Author Archives: Chris Gardner

Chris Gardner

About Chris Gardner

Chris Gardner is an artist, writer, and sawdust-maker living and making messes in Columbus, Ohio. He's the editor-in-chief of the DIY home decor community, and the founder of, a craft, art, and design site for guys. Follow him on Twitter: @ManMadeDIY. Or check him out on Google+!

Inexpensive Ideas and DIY Tips for Storing Sandpaper

The more you take on DIY projects the more important storing sandpaper becomes to your productivity and peace of mind.

Storing Sandpaper - Folders

Photo: CGardner

When you first start tackling home projects, it’s no problem to hit the hardware store for one of those sandpaper multipacks. But the more you get into building and repair—or any work involving wood or metal—the more sandpaper becomes an item that you’ll want to keep readily accessible and in plentiful supply.

If that sounds like a hassle or an expensive proposition, don’t worry; it’s neither. Buying sandpaper in bulk actually saves money in the long run. At my local home improvement center, a pack of five 100-grit 5″ sanding disks costs $8, while a pack of 50 costs only $18.99. You do the math!

Of course, if you’re stocking up on sandpaper, you need a place to store it in an organized way. Here are some inexpensive solutions that have worked for me and other DIYers:


Storing Sheets of Sandpaper

Storing Sandpaper - Hanging Files

Photo: CGardner

I think the key to storing sandpaper is remembering that it’s paper. Basically, the goal should be to keep sandpaper sheets flat, crease free, and well organized.

In my own shop, I store sandpaper sheets in hanging file folders, different folders for different grits. It’s a perfect solution in my case, since the worktable housing my router and miter saw is built from two large filing cabinets, which I salvaged from a junior high school.

Filing cabinets may not work for everybody, but I love them. My benchtop drill press sits on one with casters, and I also have one dedicated to magazines, paper plans, and so on. Used filing cabinets are inexpensive and commonly available at thrift stores and on Craigslist.

An alternative idea: Use a hanging file box from the office supply store; add wheels to it, if you want. Other easy, customizable solutions include vertical file boxes or magazine holders with cardboard dividers.

Storing Sandpaper - Letter Organizer


If the office supply store doesn’t have what you’re looking for, try the places where scrapbookers shop. After all, these people are masters of organizing all kinds of paper. Follow their lead and seek out options like cube shelving or flexible poly envelopes. Artists, too, know their way around paper, so check out vendors of art supplies, whether in person or online.


Storing Sanding Disks and Belts

Storing Sandpaper - Packaging

Photo: CGardner

Sandpaper doesn’t always come in sheets. It just as often appears in specialized cuts to fit powered sanders. When purchasing sandpaper of this type, don’t throw away the packaging in which it is sold. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Specifically designed to store sandpaper, these molded plastic containers work well for the task. Label each one clearly, and if there have holes punched in their plastic (for retail display), hang them up on a pegboard.

Photo: Wood Magazine

Prefer to make your own? The diagram above, from Wood magazine, illustrates how you can build dedicated storage for sandpaper disks. Here, simple dowels protrude through the large holes in five- or eight-hole disks. Note that this only works with specific disks; it would not fit the pattern of holes in the sandpaper shown in the photo I’ve included.

A parting note on sanding belts: Due to their shape, they can be hung on anything you please. Just make sure to keep the belts loose and non-compressed. That way, you won’t crease the paper and create a sharp edge that could cut the wood while the belt spins.

What are your favorite solutions for sandpaper storage? Post your ideas in the comments below.

For more on workshop storage, consider:

Tool Storage
How To: Keep Your Tools Accessible
Smart Storage for Small Workshops

How To: Sand Wood

Sanding Wood

Photo: Chris Gardner

Sanding is the unsung hero of any project with wood. It can take a long time, and the results are subtle: Sanding does not transform your workpiece in the way that cutting it to size does. Nor does sanding deliver the “wow factor” of a rich stain. But make no mistake, it is the key step to be taken when turning raw wood into an investment piece, one that adds value to your home or lifestyle.

What Is Sanding? Though sanding makes wood feel smoother, it’s really the process of abrading wood fibers so that they are rendered uniformly rough. We call it “sanding”—and the tools employed are sandpaper and sanders—but no sand whatsoever is involved. Rather, the abrasive performs as a cutting tool (not unlike a saw blade), which can be used to cut, shape, and finish raw wood either to completion or to the point where the material readily accepts a finish.

Sanding by Hand. Hand-sanding gives you the most control over shaping the wood surface. You can address corners and recesses that a machine would not be able to reach. Yes, I use powered sanders on nearly every woodworking or finishing project I complete, but I always do some sanding by hand.

Related: 5 Easy Woodworking Projects for Beginners

hand sanding with sand paper wrapped around piece of wood

Photo: Chris Gardner

For flat surfaces and sharp edges, use a sanding block; buy one at the hardware store or cut your own from scrap wood. The sanding block enables you to apply even pressure, and it prevents your sandpaper from bunching up or slipping. If you’re sanding molding or trim with an intricate silhouette, opt for a specialty rubber or foam profile sander in order to pull off a sharp, professional look.

hand sanding with piece of sand paper

Photo: Chris Gardner

When sanding curves or forming a rounded edge, forgo the sanding block and use the softness of your hands to create a satisfying arc shape.

No matter what type of edge you’re going for, always maintain steady pressure and sand with, not against, the grain. Don’t employ sandpaper to remove things like pencil marks or dried glue, but do use it to smooth joints or filled nail holes.

rotary sander

Photo: Chris Gardner

Sanding with Power Tools. It’s  not strictly necessary for any job, but a powered sander can sure save you a lot of time and sweat. I highly recommend the random-orbit sander, if you don’t already own one. The perfect tool for so many tasks, it smoothes wood quickly and evenly, and it does so without leaving surface marks. Sanding disks of varying grits may be affixed, and especially when the tool is connected to a shop vac, sawdust is not an issue.

tack cloth

Photo: Chris Gardner

Sanding for Finishing. Sanding helps not only prior to finishing, but also during finishing. If you plan to stain or clear-coat your workpiece, first sand with 220-grit paper, then wipe down the surface with a wet rag or sponge. This raises the grain, making the wood more receptive to stain. Applying an oil finish? Sand the surface to 220, then apply Danish or teak oil (with the grain) using 320-grit paper. Continue until you get a light “slurry” of sawdust and oil.

Last but not least: If you intend to paint your workpiece, then sanding will be essential to your success. It “roughs up” the surface, giving the paint something to stick to. Plus, sanding between coats of paint smoothes out any bumps or raised areas that are produced, so you are left with a super smooth, factory-like finish.

For more on woodworking, consider:

How To: Make a Mortise-and-Tenon Joint
10 Ways to Use Your Cordless Drill/Driver
Bit of Knowledge: Choosing the Right Drill Bit for the Job

DIY Workbenches: 5 You Can Build in a Weekend

The workbench is a DIY project’s hub. It’s where supplies are kept and progress gets made. Sure, you can buy a workbench, but unless you’re upgrading to a professional European-style model, I recommend building your own. A basic, customizable bench requires only two tools—a saw and a drill. Scroll down to see five DIY workbenches you can build in a weekend.



DIY Workbenches - Worktable

Photo: EAA

Designed for building small aircraft, this work table is built from easy-to-find materials and features simple yet rigid construction. Though it’s able to withstand a banging, the table is still lightweight and compact enough to be portable. I use a similarly designed bench in every single one of my projects and I love it.
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How To: Make a Mitered Corner

How to Make a Mitered Corner

Photo: CGardner

A mitered corner is formed by joining two pieces of wood, each cut to a 45° angle. One of the easier joints to cut, a mitered corner does not require a lot of special tools or setup time, yet it’s useful in a variety of applications.

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How To: Use a Miter Box

How to Use a Miter Box - Sawing Trim


A miter box is a wonderfully simple, affordable tool that allows any DIYer to make accurate crosscuts in wood. Since these tools are hand-powered, they are quiet, and they’re light enough to be easily moved to any project location. An added benefit, the miter box minimizes and neatly contains sawdust, making it a viable sawing solution for those living in small apartments.

What Is a Miter Box?
A miter box consists of two components: a hand saw whose teeth are set for crosscutting (cutting against the grain of the wood) and a “box” that is pre-fashioned with slots on both sides to help the woodworker make accurate angled cuts (typically 90° and 45°). A miter joint, the tool’s namesake, is made by fitting together two 45° cuts to form a right-angled corner.

A miter box is a go-to for anyone less inclined to work with power tools, whether on account of space restrictions, safety concerns, or cost. You can buy a miter box for a fraction of what it costs to purchase its powered big brother, the benchtop compound miter saw. And comparatively, the miter box is much easier and safer to operate.

How to Use a Miter Box - Molded

Stanley 20-600 Clamping Miter Box

Types of Miter Boxes
Historically, a carpenter or woodworker would create his own wood miter box to use in combination with his favorite saw. Today, miter boxes can be purchased in three basic designs.

The molded plastic variety is readily available in hardware stores and home centers. Basic models can be had for as little as $12 or $15, with more advanced options maxing out around $25. These affordable tools can make quick work of simple, light-duty tasks, such as creating basic picture frames.

How to Use a Miter Box - Precision

Empire Level Precision Mitre Box

The next level up, precision miter saws feature a higher-quality saw, a fuller spectrum of degree-cutting (with stops for common angles), and hold-down clamps to keep the work in place. Rather than plastic, precision miter saws are made from machined metal for added strength and stability. This is the best option if you’re planning to install molding or trim, or if you cut the occasional length of dimensional lumber.

Olson 35-231 Saw and Mini-Miter Box

Olson 35-231 Saw and Mini-Miter Box

A great hobby shop addition, the fine woodworking miter saw is used for wood stock that would be damaged by the rotating blade of a power tool, or any saw with coarser teeth. Due to its limited size, this type of miter box works best with light and small trim or decorative pieces.

Using a Miter Box
Begin by clamping your miter box to a stable surface with a bar or quick-release clamp. Alternatively, secure the box via nut and bolt. Next:

1. Measure your cut length accurately and use a carpenter’s square or triangle to mark the cut on your wood stock, being sure to measure to the long end of any 45° miters.

2. Place your wood or trim in the miter box, using any clamps or hold-downs to secure the piece to the box. Make sure to correctly orient the wood toward the angle of cut, noting whether you want the cut across the face of the wood (a bevel) or across the height of the wood (a miter).

3. Using light passes, score your cut line just to the outside of your pencil mark, then increase your effort to cut through the work piece.

For more on woodworking, consider:

Top 5 Tool Buying Tips
Planning Your Woodworking Shop
Sliding Circular Saws

Top Tips for Installing Tongue-and-Groove Paneling

How to Install Paneling


Install wood paneling in any room to inject architectural detail, warmth, and character into your home. Traditionally used on the walls of kitchens and entryways, many homeowners have begun to install wood paneling in less likely places—bedrooms, for example.

Related: 5 DIY Wood Wall Treatment Ideas

All you really need is a wall, and the process is simple enough to be tackled by intermediate DIYers. Here are a few tips for success:

How to Install Paneling - Planking


1. Choose Your Paneling: Sheet paneling is inexpensive and easy to install, but in older homes, it can accentuate uneven and wavy walls, plus it’s difficult to install over plaster. So I recommend tongue-and-groove paneling, which is a bit more expensive and takes a bit more effort to install. It’s worth the investment, though: Tongue-and-groove paneling will look better and add more value to your home.

2. Create the Framework: Install wood paneling over one-by-two-inch furring strips installed horizontally at sixteen-inch intervals. Complete the furring portion of the job by cutting the strips to length before nailing them into wall studs. If you notice any unevenness in the wall, fasten scrap wood behind the furring in these areas in order to keep your tongue-and-groove planks in plane. Minor protruding areas can be sanded away or flattened with a handheld block plane.

3. To Finish or Not to Finish? Before you install wood paneling, first decide on a finish. While a paint finish can be added post-installation, it’s easier to apply stain and clear coat beforehand (on account of all the grooves). It’s possible to purchase pre-finished paneling; just be cautious not to chip it.

How to Install Paneling - Nail Set

Photo: Dorling Kindersley / DIY Network

4. Nail It. There’s an easy technique for working with any tongue-and-groove product. Start with a single plank. Once you’ve made sure that it’s level and flush, nail the plank to the furring with finishing nails. (If you don’t have an air nailer and compressor, rent one; it makes quick work of tasks like these.) Next, nail into the tongue of the plank at a 45-degree angle, making sure your compressor is set to sink the nail head just below the wood surface. (If using a hammer, you can sink the head with a punch.) Sliding the groove of the next plank onto the tongue of the first, repeat the process above.

For more on walls, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Historic Trim
5 Things to Do with… Beadboard
Quick Tip: Installing Crown Molding

5 Easy Ways to Contain Sawdust and Drill Debris

Contain Sawdust and Drill Debris

Photo: Chris Gardner

In the spring, summer, and fall at our house, we’re pretty active cyclists—for recreation, exercise, and transportation.

As any cyclist knows, storing bikes can be an issue. Rather than allow our bikes to occupy valuable floor space, I installed ceiling hooks on which we can hang our trusty two-wheelers.

The hooks proved to be a good solution to our storage problem, but installing the hooks posed a problem of its own. When drilling holes through wallboard and joists, how would I avoid getting totally covered in plaster dust and wood shavings?

I came up with this easy, inexpensive trick…

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How To: Remove Varnish and Other Wood Finishes

Varnish, lacquer, shellac and other clear coats are applied to protect wood furniture and flooring from scratches, scuff marks, and stains. Applied properly, these products do their job well—but what if you want to re-expose the wood grain for refinishing, repair, or restoration?

Then your first order of business will be removing the wood’s existing finish. There are many different clear-coat finishes, and if you don’t know the origins of your piece, it can be extremely difficult to distinguish between finish types.

Here are three ways to de-varnish wood when you aren’t sure what type of finish you’re dealing with.


1. Removing finish by sanding: Good for paint, acrylic, varnish, lacquer, shellac

How to Remove Varnish - Random Orbit Sander


Though labor-intensive, sandpaper is capable of removing nearly any wood finish. It can be used to refinish hardwood floors, or it can be used to remove varnish from much smaller surfaces—a tabletop, for example. Tackle flat surfaces with a power tool like the random orbit sander; for irregular areas, use handheld paper or a sanding block. If you’re removing the finish from a piece of furniture that you plan to paint, sanding is the only necessary step: Begin with 150-grit paper to rough up the surface and finish with 220-grit, being sure to remove any dust with tack cloth or a lightly dampened rag.


2. Removing finish with solvents: Good for shellac and lacquer

How to Remove Varnish - Solvents


Shellac and lacquer are alcohol-based finishes, which can be removed with a variety of solvents that are available from your neighborhood hardware store. Shellac can be removed with denatured alcohol. If alcohol doesn’t work, try lacquer thinner. If your piece was manufactured by a quality furniture maker after 1930, a thinning product is the best place to start, since your furniture is likely finished with shellac or lacquer. Apply the solvent with a rag to loosen the shellac/lacquer from the wood surface, then lightly scrape the residual finish with a plastic putty knife.


3. Removing finish with chemical strippers: Good for polyurethane (acrylic), varnish, and paint

How to Remove Varnish - Chemical Stripper


Chemical paint-or-varnish strippers are very effective and won’t harm wood. But take caution: Historically, these products have contained the active ingredient methylene chloride, a harsh, caustic chemical that can do serious damage to your eyes, respiratory system, and skin (not to mention the environment). Chemical strippers are available in home centers, and if you’re able to work with the appropriate safety gear in a very well-ventilated area—and environmental friendliness isn’t a priority—such products make quick work of removing finishes.

I prefer a water-based product by 3M called Safest Stripper, which enables me—an allergy sufferer with environmental concerns—to work safely in my windowless basement. Upon application, the paste-like stripper stays wet for an extended period of time, making it possible to remove multiple layers if necessary. Use fine steel wool (#0000) rubbed in the direction of the wood grain to remove any residue.

For more on finishes, consider:

DIY Wall Stenciling
How To: Refinish a Wood Table
Bob Vila Radio: Paint Stripping Tools

7 DIY Bathroom Storage Projects

If your vanity and medicine cabinets are anything like mine, they’re (1) too small, (2) too cluttered, and (3) work just well enough that you can’t justify the mess and expense of a remodel. Instead, opt to add some smart and stylish DIY bathroom storage solutions to make better use of the bathroom you already have.



DIY Bathroom Storage - Mason Jar Organizer

Photo: Liz Marie

Perfect for those little items, this easy and clever mason jar project makes for an attractive display while providing easy access to the bathroom products you use every day.
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5 Things to Do with… Hardware Cloth

Hardware cloth is a small, sturdy mesh product sold in rolls at your local hardware store or home center. Made from metal or plastic, hardware cloth cuts easily and can be used for all kinds of DIY projects around the house. Here are five ideas to get you inspired.



Hardware Cloth DIY - Planter

Photo: The Hunted Interior

With hardware cloth to provide support for the soil and provide drainage, you can turn any number of unlikely containers into planters. I love this cinderblock planter (and table) project by Kristin from The Hunted Interior.



Hardware Cloth DIY - Chicken Coop


Compared to chicken wire, hardware cloth is actually better for enclosing chicken coops, as it is more rigid and features a tighter weave that provides better protection against predators. Take a tour of Erica’s contemporary hardware-cloth-skinned coop at NWEdible.



Hardware Cloth DIY - Jewelry Organizer


Julie Ann created this easy DIY jewelry organizer from a section of hardware cloth and an old picture frame. Whip one up in an afternoon, keeping your jewelry accessible and tangle-free for years.



Hardware Cloth DIY - Basket


Hardware cloth can be easily bent or rolled to make inexpensive, rustic baskets for incoming mail, old magazines, or any other household items with a tendency to pile up. For all the simple steps involved, don’t miss Deanna’s how-to.




This laundry room-theme pendant light uses clothespins attached to a hardware cloth “frame.” You could expand the idea to use decorative paper, fabric, and all sorts of other fun materials in creating your own shade.


For more DIY project ideas, consider:

5 Things to Do with… Vintage Ladders
10 Creative Uses for Chalkboard Paint
6 Simple & Easy DIY Closet Door Transformations