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+!

How To: Drill Straight 90° Holes (Without a Drill Press)

How to Drill a Straight Hole

My homemade drill guide. Photo: Chris Garner

Except in special cases—when you intentionally choose a specific angle or bias—it’s important to keep all drill holes perpendicular to the surface. This is easy to accomplish with a drill press, but there are plenty of occasions when you need to use a hand drill/driver to complete the task, like drilling into a wall or cabinet door. Many drills have a bubble level, but those can only help in certain situations, and most walls are not exactly flat or straight.

One option is to buy a specific type of jig—a portable drill guide. You can also whip one up at home with some wood scraps for an easy, no-cost alternative.

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How To: Choose the Right Screw for the Right Job

Screw Types

Photo: Chris Gardner

Back in the day there were just two options, slotted or Phillips. You picked one, picked a length, and were good to go. But the fastener market has made huge strides over the last few decades, giving DIYers better solutions for keeping stuff together.

Which head?
In the days when a screwdriver was the primary means of inserting screws, the Phillips was king. But now, with most of us using cordless drill/drivers to drive screws—or even dedicated Lithium Ion pocket drivers (which are awesome, by the way), the hardware has developed to prevent bit slippage and stripping of the metal.

The Quadrex is a combination of square (Robertson) and Phillips head screws. It provides a great deal of surface area and allows lots of torque to be applied; a great option for driving-intense options like framing or building a deck.


Types of Screws

Torx or star drive heads provide lots of power transfer between the driver and screw and are a great option when many screws are needed, as they provide minimum wear to bits. They are, interestingly, often referred to as “security fasteners,” as they’re the choice of schools, correctional facilities, and public buildings, as well as automotive and electronic manufacturing, where the ability to remove hardware needs to be discouraged. Interesting, right?

Screw Types

Sheet metal or panhead screws are useful, when the fastener does not need to be flush with the material (countersunk). Since the head is wider and the thread extends the entire length (no shank), this type of screw head is excellent for joining wood to other materials, metal included.

Which material?
Here the biggest question is whether the screw is for indoor or outdoor use? Indoors, you can use less expensive zinc screws or the material/coating can be selected for visual appeal. But outdoor screws need protection against corrosion from moisture and temperature change. The best outdoor solutions are silicon-coated bronze or stainless steel.

Which size?
The most important factor in screw selection is length. The general rule of thumb is that the screw should enter at least half the thickness of the bottom material, e.g. 3/4″ into a 2 x 4.

The other factor is the screw’s diameter, or gauge. Screws come in gauges 2 through 16. Most of the time you’ll want to go with a #8 screw. If working with very thick or heavy material, go for #12-14, or with finer woodworking, #6 are often the best choice.

For more carpentry and woodworking, consider:

7 Essential Measuring Tools for Any Job
10 Ways to Use Your Cordless Drill/Driver
How To: Get Clean, Chip-Free Cuts in Melamine and Veneer

5 Things to Do with… Old Bicycles

The old adage goes, “It’s like riding a bike.” Meaning of course that cycling becomes so integrated into your muscle memory that you never lose the skill. So why not integrate bicycles into your home as well?

There are all kinds of broken bikes available in classifieds and at garage sales—perhaps you even have one in your garage already. Also, many cities have bicycle repair co-ops and recycling centers that make parts quite easy to come by.

With so many components (wheels, gears, handle bars, etc.) so readily available and affordable (if not free), old bicycles are great fodder for making all sorts of recycled projects.



DIY Old Bicycles - Planter


First up, take some inspiration from this bicycle planter, which you could purchase from Pottery Barn (for $250; it’s still available). But you, good reader, are the kind of person that makes stuff, and you could easily recreate something like this at home using an old bike, some inexpensive wire baskets, and a little paint.



DIY Old Bicycles - Pot Rack


The radial spoke structure of a bicycle wheel makes for a fantastic way to organize and store your pots and pans and other kitchen gadgets. The spinning wheel brings all the utensils within easy reach. Get the full how-to from ReadyMade.



DIY Old Bicycles - Vanity


Talk about full integration. This bicycle ‘vanity’ from designer Benjamin Bullins houses a sink and small countertop—as well as towel storage in the basket. Genius. Learn more at Apartment Therapy.



DIY Old Bicycle - Lazy Susan


The bike wheel’s center axle allows it to spin along a road, but it can also spin other kinds of goodies… like your breakfast? This Lazy Susan project would require a somewhat large dining table, but if you’re looking for something functional to break up that large space, this one is all kinds of fun.



DIY Old Bicycles - Mounting Rack


Lastly, what better way to use old bike parts than for storing… a bike? Inexpensive and secure, this solution would work especially well in a smaller home or apartment, or as a way of keeping multiple bikes aloft on a garage wall. A project guide is available from Kyle Wilson.

Ride on!

For more on reuse and repurposing, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Salvaged Treasure
5 Things to Do… With Vintage Ladders
5 Upcycled Pot Racks and Cookware Storage Ideas

7 Essential Measuring Tools for Any Job

Besides “righty tighty, lefty loosey,” there’s one DIY phrase that nearly anyone can recite: Measure twice, cut once.

One of the distinguishing factors between a quick fix and a properly executed home improvement project is how well the materials fit together. Are there gaps? Are the joints tight and clean?

While the standard tape measure will get you pretty far with most tasks, it doesn’t help much in keeping things square or straight. But with the following seven tools in your arsenal, your future DIY projects will definitely measure up. (Groan….)

Measuring Tools

Some essential measuring tools (clockwise from center) include tape measure, combination square, micro rule, speed square, framing/steel square and long straight edge.

1. Tape Measure
It’s the essential measuring tool for a reason: though small in size, it’s useful on darn near every project. I say buy them in bulk and keep one in every room of the house; you’re likely to misplace them. Quick tip: when trying to achieve accurate measurements with a tape measure, hold the 2″ line on the edge, take your measurement, and then subtract two. This gives you a much more accurate measure than taking it from the little jiggly metal thing at zero.

2. Combination Square
This is my number one measuring multitasker when doing any kind of woodworking, art, or design project. Use the head to set 90° and 45° angles and the adjustable ruler to scribe a line over a long distance. You can find less expensive plastic combination squares for around $20, but I recommend saving up for a high-quality model, $40-100, which will last longer and provide much better accuracy.

3. Micro Rule
This might not get you very far when adding a room to your home, but if you have one around, you’ll find all kinds of uses for it. These small rulers measure in 32nds and 64ths, making them great tools for setting up bit and blade depths on power tools, not to mention an infinite number of little household repair jobs. I use mine all the time.

Measuring Tools

Speed square from Irwin Tools

4. Speed Square
The fastest way to get a 90° angle anywhere. This tool combines the best of combination square, framing square, and try square into one handy tool. This tool is essential for doing any roofing, decking, or stair building. When you buy one, it’ll come with a little booklet that details the hundreds of ways to use one for quick, repeatable measurements. The speed square also makes a great temporary fence for making short 90° and 45° cuts in dimensional lumber; a circular saw‘s best friend.

5. Framing/Steel Square
A nice, big right angle that’s perfect for stair and roof framing, this tool can also be used for laying out and marking lines on a larger scale. Like the speed square, the framing/steel square provides for quick, repeatable measurement and calculating, so long as you learn how to use its features to keep everything to code.

6. Long Straight Edge
Though not essential for construction work, a long straight edge is handy for marking, woodworking, and figuring out tile and hardwood flooring work. I suggest getting a clamp-able model, since it will always keep your straight edge square, enabling you to use the tool as a fence for accurate cuts with a circular or jigsaw. You can even build carriages that slide along top for use with a router or when you need tablesaw-like accuracy from portable power tools. Don’t discount the humble wooden yardstick here; you’ll get surprisingly good results.

Measuring Tools

Calipers from Zeta Manufacturing Company

7. Calipers
You can use this tool to get painstakingly accurate measurements on anything under 6″, including square shapes, round shapes, holes and internal sizes of tubes and pipes. I like a dial model, available in both fractional and metric. I find a use for these on every project I take on. They’re always one of my DIY best buys, and if you take care of them, they will last a lifetime, paying for themselves again and again. Worth seeking out.

For more on woodworking, consider:

How to: Make a Window Box
The Essential Toolbox
How to Cut Straight Lines with a Circular Saw

5 Upcycled Pot Racks & Cookware Storage Ideas

I have a tiny urban townhome kitchen. You can’t open the refrigerator door more than 60% without banging into the oven, and the oven can’t be opened more than 80% without hitting the fridge. And don’t get me started on having any more than two people in the kitchen at once.

My mother, on the other hand, has a newer home where the kitchen/dining area takes up more than half of the “great room”. The walk-in pantry is bigger than my entire kitchen, and I’d estimate that that Mom enjoys 15 times more cabinet space, and roughly 30 times more counter area, than I do.

But even with these differences in our kitchens, we do share one thing in common: we’re both out of storage space. Everyone, everyone, needs more kitchen storage space. And if you’ve gathered a respectable set of cookware—pots, pans, skillets, griddles and gadgets—you probably want to keep them where you can get to ‘em.

You, my friend, need a pot rack! And through the magic of S-hooks, you can turn all sorts of objects into a custom option with plenty of character. Here are five creative kitchen storage ideas that will should help you maximize available space.



Creative Kitchen Storage Ideas - Ladder Pot Rack

Photo: Deborah Ory

This ladder pot rack is certainly my favorite. It’s got the warmth of the wood and plenty of places to hang your cookware. I love that you can still distinguish the original object while it does double duty as a functional pot rack. Old ladders can be found everywhere. If damaged, simply cut off the problematic areas, hang, and put to new use. See how it’s done at Women’s Day.



Creative Kitchen Storage - Galvanized Pipe Rack

Photo: ReadyMade

Galvanized pipe fittings are amazing for creating all kinds of stuff for the home (here are ten ideas), but nothing more suitable than hanging heavy-duty cookware. (Well… except actual plumbing.) There are endless configurations that work for hanging pots and pans—a long bar against a wall, a square grid secured to the ceiling, a lattice-like freestanding design set in a corner. The choice is yours. For inspiration, check out this how-to from ReadyMade.



Upcycled Pot Racks

Photo: The Kitchn

For the seriously space-challenged, consider this vertical pot rack solution constructed of shelving parts from a certain beloved Swedish flat-pack store. Or for some serious repurposing, check out a similar project involving heavy-duty chain from the hardware store.



Creative Kitchen Storage Ideas - Over the Door Solution

Photo: The Kitchn

This over-the-door solution is straight brilliant. Can you guess what it was constructed with? They’re replacement grill grates! Genius, right? They are a fantastic option for readily available, strong, metal “organizers.” I’d love to see this same technique applied to a ceiling-mounted pot rack using a kettle grill grate (available for less than $35 just about anywhere).



Creative Kitchen Storage Ideas - Upcycled Window Pot Rack

Photo: Young House Love

And lastly, an upcycled window pot rack! Windows are readily available at architectural salvage stores, Habitat for Humanity ReStore shops, garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. And as it turns out, they make a fantastic, strong source material for kitchen storage!


For more on kitchen storage, consider: 

Free Your Pots & Pans from Cupboard Captivity
5 Creative Alternatives to Kitchen Cabinetry
7 DIY Recycling Centers for Small Spaces

How To: Match End Grain with Side Grain

End Grain

End grain close-up of unfinished white pine. Photo:

As you may recall from science class as a kid, wood is a collection of fibers that run in the same direction. Basically, it’s a collection of the tree’s xylum, all stacked up next to and on top of each other, like a bunch of drinking straws arranged in a grid pattern. So the side grain of wood represents the side sections of these fibers, whereas the end grain represents their ends.

And just like the drinking straws, when applying liquids like stain or oil finishes (or even glue) to wood, the different sections of the grain absorb the liquid differently, often resulting in a different color on the side and end grain. Fortunately, there’s an (easy) extra step you can take to guarantee even color and tone anywhere on the wood.

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10 Ways to Use Your Cordless Drill/Driver

Ways to Use Your Cordless Drill / Driver

Some may love their wet saws for cutting tiles, while others couldn’t bear to part with their trim router or thickness planer, but I’m willing to bet there’s at least one power tool that every DIYer worth their salt has within reach and uses at least weekly—the cordless drill and driver. It’s portable, useful for everything from hanging pictures to framing a house, and to those in the know, plenty of other tasks as well. A rotating motor plus adjustable chuck means you can insert all kinds of things to make them spin—this flexibility, it turns out, can be quite useful. Here are ten of my favorite ways to use a cordless drill/driver:

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5 Things to Do with… Mason Jars

Mason Jar DIY - Detail Image

Photo courtesy: Just a Little Southern Charm

Might I tell you my very favorite thing about the ever-versatile mason jar? The design has remained essentially unchanged since 1888. Eighteen hundred eighty-eight! That’s 124 years ago. Sure, there may have been a few slight changes in logo, layout, and color over the years, but as long as the lid and ring fits securely, you can safely preserve food in them despite their age. How many objects in your home—or anywhere—can boast that type of longevity?

Besides food storage, there are plenty of excellent uses for mason jars in home projects, where they bring an inherent warmth and functional simplicity. Here are five of my favorites:



Mason Jar DIY - We Design Studios

Photo: WE Design Studios

Laura and David Elden of WE Design Studios created this eye-catching and very inexpensive chandelier using twelve wide-mouth jars, lighting kits, and various bits of hardware from IKEA. The energy-efficient CFL bulbs leave no worry about the jars getting hot (though they can stand boiling water temperatures) and make for a charming, DIY lighting solution. The same approach could be used to make creative pendant lights.



Mason Jar DIY - Camille Styles

Photo: Camille Styles

The mason jar’s shape and strength makes it a perfect container for housing small plants, especially herbs, or fresh foliage and flowers. Camille Styles created this great vertical herb garden, which can be brought indoors when the frost hits.



Mason Jar DIY - Mellish Field West

Photo: Mellish Fields West

Your grandparents probably stored their nails, screws, and even small tools and drill bits in mason jars (like the one shown here from Mellish Fields West). It’s a great solution. When working on a project, it’s enormously helpful not to have to sort through boxes and bins to find the right length of screw and unlike with plastic drawer organizers, you can take the whole jar with you.



Mason Jar DIY - Lovely Little Details

Photo: Lovely Little Details

Even if they’re in matching, organized containers, keeping bathroom necessities on the vanity or countertop always makes a space feel cluttered. So get them off the flat surfaces and onto the wall. Liz Marie of Lovely Little Details came up with this clever idea using clean jars, pipe straps, and wood scrap. Brilliant! This would also make a great solution for office, art, or craft supplies in your homework space or kids’ room.



Mason Jar DIY - Treasure Again

Photo: Treasure Again

Nothing promotes outdoor ambience like something you made yourself, especially if it’s as simple and elegant as a few glowing mason jars. This string light solution from Treasure Again is fantastic and as temporary or permanent as you want it to be.


For more DIY inspiration, consider:

5 Things to Do… With Old Windows
5 Things to Do… With Wood Shutters
5 Things to Do… With Shipping Pallets

5 Things to Do with… Old Windows

Vintage windows are much easier to come by than you might think. Before the salvage craze became mainstream, windows were often one of the few items saved from building demolition. As a result there are centuries worth of windows floating around antique shops, flea markets, and architectural salvage depots. Or perhaps you’ve done an upgrade on your own home, and your old windows are still around, waiting to be turned into something great.

However you come across them, vintage windows are an inexpensive and unique way to make great additions to your home. Here are five examples:



Old Window DIY Projects - Sunset Magazine

Photo: David Fenton

A window’s flat, rectangular shape means it’s a natural candidate for becoming a tabletop. Plus, the solid frame with the glass inset makes for a lighter feel, perfect for use outdoors. This garden table from Sunset magazine uses a single 2×2 for legs and door hinges as brackets—brilliant.



Old Window DIY Projects - Talia Christine

Photo: Talia Christine

A window’s strong frame is designed to keep heavy glass in place, it works equally well to help you display family photos, art, or little bits and baubles. You can find so many terrific examples of windows being transformed into photo and art frames; one of my favorites is this string and clothespin “picture” frame from Talia Christine.



Old Window DIY Projects - Instructables

Photo: Instructables

Since windows are (literally) built to be a bridge between the indoors and outside, they can stand up to weather, which makes them perfect for use in the garden. I love the greenhouse above, built entirely from recycled windows salvaged from a neighborhood remodel by Cheft on Instructables.



Old Window DIY Projects - CraftyNest

Photo: CraftyNest

For decades, we’ve been hearing that putting a mirror in a room can make it feel bigger. Unfortunately, just throwing a mirror on the wall makes it look like you just learned that putting a mirror in a room can make it feel bigger. But adding a worn window frame full of character can turn a functional necessity into a great investment that looks like it was made to be there. CraftyNest has a full tutorial on how to complete the transformation yourself.



Old Window DIY Projects - BHG

Photo: Better Homes & Gardens

Fortunately, simply connecting old windows or window frames together looks… well, totally awesome. The repetition of geometric shapes makes for a great large-scale display, from room dividers to custom headboards. This example from Better Homes & Gardens was made with fabric covered, fiberboard inserts set into a pair of salvaged windows.


For more on DIY repurposing, consider:

5 Things to Do… With Wood Shutters
5 Things to Do… With Shipping Pallets
10 DIY Pipe Fitting Projects (No Plumbing Required)

How To: Install a Ceiling Fan

Installing a ceiling fan is an easy DIY project, provided you follow manufacturer instructions.

How to Install a Ceiling Fan


Installing a ceiling fan is a fantastic way to cut energy costs all year round. It helps circulate cool air in the warm summer months, but can also help push heated air back down in the winter, making the temperature feel warmer and allow you to dial down the thermostat. It’s also the perfect weekend project for a homeowner, since you can accomplish the task in a few hours and enjoy the investment immediately.

Note: this project is designed for installing a ceiling fan where an overhead light fixture already exists. If additional wiring is necessary to install, consult an electrician. All wiring must follow local codes.

Ceiling fan kit
Ceiling outlet box (approved for ceiling fan)
Expandable brace bar (if no access from above, easiest) or dimensional framing lumber (2×8″) and screws
Wire connectors, if not included
Utility knife
Keyhole saw
Adjustable wrench
Hex-driver or socket wrench
Needlenose pliers
Ladder or step ladder
Safety glasses and dust mask

1. When choosing a fan, note the size of your room. The blades need to be at least 18-24″ from all walls, and be a minimum of 7′ from the floor, and 10″ from the ceiling. Choose a 36″ fan if your room is less than 12′ square, 42″ if the room is between 144″ and 256″ square, and 52″ if the room is more than 15×15′ square.

How to Install a Ceiling Fan - Braced Bracket


Choose a ceiling box approved for fans. Boxes for overhead lights are not strong enough to support the weight. Choose a metal box that can support the weight. If you have access from the attic above you can install the box to additional framing between joists. If not, grab a brace bar at the hardware store. This will screw into the joists, and the ceiling box and fan will hang from the newly added support.

2. Turn off the electricity at the breaker box, then carefully remove the old light fixture and it’s ceiling box with a screwdriver. Make sure the wiring is in good condition and consult an electrician to replace if necessary. Making sure the hole is between two ceiling joists, trace the outline of the ceiling box onto the ceiling and cut out the shape with a keyhole saw. It should be about 5″diameter.

3. Following the instructions on the brace bar, position it perpendicular to ceiling joistsand twist the outer bar until it locks into the foot.  Continue turning until the foot is fastened. Next, turn the inner bar to secure the other foot.

If you’re not using a brace bar, measure the distance between the ceiling joists, and cut a piece of 2″ × 8″ framing lumber to span the distance, and secure with screws.

How to Install a Ceiling Fan - Wiring


4. Carefully pull the wires through the knockout hole in the receptacle box, and attach the fan’s mounting bracket with the hardware included. Attach the fan’s down rod with the ball end towards the ceiling, and secure (usually with an included cotter pin). Next, connect the fan’s wires to the circuit wires: white to white, black to black, and the grounding wire to the green lead wire of the fan or a grounding screw. Secure all connections with wire connectors, and tuck into the ceiling box.

5. Attach the canopy or medallion using the screws included. Install the blades using the supplied hardware. Make sure all screws are tightened securely to the blade irons to prevent wobbling.

6. Lastly, if necessary follow the instructions for wiring the lighting kit: white to white, and blue to black. Secure the wires with connectors or electrical tape and tuck the wires into the switch housing. Attach the lighting kit to the fan using the screw supplied. Install any shades and bulbs.

7. Do a final check to make certain everything is secure and turn the power back on at the breaker.  Test out the fan.  Good job!

Want more How To? Browse all projects in 30 Days of Easy Summer DIY