Author Archives: Daniel Mintz

5 Things to Do with… Cardboard Boxes

Got cardboard? We're sure you do! Grab a few of those old boxes and get to work on one of these ingenious, MacGyver-worthy projects.

Without cardboard boxes, what would the world be like? At times, it seems like cardboard is nearly as ubiquitous—and as essential to life—as the air that we breathe. Most people recycle these heavy-duty paper containers without thinking twice about their countless hidden uses. It’s amazing what creative people are capable of doing when they think—not outside the box, but about the potential of the box itself. For five of our favorite DIY cardboard project ideas, scroll down.



DIY Cardboard Projects - Shelving


Consider the blood, sweat, and tears of moving furniture up and down stairs. The prospect is daunting enough to make you reconsider purchasing that heavy new wooden dresser. Fortunately, there’s a low-hassle and unexpectedly stylish alternative: making your own storage piece, for next to no money, with cardboard and duct tape!



DIY Cardboard Projects - Laptop Stand


If hunching over the keyboard leaves you with poor posture and a strained neck, then here’s a DIY cardboard project your chiropractor would approve of—a laptop stand. Making one from cardboard is even easier than using Windows! All it takes is a cut here and a snip there, plus a little bit of glue and adhesive tape.



DIY Cardboard Projects - Lighting


When you craft a shade out of cardboard, the design possibilities are endless, but the required tools are few. With nothing more than adhesive (tape or glue) and a pair of scissors, you can light up your life with a low-cost, fully customized pendant or chandelier similar to this one, for sale from Graypants in Seattle.



DIY Cardboard Projects - Mailbox


This DIY cardboard project may not be the most practical one in the group, but it proves beyond doubt the range and versatility of this commonly available, too often underutilized material. To make your own mailbox like this, you don’t need training as a blacksmith, only some contents from your paper recycling bin.



DIY Cardboard Projects - Projector


If you have a smartphone or tablet that plays video, then believe it or not, you can instantly turn any room of your house into an improvised movie theater. Start with a cardboard box that completely closes up. Attach a magnifying glass to the box, then bend a paper clip into a stand for your device. That’s it—now start the show!

5 Things to Do with… Wine Corks

Got corks? Now that the holidays have passed, we bet you have plenty. Don't throw them out! Save them up instead to make one of these simple wine cork projects. We'll raise a glass (or two) to that!

In the wake of holiday office functions, neighborhood tree lightings, and, of course, New Year’s Eve parties, wine corks are sure to be littering bar areas, kitchen countertops, and filled-to-the-rim trash bins. My advice? Collect as many of these cylindrical stoppers as possible. Why? Because they’re useful for so many creative undertakings, most of which have nothing to do with drinking. Scroll down to see some wine cork projects that you should add to your 2014 to-do list.



Wine Cork Projects - Keychain


You’ll need less than 10 minutes to complete this out-of-the-ordinary keychain, a wine cork project we found on Cleverly Inspired. The first step is to dip a small screw eye into glue. Next, poke the screw into the cork. Attach a key ring, and you’re done! You’ll never again mistake your keys for anyone else’s.



Wine Cork Projects - Coasters


Here’s a wine cork project that will help you safeguard your coffee table from unsightly stains. First, gather about a dozen corks. Proceed to slice them in half before hot-gluing them all into a circular grouping. As a last step, add a strip of felt or burlap around the perimeter. Visit Creativebug for a step-by-step guide.



Wine Cork Projects - Planter


From Upcycle That, this wine cork project came as a pleasant surprise: Whoever thought you could plant a succulent in a “pot” small enough to function also as a refrigerator magnet? Hollow out the cork, pack in a pinch of soil, then insert the plant clipping. Use glue to attach a small magnet, if you want, and don’t forget to add water!



Wine Cork Projects - Birdhouse


Cheap cabernet may be for the birdsbut then again, so is that wine cork! With little more than hot glue, a carving knife, and a couple of cases’ worth of wine corks, you can build a birdhouse to hang from a tree branch in your backyard. Watch your new feathered friends through your windows, and come spring, enjoy their songs.



Wine Cork Projects - Bathmat


Had one too many glasses of wine? Be careful not to slip! Of course, one way to avoid accidents is to drink less, but this wine cork project offers another, perhaps preferable means of avoiding slip-and-falls. Slice approximately 150 wine corks in half lengthwise, then hot-glue them all onto a rug pad that you have precut to your ideal bath mat size.

5 Things to Do with… Pens

Don't just toss your dried-out pens! Save them up to use in one of these nifty projects that incorporate old ballpoints.

The pen is mightier than the sword, everyone knows that. But when a pen runs out of ink, its power diminishes—or does it? The rigid, cylindrical shape of these writing instruments, not to mention their ubiquity—it seems like there is a handful of ballpoints stashed in a drawer in every home—means they are perfect for a range of purposes around the house and yard. Scroll down to see five favorite DIY uses for pens that, even though they no longer write, should not be written off.




For pens with no ink, there’s a lamp at the end of the tunnel. To make one like this sample from the Spanish design firm En Pieza, find either a plastic or pliable metal band and size it to fit the lamp of your choice. Then use either glue or wire to attach a few packages’ worth of empty pens to your chosen frame.




Tangle-proof your adventures in sewing with a portable thread organizer. Start with a tiered block of wood (or three one-inch-thick pieces stacked like stairs). Next, drill holes to accommodate as many spools as you plan to store. Finish by staking pens into the holes you have drilled. Curbly provides the easy step-by-step guide.




Here’s a clever way to make the cheapest sprinkler you’ll ever own. After securing a connection between your garden hose and a plastic bottle cap, drill about a dozen holes into the container. Next, cut hollowed-out pens two inches from their tips. Slot the pens into the holes, then watch as water flows where ink once ran!




Turn a low-tech pen into a touchpad stylus! First, completely hollow out the pen, then wrap copper wire around a small piece of conductive foam. Thread the wire through the pen, forcing the foam to fit snugly through its point. Finish by coiling the remaining wire around the outside of the pen so that you can grip it during use.



Uses for Pens - Hand Print


When it’s time to head home after vacation, you can’t fit the beach in your carry-on, but you can try the next best thing: memorializing your handprints in the sand. Make a handprint, fill the indentation with plaster of Paris, then set a pen into the plaster, toward the base of the palm. Once dry, the pen hole makes it possible for you to hang the mold around a doorknob or on your holiday tree!

3 Simple Steps to a Backyard Ice Skating Rink

Whether you have ambitions of becoming an Olympic skater or just a capable one, you can refine your skills at home by building your own backyard ice skating rink.

Backyard Ice Rink


Over the snowy-white winter, adults and children make the most of the cold by taking part in a smorgasbord of seasonal activities—ice skating chief among them. If a member of your family loves to play hockey or pirouette, you can, with some effort and elbow grease, bring the enjoyment closer to home. That’s right, you can build a backyard ice rink! Don’t worry, advanced degrees in engineering are not a prerequisite; this is a simpler project than it seems, with just three steps from start to finish.

- Plastic tarp
- 2-inch-thick lumber
- Rebar stakes
- Garden hose (with spray nozzle)
- Staple gun



Backyard Ice Rink - Frame


Plan to make the frame for your backyard ice rink on the flattest part of your property. Why? Because each of the four corners of your frame ought to be on the same level. That’s easiest to achieve, of course, on an even surface, but it’s certainly possible to build a frame that corrects for the slopes and dips of changing terrain. In ideal circumstances, you would need to use only 2″ x 4″ boards. However, to correct for changes in ground elevation, you can buffet the construction with boards in other dimensions, say, 2″ x 6.” Once you’ve devised a plan, enlist a helper and set to work, bearing in mind that each piece of lumber should be secured with a rebar stake. (Most commonly employed to pitch tents on camping trips, rebar stakes brace the frame against the force exerted by expanding ice.)



Backyard Ice Rink - Tarp


Once you have succeeded in building a rink frame, proceed to line it with a white or clear tarp. (It’s essential to use a light-colored tarp, because dark colors naturally absorb heat, causing ice to become slush.) Push and smooth the tarp until it covers the bottom of the frame as well as its sides. Keep bunch-ups and wrinkles to a minimum. Extend the tarp over the edges of the frame and onto its exterior, leaving enough material so that you can staple the tarp into position. Secure it at the corners and at three-foot intervals along the sides. Trim away any excess, or simply roll the tarp against the frame, so nobody trips accidentally.



Backyard Ice Rink - Filling


You’re almost there. Resist the temptation to rush ahead, however, or you might end up skating on thin ice! When you’re ready to fill the rink with water, first check the weather forecast. Provided the next couple of days are expected to remain below freezing, go ahead and fill the tarp with about one inch of cold water. It should freeze within six to eight hours. Next, with the spray nozzle fixed to the end of your garden hose, apply one inch of hot water. Repeat the process until you have three to five inches of rock-solid ice. Test the ice for stability by tapping its surface all over with a broomstick—or a hockey stick, if you have one ready and waiting. Assuming that all has gone according to plan, the ice should now be ready to support you and the figure eights you’ve been itching to do since summer.

Tip: Don’t rush inside after you’re finished skating! Keep the ice surface smooth by shoveling up the shavings and spraying on an additional layer of hot water.

Top Tips for Troubleshooting Holiday Lights

It's the same story every year...trying to figure out why a seemingly fine string of holiday lights has suddenly (and mysteriously) gone dark. Here are some tips on how to fix Christmas lights—and keep your sanity.

How to Fix Christmas Lights


If you want to avoid frustration and preserve your holiday spirit, I don’t recommend that you spend time figuring out how to fix Christmas lights. It can be a discouraging and sometimes fruitless job, one seemingly fit for the North Pole’s top electrician. But if you are up to the challenge, white (and colored) lights may be waiting for you at the end of the (proverbial) tunnel. Read on to find out the most common causes of, and the easiest solutions to, problems with Christmas lights. Note that for your own safety, before attempting any of these repairs, it’s essential that you check twice to be certain your string lights are unplugged.



How to Fix Christmas Lights - Lighten Up


The circuitry of holiday lights is often such that every bulb must be functional for the current to run the full length. Just as one rotten apple spoils the basket, a single burnt-out bulb compromises all others on the string. Finding the culprit can be a tedious job, so use a multimeter to make quicker work of locating the point at which the current is interrupted. Once you’ve identified the busted bulb, simply replace it with a new one to restore your festive display to its bright, shining glory.




If you have an older string of holiday lights that won’t turn on at all, you can probably blame the fuse. This is so common a malfunction that many holiday light kits come with a replacement fuse. If yours didn’t, or if you’ve long since lost the replacement, it’s possible to buy one at the local hardware store. How do you switch in the new fuse? That’s easy—no need for a solderer. Simply slide open the little door on the plug, carefully remove the old fuse, and then insert the new one.



How to Fix Christmas Lights - Strung Out


Christmas lights are tailor-made to be strung together, but if you link too many in a chain, all of that holiday spirit can overwhelm your electrical outlet. If you suspect overzealousness may be the root of the issue you’re facing, try dividing the lights among two or more outlets. Alternatively, purchase a holiday light splitter, an accessory that evenly distributes the electrical current, enabling you to add more strings to your holiday display in the absence of multiple outlets.



How to Fix Christmas Lights - Healthy Outlet


If your lights are flickering, the electrical outlet may not be able to handle the wattage demands of your design. Have a look in your breaker box and check the amp capacity for the outlet in question. Your maximum wattage is the amp value shown multiplied by the number of outlet volts. If you have, in fact, maxed out the juice on your outlet, then cut back your display—or supplement with solar-powered lights. Because they require zero electricity, you can use as many as you like!

5 Things to Do with… Altoids Tins

Once all the mints are gone, there are still plenty of reasons to hold on to that empty Altoids tin. Try one of these 5 curiously smart uses for an old Altoids tin.

The next time you open an Altoids tin only to find that it’s empty, rest assured that even if there are no mints inside, there’s a lot of something else—DIY potential! With plenty of imagination and a minimum of tools, you can repurpose these versatile little boxes in dozens of creative and often quite practical ways. Either pursue your own fresh breath of an idea or re-create one of our favorite Altoids tin projects from around the Web. Scroll down to see them all!



Altoids Tin Projects - Mp3 Player Case


Here’s an Altoids tin project that lets you keep your Mp3 player in “mint” condition. It couldn’t be easier: First, drill a hole in the tin wide enough for the headphones jack. Then glue in some thick cloth to cushion the device. Any compact player will fit inside the tin—an iPod Nano, for example, or an iPod Shuffle.



Altoid Tin Projects - Mini Toolbox


These days, everyone seems to have a loose collection of micro-size tools, if not for electronic devices, then for repairing eyeglasses or assembling flat-pack furniture. Make your own small-scale toolbox out of an Altoids tin, with nothing more sophisticated than red paint and a piece of readily available hardware.



Altoids Tin Projects - Candle


Cheaper than it smells, this project reinvents the Altoids tin as a compact lidded candle. To make one, melt paraffin wax in a double boiler, dripping in a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Use nonflammable glue to attach the wick to the tin, then fill up the tin with the melted wax. Once it dries, let there be light.



Altoids Tin Projects - Game


It’s as easy as tick-tack-toe to turn an Altoids tin into a pocket-size travel game. After designing the board on a piece of paper, glue it onto the inside of the tin. For the game pieces, use small magnets (which you can buy at your local crafts store). Even on a bumpy train or car ride, you can expect the magnets to stay in place.



Altoids Tin Projects - Fly Box


Attention, fly fishermen! If you’re looking for a fun way to pack flies on your trip down to the river, why not modify an Altoids tin for the task? There are only two steps in the process: First, glue a formfitting piece of foam to the bottom of the tin. Second, poke a hole into the foam for each fly you wish to store.

Be Nice to Mice: How to Build a Humane Mousetrap

If you want to get mice out of your house, but you don't necessarily want them dead, this easy-to-assemble (and kinder) mousetrap may be just what you need. Here's how to make it.

Homemade Mouse Trap


None of us loves the idea of little Mickeys and Minnies scurrying around our homes. Some people insist they’re cute, and maybe they are, but the fact is that mice carry dangerous diseases and are capable of causing considerable damage. Fortunately, options exist beyond the cruel contraptions you may have seen in the past. Here’s a homemade mousetrap you can easily make out of items you probably already have on hand. And the best part is that it works without doing any harm.

Infographic: DIY Pest Prevention

This apparatus is called a bucket trap. You spread peanut butter on an empty can, which is then suspended by metal wire over an open bucket. When the mouse ventures onto the can in pursuit of the bait, the can starts to spin. The mouse consequently loses its balance and falls into the bucket, from which it cannot escape. Don’t worry; the drop is not likely to injure the mouse. By the time you arrive to set it free, the mouse may in fact still be enjoying the peanut butter!

- Bucket
- Empty soup or soda can
- Metal wire
- Peanut butter
- Wood beam or plank

Homemade Mouse Trap - Isolated


Using a soup can? Carefully remove the lid (if it’s still attached) and drill a hole into the opposite end. With a soda can, you should be able to poke a hole in the bottom with a Phillips-head screwdriver.

For your trap to be successful, the bucket must be large enough to contain the mouse once it’s been caught. At minimum, choose a five-gallon bucket. Ideally, its interior surface should be smooth and free of any scratches that could help the critter climb out. To ensure the desired results, consider lining the bucket with a layer of oil or grease. An inch or so below the rim of the bucket, drill two holes, one directly across from the other.

Feed thin steel wire (or a repurposed clothes hanger) through the can, hooking the wire through the drilled bucket holes. Move the can along the wire so that it’s right in the middle of the bucket. At this point, make sure that the can is able to spin easily, or else you’ll have a tightrope-walking mouse with peanut butter breath running around the place.

Don’t give mice any reason to think twice about going after the peanut butter. Among your scrap wood, look for a beam or plank that, when angled against the bucket, will create a low, welcoming incline and a short distance to the top.

Finally, spread a generous amount of peanut butter over the can. Then wait.

If you’re trying to catch mice in a trafficked area like the kitchen, leave your trap overnight and check back in the morning. For areas like the garage, check back every few hours. It won’t be long before you’ve captured a critter—or even several. When it’s time to set the mice free, go to a location sufficiently removed from where you live. Otherwise, the mice are destined to return sooner rather than later. Happy (humane) hunting!

5 Things to Do with… Wooden Hangers

Give your extra wooden hangers a new life beyond the closet with one of these accessible DIY projects.

Eventually, we all find ourselves with more hangers than we know what to do with, and when they are not keeping our shirts crease-free, they are taking up valuable inches in our too-cramped storage spaces. Rather than boomeranging your extra hangers into the trash, let them come out of the closet. Scroll down to see five favorite DIY hanger projects to inspire your next home hack.



DIY Hanger Project - Artwork Display


Here’s a DIY hanger project for those who want to show off prints and photos in a fun, alternative way. Punch tacks into the wall, then hook on hangers with clips. The minute you get tired of one arrangement, it’s painless to rotate in a totally new display.



DIY Hanger Project - Dish Rack


Use your spare wooden hangers to make a drying rack for dishes. First, remove the metal hooks that sit on the closet rod. Then space the hangers at whatever distance you want, securing them in place with screwed-in dowels. The upside-down hangers provide stability as well as a spot for mugs.



DIY Hanger Project - Chandelier


A “bright” idea for any room is a chic DIY hanger chandelier. For a look of elegance, stain the hangers before you begin building the fixture, or spray-paint them in a bold color to make this repurposed chandelier even more overtly eye-catching.



DIY Hanger Project - Towel Rack


After a morning shower, don’t leave yourself hanging without a towel! Wall-mount a DIY hanger towel rack. It’s easy: Just nail an upside-down hanger to the wall. The metal hook can support full-size bath towels, while the horizontal dowel holds washcloths.



DIY Hanger Project - Snack Table


To construct a DIY hanger coffee table, bolt together two pairs of hangers before fastening them as legs under a tabletop of your choosing—a cut-to-size pane of glass, say; considering the compact size of the design, even a serving tray would do the job nicely.

5 Things to Do with… Legos

Now that you're done building brightly colored worlds, maybe it's time to construct something truly practical from those buckets of unused Legos.

Thought you were too old for toys? Think again. Adults have ample reason to revisit Legos, if not for sheer amusement, then to adapt these childhood classics for practical uses at home. Either pursue your own vision or, if inspiration fails, follow one of the examples below. As you will see, creative minds have already pieced together numerous ways to repurpose Legos in projects that are as functional as they are eye-catching. So if you’ve been saving a bucket of these building blocks for your grandkids, why not break them out sooner rather than later? It won’t cost you a dime to do, and the result might prove invaluable.



Repurpose Legos - Key Holder


Repurpose Legos to make a key organizer so that you’ll never again be blocked out of the house—get it? Start by fixing a small Lego base plate to a convenient spot on the wall. Then either poke a hole into a regular Lego block using a bradawl or find a piece with a built-in opening through which your key ring can slide.



Repurpose Legos - USB


Want to be able to distinguish your USB flash drive from all the others? Here’s how: With a hobby knife, hollow out a 2×4-dot Lego brick. (To accomplish this, neatly cut off the protruding “tubes” inside the brick.) Cut a notch in the brick to accommodate the USB connector. Take the housing off your thumb drive, fit the “naked” drive into the Lego, then use glue to attach a flat 2×4 brick to the back of the hollowed-out brick to close up the drive.



Repurpose Legos - Tape Dispenser


Like that almost-finished Lego set that’s missing just one piece, a home office is incomplete without a tape dispenser. Sure, there’s no reason you can’t buy one of these simple contraptions from Staples, but isn’t it much more fun to make your own? Use a strategically placed brick as the tear-off edge and a Lego wheel as the spool.



Repurpose Legos - Cufflinks


Accent your formal attire with a bohemian touch: Lego cufflinks. They’re super easy to make, but first you’ll need to either track down some cufflink backs at your local craft store or be willing to sacrifice an old pair of cufflinks so you can reuse the backs. Then you just need to collect two shallow Lego bricks in the color of your choice and connect the cufflink backs to the Legos with a strong adhesive.



Repurpose Legos - Toiletries


Repurpose Legos to build a container for your toothbrush, which not only safeguards it against the force of gravity, but also keeps its bristles away from the soapy, wet sink. Customize the design however you like, choosing a shape, size, and color palette to match your grooming needs and personal style sense.

Concrete and Cement: A Case of Mistaken Identities

Let's review the "concrete" evidence and clear up the confusion once and for all.

Concrete vs. Cement


It’s an old cliché of the Mafia: A fellow gets on the wrong side of La Cosa Nostra only to wind up wearing cement shoes at the bottom of a river. Well, those shoes may be made of cement, but little else in the world is composed of cement and cement only. Concrete, however, is everywhere. It’s even in the large, rotating drums of those ubiquitous vehicles we inaccurately refer to as cement trucks. It’s not surprising that people are always mixing up these sedimentary mixes, but while they look alike and behave similarly, solid differences exist between the two.

Cement vs. Concrete
Here’s one of the main reasons cement and concrete are so often confused: There is cement in concrete. That’s right, when cement is blended with water, it creates a paste. And when that paste is combined with aggregates like gravel and sand, the result is what we know and love as concrete. Cement itself is made from calcium and silica-rich materials, such as limestone and clay. Its unique adhesive properties make it an excellent binding agent, but on its own, cement is prone to cracking. Compared with concrete, which can last hundreds of years, cement is much less durable. To use an analogy, cement is to concrete as milk is to ice cream. Sure, ice cream has milk in it, but it isn’t milk. It’s actually much better.

Cement vs. Concrete - Tools


Using Concrete and Cement
One of the strongest and longest-lasting materials known to man, concrete is used to build schools, bridges, sidewalks, and countless other structures. But you don’t need a hard hat to have success with concrete. Amateur handymen use it for DIY projects of all kinds, among them landscape edging, kitchen countertops, and front walkways. Cement, by comparison, is used mainly in smaller jobs (for example, grouting and specialized masonry) and in the repair of cracked or crumbling concrete.

Concrete and Beyond
Complicating matters further is the fact that you can buy dozens of different kinds of concrete. Each type responds to the demands of specific applications. For example, fiber-reinforced concrete, which resists cracking even under immense loads, ranks as a common choice for driveways. There’s also fast-track concrete, employed when time is of the essence. Before purchasing any concrete, be sure to consult with an expert or do a bit of research so that you understand the pros and cons of all the options available.