Kitchen - 3/21 - Bob Vila

Category: Kitchen

Solved! What to Do When Your Freezer Isn’t Freezing

Don’t lose your cool, even if your freezer has. Try these troubleshooting tips instead.

Freezer Not Freezing


Q: I’ve noticed that my freezer isn’t working as well as it used to. Is there any possibility of a quick fix instead of a big repair bill?

A: The good news is, there’s a high probability that your issue can be both quickly diagnosed and easily fixed. Because a typical refrigerator/freezer lasts 10 to 15 years before needing replacement, first consider your freezer’s age. If your appliance is well within that time frame and you’ve taken good care of it in general, you’re likely dealing with something simple, such as obstructed airflow, frost buildup, damaged gaskets, or dusty coils.

Freezer Not Freezing - Freezer


Clear the shelves. First, check to make sure you’re allowing enough air to circulate throughout your freezer. This may sound elementary, but a freezer that’s packed to the gills might be causing an airflow blockage, particularly if the evaporator fan is covered by a tub of ice cream or bag of vegetables. Rearranging or removing a few items may be all that’s needed to cool things down again.

Break the ice. If your freezer isn’t overflowing and you have a manual-defrost model, take note of the amount of frost on the interior walls—the buildup could be affecting your unit’s efficiency. If you notice a great deal of those telltale ice crystals, or if it’s been more than a year since you last defrosted the freezer, a simple defrosting will probably do the trick, letting your vents and coils breathe again and continue to do their jobs. If you have an auto-defrost unit, thick layers of ice could be a solid indication that a part or two may need to be replaced by a professional in the near future.

Check the seals. Another quick diagnostic involves checking your freezer’s gaskets (door seals) using the “dollar bill test.” Open the door, place a dollar bill flat against the seal, and close the door again. If you can easily pull out the cash, your seals are too loose. If, however, pulling the bill out requires a good deal of effort, the seals are probably fine. Be sure to test several sections of the gasket for good measure, and before you test them, wipe down any spills or debris that could be preventing them from locking together correctly.

Clean the coils. Last but not least, dirty coils may be the culprit. If you’ve cleared out, defrosted, and seal-tested your freezer and all seems well, try pulling the unit away from the wall and vacuuming the coils with the crevice or brush attachment. As dirty coils can restrict airflow, a quick cleaning may be just the ticket to chill things out again.

If none of these tips bring your ice cubes and frozen snacks back to their rock-solid consistency, it’s possible you have a larger issue on your hands and a repair call might be in order. Most likely, though, a bit of maintenance can return your unit to its optimal condition.

All You Need to Know About Stainless Steel Countertops

If you’re a serious cook, you should seriously consider all the possibilities stainless steel countertops have to offer in a hardworking kitchen.

Stainless Steel Counters - Modern Kitchen

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Southampton, NY

Fancy yourself an at-home chef with serious skills? Then you may be interested in upgrading your cooking space to one that embodies your enthusiasm. The quickest way to bring a professional vibe to your home’s meal prep zone is by incorporating a restaurant-kitchen hallmark: stainless steel countertops. Once primarily found in restaurants and commercial kitchens, this material has gained recent popularity with residential homeowners who have similar (albeit on a smaller-scale) needs: a durable, stain-resistant, and heat-tolerant worktop—with a contemporary flair to boot.

Stainless Steel Counters - Matching Stainless Steel Appliances

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Seattle, WA

The sleek, modern appearance of stainless steel complements both traditional and modern kitchens. While some worry that a metal worktop may look too austere, certain areas of customization can soften the appearance.

Edge profiles. The square edge is the most popular style, with other options including a bullnose, beveled, or unwrapped edge.

Finish options. As you’d find when shopping for faucet fixtures, stainless steel countertops come in a variety of alternative finishes: satin, mirror polish, brushed metal, and antique matte. If fingerprints or smudges are a concern, choose a brushed finish for its smooth, soft look which more easily hides evidence of sticky fingers.

Square feet. Avoid imitating a restaurant kitchen too closely by adjusting the amount you choose to install. Consider starting small, mixing it in as a stand-alone island in a kitchen designed with butcherblock or granite countertops—this reflective surface blends in with nearly any aesthetic, much as a stainless steel sink can pick up the color temperature of its surroundings.


The Benefits
Stainless steel countertops are a sure sign of a workhorse kitchen. As most chefs will attest, this nearly indestructible material stands up to the toughest treatment. In fact, that’s just the start of the long list of pros:

 These counters cannot burn or rust. Unlike other countertop materials such as wood and stone, food grade stainless steel resists both heat and rust, thanks to a combination of chromium and nickel. That means you can place a hot pot on the surface and, when you lift it later, you’ll find zero scorches. And while you may notice water will leave a temporary ring if left to dry, the metal’s special composition prevents permanent damage.

Additionally, as the name would suggest, they are impervious to stains. Spill a glass of red wine? Wipe it up without worrying about a lingering color! Oils, acids, drinks, and more that might mark up wooden counters won’t set on stainless steel—ideal for the room in the house house that hosts most of the food messes.

Installation is a cinch. No need for a sealing process, as required with granite, butcherblock, or concrete countertops. For this type of counter, a sheet of metal is cut to size and wrapped over a wood frame. To determine the amount of metal you need for a DIY installation, measure the length and width of your cabinets and add a 1-1/2-inches overhang for any exposed edge. (For counters that span wall to wall, you’ll add to the depth; if a kitchen island, add twice that amount to both your width and length so that the perimeter is covered.)

• To top it off, the metal is 100 percent recyclable. Selecting this environmentally friendly ingredient for your kitchen construction keeps your carbon footprint minimal.


Stainless Steel Counters - In a Traditional Kitchen

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Atlanta, GA

The Drawbacks
While there’s no denying the positive qualities of stainless steel, you may want to take a seat at the kitchen table for the bad news: Contact with your metal cookware and cutlery can get dicey. First, there’s the noise—the clashing and clanging—that happens when cooking equipment makes contact with the metal surface. But an even larger reason to get in the habit of setting down those pots and pans gently would be to decrease the likelihood of scratches on the new surface. Lower-gauge stainless steel has a propensity to dent and scratch, so if you’re looking to turn your kitchen into a restaurant-worthy cookspace, it’s best to purchase the strongest, thickest material you can afford. Even then, stainless steel countertops will “age” over time as objects slide, rub, and drop on the surface.


Shopping for Stainless Steel
These high-performing stainless steel countertops go for between $50 and $150 a square foot—right in the same ballpark as marble. Price varies depending on the gauge, which ranges from 14 to 20. Rule of thumb: The lower the gauge, the thicker the steel and the more expensive the product. When planning your installation, you’ll want to invest in the highest gauge within budget, as a thicker countertop means less chance for dents.


Easy, Breezy Maintenance
While a nylon sponge and warm, sudsy water are often all it takes to clean this stain-resistant worktop, messy meal prep might require a light scrub: Sprinkle baking soda across the surface, wipe vinegar over top in the direction of the grain, rinse, and dry thoroughly. Then, restore maximum shine by working just a few drops of mineral or olive oil across the surface and buffing it out with a dry a cloth. It’s that easy! Just remember to avoid harsh abrasives—like the scrubbing side of a sponge—which could do more harm than good and leave scratches behind.

Unfortunately, deep scratches and dents are near impossible to remove without professional restoration. Surface scratches, however, can be carefully “rubbed out” using a mild abrasive pad. Working a 180-grit pad in the same direction as the existing grain will help blend the existing scratch mark by removing micro amounts of material. While not all scratches will completely disappear, this scouring action will, at the very least, dull their appearance. Whatever remains can be considered a badge of honor in your hardworking kitchen.

Stainless Steel Counters - In a Colorful Kitchen

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Evanston, IL

How To: Clean an Electric Stove Top

Your stove top shouldn’t reveal forensic evidence of everything you’ve recently cooked. Discover five easy steps to keep your electric range from exposing your culinary spills and missteps.

How to Clean Electric Stove Top - After Making a Mess at Dinner


Like most home cooks, you probably love whipping up meals but hate cleaning up afterwards. If you neglect tidying up your trusty electric stove top, however, the leftover grime, grease, and dirt will build up and harden over time—and trying to chip it off could damage the coils and the surface. Fortunately, electric stove tops are easier to clean than their gas-fueled counterparts, plus you needn’t worry about clogging the igniter. Glass-topped versions respond to a quick swipe with a dish soap-soaked rag and a baking soda scrub. One with metal-coiled burners require a bit more attention—especially if it’s been a while since you’ve tackled it—so we’ve outlined the best way to go about it. You’ll be done in no time and ready to try out a new recipe, no matter how messy it might be.

– Lint-free dishrags
– Water
– Liquid dish soap
– Baking soda
– Cook top scraper (optional)
– Cook top cleaning pad or mild kitchen scrub sponge

How to Clean Electric Stove Top - Electric Coil Burners


Electric stove tops are designed to be self-cleaning. To banish spills, first wipe gently with a clean, lint-free cloth damp with water (an old T-shirt works great!). Then remove all cookware from the stove, turn burners to high, and leave them on for two to three minutes. The high heat will burn off most of the mess. When the stove top has completely cooled, wipe off any remaining residue with a fresh cloth.

Next, remove the burner coils from the socket with a quick tug and lift motion. If they don’t come out easily, refer to the cooktop user manual for removal tips. (Don’t despair if you can find it, since most manuals are available online. Simply search with the stove’s make and model number.)

Soak a dishrag in a solution of warm water and dish soap. Squeeze out excess and gently scrub the burners, taking care to avoid wetting the socket—it is electric, after all! Follow with a swipe of a clean, moist, lint-free rag to rinse. If your burners look spic and span, go to Step 5. If not, continue to Step 4.

STEP 4 (optional)
Still confronted with crud? Mix 1/2 cup baking soda with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water to create a thick, spreadable paste. Coat the burners with this gentle scouring agent and give it up to 20 minutes “dwell time.” Then moisten a clean, lint-free cloth and use it to remove the paste, rinsing after every few passes and making sure to avoid the socket.

While the baking soda paste is doing its work, clean the surface below the coils. Carefully remove food residue with a cooktop scraper if necessary, and then scrub the surface with a gentle cleaning pad and a bit of baking soda paste (see Step 4 for quick instructions on how to whip this up). Remove the paste with a clean, moist rag, and dry with a fresh cloth. Finally, plug the clean, dry burners back into the sockets, and you’re ready to cook!

Get in the habit of wiping up spills as soon as the cooktop cools, and give it a thorough cleaning once a week. This way no one will know your messy little cooking secrets—unless, of course, you accidentally spill the beans!

The Dos and Don’ts of Cleaning Cast Iron

Discover the few simple secrets that can help you clean and care for your cast-iron cookware. So, what are you waiting for? Break out that old skillet and get cooking!

Cleaning Cast Iron


Use well-seasoned cast-iron cookware once, and chances are that you’re hooked for life. More than simply a nontoxic, nonstick, durable, and long lasting material, cast iron also boasts even larger advantages that at-home chefs adore, such as even heating and flavor enhancement. While that long list of benefits may make switching to cast iron seem like the obvious choice, a few downsides slow homeowners from doing so—namely the confusion surrounding its care and cleaning. But don’t let that scare you off from investing in kitchen mainstays that can last years—even generations—to come. We’ve simplified its maintenance into a series of crucial dos and don’ts to ensure that you get the longest, most productive use from your cast-iron cookware.

Cleaning Cast Iron - Cast Iron Cooking Pan


DO season your new cast-iron cookware before you use it.

Even if a new pan is advertised as nonstick or preseasoned, you should give it a good seasoning before its first use. This process involves baking oil into the pan or skillet at a high temperature to seal the cast iron, ultimately protecting the pan from moisture and rendering it nonstick. In the words of the Lodge Cast Iron website, “The more you cook, the better it gets.”

To season your cookware, preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oven warms, wash and thoroughly dry the skillet. Then, using a paper towel, apply a thin coating of vegetable oil to the inside and outside of the skillet. But beware: Too much oil will make the pan sticky, so keep your coating light. Place the skillet upside down in the oven on the middle rack, and lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the bottom rack to catch any drips. Bake for one hour, then turn off the oven and allow the skillet to cool completely before removing it.


DON’T send cast-iron cookware through the dishwasher.

Putting your cookware in the dishwasher or using harsh detergents or abrasive scrubs will break down the seasoning, removing the nonstick coating and flavor-enhancing properties of your cast iron.


DO clean your skillet as soon as you’re done cooking.

If you’re a “leave it in the sink to soak overnight” kind of cook, cast-iron cookware isn’t for you. Rinse your pan while it’s still warm (not too hot) as soon as you’re done cooking. If you need to dislodge cooked-on food, certified House Cleaning Technician and author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness Donna Smallin Kuper suggests using a credit card instead of a store-bought scraper to gently remove the residue. A handful of sea salt, a touch of vegetable oil, and a plastic scouring pad or poly dish scrubber will scrub off what’s left. Rinse the pan with water and dry immediately.

The Lodge website also suggests that you “rub with a light coat of vegetable oil after every wash,” then set the seasoning by placing the cookware over a burner set on low heat for three to four minutes.


DON’T let it stay wet.

Cast iron is still, after all, iron, and iron rusts when exposed to water for too long. For that reason, leave wet tasks like boiling water to your other cookware, and let your cast iron tackle the searing, baking, frying, and other non-water-based cooking. When it’s time to wash your wares, dry cast iron immediately after in order to prevent rust and to preserve the nonstick surface.


DO reseason if your pan feels sticky, loses its nonstick properties, or looks gray.

Cast iron needs to be reseasoned on occasion, and the signs that the time has come are easy to spot. To reseason your pan, scrub it thoroughly with a touch of dish soap and a plastic scrub brush, dry it completely, then season it just as you would before a first use. Because it can remove the seasoned nonstick coating, soap is not recommended as a regular cleaner, but it can be used to prepare cast iron just prior to reasoning.


DON’T throw out your pan if it develops rust.

Clean off all rust with a metal scouring pad or fine steel wool, then wash the pan thoroughly using water, a soft brush, and a small amount of soap—if you feel you must use soap at all. Rinse and dry the pan immediately, then reseason the pan as if you’re seasoning it before a first use.


With proper care, cast-iron cookware can last 100 years or more. If you haven’t fallen in love with your cast-iron cookware yet, forget about the seasoning and cleaning challenges and just start cooking. It’s really hard to mess up a cast-iron skillet for good. Scrubbing and reseasoning can almost always give cast-iron cookware a new life and provide a second chance for cooks who are just getting to know their cookware. Great cooking opportunities and unlimited second chances? Just two more good reasons to give your old cast-iron cookware a try.

Quick Tip: The Easiest Way to Minimize Grout Stains

Turn gungy grout like-new again using this easy and colorful approach!

How to Change Grout Color - Stained Grout in the Kitchen

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Bainbridge Island, WA

Often used as filler between tiles on the bathroom tub surround, kitchen backsplash, or foyer floor, grout can be a homeowner’s hero in warding off water and preventing surface erosion. However, as happens with white carpet or couches, lighter grout makes stains and dirt appear even more pronounced and unsightly. So, you’re not interested in a weekend’s worth of regrouting the tile every time you spot a stain—and who could blame you? Fortunately, you can easily change the color of grout to camouflage its dinginess and discoloration by using these techniques to clean, stain, and seal your existing grout.

How to Change Grout Color - Dark Grout in Mosaic Tile


For grout to adequately absorb a stain, it will first require a thorough deep-cleaning. Pour a homemade paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda into the grout lines, scrub with a grout brush, rinse with clean water, and let dry for least half an hour. As long as the tile is non-porous and the grout porous, it should be ready for a color change! Dip a stiff-bristle brush into a dark grout stain and carefully brush it along the grout lines. As grout stain is permanent, aim to avoid contact with the tile itself as best you can, and keep a damp cloth close by so that you can wipe up any stain on tile immediately. After drying the first coat of stain for at least 24 hours, apply additional coats as needed to achieve the desired depth of color.

Once the grout is perfectly stained and dried, apply an oil-based sealant to grout lines in water-exposed areas of the home. Seal the grout at least once a year to keep water and other tile threats out of reach—and dirt and discoloration out of sight for good!

How To: Unclog a Garbage Disposal

Knowing the common causes for clogs—and how to unclog a garbage disposal—is key to keeping money in your wallet instead of down the drain with costly repairs.

How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

Photo: via Rhonda Fleming Hayes

When faced with the conundrum of how to unclog a garbage disposal, most people would agree the easiest solution is to simply call a plumber. However, the easiest choice may not always be the fastest or most cost-effective solution. So, why not try your hand at fixing the problem with a few simple home remedies before calling in the professionals? If successful, handy homeowners could save time and money, while gaining valuable DIY experience—and confidence for future repairs—at the same time.

– Flashlight
– Long-handled tongs (or pliers)
– Plunger
– White vinegar
– Baking soda
– Lemons (optional)

How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal - With a Plunger


For homeowners attempting repairs, the first thing to do is turn off the breaker that controls the disposal—a successful home repair will never be remembered as much as a trip to the emergency room.

Once the breaker is turned off, shine a flashlight into the clogged disposal. Do you see any objects that could be causing the clog? If so, carefully use a pair of long-handled tongs or pliers to retrieve these items and clear the way. Once all visible items have been removed, turn the breaker back on, and then turn on the disposal. (It may be necessary to push the reset button on the disposal.) If it drains water and works properly, congratulate yourself and be sure to tell everyone it took hours to fix (kidding); otherwise, continue on.

Again, turn off the breaker. With no more foreign objects to retrieve, it’s time to consider another cause for the clog: lingering leftovers. Food can clog garbage disposals when it isn’t broken down enough to be flushed out of the drainpipe. In these situations, it’s helpful to use a plunger first to try to loosen food that has clogged the disposal.

After covering the drain completely with the plunger, allow water to cover the edge of the plunger and plunge the drain a few times. When finished, see if water will drain—a good sign that scraps might also do the same. If so, turn on the breaker and disposal to see if the food remnants can now be processed through the drainpipe. Should it work, add a notch on your DIY belt. If not, it may be time to prepare a cocktail—for the clogged drain, that is.

Ensuring the breaker and disposal are both off, pour ¼ cup of baking soda in the garbage disposal. Next, pour ½ cup of white vinegar over the small pile, and be prepared for fizz and foam. Because many garbage disposals contain plastic parts, harsh drain cleaners can be detrimental. The combination of baking soda and vinegar ultimately offers the same type of unclogging ability, but on a much gentler scale.

After five to 10 minutes, turn the breaker and the disposal back on. Then run hot water into the disposal for another few minutes. (Again, the reset button may be necessary to get it started.) If it works properly, call it a day and make yourself a cocktail this time. If not, you may want to consider calling in your last resort: the professionals.

Turn off everything and call a plumber. But the job isn’t done after your pro clears up the problem and goes on his way. Remember to do your part by putting half of a lemon in the disposal every 2 to 3 weeks to keep the blades operating properly and the disposal smelling as fresh as your newfound respect for plumbers—this 2-minute maintenance can save you hours of headache down the road.

3 Fixes for Oil Stains

You never know when, but at some point in the cooking process it seems that oil finds itself out of the frying pan and into your fabrics. We found three smart solutions to remove it no matter where it lands.

How to Remove Oil Stains


Cooking oil appears in many forms—olive, vegetable, canola, etc.—and is a necessary ingredient for almost anything you whip up in the kitchen. But everyday accidents are almost as common as this pantry staple, often leading to spills and splatters on your household fabrics. Whether you’re frying up veggies for dinner, noshing on a vinaigrette salad while watching TV, or transporting a pasta dish from the kitchen to the dining room, you’re bound to discover an oil stain on your clothes, upholstery, or carpets more often than you’d like. Quickly remedy these splotches with one of these three tips for removing common cooking oil stains.



How to Remove Oil Stains - Clothes


Who hasn’t had a little oil hop from the pan and onto your favorite shirt during dinner prep? To remove these stains from your clothes, you’ll need to gather baking soda, an old toothbrush, dish soap, and paper towels. Start by blotting any excess oil with a paper towel. Sprinkle a light layer of baking soda onto the spot, and let it sit for 30 to 60 minutes. Next, use your toothbrush to scrape off the powder. (If it comes off in clumps, that’s a good sign—it means it’s absorbing the oil!) Once the baking soda is removed, gently work a few drops of dish soap into the stain, and then toss it into the washing machine on hot. Skip the dryer until you can confirm that the stain is totally gone, otherwise you’ll set the stain instead of removing it.



How to Remove Oil Stains - Carpet


Although you can use the same treatment mentioned above for oil spills on the carpet, you might need something a little stronger for set-in stains. If possible, scrape off any hardened oil with a spoon or butter knife, and then blot with a paper towel to soak up whatever you can. Next, dispense a small amount of rubbing alcohol onto a clean cloth, and test it on an inconspicuous area of your carpeting. If no discoloration occurs, reapply the alcohol to the rag and dab—don’t rub—the stain directly. Next, mix up a solution of water and dishwashing liquid (make sure the soap doesn’t contain lanolin or bleach), and apply to the stain with a sponge until it disappears. Finish by blotting with a dampened rag to remove any soap residue.



How to Remove Oil Stains - Upholstery


If a rowdy football party (or spirited viewing session of your favorite reality TV show) leads to an oily food spill on your upholstery, don’t panic. First, check the tag and determine its cleaning designation. Then, depending on what the tag suggests, proceed with one of the following strategies:

• If your upholstery’s tag features an “X,” you should avoid spot treating it yourself and leave it to the professionals to take on.
• An “S” label indicates you should attack the stain with a water-free remover, like a dry cleaning solvent, cornstarch, or baking soda. If you choose a dry cleaning solvent, use one cloth to apply the formula following the manufacturer’s instructions, and then blot using a clean second cloth so that you continue to lift up (not reapply) the oil stain. If you’d rather use cornstarch or baking soda, simply sprinkle on a light layer and let it stand for 10 to 20 minutes before vacuuming it up; repeat the process if the oil stains still persist, or apply a bit of dry cleaning solvent using the method above.
• A “W” tag means a water-based method is best. Rub a small amount of dish soap onto the spot, let it sit, and then use a dampened rag to rinse the stain.
• “SW” ensures both a water-free or water-based solution will work. Once you determine which ingredients you have lying around, you can move forward with any of the above approaches to remove the stain and get back to what’s important: sautéing and savoring!

Quick Tip: The Right Temperature Setting for Your Fridge

Preserve foods and prevent food-borne illnesses by freezing these refrigerator temperature recommendations into your memory.

Ideal Fridge Temperature


The kitchen is the heart of the home, a place for cooking, eating, and gathering with friends and family. But oftentimes we’re so focused on maintaining the perfect temperature for guests’ comfort that we forget to create a welcoming environment for another VIP at the dinner party: the food in our fridge. In an overly hot or extremely cold refrigerator, your culinary creations can perish at a quicker rate and run the risk of developing microorganisms like Salmonella and E. coli. By maintaining an ideal fridge temperature, you can slow or stop the invasion of bacteria while also maintaining the flavor and texture of your food.

Ideal Fridge Temperature - Fridge Thermometer


While most modern refrigerators contain adjustable temperature dials and displays, they are not always a true measure of the fridge forecast. More confusing yet, some compartments run at different temperatures from others (the doors may be warmer zones while the bottom and back may be cooler). For the most accurate overall reading, pick up an inexpensive fridge thermometer and set it in the center of the middle shelf. The lucky numbers you should aim for are between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit, as that range is high enough above the freezing point (32 degrees) to stop your celery from turning into icicles, yet low enough below 40 degrees—the point at which bacteria starts to triple (yes, triple)—to keep foods safe. After finding and adjusting the general temperature, set the thermometer in the different sections of your fridge to gauge the variations, and then arrange your food accordingly: dairy products and eggs in the chillier zones, and condiments in the warmer ones.

And don’t forget about the crisping bins at the bottom of the fridge, as they can play a similarly vital role in keeping produce fresh and vibrant. Use the click or toggle settings on the bins to adjust the humidity higher or lower. Store quick-to-rot produce like apples and pears at a lower humidity, while reserving quick-to-wilt greens like lettuce for the higher humidity bin. After setting the optimal fridge temperature from top to bottom, you can rest easy knowing your food is being properly preserved.

DIY Lite: Declutter Your Kitchen with a Coffee Mug Tree

Keep your coffee mug collection on display between brews using this unique handmade tree.

Coffee Mug Tree - How to Organize Your Coffee Bar

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

In a groggy morning, you want that first cup of coffee to be as accessible as possible. That means mugs at the ready so that you can find them even with your eyes half-shut. To remove fumbling in the cabinets from your morning routine, corral (and display) your favorite cups at your coffee bar using a DIY mug rack. Easily assembled with dowels and a concrete base, this modern mug tree injects warmth into your kitchen, breakfast nook, or drink station—all before your java begins brewing.


Coffee Mug Tree - Supplies to Make Your Own

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

– 1-1⁄4-inch wooden dowel
– 5/8-inch wooden dowel
– 1⁄4-inch wooden dowel
– Ruler
– Pencil
– Handsaw
– Utility knife
– Drill with a 5/8-inch bit and a 1⁄4-inch bit
– 2-inch nails (4)
– Hammer
– 2.5 lbs of dry concrete mix
– Trowel
– Painters tape
– Plastic container (8 inches diameter)
– Level
– Wood glue
– Foam brush
– Mineral oil



Coffee Mug Tree - Step 1

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

The thickest wooden dowel (1-1⁄4 inches in diameter) will serve as the “trunk” of your mug tree. Cut it to be 18 inches long. Then, you will use the 5⁄8-inch dowel to make “branches” for hanging cups; cut it into three pieces, each 8 inches long. Sand every piece to remove splinters.



Coffee Mug Tree - Step 2

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Next, you’ll drill three holes through the trunk that for the 5⁄8-inch dowels to slide through. Using a ruler, mark where to drill the first hole at 1 inch from either end—going forward, this will be the top of the tree. Then mark for the second hole 5 inches from the first, and a third hole 5 inches from the second.

As you’ll see in the photo of the finished project, the top and bottom branches run parallel, while the middle one is perpendicular. Keep this in mind while making the cuts: Hold the trunk firmly with one hand and use the 5⁄8-inch bit to drill the top and bottom holes through the same side of this large dowel, then roll it so that you can drill the middle hole perpendicular to the others.



Coffee Mug Tree - Step 3

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

To prevent hanging cups from easily slipping off any of the branches, you’ll create a short hook at the end of each from the thinnest dowel. First, switch to your 1⁄4-inch bit and drill a hole at each end of the 5⁄8-inch dowels (the three branches), without piercing all the way through.

Then, cut the 1⁄4-inch dowel into six 3⁄4-inch-long pieces. You can use a utility knife or a small handsaw—just watch your fingers. Set all of the dowel cuts aside for now except for the trunk.



Coffee Mug Tree - Step 4

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Take the end of the trunk that is without a hole—the bottom of the tree—and hammer in four nails, equally spaced around the dowel’s circumference. (If the nails were clock hands, they’d be at 3, 6, 9, and 12.)



Coffee Mug Tree - Step 5

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Now, mix up your concrete. Pour the dry mix into a plastic bucket that’s 8 inches or so in diameter (about as wide as your branches are long). Then add as much water as the package recommends, and stir. Your wet mix should be at least an inch deep to create a substantial base for the tree.



Coffee Mug Tree - Step 6

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Push the trunk, nail-end down, into the center of the concrete-filled bucket. Check with a level to ensure that the stick is perfectly vertical, and then tear 4 long strips of painters tape and lay them across top of the container to hold your trunk steady while the concrete cures. Don’t move it for at least 48 hours.



Coffee Mug Tree - Step 7

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Once the concrete is fully dry, cut off the plastic mold. Sand the concrete base for a better finish.



Coffee Mug Tree - Step 8

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Slide the 5⁄8-inch dowels through each of the three holes. When they are pushed exactly halfway through, twist them so that the holes at the ends face up.



Coffee Mug Tree - Step 9

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Squeeze a dot of wood glue into each of the remaining holes and fit a short, 1⁄4-inch-wide dowel inside. Allow the glue to bond for the amount of time recommended on the bottle, for best results.

Finally, brush a coat of mineral oil—or any other desired (food-safe) finish—and, while that dries, head to the cabinets to unload all of your favorite mugs. You’ll be able to hang them from your assembled coffee mug tree and enjoy the newly organized kitchen corner before the next morning!

Coffee Mug Tree - How to Build Your Own

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Ama is a DIY addict and the creative mind behind Ohoh Blog. She likes home decor, lighting, and furniture projects that may involve painting, sewing, drilling…no matter the technique! Whatever she has on hand is inspiration to create, and fodder for her serious addiction to upcycling.

Genius! The In-a-Pinch Vegetable Peeler

If your space is full of bulky gadgets that you almost never use, declutter by DIYing a simple, smaller version of this meal prep must-have.



Single-use kitchen gadgets—garlic presses, juicers, and vegetable peelers—all do their jobs exceedingly well, but even a small collection quickly clutters drawers, counters, and cabinets. Each additional helper eats up space, especially if you’re not using them for a month or more at a time. Still, the guilt of trashing tools you’ve spent good money on keeps them around. For zero regrets and a decluttered kitchen, donate your underused gadgets today, then follow the lead of DIY-er ShakeTheFuture to craft this disposable (and totally free!) vegetable peeler.

His process, which he demoed for the camera, is simple: Start with a clean soda can. Wiggle the tab back and forth until it falls off, and then lop off the top with scissors or a can opener. Once the metal flap is removed and the thin rim bent, the inside edge of the hole (once used for drinking) can be used for quick, angled cuts—perfect for skinning potatoes, carrots, apples, and more.

Even though the peeler is free to make, you don’t have to be broke to see the beauty in this simple DIY. Minimalists will approve of the peeler’s stainless steel design and slim profile, and campers will love whipping up dinner with a convenience that’s normally reserved for home-cooked meals. At about 1/3 the size of traditional peelers, it saves space in a storage-starved kitchen without sacrificing functionality—an a-peel-ing idea for every renter or homeowner. And if your DIY peeler is so small that you’re afraid you’ll lose it, go ahead and toss it after dinner! You can remake it in minutes with a clean soda can and a pair of scissors.

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