Category: Tools & Workshop

How To: Snap a Chalk Line

Snap a chalk line the next time you need to mark a straight edge as part of a home improvement job.

Using a chalk line is a quick way to give yourself a straight line as a building guide. Here’s how. Find the endpoints of your line and drive a nail in at each point. Stretch the chalk-coated string tightly between the nails. Pull straight up from the middle and let the string snap. On rough framing and cement, you can use red chalk, but be sure you use only blue or white chalk on finished works, since they won’t bleed through paint.

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Bob Vila Radio: Wood Glue Types

There are a few different adhesives that can hold pieces of wood together— plain white glue, carpenter's glue, and formaldehyde glue. Familiarize yourself with their characteristics, and learn which home improvement projects require each type of glue.

There are several adhesives that can hold pieces of wood together without screws or nails. The cheapest and most commonly available is plain old white glue, similar to the Elmer’s we used in school. Officially called polyvinyl resin, white glue sets fairly quickly and becomes transparent when it hardens. It’s convenient for gluing dowels in place on those ready-to-assemble furniture pieces and for similar woodworking projects.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON WOOD GLUE TYPES or read the text below:

Wood Glue Types


Next up the ladder is carpenter’s glue, or aliphatic resin glue. Carpenter’s glue is stronger than white glue, and sets faster. It also holds up better to sanding than white glue does. Any joining that uses either white glue or carpenter’s glue should be clamped together until the glue sets.

Neither white nor carpenter’s glue is suitable for outdoor use, or anywhere it will get wet. For those you’ll want formaldehyde glue, also called resorcinol. Formaldehyde glue is good for doors, windows, and moldings that might be exposed to water.

By the way, all three of these glues are different from construction adhesives, which don’t penetrate bare wood well and shouldn’t be used for joining wood pieces. One exception is installing molding or trim in tight spaces where you can’t use a clamp. Construction adhesive is sticky enough to hold wood trim without clamping.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Quick Tip: Pliers

Pliers are essential in any project that requires you to grip, position, tighten, loosen or cut certain metal elements.

Pliers are a relatively modern invention, and it’s hard to imagine what people did without them. There are a dozen or more kinds of pliers, and your toolbox should contain at least the big three: slip-joint pliers, lock-joint pliers, and diagonal pliers. Also handy are rib-joint, water-pumped, needle-nose, long-nose, locking and lineman’s pliers.

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Quick Tip: Jigsaws

Jigsaws, or saber saws, pack numerous functions into one easy-to-use tool, making it a perennial favorite among beginning do-it-yourselfers.

For a saw that can handle the curves, look for a good saber saw. Sometimes called a jigsaw, it has a small blade that cuts with an up-and-down motion. Look for a good-quality saber saw with a long stroke and about 3,000 strokes per minute. You can change blades to cut leather, linoleum, plaster, wall board, metal and hardwood up to an inch thick.

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Quick Tip: Tin Snips

With the right pair of razor-sharp tin snips, you can easily make straight or curved cuts in sheet metal.

Don’t wreck a good pair of scissors trying to cut metal. You need a good pair of tin snips. Tin snips look and work a lot like scissors. For cutting circles and curves, use hawks-bill tin snips. Duck-bill snips have narrow blades that easily cut straight lines, gentle curves, as well as screen and wire. Aviation snips have a spring hinge for leverage and easy handling.

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Plywood 101

It's used in everything from floors to furniture, but how much do you really know about plywood?

Plywood Sizes, Types


A manmade material prized for its great versatility, plywood appears in elements of the home as various as flooring, walls, doors, and furniture. Strong and lightweight—the product of several compressed, glued-together layers—plywood costs considerably less than solid wood, and in at least a couple of important ways, it offers superior performance. For one thing, its special composition makes it less vulnerable to the presence of moisture; for another thing, plywood resists the temperature fluctuations and changes in humidity that sometimes stress natural wood to the point of splitting, cracking, or otherwise degrading.

Different types of plywood contain different numbers of layers, or plies, with three being the minimum. Typically, one side of the panel—its face—may be left unfinished. The back side is less pleasing to the eye. Of all the many types available, veneer-core plywood is best for holding screws, hinges, and other forms of hardware. Note that some types of plywood actually have a foam rubber core, which enables them to function as insulation against both weather and sound.

Plywood Sizes, Types - Closeup


When contractors and do-it-yourselfers mention plywood grades, they are referencing two separate measures—one for the face of the panel, another for its back side. Plywood faces are graded on a scale from A to D. Plywood backs are graded on a scale from 1 to 4. Thus, A1 plywood boasts top quality on both sides. A4, on the other hand, features a quality face but is likely to show defects or discoloration on its back. You can expect plywood grades to be stamped visibly on the sheets you are considering.

Plywood usually sells in four-by-eight-foot sheets, but that’s not always the case. Two- or five-foot widths are available, as are lengths between four and 12 feet. Pay special attention to plywood thickness: There is often a 1/32-inch discrepancy between the stated measurement and the actual one.

When selecting plywood at your local lumberyard or home improvement center, keep in mind these basic considerations:

• Good-quality veneer provides a nice symmetrical pattern.

• Seek out a flat sheet with core layers that feel even and free of warping.

• On the edges, there shouldn’t be too many knots or voids.

For the most visually satisfying results, you may choose to paint your plywood project. It’s easy to do—simply follow these guidelines. First, clean the plywood surface thoroughly. Next, sand the plywood to a smooth finish before applying a base coat of primer. Proceed to paint only once the primer has completely dried. Initially coat on a thin layer of paint, then follow up with additional coats as needed. Between each coat, remember to wait for the paint to dry fully. Using an oil-based paint is recommended.

How To: Make a Biscuit Joint

Ideal for light-duty woodworking projects, biscuit joints are easy to accomplish quickly, even for beginners.

Here’s a way to join two pieces of wood without visible hardware or nails by using oval wooden biscuits. With a biscuit cutter, plow out a recess in each surface to be joined that will receive the biscuit. Generously apply a water-based glue to the biscuit so that it swells to fill the recess. Now, join both pieces of wood together and clamp until dry.

For more on woodworking, consider:

How To: Make a Mortise-and-Tenon Joint
Bob Vila Radio: Woodworking Tips
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Quick Tip: Propane Torches

Most often used in plumbing projects and metalworking, propane torches are anything but toys. On the contrary, these tools demand the utmost attention and care.

A propane torch is portable, inexpensive, and just about indispensable for many household chores. A valve controls the intensity of the flame, and you can add attachments to the nozzle either to focus it tightly for precision soldering or to spread it out for stripping paint. Be sure to handle it with care, though. Turn it off immediately after you’re done and store it away from heat.

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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.

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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:

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