Category: Tools & Workshop


Bob Vila Radio: Prevent Electrical Shocks in Your Workshop

When setting up your workshop, don't overlook the crucial importance of electrical safety. By observing only a few initial precautions, you can go a long way toward steering clear of issues and incidents down the line.

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If you’re setting up a home workshop for your do-it-yourself projects, recognize that in a room with so many power tools, it’s only prudent to take steps toward preventing electrical shocks.

Workshop Electrical Safety Detail

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Listen to BOB VILA ON GROUND FAULT CIRCUIT INTERRUPTERS or read the text below:

For the best protection, choose electrical outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters, commonly known as GFCIs. If there’s a power leakage, GFCIs instantly cut off the current, keeping you from experiencing an unpleasant or potentially dangerous jolt.

Of course, DIYers must always uphold electricity safety best practices, with or without GFCIs in place. Be sensible in your decision-making. For instance, remember that it’s a much better idea to replace a damaged cord than to prolong its life by wrapping frayed areas in electrical tape. Meanwhile, only use cords that are rated to supply more than enough current for the tools you plan to use. Finally, don’t forget your workbench; if it’s metal, then it’s only prudent to make sure that it’s grounded. Here, hire an electrician to do the work of running a wire from the bench to an electrical subpanel.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Bob Vila Radio: Cleaning Reclaimed Wood

Salvaged wood often comes with an intriguing backstory and a unique appearance—but also with embedded dirt, dust, and debris. Here's how to clean the material before including it in your next project.

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Looking to add a sense of warmth and history to your home? For your next project, eschew stock lumber in favor of salvaged wood. Though it sometimes commands a higher price, you can still find weathered, character-rich old timber at an affordable cost in many parts of the country. Consider the material not only for the familiar applications—exposed beams and columns—but also for creative new uses like fireplace mantels and countertops.

How to Clean Reclaimed Wood

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Listen to BOB VILA ON USING SALVAGED WOOD or read the text below:

Typically, reclaimed boards are rough hewn and pocked with nooks and crannies. Especially when held in storage for a prolonged period of time, all those little crevices collect no small amount of dirt and debris. Therefore, the first thing to do is give the salvaged wood a thorough cleaning. The easiest way to dislodge the dirt is to use a pressure washer. Just be sure to turn the tool down to its lowest setting. That way, you avoid ruining the patina that gives the wood its special look. Remember to wash all sides, including the ends, and when you’re done, run a fun to facilitate the drying process. Finally, if desired, lightly sand the wood before getting to work.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Bob Vila Radio: Every DIYer Needs a Random Orbital Sander

Read on for the basics of a powerful yet precise tool useful for any number of building and repair projects, no matter your skill level or experience.

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If you’re looking to create a really smooth finish on woodwork, your best bet is to use a random orbital sander—a power tool that finely sands, rounds edges, and removes coats of paint or vanish, all without leaving gouges or swirls on the surface.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RANDOM ORBITAL SANDERS or read the text below:

The random orbital sander works in a unique way: It spins the sanding disk even while moving the disk in small ellipses. That way, no part of the sandpaper travels the same path in a given rotation. The result is that you can move the sander in any direction, including against the grain of the wood. Few power tools are easier or more satisfying to work with.

Disks usually attach to the sander by way of hook-and-loop fasteners or pressure-sensitive adhesives. Your local home center advise you on what grade of sanding disk to use for the job at hand. Note that while some random orbital sanders include a built-in container for dust, you should wear goggles and a mask anyway in order to protect your eyes and lungs.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Bob Vila Radio: Focus on Framing Fasteners

Builders owe a debt of gratitude to the inventor of framing fasteners. Not only do they simplify the arduous construction process, but they also make for stronger, more secure structures. Read on for the basics.

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If you’re framing new construction—a simple backyard deck, for example, or even an entire house—framing fasteners allow you to join two boards (two-by-fours or two-by-sixes) easily and, above all, securely.

What Is a Framing Fastener

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FRAMING FASTENERS or read the text below:

Made of zinc-coated sheet metal, framing fasteners usually include conveniently pre-drilled holes for screws or nails. Though they come in a wide variety of shapes, some are much more common than others. Perhaps most common are angle brackets. Also frequently used are joist hangers, which are similar to stirrups in design and application. Other types of framing fasteners help builders do such things as secure roofing rafters or mount vertical posts to horizontal beams.

Framing fasteners are especially important—indeed, often required—in geographical areas subject to extreme weather and natural disasters. That’s because they reinforce the structure, working to evenly distribute any stress that threatens its integrity. Stocking up? Save a considerable sum and be sure to buy in bulk.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Genius! The Emergency Essential You Can Make with Cardboard and a Can

Sure, you could buy a flashlight from the store—but not one like this! Put your skills to the test with this MacGyver-esque DIY for your toolkit.

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DIY Flashlight - Completed Project

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No matter who you are—Boy Scout, first-time renter, or veteran homeowner—the small but mighty flashlight is an invaluable addition to any toolkit. Portable light comes in handy for everything from maneuvering during a power outage to finding your remote in that dark abyss under the couch. So, why make it yourself when you can pick it up at the hardware store? Two reasons: cost and customization. When you make one from almost entirely of recycled and repurposed (read: free) materials, you can customize the color, grip, battery size, and weight of your flashlight. Lucky for us, Instructables user paul em deconstructs the tool into a handful of truly accessible parts—right down to the cereal box shell, aluminum can-turned-bulb holder, and some tin foil!

Want to follow in his footsteps? Start by prepping your recycled materials. Carefully cut down the side of your can, from top to bottom, and lop off both ends. Flatten out the curled sheet of aluminum that’s left, and you have the material for inside of your flashlight. Then cut out the back of the largest cereal box you have in recycling; when folded into a rectangle, it will house the whole contraption. This upcycling DIY comes with four templates to help you cut and fold both aluminum and cardboard pieces into the base of your soon-to-be-working flashlight. The folds will support your light bulb, hold two stacked batteries in place, and create an on-off switch for easy operation.

Pop the batteries in whenever you’re ready to head out and use it for an extended amount of time, like a weekend camping trip. While you may not actually earn a scout badge for this sustainable craft, you’ll gain a new appreciation for everything you can do with an empty cereal box, soda can, and a little ingenuity—plus a really cool flashlight.

FOR MORE: Instructables

DIY Flashlight - Pieces and Parts

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Bob Vila Radio: The Easy Way to Remove Stubborn Screws

Now and again, every do-it-yourselfer encounters a screw that just won't give up its grip. Rather than let a fixed-in-place fastener slow you down, go ahead and remove it, quickly and easily, using a simple handyman's helper. Learn more below.

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Stymied by a stripped screw, or a screw without a head? No worries! There’s a brilliant little tool that can help you remove a stubborn screw with ease. It’s known, appropriately, as a screw extractor.

Screw Extractors

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SCREW EXTRACTORS or read the text below:

Here’s how it works: First, you use a very small drill bit to bore into the screw. Next, insert the threaded end of the screw extractor into the pilot hole you’ve created. Finally, attach the opposite, square-shaped end of the extractor either to an electric drill or a T handle. When you turn the screw extractor, it digs further into the damaged screw, exerting counter-clockwise force that backs the screw out. Though screw extractors are one of the least costly extras you can add to your toolbox, they often prove priceless if and when you face a fastener that refuses to budge.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


All-Purpose Transfer Pumps Move Water with Ease

Though invaluable for cleaning up in a wet basement, these pumps are actually handy for a broad variety of household tasks. Learn the basics here.

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What Is a Transfer Pump?

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Sure, there may be calm before the storm, but afterward, once the dark clouds have given way to sunshine, there’s often the stress and labor of cleaning up—at least for those plagued by seemingly intractable drainage issues. You’ve checked and rechecked the gutters. You’ve shored up the foundation. Maybe you’ve even brought in an excavator to adjust the slope of your site. In short, you’ve consulted the experts and done everything right, yet your water woes persist. Indeed, for some homeowners there’s nothing left to do but deal swiftly and diligently with standing stormwater, both in and around the home. Sump pumps go a long way toward preventing basement floods, but for a versatile, all-purpose weapon in the war against moisture, you may want to consider arming yourself with a transfer pump.

Also sometimes known as utility pumps, transfer pumps perform one simple but critical function: They move water from one place to another. Straightforward though it may be, a transfer pump’s functionality proves handy in any number of ordinary homeowner situations, including but not limited to storm cleanup. If, for instance, you wanted to empty out your water heater for maintenance or repair purposes, a transfer pump would enable you to get the job done effectively and with minimal mess. Likewise, if your swimming pool cover had begun to sag under the weight of an oversize puddle, you could use a transfer pump to relocate the water to a storage container or, better yet, your thirsty lawn or garden. In other words, a transfer pump makes it easy to handle otherwise unwieldy watery tasks.

What Is a Transfer Pump? - Pony Product Isolated

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Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com, points out that transfer pumps’ designs are as varied as their potential applications. “Transfer pumps can be submersible or non-submersible, portable or permanently installed. And while many run on electricity, there are gas-powered and manually operated models as well.” Despite their differences, most transfer pumps operate in a broadly similar way, by creating a difference in pressure that pushes the water from the inlet to the outlet. Typically, a standard garden hose can be hooked up to either side (if not, use lengths of plastic tubing of the type you can find at any home center). Simply place the inlet hose in the water you want to remove, and position the outlet hose to direct the water wherever you want it to go. Activate the pump, and you’re on your way.

When choosing among the many transfer pumps on the market, base your selection on how you plan to use the equipment. If you need to shift volumes of water only between locations that are for the most part dry, then opt for a standard, non-submersible model. If your needs are more demanding—if, for example, your goal is to pump water out of a pond or hot tub—then go for a submersible model, one whose motor sits within a special watertight housing. Also, be sure to consider the fact that transfer pumps range widely in terms of overall capacity. The pumping power of any given model is influenced by two key measurements—the horsepower generated by its motor and the amount of water the pump can move (measured in gallons per hour). Generally, you need to pay more for more power.

Modestly sized transfer pumps are relatively inexpensive. For instance, you can purchase the Little Giant 360 Transfer/Utility Pump for about $90. Portable and lightweight, the non-submersible, electrically powered Little Giant 360 boasts a 1/10-horsepower motor, capable of drawing liquid from as many as seven feet below and pumping it up as high as 48 feet. By comparison, the Liberty Pump 331, which sells for a little over $200, offers 1/2 horsepower and can pump water up to 100 feet overhead. As is to be expected with any product, transfer pumps each come with their own pros and cons. For help navigating the wide variety of available transfer pumps, don’t hesitate to reach out for advice, custom-tailored to your individual needs and goals, from the experts at SupplyHouse.com.

What Is a Transfer Pump? - Liberty Product Isolated

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


Bob Vila Radio: Your Quick Guide to the Contour Gauge

Recreate the precise shape of corners, edges, and curves on wood, tile, and other materials with a simple, low-tech tool that couldn't be easier to use. Learn more now.

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Cutting flooring or siding to fit around curved surfaces can be tricky, especially if you don’t have the right tool. In this case, what you need is a contour gauge.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CONTOUR GAUGES or read the text below:

Contour gauges look a bit like a hair comb, but with teeth protruding from both sides of the handle. Rather than being fixed and stationary, those teeth slide smoothly through the handle, molding to the contour of whatever profile you set the gauge against.

Using the tool is dead-simple. First, lightly press the teeth against a flat surface to make sure the ends are in line. Then nudge the gauge up against whatever shape you wish to duplicate. Once you’ve got it, lay the contour gauge onto the material you’re working with. Trace the shape dictatated by the teeth of the gauge, then make your cut with a jigsaw, bandsaw, or coping saw.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Genius! Turn a Plastic Fork into a Tiny Screwdriver

Before you head out to buy a specialized tiny screwdriver for your smallest of screws, try crafting your own with these genius DIY instructions—all for free!

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DIY Screwdriver

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Instructables user deluges, a self-described amateur tinkerer, has nothing against custom screws—just the added cost and hassle to remove them. Found on window guards, door locks, license plates, IKEA furniture, game consoles, laptops, glasses and more, these tiny screws are designed to be tamper-resistant. So how did he deal with the custom screws that needed to be removed before he could clean the inside of his laptop? He crafted his own screwdriver for the purpose by melting and reshaping a plastic fork!

Lucky for us, this handy man shared his money-saving trick with the rest of the Web. To follow his lead, all you need is a lighter, a plastic fork, and a little MacGyver spirit. Start by breaking off a tine of your plastic fork. Heat the plastic tip with the flame for about 30 seconds. Then, before the plastic has a chance to cool and harden, push the tip into the screw head. Press down firmly to create a clean, deep impression of the screw, holding your new custom screwdriver in place for a minute or two before gently pulling it off. Is the plastic still warm to the touch? To harden it in a hurry, dip the tool in cold water and you can get to work.

This works best on screws that are small but not impossibly tight, potentially saving you an unnecessary trip to The Home Depot or a custom repair shop. Give it a go next time you’re stuck—since it’s free, you’ve got nothing to lose. In the words of one impressed commenter: “This is genius… 1,000 thumbs up.” We couldn’t agree more.

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DIY Screwdriver - Closeup Fork

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Bob Vila Radio: Nails or Screws? Screws or Nails?

Though nails and screws are sometimes used interchangeably, there are pros and cons to each. Read on to learn more about which types of applications call for which types of fasteners.

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Nails or screws? Sometimes it’s difficult to decide which to use for a given do-it-yourself project. The next time you need to choose between the two, bear in mind the following guidelines.

Nails or Screws

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Listen to BOB VILA ON NAILS AND SCREWS or read the text below:

If you’re joining two pieces that are going to be under tension—in a porch railing, for example, or when building kitchen cabinets—then screws are the better choice. Also, since screws are easier to remove, they’re often superior for temporary fastening jobs. Finally, if you’re working with a fragile material like plaster, you may wish to use screws because driving them into place causes much less vibration than pounding in a nail would.

Nails have pluses, too. For one thing, compared with screws of the same length and gauge, nails are usually stronger. That makes them the preferred choice for withstanding “shear” pressure—that is, keeping the fastened pieces from sliding past one another. In most cases, nails are also less expensive. And particularly if you’re working with a gun, nails can be secured quite quickly. Speed makes them ideal for framing, flooring, roofing shingles, siding and sheathing.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!