Category: Tools & Workshop

How To: Use a Phillips-Head Screwdriver

A few simple tips can help the average do-it-yourselfer to use a Phillips-head screwdriver more effectively.

When you’re using a Phillips-head screwdriver, make sure that you’re not doing it the hard way. Here’s how. Be sure you’re using the right size screwdriver. The tip should fit snugly into the screw head. If it’s too small, it could mangle the head and make the screw impossible to drive. Never use slotted-head drivers for Phillips-head screws. You’ll damage the screw and the driver.

For more on tools, consider:

Top 5 Tool Buying Tips
Bob Vila Radio: Screwdrivers
10 Tools for Your Apartment You Never Thought You’d Need

Quick Tip: Workshop Dollies

Build your own moving dollies to make life in the woodworking shop much more convenient—and much less sweaty.

Here’s how to save your aching back next time you have to move something heavy in the workshop. A workshop dolly is really just a platform on casters. You don’t need extra craftsmanship, just simple two-by-fours, wood screws, and four heavy-duty casters. For a dolly that’s good and strong, use lap joints at the corners, with the casters right below. That will help lighten your load.

For more on workshops, consider:

How To: Build a Sawhorse
Planning Your Woodworking Shop
DIY Workbenches: 5 You Can Build in a Weekend


Happy holidays from Bob and the office elves—Gretchen, Larry, John, Kristina, Marisa, Caitlin and Sheila—at!

Season's Greetings from


After serving up nearly 25 days of great tips, creative ideas, and how-to projects to make your holidays merry and bright, our Countdown to Christmas is almost complete.

Time to wrap the presents, finish the tree-trimming, and get ready for guests, neighbors, and family members to arrive. Remember to light the candles, bake the cookies, and chill the wine. The time has finally come to relish in the special joys this season has to offer.

Since you have become an important part of our family, we want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Bob Vila Signature


P.S. If you’re looking for a little more holiday eye-candy, consider:

Frosty Feats: 12 Incredible Snow Sculptures
Christmas Houses Gone Wild! 11 Outrageously Decorated Front Yards
Wrap it Up! 10 DIY Ways to Bedeck Your Holiday Gifts
25 Insanely Easy-to-Make Holiday Ornaments

Quick Tip: Ball-Peen Hammers

Ball-peen hammers have a wide variety of uses beyond metalworking, the specific application for which they were designed.

For jobs that require a hammer with a little more heft than a claw hammer, try a ball-peen hammer, sometimes called an engineer’s hammer or a machinist’s hammer. It’s the best hammer to use for metal. Use it to drive cold chisels, setting rivets, and shaping metal. The steel head of a ball-peen hammer is harder than the head of a claw hammer, so it’s less likely to chip on contact.

For more on tools, consider:

Types of Hammers
The Essential Toolbox
How To: Use a Hammer

How To: Use a Plumb Bob

You don't have to be a veteran do-it-yourselfer (or a physics whiz) to use a plumb bob—an essential tool for a number of jobs around the house.

Professional builders use a plumb bob to make sure their walls are vertical. Here’s how. Measure two inches away from the top of your wall, set a nail, and hang the plumb bob. Let gravity draw the string into a vertical reference line. When the plumb bob falls exactly two inches away at the floor, your wall will be plumb.

For more on tools, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Plumb Bob
7 Essential Tools for Any Measuring Job

Quick Tip: Wood Glues

Consult these general guidelines to choose the best wood glues for your future woodworking projects.

There are three kinds of adhesives that work best on wood. Polyvinyl resin glue, or white glue, works for china, paper, and wood, but it’s not waterproof. Neither is aliphatic resin glue (or carpenter’s glue), which is quick-drying and stronger than white glue. For outside, there’s resorcinol—formaldehyde glue. It’s waterproof and good for doors, windows, and moldings.

For more on tools, consider:

How To: Clamp a Glue Joint
7 Essential Woodworking Glues
Quick Tip: Working with Wood Glue

How To: Make a Story Pole

To assure uniformity, do-it-yourself carpenters often elect to make a story pole, a simple measuring tool that can save you lots of time on the job site.

When marking off several measurements of the same size, it’s best to make yourself a guide. We call this a story pole. When drilling holes for shelf brackets, use an awl to make the pilot holes, then repeat the process by moving the story pole to the opposite edge. This will perfectly align both rows of holes. Now you’re ready to drill all the holes uniformly to receive the brackets.

For more on woodworking, consider:

The Essential Toolbox
Bob Vila Radio: Tape Measure
7 Essential Measuring Tools for Any Job

Quick Tip: Using a Chisel

Learn a few common ways to use a chisel, a simple tool with a large number and wide variety of handy applications.

A chisel is one of the most useful tools in the workshop, but it’s important to know how to use it. For example, after routing out a mortise for a door hinge, use the flat side of the chisel for cutting or neatening the edges of your work. Or use the beveled side for cleaning up or leveling off a surface without taking off too much at a time.

For more on tools, consider:

Sharpening Chisels
Top 5 Tool Buying Tips
Choosing Essential Tools for Woodworking

Quick Tip: Using a Level

It's important to use a level but of all the many types, which is most suitable for your next building or repair project?

Checking your work for level and plumb is crucial. Here’s how to select and use the right tool for the job. I recommend using a fiberglass level. It’ll absorb shock well and won’t bend or get knocked out of calibration. Two-foot levels are the most commonly used but to check for level over a longer distance, move up to a four-footer. Or you can attach a two-by-four with equal spacers to make a straightedge.

For more on tools, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Levels
Squares, Levels, and Plumbs
7 Essential Measuring Tools for Any Job

How To: Make Cabinet Doors

Even a beginning woodworker can easily make cabinet doors to bring a new look into a tired, old kitchen.

Here’s how to dress up an old kitchen with new cabinet doors. Use a fine-grade plywood, such as birch, for the new doors. Cut them to size on a table saw. Choose a three-eighths-inch panel molding and miter the four corners. Glue and with one-inch brads, nail the trim in place. Leave a one-and-a-half-inch reveal around the edge of the door. Just paint and mount to your old cabinet boxes. It’s an easy way to get a raised-panel look.

For more on kitchen cabinets, consider:

Kitchen Cabinets 101
Cabinet Doors Styles: What’s Yours?
5 Creative Alternatives to Kitchen Cabinetry