Author Archives: Daniel Mintz

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.

5 Things to Do with… Duct Tape

A favorite among homeowners for last-ditch repairs, duct tape takes center stage in these clever, practical creations.

Handymen love duct tape for its power to delay the inevitable—specifically, the trouble and expense that a proper repair job will eventually entail. But while this heavy-duty adhesive is famous for its application in unglamorous fix-its, the following duct tape DIY projects demonstrate just how much more this stuff is capable of.



Duct Tape DIY Projects - Wallet


Rather than resorting to duct tape to hold together the remaining scraps of your ancient leather wallet, why not use it to make an entirely new one? Duct tape offers strong yet flexible construction, and you can customize your creation according to preference. Opt for classic grey or incorporate a handful of more exciting colors.



Duct Tape DIY Projects - Hammock


This duct tape DIY hammock might tucker you out, but once you’re done, you can nap on the fruit of your labor. Ring several very long strips of tape between two wooden dowels, making sure the tape completely covers the sticky sides. Add horizontal strips to form the netting. What else do you need? Only rope and a pair of sturdy trees.



Duct Tape DIY Projects - Switch Plates


Here’s a duct tape DIY project that can give an “electrifying” vibe to your home: Decorate switch plates with patterned or colored duct tape. Glow-in-the-dark duct tape provides a particularly practical benefit (in addition to its cosmetic one) by rendering light switches visible at night. Your shinbones will thank you!



Duct Tape DIY Projects - Koozie


Without a can cooler, game day quickly becomes warm beer day. Keep drinks chilled by making your own duct-tape can koozie. It’s easy: Mold thin-profile bubble wrap around the bottom and sides of a 12-ounce can, then apply a layer of duct tape to hold the shape. Final step? Relax in time for kickoff.



Duct Tape DIY Projects - Tablecloth


Combine duct tape and plastic sheeting for an easy-to-clean tablecloth perfect for an al fresco dinner. Start with a section of plastic sheeting big enough to cover your surface, then follow the inspiration of your duct tape muse. Duct tape is water resistant, but if it gets stained, replacement tape costs little and is a cinch to apply.

5 Things to Do with… Light Bulbs

Got a burn-out bulb? There are many fun and useful ways to repurpose it as an accent for your home.

You flipped the switch only to see the light bulb flash with that familiar blue flare? My friend, you’ve got another burnt-out bulb on your hands. Don’t fret: Not everything is lost, just the filament. You can repurpose the bulb itself into a slew of creative home accents. Scroll down to see five favorite light bulb DIY projects.



Light Bulb DIY Projects - Candle


Counterintuitive though it may seem, a burnt-out light bulb makes for a quirky and stylish light source—that is, with some modification. Step one: Fill the bulb with lamp oil. Step two: Insert a short length of hemp string to act as a wick. Step three: Glue the bulb to a coin or a washer so that it stands up straight. Done!



Light Bulb DIY Projects - Aquarium


This light bulb DIY project enables you to see the sea in all its glory, right on your desk top or window sill. Your choice of aquatic plants can be cultivated in a hollowed-out, water-filled oversized bulb. The best part? You don’t need to water fauna that is… under water. Simply provide sunlight and watch it all grow.



Light Bulb DIY Projects - Wall Hook


Need a place to hang your hat? Fill the shell of a light bulb with mortar mix. Once it has dried, attach a screw to the end and dazzle up the outside with a unique design. What you get is an out-of-the-ordinary wall hook, which in contrast to some other light bulb DIY projects, offers a straightforward practical benefit.



Light Bulb DIY Projects - Terrarium


Use pliers and a screwdriver to prep your light bulb. Once you’ve removed all its guts, add in a few tablespoons of sand or a small handful of pebbles, or both, but avoid dirt. Air plants survive best here; skip the finickier species. As a final step, place any decorations you like, e.g. small shells, before adding a little H2O.



Light Bulb DIY Projects - Jewelry


Make your penchant for repurposing projects known to the world: Wear a light bulb as a fashion accessory. You might even consider filling the bulb with colored sand or dyed water. Whatever you do, stick with a smaller bulb. A big one would swing and knock against things, and you’d look pretty silly wearing it.


If and when the proverbial light bulb goes on over your head, please share your light bulb DIY project ideas in the comments section below!

5 Things to Do with… Egg Cartons

Explore creative DIY ways to reuse egg cartons once you've devoured their contents for breakfast.

After you’ve fried up a few Western omelettes, topped them with Tabasco, and nourished your body with nature’s best source of protein, there’s a sturdy little cardboard container awaiting your creativity. Here are five cool ways to reuse egg cartons.



Reuse Egg Cartons - Planter


Why settle for a single plant when you can enjoy 12 different varieties? Creating an eggquisite multi-planter is a great way to reuse egg cartons. The project makes sampling several seeds as simple as scrambling an egg, and the result can fit right on your sunny window sill. Paint the outside or decorate it with arts and crafts supplies, then watch your mini garden bloom!



Reuse Egg Cartons - Lighting


Reuse egg cartons to transform string lights by making a “lamp shade” for each bulb. Customize the shape, color, and design of your shades in keeping with your taste and the nature of the occasion, be it the holiday season or your loft apartment’s everyday luminescence. Any room is bound to exude egglegant radiance under the glow of this whimsical approach to DIY lighting.



Reuse Egg Cartons - Organizer


So your desk is a mess, huh? Instead of shelling out money for run-of-the-mill office supplies, you can easily reuse egg cartons to craft your own unique (and free) drawer organizers. Hollow out the cartons to make room for larger items like staplers or scissors, or store a different item (pins, paper clips, loose change) in each of the separate egg cradles.



Reuse Egg Cartons - Bulletin Board


If you’ve gotten tired of the usual cork and pegboards, maybe you ought to whisk things up a little. Here’s a fresh and offbeat idea: Reuse egg cartons to make your own all-purpose bulletin boards. Cheap and easy to complete within minutes, these light-as-a-feather catchalls for phone numbers, business cards, and photographs can hang in the kitchen, home office, or garage workshop—anyplace where you could use a little memory aid now and again.



Finally, reuse egg cartons to package your presents in something other than a predictable parcel. Just slice your carton in half, then add your own custom design. What you get is a snazzy gift box that protects fragile items in transit.

All this talk of eggs must have you craving some. Well, eat up. Now you know there are plenty of ways to reuse egg cartons after you’re done devouring their contents. Hurry up and get cracking: Last person to make one of these creative repurposing projects is a rotten egg!

5 Things to Do with… Used Books

If you need a card catalogue to manage your vast personal library, why not repurpose books into high-brown home accents?

Repurpose Books - Store Sign


Does your apartment look more like the stock room at Barnes and Noble? Well, you’re not alone: At one point or another, many an avid reader has found himself drowning in a sea of unwanted hardcovers and paperbacks. While you’d most likely have a difficult time selling them to a secondhand shop, you can easily repurpose books as a way of reflecting your bookworm personality in your home design. Check out these creative ideas for inspiration!



Repurpose Books - DIY Tub


If you’re like me, then you’ve aborted plans in the past to store books in the bathtub temporarily—but it’s not such a crazy idea! In fact, it would only take a few steps to line the outside of your tub with literature. For bibliomaniacal bubble baths, simply cut the covers, laminate them, and then glue them to the tub with a strong adhesive. Rub a dub dub!



Repurpose Books - Table Lamp

Photo: HGTV

Reading by candlelight is sooo 1879. You need a practical, modern lighting option. Something interesting. So how about making your own table lamp from a stack of old books? It’s easier than it looks: Drill a hole through each tome, string some lamp wire through, then glue a socket to the top book. Flip the switch and, somewhat literally, illuminate your world with the written word.



Book DIY


Having crafted a lamp out of books, you will now be a master of stringing electrical wires. Take the same approach that is outlined above, but this time, use a smartphone charger cable. The result is a neato dock station, one to make your smartphone even smarter.



Repurpose Books - DIY Table


Anyone who loves reading in bed knows the importance of a night stand. Create one in a jiffy, for little or no money, using some of your extra reading material. First, stack books into a circular structure or a Jenga-esque tower. Next, secure the books with either string, strapping, or glue. Then finally add a tabletop made of wood or even cardboard, and that’s it! You’ll never again fall alseep on top of your eyeglasses. Your optometrist might even thank me—well, probably not.



Repurpose Books - DIY Clock


Instead of placing a clock next to the classic you’re reading, try making a classic into your next clock. Go further and fashion a whole shelf-full of clocks, each displaying the time in a different city. Use The Hound of the Baskervilles for London, The Great Gatsby for New York, Crime and Punishment for Moscow. Your hobby shop probably stocks basic clock mechanisms, and they’re super easy to fix into a book. Now hurry up and get cracking—I’m timing you with my own!