Category: Tools & Workshop

New Kits Make DIY Profitable for Some, Foolproof for All

Darby Smart makes DIY easy, both for novices who want nothing more than to learn, and for veterans wanting something beyond recognition.


Like so many other do-it-yourself enthusiasts, Nicole Shariat Farb frequently browsed blogs and social media sites, always in search of her next project. On many occasions, however, her attempt would pale in comparison to what had inspired her. After a while, experiences like these finally led Farb to develop a business idea. And the more she researched the market, the more she came to believe in the promise of a company now known as Darby Smart. A new type of online marketplace, the mission of Darby Smart is to make DIYing easy for everyone, while providing the opportunity for talented makers to profit from their passion.

Darby Smart - Mason Jar Light


For consumers, Darby Smart offers dozens of mail-order kits, each containing instructions and all the materials needed to build a home accessory, be it a mason jar lamp or wood block candle holder. Engineered to be completed in less than an hour, each virtually foolproof kit carries a price tag between $15 and $45, shipping included. Importantly, a sizable portion of every sale goes to the outside person who came up with and submitted the idea for the kit. So for all the makers whose talents have brought large followings online but little financial reward, there’s now a way to earn money by making clever and beautiful things.

Darby Smart - Light Bulb Planter


For more information, visit Darby Smart.

A Contractor Duo Designs a More Perfect Hammer

After decades of working as contractors, two brothers set out to design a long-lasting hammer. And they succeeded.

Hardcore Hammers - Product Shot


After a combined thirty years in the construction business, brothers Steve and Rick Spencer had grown tired of relying on tools they viewed as merely mediocre. Together, they set out to design a more perfect hammer—powerful enough for framing yet specialized enough for finish work. Within a year, they had completed a prototype and begun Hardcore Hammers. Though axes and hatchets have joined the product offerings, the company’s signature hammer remains the top seller.

Hardcore Hammers - Side View


Made in America—entirely in America—the hammer boasts fine craftsmanship and a loving attention to detail. For instance, the hickory handle thickens at the bottom, at the point where you would grip it, but slims down at the middle so as to make the tool as light as possible. Where it really excels, however, is in the unique design of its durable, versatile striking surface.

The Spencer brothers knew that long before the rest of a typical framing hammer wears out, its waffled face loses the traction so important in driving nails. Though that problem had always existed, it actually became more pronounced when the tool industry switched from steel to titanium. While newer titanium framing hammers cost more to purchase, their grooved faces would smooth out even faster than before, thus leaving fairly young tools with useless heads.

For many pros, another frustration with typical framing hammers is how they’re unsuited to finish work; their waffled striking surfaces leave obvious and unsightly marks on workpieces. In the past, you’d have to switch to another hammer, one with a smooth face, just to tap in a few last nails. But with Hardcore Hammers, you can keep on working, with no interruption.

Here’s the breakthrough: Hardcore Hammers have slightly recessed striking faces, with a smooth outer ring around a waffled inner face. That means you can use the same hammer for rough carpentry and finish work. No other hammer on the market gives you the same freedom.

Meanwhile, Hardcore Hammers go a long way toward ensuring that the waffle, once the first to wear down, now outlasts the other tool components. While the outer rim protects the waffled face from striking anything but the nail, the waffle itself has been specially manufactured to last a long, long time. It’s milled, not in the conventional way, but with hardened steel. So only after years of sustained use would the tightly waffled pattern even begin to flatten out.

With a sticker price of $79, it’s not an inexpensive tool. But then again, that’s the whole point: You’re making an investment here, knowing the tool is going to serve you for years to come.

Purchase the Hardcore Hammer, $79

Bob Vila Radio: Flashlights Get a Little Flashy

Like so many other technologies, flashlights have improved dramatically in recent years. Here's what you need to know now.

If you’re in the dark about some of the latest advancements in flashlight technology, here’s a quick summary.

LED vs Fluorescent Flashlights


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Listen to BOB VILA ON NEW FLASHLIGHT TECHNOLOGY or read the text below:

For years, flashlights relied on bulky D-size batteries and bulbs with filaments. Today, two newer types of flashlight are gaining popularity—light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and fluorescents.

With no filament to burn out, LEDs are powered by tiny semi-conductors. Compared to traditional bulbs, LEDs draw a only a minuscule amount of power. That means they last much longer than the bulbs to which you’re likely accustomed.

Fluorescent lights are especially popular in lantern-type products. Thanks to their elongated shape, these fluorescents put out a lot of light and do a good job of illuminating larger areas—say, your dining room during a power outage. Fluorescents do take a lot of power, though, so you’ll want to keep plenty of batteries on hand.

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.

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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Listen to BOB VILA ON MEDIUM-DENSITY FIBERBOARD or read the text below:

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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Listen to BOB VILA ON POP RIVETS or read the text below:

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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Listen to BOB VILA ON DRILLING THROUGH METAL or read the text below:

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

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.