when you’re ready to start a painting project. Use pliers or a multitool to slightly bend open the loop of the opener. Then hook it onto the handle of the paint can you just purchased.

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Super-Strong Sandpaper

Super-Strong Sandpaper

“I do a lot of finish-sanding freehand, without a sandpaper block, so I can smooth edges and get into nooks and crannies. But the finer grits are usually bonded to thinner paper and, at least for me, the paper is too thin and ends up tearing long before the grit wears out. So I apply duct tape to the back of the sandpaper. The sandpaper is still flexible enough to sand a tight radius and it’s far more durable. You can use this super-strong sandpaper like a shoeshine rag.” — Chuck Merchant

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Tear Out Saving Tape

Tear Out Saving Tape

Cutting with a jigsaw causes nasty tear out in plywood. To limit tear out when cutting out small shapes, I cover the whole work surface with masking tape and draw the shape onto the masking tape before cutting. Nothing eliminates tear out altogether, but this greatly reduces it.

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Bolt Head Hack

Bolt Head Hack

Make a bolt head for any threaded rod by locking two hex nuts together. Then you can use a nut driver or wrench to turn the threaded rod or screw in fasteners such as hanger bolts.

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Bobby Pin Nail Holder

Bobby Pin Nail Holder

There’s no need to risk hammering a finger when working with tiny nails or in tight quarters. A common bobby pin makes a great nail holder—and keeps your fingers at a safe distance! Once the nail is started, remove the bobby pin and continue hammering away.

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DIY Flexible Sanding Block

DIY Flexible Sanding Block

Sanding curves is tricky. Sometimes you need a sanding pad that’s both firm and flexible. A small notepad works great. Just wrap sandpaper around the pad and bend the pad to whatever arc you need. The next time you are working on a woodworking project that has curves and tough to reach spots, use a notebook as a flexible sanding block.

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Magnetic Broom

Magnetic Broom

When you spill screws, nails, brads or other small metal parts on a dusty shop floor, pick them up in seconds, minus the dust. Screw a 3-in. dia. pot magnet on the end of a wood dowel to create your ‘picker-upper.’ To use this tool, place an inside-out sandwich bag over the magnet and start sweeping the area. The hardware will leap up to the powerful magnet as you ‘sweep’ the floor. To unload and bag the metal pieces in one quick step, just pull the bag off the magnet. For another clever use for magnets, check out this bathroom storage project.

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Trigger-Style Bench ClampsAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Trigger-Style Bench Clamps

Trigger-style bar clamps make perfect workbench hold-down clamps. First, punch out the split-tube stop at the end of the clamp’s bar and then slide the trigger head off. Slip the bar through a bench-dog hole and reinstall the trigger head. If your bench doesn’t have dog holes, just drill a hole wherever you need it.

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More Planing, Less Exercise

More Planing, Less Exercise

Planing boards with a portable planter can provide you with a lot of exercise. But rather than running from the infeed side to the outfeed side before the board flips your portable planer, try this instead: Attach your portable planer to a board; then fasten the board to a miter saw stand. Then planning boards won’t wear you out so quickly!

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Rx Bottle for Earplug Storage

Rx Bottle for Earplug Storage

After losing the storage tube that his pack of earplugs came with, Mike Yalch discovered an alternative: an empty medicine bottle. It keeps his ear protection clean and on hand at all times, as the small container fits perfectly in his pocket.

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Cut From Both Sides

Cut From Both Sides

When I’m on a jobsite where time is money and I need to make a couple cuts on the miter saw I measure my cuts from both ends of the board. I only need to take out my tape measure and pencil once. Over the course of a day, that time saved adds up. – Travis Larson

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Instant Hardware PatinaNadyaEugene/Shutterstock

Instant Hardware Patina

I’ve found that using gun bluing ($10/3 oz. at sporting goods stores) gives off-the-shelf hardware an attractive, aged patina. Simply dip nuts, bolts, washers or other hardware in a cup of gun bluing. When the hardware turns black, rinse it with clean water and dry it with a paper towel. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and eye protection.

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Makeshift Countersinking Tip

Makeshift Countersinking Tip

Try this ’emergency’ technique for drilling countersink holes for screwheads in softwoods like pine, cedar and redwood. A 3/8-in. twist drill bit—spun in reverse on slow speed—will bore a clean-edged countersink hole without grabbing and tearing. Because the drill cuts slowly, you can easily control the countersink depth.

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Pie Plate Dustpan

Pie Plate Dustpan

Create a quick disposable dustpan out of an aluminum pie plate. Use tin snips or heavy-duty scissors to cut the pie plate in half. Sweep up the mess and toss it in the trash!

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Stay-Put PVC Pipe Cutter

Stay-Put PVC Pipe Cutter

Here’s a nifty way to cut PVC pipe on the fly. Just make a couple of notches in the top of a 5-gallon bucket. Set the pipe in the notches and you’ve got a stable spot for sawing. As a bonus, you can load up the bucket and carry your tools along, too!

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Shop-Made Finishing Helpers

Shop-Made Finishing Helpers

Tired of waiting for finish to dry on one side before finishing the other side? You can purchase standoffs, but it’s also really easy to make them yourself. Simply drive 2-in. drywall screws through 2-in. x 2-in. squares of 3/4-in. thick stock. The screw points will leave a divot in the finish that can be touched up later, but I always let the back side of my project rest on the screws while the finish dries.

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Check if a Square is Square

Check if a Square is Square

Follow these simple steps for ensuring that your square is square: Align the short side of the square with the factory edge of a piece of plywood. Draw a line along the edge of the long side of the square. Flip over the tool and align the base of the mark with the same edge of the long side of the square. Draw another line. If the marks do not align perfectly, the square is not square.

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How to Fix a Square

How to Fix a Square

Before tossing your off-kilter square and spending money on a new one, try fixing it with this simple process. Use a center punch, a hammer and an anvil. If the sides of the square are too close together, punch the inner corner. If the sides are too far apart, punch the outer corner. Check your progress, and repeat as needed until the square is square.

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Small Parts Jointer

Small Parts Jointer

Here’s a way to joint or shape work pieces that are too small to hold in a vise. Flip a hand plane upside down and clamp it in your bench vise. Now you can pass the wood over the plane to joint the edge.

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Visual Aid for Sanding Even SurfacesBastian Kienitz/Shutterstock

Visual Aid for Sanding Even Surfaces

With an orbital sander and good sandpaper you can smooth wood evenly and easily with first-class results. When flush-sanding solid edge-banding, draw a squiggly line across the joint before sanding. The edge-banding will be slightly proud of the plywood veneer, so the pencil marks provide a visual aid to make sure that you’re sanding flat, and that you don’t sand through the plywood’s veneer. As you go, you can also test for a smooth, level transition by gently scraping your fingernails against the transition. If it’s smooth, your fingers will not catch on the seam between the two pieces.

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Foam Ball Tool Storage

Foam Ball Tool Storage

Here’s a pointer on storing pointed tools for instant availability. Drill 5/8-in. holes through a few 4- or 5-in. foam craft balls (available at craft stores), and skewer and glue them along a 5/8-in. dia. dowel with construction adhesive. Screw together a 3/4-in. wood bracket, drilling a stopped 5/8-in.-diameter hole 1/2 in. deep in the bottom end and a 3/4-in. hole through the upper end. Screw the bracket at a convenient height, slide in the foam balls and load them with drill, router and spade bits; paint brushes; screwdrivers; Allen wrenches; awls; X-Acto knives; pencils and, well, you get the point.

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Measure Once, Cut 10 Times

Measure Once, Cut 10 Times

If I’m cutting a bunch of boards to roughly the same length, I mark them all at the same time. With every mark, I add 1/8 in. to allow for the blade thickness. For example, if I’m cutting 12 in. boards, the first mark is at 12 in. The second is 12-1/8, the next one is 12-1/4, then 12-3/8 and so on. I don’t use this trick for precision, but is a great way to save some time on the job site. – Travis Larson

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Kitty Litter Pouch for Tool Protection

Kitty Litter Pouch for Tool Protection

Make a rust-preventing pouch for your toolbox with a scoop of silica crystal kitty litter, a piece of breathable fabric and a zip tie. Toss it in your toolbox to keep out excess moisture and protect your prized possessions.

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Tool-Apron Storage

Tool-Apron Storage

Tool aprons can be modified to store nearly any household item. Just sew a variety of pocket widths in the aprons, then mount the aprons by screwing a wood strip through the top of each and into a door. For hollow-core doors, use hollow anchor fasteners to hold the screws firmly to the door.

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Hands-Free Light Hack

Hands-Free Light Hack

Make a hands-free light in a snap with a flashlight, a pair of pliers and a rubber band. Place the flashlight in the jaws of the pliers; then wrap a rubber band around the handles of the pliers. That’s it! Point the light wherever you need it.

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Drill Bit Girdle
Photo Courtesy of the Family Handyman

Close Paint Cans with Less Mess

Stop paint splatter when you re-seal a paint can lid by covering it with a rag or paper towel. Then place a wood block just larger than the diameter of the paint can across the lid and hammer the center of the block. Rotate the block a few times, hammering the center each time, to seal the lid without damaging the top of the can.

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Drill Bit Girdle

Save those wide rubber bands that are wrapped around broccoli and other veggies and stretch them over your electric or cordless drill. Use them for onboard storage of smaller drill and driver bits and screws. Wrangle the rest of your drill bits and other pointy tools with this wall-mounted ‘pincushion.’

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Chap Stick for the ToolboxPavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock

Chap Stick for the Toolbox

If you enjoy working with hardwoods, you know how important it is to lubricate screws. It’ll make driving the fasteners easier and reduces the amount of heat produced. But what if you don’t have a bar of soap or a pile of beeswax nearby? Reach for your tube of Chap Stick! The lip balm does a fine job of lubricating screws—and it fits in your pocket.

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Bungee Cord Organizer

Bungee Cord Organizer

Elastic cords can quickly become a tangled mess. Find the one you need at a glance with this handy rack made from 3- or 4-in. PVC pipe. Just drill 1/2-in. diameter holes in the pipe to match the slightly stretched lengths of your cords. Keep it in your trunk or shop, out of the reach of children.

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Pallet Dolly vkilikov/Shutterstock

Pallet Dolly

This simple and inexpensive hauler is perfect for transporting loads of lumber or heavy tools around the workshop. Add a bit of reinforcement to the pallet first; then install four swiveling casters, one at each corner. You’ll wonder why you didn’t make a pallet dolly sooner!

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Moisturized Wood Putty

Moisturized Wood Putty

Wood putty is often a one-time use product for me. Before I even think about using it a second time, it’s dried out. The trick I found was to fill an empty paint can with water and store all my putty jars submerged so no air can get in. Now I can finally say that I have seen the bottom of a putty container. – Kim Boley

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In-the-Bucket Air Tools
Photo Courtesy of the Family Handyman

Lighted Screwdriver Hack

No need for fancy hand tools with built-in LED lights, opt for this lighted screwdriver hack instead. When working in a dark space such as inside a cabinet, make your own lighted screwdriver by taping a keychain-size flashlight to the shaft. It’ll shine the light right where you need it.

In-the-Bucket Air Tools

A 2-1/2-gallon bucket is all you need to store air tools and hoses on a wall right by the air compressor. Screw a 3/4-in. plywood shelf inside the bucket to create two storage areas, then attach the bucket to the wall with a couple of lag bolts and washers. Load up the bucket with nailers, nails, tire pressure gauges and other accessories and coil the hose around it.

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How to Magnetize a Screwdriver

How to Magnetize a Screwdriver

Using a handheld screwdriver in tight spaces can be very frustrating, especially when there isn’t enough room to hold the screw in place with your free hand. Here’s a solution for how to magnetize a screwdriver situation: Attach a small magnet to the shaft of your screwdriver. The magnetic magic will travel through the metal of the screwdriver, down to the business end, holding the screw right where you need it—with no hands!

This trick for how to magnetize a screwdriver works with other tools, too. Magnetize the head of a hammer to hold a nail, add a magnet to the metal bit in a power drill/driver to hold a screw—you get the idea.

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Paper Towel Roll Bag Storage

Paper Towel Roll Bag Storage

There are many uses for plastic grocery bags in the workshop. You can use them to seal up brushes and rollers during a painting project, so you don’t have to wash so much stuff between coats. The point is, it’s worth keeping a handful of plastic grocery bags on hand in the workshop, and here’s a great tip for storing them: Stuff as many plastic grocery bags as possible into an empty paper towel roll. Then toss the roll in a drawer or cabinet. The cardboard tube keeps the bags contained, and it’s easy to pull one out at a time when you need it.

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Cheap Zero-Clearance Miter Saw

Cheap Zero-Clearance Miter Saw

When offcuts fall into the miter saw’s throat plate, they become projectiles. When the offcuts are actually the finished pieces – like these thin coasters – it’s not only dangerous it’s maddening! My solution is to place a couple layers of tape over the saw’s throatplate and cut a kerf. My parts no longer go airborne and it gives me a great place to mark cut lines. – Will Leighton

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Handy Rag Cutter

Handy Rag Cutter

Easily cut up old t-shirts and towels to use as shop rags with this simple cutter: Clamp a sharp utility knife in a vise and start cutting the material. Continue cutting or tear the material into the desired size and shape.

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Caulk Gun ClampTalita Nicolielo/Shutterstock

Caulk Gun Clamp

Did you know that you can use a caulk gun as a clamp? It’s perfect for gluing up small projects such as a cutting board. Just place a couple of pieces of scrap wood or cardboard at the ends of the caulk gun and then squeeze the trigger to apply pressure.

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Paper Towel Holder Tape Storage

Paper Towel Holder Tape Storage

Rather than take up space in a drawer or cabinet for storing rolls of tape, mount an old paper towel dispenser to your wall or pegboard. It can hold several rolls of duct tape, painter’s tape, etc., within easy reach. And unlike stashing tape in a dark cabinet or cramped drawer, the paper towel holder makes it really easy to find the specific tape needed for different jobs. A dowel-style paper towel holder designed to sit on top of a countertop would also work for corralling rolls of tape. And it’s portable, so you could take it with you for painting and repair jobs around your house.

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Flush-cut Shield

Flush-cut Shield

Even when using a flush-cut saw I take precautions to save wood surfaces from marring. My trick for trimming dowels is to cut a hole in a thin piece of cardboard or plastic and fit it over the dowel. This way the blade never touches the wood. The remaining dowel sands flush in a snap. – Brad Holden

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Leftover Paint Mixing

Leftover Paint Mixing

I have several rental properties that seem like they’re always in need of repainting. Instead of throwing out leftover paint, only having to buy more later, I put it to use. I take multiple cans of interior latex, partially used paint and primer, any sheen, any color and mix them all together. It doesn’t matter how much junk or debris is in the paint. Just pour it all in. I use a power mixer to blend them, and then dump all of the mixture into a bigger container. I did twenty gallons of paint once using a big round plastic tub. After all the assorted paints are in the “vat” are mixed, it usually ends up an off-white or antique white. The sheen is usually an eggshell to satin. If the color is too loud, I tone it down by adding a can of white paint. Now, I pour the paint into 5-gallon buckets with strainer bags inside. Lift out the strainer bags to remove any debris and pop on a lid to keep the paint fresh. This is a great way to use up leftovers when you do a lot of painting. – Spike Carlsen. Plus: Check out these tidy tips from a picky painter.

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Tape-Tearing Tip

Tape-Tearing Tip

Here’s an easy way to tear tape and get a starting edge at the same time. Simply fold the tape under at a 90-degree angle to the roll. Then, with a snapping motion, pull the tape against the edge of the roll. The tape tears, leaving a triangular starting tab. This won’t work with plastic tapes; those must be cut. — Chris Henrichs