Category: Tools & Workshop

A Forgotten Forest Lies at the Bottom of a Lake in Maine

While other companies succeed by salvaging lumber from old barns and similarly disused buildings, Maine Heritage Timber reclaims wood from a forest underwater.

Maine Heritage Timber - Heavy Machinery


In remote Millinocket, ME, there are as many as 1 million cords of wood resting at the bottom of Quakish Lake. Since 2009, Maine Heritage Timber has been pulling those logs out of the water, then milling them into flooring, tabletops, furniture—a diverse range of wood products, all sharing a remarkable backstory.

Back in the early 1900s, logging was big business in eastern Maine. Since interstates and railroads had not yet criss-crossed the country, rivers were the primary means of transporting felled trees. At the time, Quakish Lake, part of Penobscot River system, served as a holding area for logs en route to the Great Northern Paper Company. And while much of the old-growth wood successfully made its destination, some of it sank and sat, silently and untouched, for a hundred years.

Maine Heritage Timber - Lake


You might think that, after so long in the depths, those sunken timbers would emerge degraded and useless. But if anything, those logs were benefited by all that time spent underwater. The deep, cold lake water—and the absence of sunlight, oxygen, and pests—worked to preserve the wood, leaving it strong and in virtually pristine condition. And as a result of the wood’s prolonged exposure to water, many logs developed truly unique, seldom-seen, non-duplicable hues and patinas.

Maine Heritage Timber - Flooring


Maine Heritage Timber employs heavy machinery to excavate, then sends the wood to shore on a barge, where it’s kiln-dried. Only then does the company know what can be made of the haul. But everything pulled from the lake is somehow put to use. The best and most suitable wood becomes board lumber for the company’s consumer products, including flooring and wainscoting. Meanwhile, the unusable wood gets ground into pulp (sold to mills) or biomass (sold to the energy industry). The shavings are sold for animal bedding, and even the rocks that are uncovered are washed clean and sold to local landscaping outfits.

Maine Heritage Timber - Accessories


Though Maine Heritage Timber expects to continue work here for at least another 20 years, no one knows exactly how much wood lies at the bottom of Quakish Lake. Amid the uncertainty, one thing is abundantly clear: The company’s customers get wood that boasts, not only rare beauty, but a fascinating history as well.

For more information, visit Maine Heritage Timber.

Bob Vila Radio: Is MDF Better Than Plywood?

For many carpentry projects, medium-density fiberboard is the most affordable and user-friendly among affordable yet high-performing wood products.

Medium-density fiberboard, MDF for short, can be a cheaper, more stable alternative to plywood, if used in the right way.

Medium Density Fiberboard


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MDF is made from wood scraps that are broken down into fine fibers, mixed with a binder such as glue, then formed into sheets. Most home centers carry four-by-eight-foot sheets, usually one-half or three-quarters of an inch thick.

MDF offers many benefits. First, it’s a bit less expensive than plywood. Second, it holds its shape, so you can use it for shelving, cabinets, trim and moulding. But since it doesn’t like moisture, it’s best used in indoor projects.

One important caveat: MDF contains formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen. Wear a respirator when cutting it. And be aware that until it’s properly sealed with paint or urethane, the material continues to off-gas.

That being said, if you take proper precautions when working with it, MDF can save you money and reward you with good results.

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.

Is Your Tape Measure Obsolete? Maybe.

Thanks to compact, versatile, and accurate devices like this one, your once adequate measuring tape may soon be gathering cobwebs.

Bosch Laser Distance Measurer


The measuring tape: It’s a tool of unobjectionable simplicity, no more or less complicated than it needs to be—for some measuring jobs. There are times, however, when the old standby reveals its limitations. For instance, if you’re measuring over a long distance, it can be a real pain to get an accurate reading, if it’s possible at all, without a second pair of hands. Similarly, if you’re taking multiple measurements, one after another, over and over, fiddling with the tape becomes tiresome.

Bosch Laser Distance Measurer - At Work


For years, laser measuring tools have been used by those in the trades, but only somewhat recently has the technology come down enough in price to be attractive for handy homeowners. Now, for less than $100, you can use the same timesaving tool that many pros swear by. It’s no toy. Simply put, for all but the shortest distances, working with a so-called “laser tape” is faster and easier than the traditional alternative. And the digital tool is just as trustworthy as its analog forebear. One popular model, the Bosch DLR130K Digital Distance Measurer, exhibits accuracy down to 1/16 of an inch, even for distances as long as 130 feet.

Bosch Laser Distance Measurer - Floor

in aPhoto:

Weighing in at just about five ounces, the Bosch DLR130K fits conveniently in a pouch or pocket, making it easy to carry as you move around the job site. As portable as it may be, it’s also fully featured. Not only does it report distances, but the tool also conveniently calculates area and volume—in four systems (inches, feet and inches, decimal feet, and metric). Batteries are included with purchase, and that single set of AAAs can power approximately 30,000 measurements.


Purchase the Bosch DLR130K Digital Distance Measurer Kit, $89

MDF 101

Learn the pros and cons of medium-density fiberboard, or MDF, and decide whether it's the right choice for your next carpentry project.

What Is MDF?


Medium-density fiberboard—most often known by its initials, MDF—rivals the affordability and versatility of plywood and similar engineered wood products. In certain situations, MDF even trumps all the others, because it’s so wonderfully easy to work with. Unlike real wood, MDF has no knots, grain, or warping, and its smooth surface gives way easily to the saw, leaving no splinters, burns, or tear-outs. For light carpentry projects, such as shelving and trim, MDF can be excellent.

MDF starts as sawdust and shavings—all the little bits and pieces of wood that are created as a byproduct of industrial milling. Once dehydrated, those wood fibers are then mixed with resin and wax and formed into panels. Under high heat and intense pressure, those panels are compressed and become rigid, with a hard shell. In the final stage of manufacturing, giant machines sand the panels down, giving them a silky smooth finish before cutting them to fixed dimensions.

What’s Available
MDF boards are typically tan or a darker brown and are sold primarily in either 1/2-inch-thick or 3/4-inch-thick sheets. Depending on where you live, the largest- and thickest-available sheets should cost you no more than $50. Also, important to note is that an MDF board may be marked or stamped to indicate a particular property. For instance, blue or red marking means that a board is fire retardant; a green marking indicates that it’s resistant to moisture.

What Is MDF? - Detail 2


Working with MDF is the same as working with real wood. You don’t need any new skills or special tools. In fact, you are likely to find that, compared with sawing and attempting detail work with solid lumber, MDF is much more pliant. For smaller projects, such as bookcases or cabinetry, it’s user- and budget-friendly. Plus, its surface accepts paint well and also provides a welcoming base for a thin veneer layer.

You’re probably thinking there must be some downsides to using MDF. You’re right. There are several…

Handle with care: Heavier than plywood, MDF—particularly full-size MDF panels—can be difficult to carry without an extra pair of hands. Take care when transporting MDF, because much more so than plywood or real wood, its corners are easily damaged, and its smooth surfaces are easily scratched.

Water wary: In its untreated state, fiberboard fairs poorly, swelling or even fracturing when exposed to even a negligible amount of water. That shortcoming would severely limit the number of applications MDF could be used for, if it weren’t for the advent of moisture-resistant MDF, now readily available.

Dust settles: Working with MDF tends to create a great deal of dust, and not just run-of-the-mill dust, but a powdery, pervasive species that makes a mess and chokes the air. Go out of your way to seal off your work area, cover any immovable items you wish to protect, and be prepared to vacuum afterward.

Health risks: Most MDF contains urea-formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen. Until it’s fully sealed, MDF continues to off-gas. So when you’re working with this stuff, it’s best to do so outdoors or in a well-ventilated part of the home. You may also wish to go a step further and wear a respirator.

Assuming you take precautions to safeguard your personal health, MDF offers several practical and financial benefits. Keeping your eyes open to the pros and cons, give due consideration to MDF.

Bob Vila Radio: It’s a Snap to Patch Metal with Pop Rivets

You may never have heard of pop rivets, but if your project calls for patching metal, you'll be glad to make the acquaintance of these handy, reliable fasteners.

Do you need a quick and easy way to fasten a patch onto sheet metal? Pop rivets make it pretty easy to do so. They come in various sizes and, when installed correctly, create a strong, durable bond between the metal patch and the sheet you’re attaching it to.

Pop Rivets


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Pop rivets work like this: First, you position the patch where you want it and drill holes around its perimeter. Next, working one hole at a time, you insert the long, nail-like end of the rivet into a special tool similar to pliers. Insert the rivet through a hole you’ve drilled and then squeeze the handles of the tool; that causes the ends of the rivet to flatten out and be drawn together. When the rivet is fully compressed, the nail-like end snaps off and is discarded.

Pop rivets are also called “blind rivets,” because of one very big plus: They can be used even when only one side of the material you’re working with is accessible.

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Bob Vila Radio: The Basics of Drilling Through Metal

Metal is hard, but drilling through it is easy, so long as you take the time to do it right and give due credence to safety.

Provided you have the right tools, it’s not difficult to drill through metal. But for the job to go smoothly and the results to be satisfying, make sure you know the basics.

How to Drill Through Metal


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First, be sure to wear safety goggles—not glasses—when you drill through metal. The goggles prevent any tiny flecks of metal from getting into your eyes. To hold the metal in place as you work, use a vise or a set of clamps. Also, it helps to create a small dimple, using a center punch, in the spot where you are planning to drill. The dimple doesn’t need to be big, just large enough to keep the drill bit in place.

As you’re drilling, keep a little light motor oil in the hole to help with lubrication and to keep the bit from overheating. Don’t try to rush the job by applying too much pressure on the drill and running it at top speed. You’ll achieve better control, and end up with a more accurate and cleaner cut, if you use moderate pressure and keep the drill at half speed.

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Bob Vila Radio: Make Plywood More Portable

Plywood may be cheap, but it sure isn't easy—to carry, that is. If you're working solo, these two tricks can help you get a handle.

Though plywood is a versatile and affordable material, ideal or at least serviceable for hundreds of uses, it’s not the most convenient thing to heft from one place to another.

How to Carry Plywood


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Why is it so cumbersome? Mainly it’s because plywood typically comes in four-by-eight-foot sheets. Depending on the thickness, a sheet might weigh anywhere from 25 to 85 pounds. Bottom line: Unless you have really long arms, plywood is hard to carry. Fortunately, there are tricks that can help you get a handle.

First, position the plywood with the long edge down. Tie about 20 feet of rope into a loop and slip each end of the loop around the two bottom corners of the plywood. Reach over the edge of the plywood, grab the middle part of the loop, and lift. That’s a good way to get you and your load from point A to point B.

Another trick is to lift the plywood slightly with one hand and, with the other, hook a claw hammer under the plywood about midway along the edge. The hammer extends your reach and, again, you’ve got yourself an instant handle!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 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.

Bob Vila Radio: A Trick for Splinter-less Cuts in Plywood

You don't need fine cabinetmaking tools to get clean cuts in plywood. You just need a little know-how.

If you’re planning to cut plywood, here are a few points to keep in mind. Cutting plywood usually creates a splintered edge on one side of the sheet. That’s no big deal if your project requires only one side of the sheet to be splinter-free.

How to Cut Plywood


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Listen to BOB VILA ON SAWING PLYWOOD or read the text below:

Which side will the splinters be on? That depends on the type of saw you’re using to make the cut. Generally speaking, radial arm saws and table saws produce splinters on the top side of the sheet, while saber saws and circular saws splinter the wood on the bottom. If your choice of tools is a muscle-powered hand saw, expect splinters on the top.

But what if you need both sides of the sheet to be free of splinters? Your best bet is to use the sharpest, stiffest knife you can find to make deep scores—on both sides of the wood—along the lines of the intended cuts. One caution: You’ll need to measure carefully to ensure your score lines end up in exactly the same place on both sides of the sheet. As always with power tools, make sure you don protective glasses and gloves before you start your cuts.

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

DEWALT Inspection Camera Gives You X-Ray Vision—Almost

Though inspection cameras are not new, they've never been less expensive, or more fun, than right now.

Inspection Camera - Dewalt


It’s the next best thing to X-ray vision. With a mini camera fitted to the end of a flexible, three-foot-long cable, the DEWALT Inspection Camera enables you to see behind walls, under floors, and above ceilings—just about anywhere, so long as there’s an opening of at least 17 millimeters (or a hole that small could could be made). Since the camera and cable are waterproof—and since the product features an integrated LED bulb—you can even see into operational plumbing. In other words, the tool enables you to see parts of your home that would be impossible to see otherwise, at least not without considerable hassle and disruption.

Inspection Camera for Walls and Pipes - Action


Inspections cameras are not new, but today’s models are much more portable and much less expensive than their predecessors. While some no-frills models can be found for about $70, only the DEWALT tool boasts 3x zoom and image capturing. That means the camera takes photos and videos and saves them to a removable microSD card. You can review them later, whether on your laptop or smartphone. Or you can send them to your contractor, so he can have a look, too.

As useful as an inspection camera might prove for a serious home improvement project, the tool can also come in quite handy on an everyday basis, helping you locate and retrieve lost items. Because not only does the camera give you the ability to see under heavy, unwieldy furniture, but with its hook and magnet attachments, it can even work to snag an errant earring from under the bed, or an elusive cat toy from behind the media cabinet in the living room.

Purchase the DEWALT DCT410S1 12-Volt Max Inspection Camera Kit, $254.99

Buyer’s Guide: Best Cordless Drills

Are you pining for the power and convenience of a high-quality cordless drill? Before you hit the stores, let us give you the lowdown on important features and useful extras.

Best Cordless Drills


Just as cellular technology freed the telephone, the advent of lithium-ion batteries forever altered the landscape of power tools. While the electric drill was always a homeowner favorite, its cordless version has become truly ubiquitous, appearing in the toolboxes of even casual do-it-yourselfers. If you own any power tools whatsoever, chances are you have a cordless drill. The popularity of these drills has led to a wealth of models on the market. With so many to choose from, how can you be sure to pick the best cordless drill for your needs? Keep these factors in mind as you navigate the selection process.

Best Cordless Drills - Bit Detail


Voltage. Cordless drills range from 7.2-volt models to ones boasting 20 volts or more. The most popular options are 12 and 18 volts; that’s plenty of power for most light-duty household tasks. Higher voltage equals faster drilling and screw-driving, but while speed can be a virtue, extreme speed is beneficial mainly to professionals. 12- and 18-volt drills are fast enough without becoming difficult to handle.

Weight. Over the years, cordless drills have gotten only lighter. It’s not unreasonable to focus your search on tools that come in under five pounds. But weight isn’t the only determinant of comfort. Equally important is the tool’s balance. To test the balance of a drill you’re considering, grip the handle firmly in your dominant hand, then lift it toward the wall as if you were going to drive a screw. The drill chuck should point straight at the wall without your having to fight to keep it from tilting up or down.

Battery Type. Older cordless drills run on nickel-cadmium (NiCd) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Today’s best cordless drills, however, run on lithium-ion batteries. These weigh less, last longer, and recharge more quickly than their predecessors. The only downside to note is that for all their advantages, lithium-ion batteries are pricey to replace, running as much as $100 or more.

Accessories. Different cordless drill packages come with different features and accessories. Depending on how you intend to use the tool, one or another of the following features may be worth pursuing:

- extra battery
- “smart” battery charger (capable of recharging in 15 to 60 minutes)
- battery-charge indicator
- variable speeds
- built-in work light and/or level
- warranty for drill and battery

To help you narrow the crowded field of options, we’ve identified three of the best cordless drills, based on the criteria detailed above, on reviews by actual consumers, and by ratings from leading testing sites. Available in stores and online, our selections range from light-duty models suitable for apartment dwellers to semipro drills for the serious DIY homeowner.


Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Lithium-Ion 3/8-Inch 2-Speed Drill/Driver Kit

Best Cordless Drills - Bosch


Lowe’s customers love the Bosch 12-volt lithium-ion drill for its “compact size” and “light weight.” Plus, its “very sensitive clutch” is “excellent for driving screws to the perfect torque.” Popular Mechanics chimes in, too, saying that the model packs the punch of a larger tool and, despite being only 12 volts, “could run with the big boys.” Equipped with a 3/8-inch chuck, the Bosch features a built-in LED work light as well as a two-speed gearbox. Price: $99


Porter-Cable PCC606LA 20-Volt 1/2-Inch Lithium-Ion Drill/Driver Kit

Best Cordless Drills - Porter Cable


There’s perhaps no better value than the Porter-Cable 20-volt lithium-ion drill. Amazon shoppers rated the unit 4.7 out of 5 stars, praising it for being “powerful” while remaining “light.”  Measuring about 7 inches long and weighing only 3.5 pounds, the two-speed drill fits into tight spots and can be used comfortably for long stretches of time, thanks in part to its “long battery life.” A convenient built-in indicator shows how much remains of the battery charge at any given time. For a “well-built” tool that can handle “any job that a person might face,” look no further than the reasonably priced Porter-Cable. Price: $79


DeWalt DCD780C2 20-Volt Lithium-Ion 1.5 Ah Drill/Driver Kit

Best Cordless Drills - Dewalt


For heavy-duty performance, the DeWalt 20-volt lithium-ion drill ranked highest among those reviewed by Consumer Search in 2014. Amazon shoppers echoed the compliment, describing the tool as “light, powerful, and very well balanced.” With a 1/2-inch chuck and two-speed gearbox, the DeWalt is a brawny tool, designed with an ergonomic handle as well as lots of “little features.” A three-year warranty covers both the drill and its twin batteries. Price: $169