Category: Tools & Workshop


Buyer’s Guide: Flashlights

If it’s time for a new torch, learn the basics of bulbs, beams, batteries, and more before heading to the store. Then, read on for our top picks to get the right light to suit your needs.

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Shopping for the Best Flashlight

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Battery-operated, hand-held flashlights have been around since 1898 and have come a long way since. These household must-haves—crucial in power outages, helpful for late-night security checks, and valuable when trying to find something under the bed—are not only brighter and more dependable than ever, they’ve also become more compact and lightweight. So whether you need a beacon for your bedside table, glove compartment, utility drawer, or emergency kit, here’s all the info you need to find the best flashlight at the best price.

MAKING SENSE OF FLASHLIGHT PACKAGING

Shopping for the Best Flashlight - A Buyer's Guide

Photo: istockphoto.com

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rates flashlights by their light output, battery runtime, beam distance, and beam intensity. When browsing the flashlight aisle at your hardware store, you’ll notice that every package bears a series of ratings. Understanding what these ratings mean is key to locating the best flashlight to meet your needs.

Light Output. You can still find a few flashlights with incandescent, krypton-type bulbs, but the vast majority of today’s models feature LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs that produce brighter beams over greater distances. The amount of light a flashlight produces is measured in “lumens.” A flashlight producing 25 lumens is sufficient for reading a book under the covers, while 200 lumens will illuminate the corners of an average size yard. Need more? Flashlights with over 1,000 lumens are available; just don’t aim them toward your neighbor’s windows at night!

Beam Distance and Type. Flashlight packages tell how far the beam will go and what sort of beam it is—both important considerations. The distance a beam will shine is given in meters. For instance, a beam distance of 200 meters is equal to just over 650 feet. There are also two types of beams. A “flood” beam lights up a wide area, while a “spot” beam produces a narrower stream of light that travels a greater distance. Some flashlights allow you to toggle between a flood beam and a spot beam as needed.

Battery Runtime. With more intense and powerful light output comes the need for longer battery runtimes—after all, a high-lumen flashlight won’t do you much good on a weekend camping trip if the batteries run out in two hours. The more powerful the beam, the more quickly the batteries will drain. Fortunately, many flashlights today use rechargeable batteries. They cost a bit more than disposables but will save money over time if you use the flashlight frequently.

Waterproof Ratings. The abbreviation “IPX” (for Ingress Protection) denotes that a flashlight will resist moisture and water, something to check for if you plan to take your torch on adventures where it might get wet.

• A rating of IPX-4 means the flashlight should be okay if gets splashed by a little water.
• A rating of IPX-7 indicates the flashlight should survive being submerged for up to half an hour.
• A rating of IPX-8 indicates that the flashlight will still be operable after being submerged for up to four hours.

THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST

After thoroughly comparing flashlight reviews from consumers and publishers alike, we’ve rounded up three of the most highly-rated models available today to help you find the best flashlight for all of your needs. Check out the top picks:

 

Best Flashlight - Streamlight ProTac HL

Photo: amazon.com

Streamlight ProTac HL ($73)
Ranking among Wired.com’s top choices for compact flashlights, the Streamlight ProTac HL packs a ton of features into a pocket-sized powerhouse. Made of impact-resistant anodized aircraft aluminum, it weighs less than 6 ounces, measures only 5.4 inches in length, and comes with a canvas holster. Its adjustable light output lets you crank beam intensity all the way up to 600 lumens or tone it down to a discrete 33 lumens. The ProTac features a no-fumble, push-button end-switch for easy on-and-off operating. At full beam intensity, the ProTac operates for approximately 1.5 hours before needing to recharge its lithium batteries; at its lowest output, batteries will last up to 18 hours. Satisfied buyers on Amazon.com give the Streamlight ProTac 4.5 stars for its super-bright light and small size, making it a great flashlight for evening walks. Available on Amazon

 

Best Flashlight - NITECORE P12 1000-Lumen Waterproof Tactical Flashlight

Photo: amazon.com


NITECORE P12 1000-Lumen Waterproof Tactical Flashlight ($72)
Patterned after military and law enforcement gear, the NITECORE P12 1000-Lumen Waterproof Tactical Flashlight wins top honors from Outdoors Magazine for its powerful beam that illuminates up to 232 meters. It comes with an IPX-8 waterproof rating and a tough, military-grade body. Its side-oriented power switch doubles as a battery life indicator. At maximum intensity, the NITECORP’s rechargeable batteries last approximately 1.5 hours; reduce the beam to 70 lumens and battery runtime can last up to 28 hours. Among its best features is the ability to strobe an S.O.S. signal in emergency situations, and an included car-charger for recharging on the go, earning the NITECORP an impressive 4.3 Stars from Amazon buyers. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Flashlight - DEWALT 20-Volt Max Lithium-Ion LED Flashlight

Photo: homedepot.com

DEWALT 20-Volt Max Lithium-Ion LED Flashlight (starting at $39)
From a manufacturer well-known to DIYers, the DEWALT 20-Volt Max Lithium-Ion LED Flashlight earns a 4.7 star ranking by Home Depot buyers. This quality multipurpose flashlight weighs in at 9 ounces and measures 7.5 inches long, with a comfortable pistol-grip, and its 110 lumens is ideal for illuminating your yard at night. Yet perhaps its best feature—making it the perfect flashlight to stow in a toolbox—is a 120-degree pivoting head and stand-up base that let you direct the light where you need it (such as at under-sink plumbing) while leaving both hands free to work. A 20-volt max 3.0 Ah lithium-ion battery and charger, both sold separately at $99 each, are required—but if you own other battery-operated DEWALT tools, the batteries are interchangeable, so you’ll have nothing else to buy. Available at The Home Depot.


How To: Use a Stud Finder

Master this tool and technique, and you can rest assured that whatever you wall-mount—mirror, television, or shelves—won't be going anywhere.

How to Use a Stud Finder

Photo: istockphoto.com

When hanging heavy mirrors, bracing large furniture, wall-mounting a new television, or erecting shelving, you need to start with the sturdy support of a 2×4 wall stud. Sure, nailing into drywall alone may be sufficient for hanging light wall art, but these fasteners can cause the wall to crumble if weighed down too much—not like the wood studs that exist to hold up drywall. There’s too much at stake to be less than 100 percent certain of the location of the stud’s center. Why risk a kitchen shelf loaded with dishes or baking supplies crashing down at any moment because you miscalculated where to place the fasteners? Fortunately, stud finders are practically foolproof and even easier to use than the old-school stud-finding methods,which can come in handy in minor situations. Read on for how to use a stud finder for a worry-free wall-hanging project.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Stud finder
- Pencil
- Tape measure

Before You Begin
Get to know the kind of stud finder you picked up. Is it a magnetic stud finder or does it read the density of the wall? A magnetic stud finder will read screws and nails behind the wall, but whether or not these are dead-center still requires some guesswork. If your project is valuable or heavy, it’s best to use a center-finding density-reading stud finder that will show the edges of your studs. No matter which type you pick up at the home improvement store, how to use a stud finder doesn’t change—only the information is displayed differently.

How to Use a Stud Finder to Locate Studs

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Decide where you roughly want to hang your item. Know where the top should be and how far down it requires mounting. This is the height at which you want to search the wall for studs. Remove any nearby wall-mounted photos or other partly-metal objects that could interfere with readings on a magnetic stud finder and set them aside for now.

STEP 2
Ensure your stud finder batteries are fresh and functioning, as weak batteries can greatly distort readings. Also check to make sure the flat side of the stud finder (where you’ll see the contacts and usually some felt to protect the wall from scratches) is clean of debris and dust.

STEP 3
Studs are typically either 16 or 24 inches apart, so you’ll be looking for a stud somewhere within a two-foot span. Hold your stud finder flat against the wall, about 1 foot left of where you ideally want to drill.

Turn it on. Usually this is done with buttons mounted on the sides where you grip the tool. Now press a button to calibrate the stud finder; when the tool stops flashing or beeping, then it’s ready to go. (Check your manual for exactly how your stud finder is calibrated, as it varies.)

STEP 4
Slowly slide the stud finder to the right, horizontally, while keeping the unit flat on the wall.

STEP 5
When the stud finder alerts you to a stud—via a beep or flashing light, depending on the finder in question—retrace the last few inches with the unit, to double-check where the alert is occurring.

STEP 6
Mark the correct spot with your pencil. If you’re using a center-finding stud finder, you’ll be shown where the edges of the studs are. Mark each edge so that, when you go to drill or hammer into the stud, you’ll know where dead center is.

STEP 7
Don’t accept this alert as the end of your journey; instead, continue searching for the flanking studs 16 to 24 inches away from the initial mark following steps 3 through 6.

Even though your tool indicated that it located a stud right where you need it, a stud finder can signal false positives when there is metal piping or flashing or brackets within the wall. Make sure your alert wasn’t a false positive by also locating the studs on either side of the one on which you plan to mount your mirror, television, shelf bracket, or other heavy item.

Mark their locations upon finding them, and then measure. If, in fact, they are 16 or 24 inches apart, then you’ve found your center stud. Now you’re ready to hammer or drill as needed. Proceed carefully and precisely, and you’ll have no regrets.


How To: Remove a Broken Bolt

Don’t let a defunct fastener foul you up. Follow these steps to take it off neatly without damaging the threaded hole.

How to Remove a Broken Bolt from Wood

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In theory, metal bolts—headed fasteners with external threads that fit into suitable non-tapered nuts—can be removed and even reattached as needed. Unfortunately, when over-tightened or otherwise forced, bolts can seize and break, making them a challenge to remove. Stuck wondering how to remove a broken bolt? With the right gear and technique, a broken bolt can be extracted successfully to let you insert a new one.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Hammer
- Center punch
- Variable-speed reversible electric drill
- Left-handed drill bit
- Extraction drill bits kit
- Vise grip pliers
- Magnet and/or compressed air

How to Remove a Broken Bolt

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Place the center punch as close to the middle of the broken bolt as possible. Hit it squarely with the hammer to create a starting point for drilling a pilot hole. A precise pilot hole is critical to help you to avoid damaging the threads of the broken bolt when you extract it. If the threads on either the bolt or the bolt hole are damaged, it may make bolt removal impossible. Furthermore, if the threading on the bolt hole is damaged, you may be unable to use a new bolt once the old one is extracted.

STEP 2
Check the table on your extraction kit to select the proper-sized left-handed drill bit to make a pilot hole in this broken bolt. If you’re picking up a kit for the job, invest in quality; the last thing you need is a cheap bit breaking during this process.

Set your drill on reverse and as slow a speed as possible (ideally, 20 RPM), and insert the left-handed drill bit. The torque of drilling in reverse (i.e., counter-clockwise) will prevent you from further tightening the threads on the bolt. Now, place the drill bit on the punch mark you made and, holding the drill securely, slowly reverse-drill a small pilot hole in the bolt, about ¼-inch deep. Hopefully, reverse-drilling your pilot hole will loosen the bolt enough to let you use vise grip pliers to remove the bolt. Remember, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey”—turn the bolt left (counter-clockwise) to remove it. If the bolt hasn’t loosened at all, proceed to Step 3 for extraction.

STEP 3
For a stubbornly entrenched bolt, you’ll need an extraction bit. Check your extraction kit’s table for the right size bit for the bolt size. The extraction bit is also a left-handed drill bit (but with a different purpose) so you’ll continue using the reverse drilling setting. Exchange the first bit for the extraction bit in your drill, insert it in the pilot hole, and very gently tap your drill and the bit snuggly into place with a hammer.

STEP 4
Still using a very slow reverse-drilling setting, such as 20 RPM, begin drilling into the pilot hole. Slow and gentle is critical here: The bit is likely made of hardened steel, and if it breaks off during this process, you’ll face an even more challenging extraction. The broken bolt should soon “grab” onto the extraction bit while reverse drilling, and begin extracting. Continue slowly and steadily until the entire bolt has been fully extracted, ideally salvaging the threading so you want can put a new bolt in. Phew!

STEP 5
Any metal shavings or filings left in the threaded hole must be removed before inserting a new bolt. Set a powerful magnet over the hole to attract the loose bits, or use compressed air to blast the threading clean. Don’t skip this step or a new bolt could seize or sheer off.

The tried-and-tested method you just learned ought to safely remove any broken bolt, while ensuring you can later reuse the hole to insert a new one. If not, contact a local welding shop, which ought to have the skills and tools to remove a broken bolt. And remember, insert all bolts slowly and carefully in the future, to avoid seizing and the top of the bolt snapping off.


Buyer’s Guide: Fire Starters

Light the grill or fireplace fast with a single flammable pellet or package! We guarantee you'll warm up fast to any of these 7 top-rated fire starters.

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Best Fire Starter for Lighting a Fire

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While a toasty fire is a welcome addition to any chilly evening, wrestling with wet wood or crumpled-up newspapers to get the first flames going—and the wait time that follows—is not so much. You’ll eventually get something more than a smoking, smoldering pile of timber, but wouldn’t it be better to go right to a roaring blaze? That’s where fire starters come in.

Originally marketed and sold to the specialty camping, hunting, and fishing crowd, commercial fire starters are now a must-have accessory for anyone with a fireplace, wood stove, fire pit, chiminea, hibachi, food smoker, or even a trusty old-fashioned charcoal grill. Sure, you could fashion your own homemade fire starters from used dryer lint, cardboard egg cartons and candle wax, but commercial fire starters are fairly inexpensive and much less of a hassle than making your own. And since fire starters are readily available at hardware stores, home centers, and garden shops, there’s really no reason not to keep a case or two on hand throughout the year, to be ready whenever you need get the grill going or want to relax in the warm glow of the firelight.

Not all fire starters are created equal, however. Before you buy in bulk, mind these considerations—and product recommendations—to make sure you get the best burn for your buck.

Size matters. Fire starters are handy to have around, but the last thing you want is a large box that rivals your stack of firewood detracting from the attractive environment you’ve created around your fireplace. Fortunately, some of the best-reviewed fire starters are lightweight and compact, ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length, since most were originally developed to be tucked into a hiker’s backpack. Typically sold in cases of 12 or 24, these pocket-sized pouches, pods, or cubes can be stored in plain site in a basket or tucked out of sight.

Look for lengthy burn time. Highly flammable, fire starters are meant to speed through the painstaking process of starting a fire with wet wood, charcoal, or even coal alone by providing a persistent flame that can then catch on nearby kindling. To do so, the fire starter has to burn long enough to actually get the fire established. The best fire starter burns from 10 to 30 minutes, ensuring that you achieve a robust blaze.

The nose knows. A big barrier to the adoption of early, camping-oriented fire starters for home use was the smell. Older fire starters were impregnated with flame-inducing chemicals that smelled awful. Today’s best fire starters are nearly odorless—a big plus for using fire starters as an alternative to lighter fluid when starting the grill or food smoker.

Pick what’s best for the planet. You’re not the only one who benefits from abandoning fire starters that utilize noxious chemicals. The best fire starter burns clean thanks to environmentally-friendly flammable materials, be it wood waste (sawdust or shavings), non-toxic wax, recycled paper, waste textile fibers—or, for fireplace purists, all-natural fatwood. Fortunately, you won’t have to look too hard: Nearly all commercial fire starters have no byproducts or waste, because the paper packaging burns up right along with the fire starter. Plus, using fire starters typically results in faster and more complete ignition, thereby reducing emissions of particulate matter and carbon monoxide.

Brightest of the Bunch

We’ve done the dirty work for you and scouted the market for the handy nuggets, cubes, and packages worth stashing by the grill or fireplace. Keep reading for which options have been reviewed as the best fire starter in the business by consumers who have tried them all—as well as where you can stock up.

 

Best Fire Starter - Light-a-Fire by Vision Home Products

Photo: amazon.com

Light-a-Fire by Vision Home Products, $17.99 for 30
Listed as Amazon’s “Best All-Natural Fire Starter,” these pods received 4.9 out of 5 stars from customers who praised the compact cubes for being “remarkable,” “simple,” and “easy and safe to use.” Only one pod from the bucket supply of 30 is needed to instantly light a grill, campfire, or fireplace, and it will burn for 15 minutes to ensure your fire roars. Made from wood shavings and food-grade wax, these pods are totally odorless, non-toxic, and environmentally safe. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Zip Premium All Purpose Wrapped Fire Starters

Photo: amazon.com

Zip Premium All Purpose Wrapped Fire Starter, $4.84 for 12
These individually-wrapped fire starters are formulated to light in even the most difficult and damp conditions, earning them praise as a “surefire way to start a fire” and 4.8 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers. The cube design was formulated specifically to burn hotter for longer, up to 18 minutes of burn time. The cubes are safe, odorless, and convenient—just light the wrapper to see. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarters

Photo: amazon.com

Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarter, $4.99 for 12
This multipurpose fire starter ignites firewood or charcoal fast and burns for 20 minutes, garnering 4.5 out of 5 stars from Home Depot shoppers, who rave that it’s “long-lasting, so you only need one.” The small, pocket-sized logs create a clean burn—odorless and perfect for tailgating, campfires, or a quiet evening in front of the fireplace. Simply light the paper wrapper, and you’re on your way to a comfy fire. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Duraflame Firestart Firelighters

Photo: amazon.com

Duraflame Firestart Firelighters, $20.30 for 24
Well known for manufacturing colorful fire logs, Duraflame also secured a solid reputation for its fire starters, which are rated 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon and 4.7 out of 5 stars on Home Depot. The 6-ounce, individually-wrapped fire starters made from blend of wax and renewable, recycled biomass fiber ignite easily with a single match and burn up to 30 minutes, long enough to start even stubborn wood fires. Consumers even say, “they work so well, you can cut them in half.” Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Lightning Nuggets

Photo: lowes.com

Lightning Nuggets, $10.99 for 35
Just one small nugget is all it takes to light a fire, earning the product 4.5 out of 5 stars from Lowes shoppers. Consumers called it “the easiest way to get charcoal started,” and even raved that there’s “no more messing with newspaper or kindling.” Each Lightning Nugget burns for 15 minutes, thanks to a blend of all-natural, recycled, and non-toxic flammable materials, and this 2-pound supply provides enough to ignite the next 35 fires in your future. Available at Lowes.

 

Best Fire Starter - QuickFire Instant Fire Starters

Photo: amazon.com

QuickFire Instant Fire Starters; $9.99 for 25
These innovative compressed oil pouches are 100 percent waterproof with an infinite shelf life, and, come time to use them, the packaging material itself acts as a wick. Light and corner and a pack’s 10-minute burn will effortlessly start fireplaces, grills, campfires, fire pits, wood burning stoves, and more—all without odor or toxicity. Amazon users rated these fire starters 4.3 out of 5 stars for their “speed,” “convenience,” and “easy of use.” Available from Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - L.L. Bean Fatwood

Photo: llbean.com

Fatwood; $39.95 for 25 pounds
L.L. Bean calls this found-in-nature fire starter “the most efficient kindling,” and its customers don’t disagree. Fatwood—typically sticks cut from the stumps of pine trees that contain a high concentration of natural resin—garners 4.4 out of 5 stars from reviewers. It ignites quickly, burns cleanly, and smells naturally fragrant. The resin in the sticks burns extremely hot for 10 to 15 minutes, even when wet, to get the fire going in no time. Available at L.L. Bean.


3 Tips for Smarter Security in the Digital Age

As more and more of our lives are lived online—both on the Web and through smarter technology throughout the home—our personal information has become more vulnerable to thieves. Help protect your identity by following these three safety measures.

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Smarter Home Security for Connected Households

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Once upon a time, the only type of theft a person had to worry about was the old-fashioned kind, in which someone might physically break into a house and steal material possessions that aren’t theirs to take. But as life has become increasingly dependent on the digital realm, and every company, service, and product pushes you to connect via a new app, threats of identity theft and online fraud have risen exponentially, changing the ways in which we keep our lives and resources safer. You might have a state of the art home security system, but your identity needs protection, too. Luckily, although thieves today may be more tech-savvy than ever before, so are the tools we can use to help protect our assets. Read on to learn three key tips for being smart about security in a digitally insecure age.

1. Keep your machines clean.
A 2015 survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance and ESET, an antivirus software developer, reports that one in five Americans already uses a mobile device to access at least one device in the home—say, a thermostat, cable box, or lighting system—remotely. Moreover, nearly every household these days is connected to the Internet, probably through its own Wi-Fi network. We’ve entered the age of the Internet of Things, when a growing network of physical objects—from phones and watches to home security systems and cars—is embedded with technology that enables these objects to connect and exchange data with one another and with us. So, it’s important to take control of that data and the things that collect it.

Stronger Home Security for Smart Homes

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you’re using devices and apps to control your home’s temperature, security, lighting, or television recordings, start by programming those apps with strong passwords, then keep your login information (both usernames and passwords) close to the vest and your router secure at all times.

It’s also crucial to keep your software up to date. “Updating the software, apps, and operating systems you use in a timely manner will help ensure that the latest security issues will have been addressed,” says Paige Hanson, chief of identity education at LifeLock, a leading identity theft protection company. In other words, the fact that you bought or downloaded something and gave it a password isn’t enough on its own; indeed, the more technology you use, the more vulnerable you are. By making sure you’re not falling behind the times, you can see that you aren’t leaving yourself open to security breaches. Hackers work around the clock to steal your information, so diligence is key.

2. Pay attention to what you’re sharing (and who you’re sharing it with).
In this era of social media, online banking, and constant connectivity, it’s still easy to forget the full reach of the Internet. When you post a photo to Facebook, you may think you’re simply sharing it with a few dozen or hundred acquaintances, but you may in fact be sharing it with anyone and everyone who happens to click on your profile—identity thieves included. The same goes for listing your phone number, home address, and other sensitive information on networking sites that feel personal but are often very public. Privacy settings on social media channels are a constantly moving target, so it’s essential to check all your profiles on a regular basis to ensure that your audience is as limited as you’d like it to be, and that if something changes, you’re sharing only information you’re comfortable having out there. Set a monthly (or even more frequent) calendar appointment with yourself to run such a quick security check.

Pay particular attention to your smart devices, many of which collect more data than you may realize. Take time to read up on each device and understand how your information is being stored and used. Can it be sold to third parties? What happens if you decide to discontinue its use? Knowledge is power when you’re deciding how and where to allow your data to be shared, so do your homework by reading the fine print and diving into user reviews before committing to a new technology that might not have your best interests in mind.

3. Invest in an identity theft prevention system.
If you really want to ensure that your assets—from your name and social security number to the very last penny on your credit card balance—have protection, it may be wise to explore subscribing to an identity theft protection service like LifeLock. While no one can prevent identity theft or monitor all transactions at all businesses, LifeLock provides a wide range of services, from proactive identity alerts and threat detection to remediation services. The company leverages an intricate theft prevention system based on unique data, science, and patented technology to offer protection that goes beyond the scope of simpler services like basic credit monitoring.

“At the core, our products help monitor identity-related incidents, alert members to suspicious activity that is detected within our network, and address ID theft-related issues on behalf of victims,” Hanson says. “In the event that identity theft occurs, LifeLock provides an award-winning member service team,” she continues, including any necessary lawyers, investigators, and accountants, all funded up to $1 million as part of the company’s $1 Million Service Guarantee. And, depending on your level of membership, you can replace anywhere from $25,000 to $1 million in stolen funds unable to be recovered.

Investing in any level of the services offered by LifeLock sooner rather than later is a smart move, especially if you plan to use more technological devices in your home—and, thus, share more of your personal information—in the future. As smart homes become the norm rather than the exception, it’s wise to set a system in place that captures and monitors everything you add, the moment you add it, from here on out.

The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly applies here. Rather than disease agents you’re trying to keep at bay, however, we’re talking about equipping yourself against high-tech thieves who are determined to take what you’ve earned. By entrusting an expert to stay two steps ahead of them on your behalf, you’re free to devote your time and energy to the people and activities you enjoy—all the while confident that your home’s technology, your assets, and your identity are being diligently protected.

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of LifeLock. The opinions and text are all mine.


How To: Use a Screw Extractor

Have you ever just been zipping through a project only to run up against a broken screw or stripped screw head? No problem! Pick up a screw extractor, and you'll be picking up right where you left off in no time.

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How to Use a Screw Extractor

Photo: istockphoto.com

At some point in the never-ending list of do-it-yourself projects, nearly every handy homeowner encounters a stripped screw—and this small obstacle can turn even the most straightforward home improvement project into a drawn-out affair. Stripped screws commonly occur when you’re dealing with worn or weathered fasteners, such as those found on door hinges, cabinet hinges, and door strike plates. And, once you’ve managed to damage or warp a screw head, it’s almost impossible to get that screw out with a common Phillips-head or flat-blade (slotted) screwdriver. Even worse, the odds of removing the screw decrease each time the screwdriver slips in the slots. Enter a seasoned DIYer’s go-to tool: a screw extractor.

While the specific design of this inexpensive implement varies, it most commonly takes the form of a tapered drill bit with a reversed thread. When you put it to use, the extractor penetrates a hole punched or drilled in the top of the screw and its reversed threads grab hold so that the screw can be twisted out. A selection of screw extractors can be found in most hardware stores—whether brick and mortar or online—available in many different sizes to accommodate a wide assortment of screw sizes. Once you’ve snagged one as an immediate fix (and future repair tool), read on for the guidelines on how to use a screw extractor and save the day.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Screw extractor
- Safety glasses
- Center punch
- Hammer
- Drill bits
- Variable-speed reversible drill
- Thread cutting oil
- Penetrating oil (optional)
- Wrench

STEP 1
Using a screw extractor entails drilling, striking, and cutting screws, all of which can potentially send small shards of metal flying. To prevent eye injury, wear safety glasses.

How to Use a Screw Extractor

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 2
Align the center punch with the center of the stripped or broken screw, and lightly strike it with a hammer. You want to create a small indentation in the center of the screw to help guide the drill bit.

STEP 3
Select a drill bit that is smaller in diameter than the screw or fastener, and secure it to the power drill. Apply a small drop of thread cutting oil to the head of the broken screw for easier drilling. If the stripped screw is rusted or affixed to metal, place a small drop of penetrating oil on the threads to help loosen its grip.

STEP 4
Align the drill bit with the punched spot on the screw head. Drill slowly and carefully, making sure to keep the drill and bit aligned straight with the screw. Drill about 1/8 to 1/4 inch into the screw head; the depth will depend on the size of the screw extractor you’re using.

STEP 5
Finally, insert the tip of your handy screw extractor into the bored hole. How to use a screw extractor will depend on the particular model you’ve chosen, but you’ll likely employ either a wrench or drill to turn the tool counterclockwise. As you turn the screw extractor, its threads will draw it in until it bites into the hole. Once you feel the extractor take hold, continue turning counterclockwise and pull to completely remove the stripped or broken screw.


The Dos and Don’ts of Sharpening a Chainsaw

The crucial tool of woodcutters just won’t cut it when it gets dull. Learn the know-how you need to hone it here.

Sharpening a Chainsaw - Do's and Don'ts

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether you’re a timber worker or you’re just interested in cutting your own firewood, it’s vital to maintain a professional attitude towards the use and maintenance of your chainsaw. As dozens of cutter teeth chew through dense wood, they’re bound to become dull, reducing the tool’s effectiveness and making it more physically demanding for you to control. Regular sharpening, accomplished by filing, will keep your chainsaw purring like a very rugged kitten. Before you attempt the task, read on for the ways and means of proper chainsaw sharpening.

Sharpening a Chainsaw - Do's and Don'ts

DO Study the Sawchain

Familiarize yourself with the parts of the sawchain by studying the detailed diagrams in your owner’s manual. In addition to links and straps you’ll see numerous cutters, the focus of the sharpening process. Each cutter has two sharp areas, one on the edge of the top plate and the other on an outside plate where it intersects the top plate. In the middle of the cutter is a notch, known as a “gullet,” and on the other end is a hook-like protrusion. The hook, sometimes called a “raker,” is a depth gauge that determines how much of a bite the cutters take out of the wood when the saw is operating. Sharpening a chainsaw’s cutters and filing the depth gauges allows for optimal cutting. Keep in mind that the shape and size of chainsaw cutters vary slightly from model to model but all are honed in the same manner.

 

DON’T Wait for Dust

The old rule was to sharpen a chainsaw when it produced more wood dust than wood chips while in operation. The smarter move is to sharpen the cutters before that point. If you adopt a routine of sharpening every second or third time you fill the chainsaw with fuel, the sharpening process will be minimal and you’ll never have a dull sawchain.

 

DO Stabilize Your Chainsaw

Hold the chainsaw steady on a mounted vice while honing the cutters. If you’re going to be in the woods all day, consider a tailgate-mounted vice that will allow you to stabilize the saw to sharpen on-site with ease.

 

Sharpening a Chainsaw - Do's and Don'ts

Photo: istockphoto.com

DON’T Forget Protective Wear

The sawchain, with its dozens of sharp cutters, can scratch or cut bare skin, so put on heavy-duty work gloves, preferably leather, before you start. You’ll also need a good pair of safety goggles to protect your eyes from shavings.

 

DO Use the Correct File Diameter

A round file is most commonly used to sharpen sawchain cutters, and the standard diameter of most files used for this purpose range from 4mm to 6mm. But not all sawchains are the same size. Check your owner’s manual for the optimal file diameter to sharpen your sawchain.

 

DON’T Leave Your File Behind

A lot of timber cutting is done away from home, so remember to bring your sharpening tools with you. Otherwise, you’ll be heading back before you’ve filled your pickup bed with firewood.

 

DO File in One Direction

To get the sharpest cutting edge, file from the inside edge of the cutter, toward the outside edge. Sawchains feature both right and left cutters, alternating from one side of the sawchain to the other. To file the individual cutters, position yourself on one side of the saw bar and file the cutters on the opposite side of the sawchain. For instance, if you’re standing on the left side of the saw bar, you’ll file the cutters on the right side of the sawchain. When you finish with one side, move to other side of the saw bar and file the remaining cutters.

 

DON’T Pull the File–Push It

A round file sharpens in one direction only—on the stroke away from you. To sharpen the cutting corner (the spot on a cutter where the sharp top and side plates intersect), hold the file horizontally and follow the factory angle of the cutting corner as you lightly but firmly push the file. Then lift the file up to return to the starting position and push it again. Use the same number of filing strokes, and the same degree of pressure, to file every cutter. It may take as few as two strokes per cutter to hone the cutting corner, but it could take more if the cutters are very dull.

 

DO Use a Chainsaw Sharpening Guide

If you’re not confident filing the factory cutter angles, use a sharpening guide. These inexpensive tools resemble rulers and feature a bracket on the bottom that holds a round file. Handheld models go for under $10, but if you’d like more help, opt for a guide that clamps securely on the chain bar. The guides come with pre-marked lines that allow you to align the file at the correct sharpening angle, usually around 30- or 35-degrees. Check your owner’s manual for the correct filing angle for your sawchain.

 

DON’T Forget the Depth Gauges

Depth gauges also require filing, though not as frequently as the cutters. Over time, both sawing and filing take a toll on the cutters, wearing them down until the depth gauges (which stick up in front on each cutter) are too high. This can make sawing ineffective, because the depth guides actually block the cutters. You can file freehand, straight across, with a flat file, or purchase a depth gauge guide that fits between the cutters and features an opening that lets you file the top of the depth gauges. The top of the depth gauges should be just a hair—0.025-inches—below the top of the cutter’s cutting corner.

 

Sharpening a Chainsaw - Do's and Don'ts

Photo: istockphoto.com


Cool Tools: The Gentler Alternative to a Pry Bar

Neatly remove door casing, baseboard, chair-rail molding, and more—without damaging walls in the process.

Trim Puller - The Better Pry Bar Alternative

Photo: trimpuller.com

Removing trim is one of the peskiest aspects of a deconstruction job. Rotating through and manipulating various clunky, generic implements—crowbar, pry bar, chisel—is a total time suck that inevitably leaves you with damaged walls and trashed trim. You end up having to repair surfaces, and you can forget about reinstalling or repurposing that old molding that you just ruined. To the rescue: Zenith Industries’ new Trim Puller, which is engineered to easily and efficiently take off baseboard, chair rail, door casing, decorative trim—you name it—in a way that protects walls and preserves molding. And while you’ll love how it tackles trim, you’ll also discover plenty of other uses for this tough, sturdy beauty. So stop wasting time and money—read on to learn why the Trim Puller is your new go-to demo and restoration hand tool.

Zenith Industries' Trim Puller

Photo: trimpuller.com

Smart, Specific Design
With the Trim Puller, there’s no more sweating over multipurpose tools that perform poorly. Its business end is four inches of heat-treated carbon steel that’s not just wider but also larger and flatter than any crowbar or pry bar, providing three points of contact instead of just one. Its ground bevel edge drives cleanly between the trim and the wall, while an integrated center wedge cleanly separates the trim from the wall, leaving both in good shape.

Quick and Comfortable
The Trim Puller makes short work of an otherwise tiresome, potentially painful and costly chore. Simply line it up along the seam where the trim meets the wall and hit the top with a hammer or mallet, creating a gap as the wedge drives in between the two, automatically beginning to separate the trim from the wall. Working at intervals (leveraging from side to side if necessary), gently separate the molding from the surface. Not only do you waste zero time switching between tools as you go, but thanks to the tool’s wide contact area and greater leveraging ability, it takes just a few swings of the hammer for the trim to pop off intact. Trim Puller also has excellent “feel”—solid but not too heavy—and its comfort-grip, impact-absorbing EPDM handle means you’ll barely feel the vibration of your hammer blows. The task goes so smoothly, your hands and knees won’t know you’re doing demo!

Trim Is Just the Beginning!
The more remodeling you do, the more indispensable you’ll find the Trim Puller. For instance, its leveraging abilities make it highly effective for taking off siding and flooring, knocking off ceramic tiles, and lifting carpet tack strip and edging. You can rely on it to detach decorative panels from doors or trim around windows without risk of damage, and remove countertops whether they’ve been nailed or glued in place. Plus, thanks to its center wedge, the Trim Puller can even be used as a temporary shim when leveling base cabinets for installation.

A tool tailored to make one of your least-favorite demo duties easier, that has multiple uses besides? Now that’s a remodeling must-have.

Purchase a Trim Puller from Zenith Industries; $29.95, shipping included.

This post has been brought to you by Zenith Industries. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Cool Tools: Get a Mess-Free Bead of Caulk Every Time

Has worn-out caulk around the tile, tub, or sink left you—and your home—feeling exposed? Remove and reapply caulk with ease using this dynamic duo from Hyde Tools!

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How to Remove and Apply Caulk Around a Sink

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether you’re filling cracks along the kitchen sink or closing up gaps around a drafty window frame, you can count on caulk to seal the deal. But despite its prowess in shutting out air- and waterborne intruders, such as dust, mold, and mildew, the filler is also notoriously difficult to remove without leaving behind unsightly residue, and apply without creating messy lines. The next time you find yourself in this sticky situation, don’t waste time with those traditional caulk scrapers and finishing tools that can damage the underlying surface or leave you with less-than-perfect results. There is an easier way to achieve a clean finish, and it’ll set you back just 5 bucks. We’re talking about the Caulk-Away™ and Caulk-Rite™ tools from HYDE, sold together in one convenient package.

How to Remove and Apply Caulk with HYDE Caulk Away and Caulk Rite

Photo: hydetools.com

Easy, Damage-Free Caulk Removal
One of the most important tenets of applying caulk is that new caulk does not adhere well to old caulk. This means it’s an absolute must to completely strip surfaces of old sealant before applying fresh caulk. In the past, you may have risked harming your tile, window frame, or countertop by chipping away at the old bead with traditional metal caulk scrapers, or filled your home with fumes from chemical caulk removers. The gentle, all-plastic Caulk-Away™ tool lets handy homeowners breathe easy. They can forgo chemical removers, instead accomplishing the job with a razor-sharp tool that will leave sensitive surfaces—even tile, marble, or glass—unscathed while still removing silicone, latex, or acrylic caulk with ease.

Simply position the scraping hook of the Caulk-Away™ tool against the old caulk, and loosen it using a push-pull motion. Then, flip the tool around so that the central blade slips underneath the bead of caulk and cleanly lift off the sealant—no solvent required. The flexible wings flanking the blade let the tool act as a putty knife, allowing you to get at even hard-to-reach corners or grooves around tiles, fixtures, plumbing, and pipes as well as the caulking around showers, tubs, sinks, windows, doors, and other fixtures—both indoors and out.

Fast, Professional-Quality Application
With your tub—and your hands—free of caulk and no worse for wear, you can recaulk surfaces in a jiffy too. First, apply silicone, latex, or acrylic caulk to the surface via a caulking gun or squeeze tube, just as you usually do, but then swap your old ways of smoothing with a spoon (or, even messier, your finger!) for a more precise method. The second component of this caulking kit, the Caulk-Rite™ application tool, rapidly creates an air- and watertight seal for you, without marring or contaminating the uncured caulk.

Like its counterpart and unlike its metal-tipped competitors, the plastic Caulk-Rite™’ applicator won’t scrape the enamel from surrounding surfaces. By gently gliding the tip over the fresh bead, you’ll achieve a perfectly distributed bead of caulk without residue, edge marks, or splitting, and you won’t end up wasting time redoing your work. When you’ve wrapped up your professional-looking job, go ahead and clean up, free from worries that your freshly applied caulk will split or come loose—just be sure not to wash up in a sink you’ve just caulked until the sealant has cured!

Purchase the Caulk-Away™ and Caulk-Rite™ Combo Pack from HYDE at Home Depot, $4.97

 

This post has been brought to you by Hyde Tools. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


The Secret to Sanding Almost Anything—Without All the Dust

One game-changing innovation from Hyde Tools and a few sanding techniques are all you need to give your walls and wood surfaces a smooth finish—without the worry of a dusty aftermath.

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Dust Free Sanding

Photo: hydetools.com

If you’ve ever finished drywall, you know that the sanding process releases lots of dust. Only moments after starting, your entire work space fills with a cloud so thick that you can barely see the wall on the other side of the room. Sanding wood cabinets or furniture before applying a fresh coat of paint or varnish may not create the same visibility issues, but the mess is similar. Moreover, any of these surfaces can release particulates that would be harmful if ingested—respiratory irritants in drywall joint compound, toxic chemicals found in wood finishes, and even contaminants like sap, mold, and fungus spores, depending on the condition of the wood. (The things we endure for a professionally smooth finish!) Whether you’re working on drywall or wood furniture, the good news is that with the following techniques and a secret weapon from Hyde Tools in your arsenal, you can reduce airborne sanding dust by up to 95 percent, making the job easier on you and your health.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Goggles
- Dust mask
- Plastic sheeting
- Drop cloth
- Wide painter’s tape
- HYDE Dust-Free Sponge Sander
- Sanding sponges in various grits
- Wet/dry vacuum
- Ladder
- Portable work light
- Drywall compound (optional)
- Putty knife (optional)
- Tack cloth

WHEN SANDING DRYWALL…

STEP 1
Although these next steps minimize dust while sanding, it’s smart to employ commonsense safeguards against those dust particles that do escape. By taking some simple precautions—donning a dust mask and goggles, draping plastic sheeting in open doorways, and spreading a drop cloth over carpeted or hardwood floors—you can virtually eliminate any risk to yourself, the flooring, and any nearby items.

Dust-Free Sanding - Sponge

Photo: hydetools.com

STEP 2
For the best results, enlist the HYDE Dust-Free Sponge Sander. The $15 hose attachment converts nearly any wet/dry vacuum into a sanding assistant that cleans as it goes. Use the tool’s adapter to securely connect it to the wet/dry suction outlet. (The adapter works with vacuum hoses that have 1¼-inch, 1½-inch, or 2½-inch openings.) Once the tool is attached, press a standard 3″ x 5″ sanding sponge into the rectangular casing at the other end of the hose.

Pro Tip: Most drywall sanding jobs can be successfully completed using medium- or fine-grit sanding sponges. Skip the large-grit sanding sponges, as they tend to leave grit streaks in the drywall compound.

STEP 3
Hold the yellow sanding end so that the sponge is flat against the wall, then turn on the wet/dry vacuum and begin working in a circular motion. As you sand, the vacuum sucks most of the dust into the tank through a narrow gap around the perimeter of the sanding sponge.

For the smoothest—and cleanest—results, use very light pressure and work at a medium speed. As you approach the centers of seams and joints, lighten up even more so that you’re using only enough pressure to remove ridges and bumps. If you find that dust is escaping around the edges of the sanding adapter, you’re sanding too quickly. Take your time. You’ll be glad you did!

Continue to sand the entire area, using a stepladder to reach the highest corners. Even though you’re entrusting your vacuum with the job of tidying up as you go, it’s also important to clean your vacuum’s filter frequently to prevent clogs caused by large amounts of drywall compound dust.

STEP 4
When you think you’ve finished, inspect your sanded surfaces. Since it’s difficult to spot rough areas of compound with overhead lighting alone, shine a bright handheld light, such as a portable work light, parallel to the joints to check for any irregularities. You may find that some areas need more sanding, or you may need to fill in indentations with spot applications of drywall compound and then sand those areas again.

Once you’ve determined that the surface is free of rough patches and gouges, you’re ready to prime the walls and then cover them with either paint or wallpaper. (With most of the mess already in your wet/dry vacuum, cleanup will be so minimal you won’t even consider it a step!)

WHEN SANDING WOOD AND CABINETRY…

STEP 1
Pull on a respirator mask and goggles to reduce the slight risk from any airborne wood dust that might escape the HYDE Dust-Free Sponge Sander. Your sanding experience should be virtually dust-free, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

STEP 2
Fasten the dust-free sander to your wet/dry vacuum at its suction outlet, and insert a sanding sponge into the opposite end. The sandpaper grit you choose will be essential to the success of your sanding job. It’s best to work in the following order:
• Large-grit sanding sponges smooth rough wood surfaces and remove surface coatings, such as old varnish.
• Medium-grit sanding sponges work well for smoothing stripped wood surfaces and unfinished wood cabinets and boards.
• Fine-grit sponges should be reserved for the final sanding step to achieve an extra-smooth surface.

STEP 3
Sand your wood surface in the same direction as the wood grain rather than against it, which can leave cross-sanding marks on the wood. As you work, the HYDE Dust-Free Sponge Sander directs the vast majority of wood dust around the edges of the sponge where your wet/dry vacuum can safely suck it away.

STEP 4
If the wood you’re sanding involves contoured trim and corner creases, remove the sanding sponge from its casing and sand those areas with just the sponge. The HYDE Dust-Free Sponge Sander works best on flat expanses of wood, such as cabinet doors and bookcase sides and shelves.

STEP 5
Finally, wipe a tack cloth over the sanded wood. This pass serves two purposes: First, any catching or snagging will alert you to a rough area that you need to sand a bit more. Also, the tack cloth can remove traces of dust not visible to the naked eye that might mar a smooth paint finish. But these swipes with the tack cloth will be just about all the cleanup you’ll need after your practically dust-free sanding job.

 

This post has been brought to you by Hyde Tools. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.