Author Archives: Joe Provey

Joe Provey

About Joe Provey

Joe Provey is an expert on all things home and garden. His work has appeared in many national magazines, including E, The Environmental Magazine, Popular Mechanics, House Beautiful, Better Homes & Gardens Specials, and Fine Homebuilding. Joe also has more than a dozen books to his credit. His latest, Convert Your Home to Solar Energy, was published last year. Other titles include Outdoor Kitchens, Easy Closets, 1001 Ideas for Decks, Green-up Your Cleanup, Design Ideas for Flooring, Toro's Expert Guide to Lawns, 1001 Ideas for Kitchen Organization, and the Parent's Complete Guide to Soccer. Joe is the president of Home & Garden Editorial Services (HGES), a company that produces books for publishers in the home, garden and related fields. In the past, he has served as chief editor to several national home improvement magazines, including The Family Handyman, Mechanix Illustrated, and Practical Homeowner. He was also the founding editor of Soccer Jr., the Soccer Magazine for Kids, and several other soccer-related magazines. Joe lives in Bridgeport, Connecticut with his wife MaryAnn, where they have seven children and four grandchildren between them. Check him out on Google+!

17 Reasons You Need a Good Multi-Tool

For your next DIY project, you'll minimize trips to the garage and workshop if you keep a multi-tool on hand. Here are 17 good reasons why you should have one in your pocket.

HYDE 17-in-1 Painter's Multi-Tool

HYDE 17-in-1 Painter's Multi-Tool

We’d all like a little more time. Unfortunately, you can’t buy it. You can, however, save some time as you go about your daily routines. Ordering online, using a GPS, and always putting your keys in the same spot are just a few common time-savers.

There are also plenty of ways to conserve time in your home improvement and maintenance tasks. The venerable adages “measure twice, cut once” and “a stitch in time saves nine” immediately come to mind. To these I add my own advice for time seekers: “put a multi-tool in your pocket.”

Nothing slows you down (or wears you out) more than constantly having to fetch tools or search for ones that have been misplaced. I try to minimize trips to the basement workshop and garage by keeping a spare set of basic tools in the kitchen junk drawer. The set includes two screwdrivers, a utility knife, a tape measure, a putty knife, a set of Allen wrenches, and a hammer. In the past, I had considered consolidating the tools with a multi-tool, but unfortunately most of the ones I had seen were too insubstantial to be of much use.

Recently, however, I was able to get my hands on a multi-tool made by HYDE, the company that created the first multi-tool 60 years ago and now makes all sorts of tools for painters, paperhangers, masons, and drywall contractors. Made of stainless steel, it combines 17 tools that can be used for hundreds of jobs around the house.

The 3-inch-wide blade works as a paint scraper, putty knife, and paint can opener. It is pointed on one end for digging out loose grout or caulk, scoring, and cutting. All it takes is a file to keep it razor sharp. The 8¼-inch overall length gives you plenty of leverage for prying but fits nicely in your back pocket or tool belt.

In the middle of the blade is a slot for pulling small nails and brads. The edges of the blade include two concave cutouts for scraping paint from large and small rollers, two wrench cutouts (thoughtfully sized for air hose and airless paint sprayer hose connectors), and a bottle opener.

On the opposite end of the tool is a steel-butted handle that can drive small nails. It’s also handy for knocking trim pieces into alignment prior to nailing them off. Pop off the handle to access four screwdriver bits (flat and Phillips) in two sizes and a small-diameter nail punch that can be used also as a scribe or awl.

In the short while I’ve owned my 17-in-1 HYDE Painter’s Multi-Tool, it has come in handy for filling voids in the bathroom subfloor that I’m prepping for tile, removing old caulk along the base of the tub, setting protruding nail heads, removing old drywall screws, and knocking down the nubs on the wall I’m about to paint. It has now earned a permanent place in the kitchen junk drawer.

HYDE offers a full range of multi-tools in stainless steel, brass, and high-carbon steel.


This post has been brought to you by HYDE®. Its facts and opinions are those of



5 Reasons Why Recessed Lighting Is Still Cool

Long a favorite with homeowners, recessed lighting offers unobtrusive, extremely functional illumination. Now, with an expanded range of bulb types, trim styles, and new applications, it's becoming even more attractive.

Installing Recessed Lighting


Since the technology arrived in the 1930s, installing recessed lighting has become de rigueur in new construction and home additions as well as in the renovation of existing rooms and buildings. Today, we hardly notice it, in part because it’s ubiquitous, as likely to appear in the living room as in the bedroom closet.

Recessed lighting’s popularity is due largely to its many advantages over table and floor lamps, pendants and sconces. Whereas other types of fixtures best suit one or another specific application—be it ambient, task, or accent lighting—versatile recessed lights can meet all average household needs.

Of course, another advantage of recessed lighting is its unique design. Flush to the ceiling, with its housing tucked neatly between framing joists, recessed lighting takes up virtually zero usable square footage, and its self-effacing style means that it can coordinate with almost any decor, modern or traditional.

If you are in the midst of planning a remodeling project, be sure to consider the full range of functional and aesthetic possibilities that installing recessed lighting can offer. Being that manufacturers continue to innovate in this product category, recessed lighting remains an exciting choice for homeowners. Here are five reasons why.



Installing Recessed Lighting - Eyeball


Recessed lighting with so-called “eyeball” trim enables homeowners to direct a bright, focused beam toward any object they wish to call attention to, whether it’s a work of art, family memento, or an architectural feature like a fireplace mantel or built-in bookcase. Note that multiple fixtures may be needed to highlight an oversize item.



Installing Recessed Lighting - Halogen


Outfit recessed lighting fixtures with halogen bulbs to bring your rooms to life. Compared with general lighting, halogens shine three times brighter, imbuing paint colors and boldly hued furniture with a special richness and clarity. Although high-performing, halogens operate at an efficient low voltage, which minimizes running costs.



Installing Recessed Lighting - Trim


Recessed lights are justly known for being unobtrusive, but people may be starting to view these fixtures with a fresh eye. Many newer models hitting the market have protruding, light-diffusing trim in a variety of eye-catching materials that range from glass to crystal to composite, in translucent as well as colored variations.



Installing Recessed Lighting - Steps


No longer is recessed lighting confined to the ceiling. More and more homeowners are installing recessed lighting in walls and flooring. In walls, recessed lights resemble mini windows and work extraordinarily well in hallways. In floors, recessed lighting lends a dramatic punch to vertically oriented objects like potted trees.



Installing Recessed Lighting - Multiples


In some unfortunate circumstances, installing recessed lighting gives a ceiling an unflattering “spotted” look—an effect that can be avoided by choosing a multibulb fixture. As shown here, a series of bulbs—as many as four, and often LED—are arranged in a linear setup in rectangular housings, creating a look similar to, but much less noticeable than, traditional track lighting.


Even if you choose to stick with regular recessed lighting, you still have plenty of options. A visit to your local lighting store or favorite online vendor should reveal a surprising number of color, finish, trim, and baffle choices. Give careful consideration to the question of which type of bulb to use. Initial costs run the gamut, color rendition levels span from poor to exceptional, and energy efficiency differs extensively from product to product. Know the pluses and minuses of each type of bulb and choose wisely.

What Would Bob Do? Preventing Window Condensation

Does water condense on the inside of your windows all winter long? If so, try a few of these moisture-controlling solutions.

Window Condensation


It’s winter and I keep getting condensation on the inside of my windows. What’s the solution?

When moist, warm air makes contact with a window—typically the coolest surface in a given space (at least during the winter)—condensation forms. That’s because cool air cannot hold as much water vapor as warm air. If window condensation drives you crazy throughout the winter, I can recommend any number of solutions, most of which are geared toward lowering the relative humidity in your home. One or a combination of the actions listed below should do the trick. It may be worth it for you to purchase a hygrometer, an instrument that measures relative humidity, to assist you in your efforts to reduce household moisture.

• Operate room humidifiers strictly on an as-needed basis. If you are running a whole-house humidifier, reduce its output, then wait a day to see what happens. If the problem persists, turn the humidifier down even further. (It is usually necessary to do this only when outdoor temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.)

• Run the bathroom exhaust fan while you’re showering and the range hood exhaust fan while you’re cooking. Leave fans running for 10 or 15 minutes after either activity. Double-check that both of these fans—and indeed all the exhaust systems in your home—ventilate to the outdoors and not to the basement, attic, or garage.

• Inspect the entirety of your home—including the basement, roof, and plumbing—for evidence of leaks, because they can have a significant impact on relative humidity.

• If you’re in the habit of drying your laundry on racks indoors, try suspending the practice to see whether that prevents window condensation from forming.

• Avoid indoor storage of freshly cut, nonseasoned firewood, because it contains a high degree of moisture.

• Pull back window treatments so the heated air in your home can raise the temperature of the window glass, thereby reducing the likelihood of condensation.

Install storm windows, which can raise the temperature on the surface of your interior windows, keeping them from reaching the point at which water condenses.

In addition to high relative humidity, insufficient household ventilation can also cause window condensation. If you live in a climate with cold winters and your home is very tightly sealed—and if there are more than a few inhabitants, each of whom adds moisture to the home every day—consider a heat recovery ventilation system. This type of system controls the introduction of fresh air from the outdoors and the expulsion of stale, overly moist air from within.

Weatherstripping 101

Sealing drafts is one of the best—and smartest—ways to reduce your home's energy costs in winter and summer alike. While the concept is easy to understand, there's plenty to know about the various types of weatherstripping products and how they are best used.

Weatherstripping 101


Weatherstripping is a time-honored method of minimizing window and door drafts. In the winter, weatherstripping prevents heated air from escaping the home and bars the entry of cold from the outdoors. In the summer, weatherstripping performs the identical role, except at that time of year, the air inside tends to be cool (in a house with air conditioning, at least), and the air outside tends not to be. Most homeowners have heard of weatherstripping and are comfortable with the concept, but some are intimidated by the highfalutin name, because it may conjure up images of a complex system or an elaborate installation process. The reality, however, is not at all scary. Weatherstripping refers to a group of straightforward, easy-to-install products that do nothing more than seal gaps in house components that swing, slide, or lift. Here is a rundown of the most popular weatherstripping products.


Weatherstripping - Tapes


Weatherstripping tapes are popular and inexpensive. Made of compressible, flexible material, these work well to fill irregular gaps. Most foam tapes and felt strips can be cut to size with scissors, and because they’re self-adhesive, they are very easy to install. Be sure, however, that you are applying the product to a clean surface.

Best uses: doorstops, casement window stops, double-hung window rails



Weatherstripping - V Strips


V-strips are made of vinyl or thin, flexible lengths of metal. The former option costs less and is easier to put in because one side of the vinyl self-adheres; metal V-strips are nailed into place. In either case, installation involves removing the window sashes to access the channels along which they slide.

Best uses: meeting rails, double-hung window jambs, window stops



Weatherstripping - Gaskets


Tubular in shape and rubber-like in composition, gasket-style weatherstripping installs along the bottom of exterior doors by means of nails or screws. (Door sweeps are more common for this application.) A gasket might also be employed to seal between an overhead garage door and the concrete floor slab.

Best uses: exterior doors, garage doors



Weatherstripping - Door Sweeps


Door sweeps, which are made of vinyl or rubber, or of bristles with a backing, attach via screws to the bottom of an exterior door. They are commonly available at hardware stores and home improvement centers; some door sweeps go on the outside, while others are meant for the inside. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions.

Best uses: exterior doors


Every home is different, of course. Each has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies—and particularly in older constructions, a host of air leaks that defy general, one-size-fits-all classification. Still, the following are perhaps the most common places where homeowners use weatherstripping to improve air sealing:

• Exterior doors (including French doors and sliding patio doors)
• Attic hatchways
• Doors to nonconditioned spaces (for example, from the house to the garage)
• Garage doors
• Windows (casement, sliding, awning, and double-hung)

First, seal any gaps around doors or hatchways that connect to the attic—this is where air pressure and air leakage are greatest. Next, check exterior doors; if you see daylight around a closed door, install weatherstripping. By the same token, if your windows rattle in the wind, that’s a pretty sure sign that they too would benefit from weatherstripping. On a cold day, it’s easy to judge these things: If the area feels chilly to the touch, weatherstripping is (at least part of) the answer.

How To: Stain Concrete

Applying stain to a concrete floor can add beauty and depth to this hard-wearing material, and make it even easier to maintain. If your concrete floor is already in good shape, you're just a few easy steps away from a durable, dramatic new finish.

How to Stain Concrete - Basement Floor


Homeowners used to think of concrete as being strictly utilitarian stuff, resorted to only when a better-looking material would be either unsuitable or far too expensive. Today, many people appreciate not only the hard-wearing durability of concrete, but also its aesthetic qualities, which can be greatly enhanced by a number of different techniques. One popular way to finish concrete is through either acid- or water-based stain. I recommend acid: It lasts longer and looks better. The downside of acid stain, however, is that it can be somewhat unpredictable.

Rather than coating on like a wood stain, acid concrete stain generates color through a chemical reaction. Results depend in part on the stain you’ve chosen and how much of it you apply, but also on the concrete itself—its location, age, and mineral composition. The color you end up with may be quite different from the one you expected to get. And there’s no way to erase or undo the stain once you’ve applied it. Your only option is adding more stain to intensify the effect.

To stain concrete successfully, the first step is to prepare the surface, being sure that it’s free of residual adhesive, flaking paint, and similar debris. Scrub the concrete with a solution of TSP and water. Treat stubborn stains aggressively with a degreaser or chemical paint stripper. Mechanical abrasion is a last resort.

How to Stain Concrete - Open Floor


Tape off any sections of the concrete surface that you do not wish to stain. Do this very carefully, as it may prove impossible to remove the stain if it lands somewhere you didn’t intend it to go.

To get an impression of how the stain is going to look, test it in an inconspicuous corner or along a remote edge of the concrete. Don’t love how it looks? Adjust the stain accordingly, diluting or intensifying it.

Now you’re ready to start applying the stain. The goal here is to achieve even coverage. To that end, many choose to employ a sprayer (whose parts are plastic so as not to corrode upon contact with acid). After spraying—never so much that there’s puddling—use a shop broom to ensure that no parts of the surface look relatively darker or lighter. If necessary, spray again to eliminate marks left by the broom.

Different stains take different periods of time to set properly; consult the label on the product you have chosen. While the stain is setting, the chemical reaction actually continues. It ceases only when you neutralize it by washing the floor in a solution of water and detergent (and sometimes baking soda).

Finish up by protecting the stained concrete with a sealer. Again, consult the product label; it’s a good idea to use the manufacturer-recommended sealer. Indoor concrete flooring is usually sealed with wax, although in a high-traffic area, I would opt for epoxy beneath urethane. Note that you can use a buffing machine to facilitate the sealing process, so long as you are working on a floor surface indoors.

How To: Remove and Replace Grout

Even the best tiling jobs show their age eventually. When that day comes, remove the grout and replace it to rejuvenate the installation and make the surface gleam again.

How to Remove Grout


Several years after you complete a bathroom or kitchen renovation, it inevitably starts to show some wear. One culprit is grout: Over time, it stains, cracks, and becomes loose, even if it was professionally installed. And if the grouting was done poorly to begin with, then the job really isn’t likely to last very long. Fortunately, it’s well within the range of the average do-it-yourselfer to remove and replace grout. Indeed, regrouting tile can restore lost luster and is well worth the time and effort.

How to Remove Grout - Tool


How to Remove Grout
It’s certainly possible to remove grout by hand, the old-fashioned way, but it’s recommended that you opt for a power tool. Doing so makes much quicker work of what can be a labor-intensive, time-consuming, and potentially frustration-inducing home project.

If you’re up for taking the power-tool-free route, you need a manual grout removal tool. These typically come in one of two flavors. One looks like a screwdriver with a triangular carbide blade mounted on its end. How does it work? You pull the tool through a grout joint until at least one-eighth of an inch has been removed. The second type of manual grout removal tool features a carbide grit-edged blade—that’s why it’s sometimes known as a grout saw. To use one, you simply saw into the the old grout in the same way that you would saw into wood.

If power tools are more your style, you have at least a couple of effective options. One is to outfit your reciprocating saw with an accessory that is specially designed to remove grout (pictured at right). Alternatively, you can opt for an oscillating tool, such as the Dremel Multi-Max; these excel at smaller jobs, because they afford a high degree of control. No matter what power tool you end up choosing to help you remove grout, remember to keep a chisel or a flat-blade screwdriver on hand. The stubborn bits often need a little coaxing to come out.

Related: Top Tips for Cleaning Grout Lines

Regrouting Tile
The first step in regrouting tile is to mix a certain amount of grout powder with a specific quantity of water. Stick closely to the manufacturer’s directions. Whether you pick sanded or unsanded grout depends on the desired width of the joints between tiles. Unsanded grout is typically used to achieve relatively thin grout lines; the sanded variety is recommend for joints any wider than one-eighth of an inch.


Once you have properly mixed the grout in a bucket, apply it with a plastic towel, then use a grout float to press the mortar deeply into the joints. As you do this, hold the float at a 45-degree angle to the wall or floor surface. Once you are satisfied with the distribution of grout, the next step is to clean off the excess before it has the chance to harden. To do this, use the grout float again, this time holding the tool at an 80-degree angle to skim the excess grout from the face of the tiles. In concert with the grout float, a large, damp sponge can be handy for wiping off any lingering grout haze. (Rinse the sponge often and change the rinse water as it becomes cloudy.) Finally, allow the grout to harden for a period of 24 to 48 hours. Walk on the tile surface only after that amount of time has elapsed.

How To: Paint Wood Paneling

If your wood-paneled walls seem dark and dated, painting is a great way to brighten them up. Follow these simple steps to achieve a professional-looking, up-to-date finish.

How to Paint Paneling


In a room with wood-paneled walls—particularly if that wood is a veneer—your instinct may be to start fresh, either by tearing out the paneling or by concealing it behind drywall. Both of these options, however, involve avoidable expenses that may be difficult to justify if you are trying to keep costs to a bare minimum. So long as your paneling has stayed in decent condition over the years, perhaps the least expensive way forward is to leave the paneling in place and paint over it.

That may be easier said than done, partly because solid-wood paneling so often has knots, the kind that appear invincible to paint coverage and leave the well-intentioned homeowner feeling a bit trigger-shy. Just as often, there’s a wax or varnish to deal with, and do-it-yourselfers know that sanding can be not only taxing, but really messy. And then there’s veneer wood paneling: Isn’t there something about its hard, almost plastic-like surface that looks like it simply wouldn’t take paint very well?

Related: How To—Paint EVERYTHING

How to Paint Wood Paneling - Roller


The truth is that, regardless of whether yours is solid or veneer, it’s pretty easy to paint wood paneling. If you’ve ever painted a piece of wood furniture, then you’re probably already familiar with the few simple steps that make up the process. Follow these guidelines and you ought to achieve professional-level results.

Start by thoroughly washing the wood-paneled walls with a solution of TSP and water. Next, proceed to lightly sand the walls using a technique aptly known as “scuffing”; the goal here is to create a good mechanical bond between the paneled wall and the initial coat of primer that you will soon be applying.

Today’s primers are so good that you can probably skip the sanding, but I think it’s worth doing. Even though it takes only 20 or 30 minutes, scuffing gives you long-lasting insurance against chipping paint. Just be sure to wear a dust mask and, for health reasons as well as cleanliness, wipe away dust with a damp rag as you go.

Having finished scuffing the full width and height of the paneling to be painted, you can then move on to giving the surface its initial coat of primer. I prefer Zinsser’s (for solid wood, use a water-based product; for veneer, use a shellac-based one). Two primer coats are normally sufficient. Note that while it’s not strictly necessary to do so, you can have the primer tinted to match the shade you eventually plan to paint the wood paneling.

Finish by applying your chosen paint. Lightly sand the surface between coats; expect to do two or three. In order to avoid ending up with the orange peel–like texture that roller-applied paints sometimes produce, opt to use a foam sponge roller cover (inexpensive and easily purchased at your local paint supply store or home improvement center). Keep a paintbrush handy for cutting in at corners and dabbing away drips.

Once you are done, stand back to admire the difference painted wood paneling can make in a room!

Planning for the Next Flood

Regardless of when it occurs, flooding is one of a homeowner's worst nightmares. Here are some valuable lessons I learned that could help you plan for the next flood, whether anticipated or unexpected.

How to Prepare for a Flood


Late on October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy pushed seawater across the 800 yards that separate Long Island Sound from the co-op where my wife and I live. The surge burst through our basement windows and bulkhead door at 10 o’clock at night. The basement filled with floodwater so quickly that if we’d had a sump pump—and if there had been electricity (as a precaution, the city had cut power in flood zones)—the system would have been completely overwhelmed.

The next morning, I went down to the basement, flashlight in hand. The refrigerator was floating on its back, and the dryer had somehow settled atop the washer. The furnace was submerged, paint cans bobbed like apples, and my workbench floated slowly through the murk like a canal barge. Up and down the Eastern Seaboard, there were countless similar scenes, with many thousands of homeowners having experienced far worse than severe basement flooding.

Planning for the next time
The question may not be whether there will be another another Sandy-type flooding disaster, but rather when will it happen? Those who live in flood-prone areas are wise to be prepared. A crucial aspect of readiness is to fully understand the risk level your neighborhood faces. Here, the FEMA Map Service Center proves a valuable resource, not least because it can help you figure out flood insurance details. After all, homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover property loss due to flooding.

How to Prepare for a Flood


Build an emergency kit
Keep the necessities on hand and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Compile your emergency kit now, not in the hours and days prior to a hurricane. Store the following in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid:

- Water (three gallons per person)
- Food (a three-day supply of nonperishable items)
- Hand-crank radio (or a battery-powered model with extra batteries)
- Flashlight (with extra batteries, if applicable)
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask
- Plastic sheeting
- Duct tape
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers (necessary to turn off utilities)
- Manual can opener (for canned food)
- Local maps
- Cell phone (with solar charger)

Check out for additional recommendations. Included are tips for developing a family communication plan that includes where and when loved ones will reunite in the wake of a disaster.

Minimizing the damage
We can’t keep our basement from flooding, but we can control what the floodwater has an opportunity to damage. We didn’t lose anything in the flood that couldn’t be replaced (albeit at significant cost), but my neighbors lost belongings of great sentimental value. Had these things been moved to higher ground, they would have been spared. Lesson learned: Store as little as possible in the basement.

Here’s what else we’ve done or are planning to do shortly:

Raise the appliances
Certain equipment must remain in the basement. With concrete pavers, cinder blocks, or even loose bricks, you can raise the furnace or water heater (or washer and dryer) several inches off the concrete slab or installed flooring. It’s not always as simple as it sounds, however, as basement ceiling heights tend to be low.

Install a check valve
Flooding causes water damage, certainly, but it can also cause sewers to back up, with the result that wastewater rises up through drain lines and empties into basement-located appliances or utility sinks. Prevent such an occurrence by installing a relatively inexpensive and do-it-yourself-friendly check valve.

Set up sump pumps
Although it wouldn’t help in the case of a storm surge, a sump pump can be effective in managing the groundwater that continues to seep slowly into the basement even several days after the fact. After a Sandy-like event, this technology can help you return your house more quickly to healthy working order. In the course of normal flooding, or as a defense against basement moisture resulting from causes unrelated to flooding, sump pumps have shown their value time and again.

Consider a levee
Assuming the storm surge neither reaches too high nor lasts too long—and that you are fit enough to fill and position several hundred sandbags—a levee can effectively keep floodwater at bay. To be successful, consult an engineer; building a levee is not a project to be taken lightly. The subject is too complex to be fairly treated here, but if you’re serious (or merely curious), I recommend watching How to Build a Sandbag Dike and Levee Building to get a grip on the basics.

The Dremel Multi-Max: Who Let the Tool Designers Loose?

My window sash replacement project turned out to be an easy fix, thanks to the variable—and versatile—features of the new Dremel Multi-Max.

Dremel Multi Max Tool Review - Scraper

The Dremel Multi-Max fitted with the flexible scraper was useful when removing dried glazing compound around a broken windowpane. Photo: Joe Provey

Because of the popularity of the Dremel rotary tool, most people perceive the Dremel brand as a bastion of the arts-and-crafts set rather than of home improvement and fix-it-yourself enthusiasts. While their tools were ideal for carving and model making, their utility didn’t extend to bigger jobs. Well, someone let loose some very creative tool designers at the Dremel factory, and the results have added utility and versatility to a whole array of multipurpose tools. These new offerings range from models that resemble mini-circular, scroll, and saber saws to updates to the company’s iconic rotary tool.

Recently, I had an opportunity to put the Dremel MM20 Multi-Max oscillating power tool (available at The Home Depot) through its paces. While it doesn’t quite fit any of the traditional tool categories, it perfectly fits the Dremel brand of tools because it does so many things: it saws, scrapes, sands, slices, and more.

The fact that the tool is corded appeals to me because it keeps the tool weight low and eliminates frequent battery changing and charging for a tool that’s likely to be used continuously for long stretches. (Cordless models are, however, available.)

Dremel Multi Max Tool Review - Removing Paint

The scraper accessory was also able to remove multiple layers of old paint. Photo: Joe Provey

Attaching the accessories is easy too. Just remove the clamping screw with the supplied Allen wrench, position the accessory over the 10 lock pins at the desired angle, replace the clamping screw, and tighten. There is no shake, rattle, or roll with this system.

The on-off switch and speed adjustment are easily accessed, even as you are working. And you can buy an assist handle accessory that makes two-handed operation a little more comfortable.

The Dremel Multi-Max MM20 basic kit comes with several starter accessories, including a scraper, two blades, a triangular sanding pad, and a supply of various grit sanding sheets. Other accessories, such as the grout removal tool for regrouting tile, a knife tool for slicing through old carpeting, and the Multi-Flex attachment for scrolling and coping cuts, must be purchased separately.

My window sash repair project allowed me to try out several accessories. The first thing I learned is that it’s best to use a light touch and to let the OPMs (oscillations per minute) do the work. Most jobs are best done at high settings of 16,000 to 21,000 OPMs. Materials susceptible to chipping, such as laminates, are better cut at lower settings.

Dremel Multi Max Tool Review - Sander

The sanding attachment was able to reach easily into tight spaces and angles. Photo: Joe Provey

For a tool with a powerful 2.3 amp motor, control is exceptionally easy. Oscillating tools perform various functions using the back and forth movement of the accessory, not continuous movement in one direction, as do rotary tools. Unlike a circular saw, for example, there is no torque—nothing to make the tool jump in your hand. Furthermore, the “travel,” or the distance the tools move back and forth, is very limited with the Dremel Multi-Max, further reducing vibration. The blade accessories are unlikely to jam, even in tight quarters, as is common with a reciprocating saw.

The scraper accessory was able to remove multiple layers of old paint. (It also came in handy for removing vinyl tiles and stuck carpet padding.) It was less effective at handling paint that was already blistered; an old-fashioned hand scraper works more quickly. The flexible scraper also made fast work of removing dried glazing compound from around the broken windowpane.

Dremel Multi Max Tool Review - Feathering

The sanding attachment was handy for feathering old layers of paint on this window sash. Photo: Joe Provey

The sanding accessory, while obviously not suited to large areas, was perfect for this project, allowing me to get into rails easily. (I only wish I had owned a Dremel Multi-Max when I recently sanded the wood floor in my hallway. My conventional palm sander couldn’t handle inside corners, around thresholds, or flooring at the base of doorjambs. I had to resort to tedious hand sanding for that.)  The sander was also handy for feathering layers of old paint on the window sash to prep it for refinishing.

The Dremel Multi-Max will not replace any of your portable power saws or even your hand tools. You’ll still want a circular saw, saber saw, and a set of scrapers, chisels, handsaws, etc.  The Multi-Max will, however, add to your problem-solving arsenal. It’s a tool that gives you the ability to handle the finishing touches on big jobs and to get you out of difficult jams on the small ones (among them: cutting back baseboard moldings; cutting drywall for installing electrical boxes and recessed light fixtures; removing caulk, grout, and glazing compounds; cutting copper and plastic piping; and removing carpet). It’s especially effective when making cuts in confined areas where a plunge cut or flush cut is your only option.


This post has been brought to you by The Home Depot. Its facts and opinions are those of

How To: Paint Plywood Floors

For projects where hardwood, tile, carpeting, or other flooring options just won't do, let a few simple coats of paint come to the rescue.

Painted Plywood Floors

Photo: JProvey

For our newly renovated attic, we’d wanted solid wood flooring, but that idea, it turned out, wasn’t practical: The attic floor is out of level—so much so that it’s actually wavy. Back to the drawing board we went. Laminates were out of the running, because we feared ending up with the spongy feel common to many floating floors. Other materials merited consideration, but wall-to-wall carpeting seemed like the answer.

It wasn’t long into our search before we realized that nice carpet costs a lot. In perusing hundreds of samples, we compared weights, studied density, thought about textures, scrutinized colors, examined backings, puzzled over padding, and became really confused by the sheer variety of fiber types out there. Plus, we found it nearly impossible to compare sellers accurately, because different companies have different pricing schemes.

Related: How To: Stencil a Floor

Finally, we opted for a “green” carpet, a product derived largely from recycled plastic bottles. The attic conversion had proved such a long and challenging process that we were comforted by the knowledge that installing the carpet would be quick and painless. But then we got the estimate: $2,000! That’s when we ditched the idea of wall-to-wall carpeting and headed over to the paint department of the home center.

We decided to prime and paint the plywood floor, strategically placing area rugs to cozy things up. The total cost? About $250—50¢ per square foot—and that includes paintbrushes and rollers, wood putty, and other small items. Note that our project started out with good-quality plywood, but if yours is in bad shape, add a new layer of 3/8-inch A-C plywood. For a space likely to witness a lot of wear, choose hardwood plywood.

- Palm sander and 120-grit disks
- Wet/dry vac
- Putty knife and patching compound
- 12-inch roller frame and at least two roller covers
- Extension pole
- 3-inch paintbrush
- Primer
- Porch and floor enamel


Painted Plywood Floors - Patching

Photo: JProvey

First, make sure the plywood flooring is firmly attached to the joists below. Then fill all the nail holes and joints in the surface with patching compound. At this point, it’s smart to ensure that the space in which you are working has adequate ventilation (in other words, set up a fan in the window).


Painted Plywood Floors - Sanding

Photo: JProvey

Sand the plywood to whatever smoothness you want. For a larger area, we might have gone through the trouble of renting a floor sander, but here it took about as much time and was cheaper to use a random-orbit sander, fitted with 120-grit disks. Complement the palm sander with a wet/dry vac in order to minimize dust. For a low-mess job, run the vacuum intermittently as you finish sanding sections of the floor surface.


Painted Plywood Floors - Priming

Photo: JProvey

With a paint roller attached to an extension pole, apply two coats of primer to the plywood floor. Everyone has his own favorite primer; mine is pigmented shellac, because it dries quickly and provides a good base for the top coat. Depending on the size or layout of the room in which you are working, it may be more convenient—or in some cases, strictly necessary—to prime the floor one section at a time.


Painted Plywood Floors - Save Cleaning Time

Photo: JProvey

We coated our plywood floor in enamel paint, which comes only in a satin finish. If you want a semi-gloss or glossy look, you can use that type of paint, but you must protect it with a layer of water-based polyurethane. When it comes to applying your coats, a 12-inch roller speeds the job, while a 3-inch brush is good for cutting in at corners. If you pause during the process, wrap your painting tools in plastic to save on cleaning time.


Painted Plywood Floors - Completed

Photo: JProvey

Apply the paint as evenly as possible, as if you were doing a wall, allowing each coat to dry completely before continuing. Finish off sections with smoothing strokes, rolled in the same direction, before the paint dries (the roller should be moist but not loaded with paint). Allow the paint to cure for several days before moving in furniture, but in most climates you can walk on your new floor, in socks, within a few hours.