Tools & Workshop - 2/42 - Bob Vila

Category: Tools & Workshop


Get a Grip: Choosing the Right Wrench for the Job

A single wrench in your toolbox is a fine start, but if you're going to call yourself handy, you'll need to know when and how to use these hand tools.

Types of Wrenches

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you’ve ever tried to remove a stuck nut with a pair of pliers in a pinch, you know how easy it is to scrape and damage the nut’s outside edges with the wrong tool for the job. Do enough damage, and the fastener will be nearly impossible to budge, even when you break out the right tool. Fortunately, for all sizes of nuts and bolts, there are certain types of wrenches that fit snugly and—by exerting pressure on the wrench handle—can safely increase the torque (the twisting force) necessary to either tighten or loosen the nut. Read on to decipher which types of wrenches would be best suited to your day-to-day projects and which you should stock in your home’s toolbox ASAP.

SHOPPING TIPS
One of the first things you’ll notice when shopping for wrenches is that two different measurement standards are used in stores: metric measurements (millimeters) and—the American standard equivalent (inches), named for the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The latter are sized in 1/16-inch increments. With either system, the units are used to measure the nut or bolt that will be twisted.

Most wrench handles range from 5 inches to 2 feet long. The longer the handle, the greater the torque force the wrench can apply to the nut or bolt. Long handles can be unwieldy in tight spots, though, so the best wrench length will depend on the task at hand.

Often, the best way to purchase wrenches is in sets that include graduated-size openings, so that you have the correct tools on hand for whatever project lands on your to-do list. And, if you will be using the wrenches frequently, it’s a good idea to invest in quality—strong, specialty tools manufactured from an alloy significantly stronger than sheet metal. Since a set of precision wrenches matching this description can retail for more than $300, you can rest easy knowing that nearly every size wrench, both SAE and metric, is also available individually. If you’re not ready to invest in a large set, or if your set doesn’t contain the specific size you need, you can purchase a single wrench for the next immediate project.

THE 10 WRENCHES WORTH KNOWING (AND STOCKING)

Types of Wrenches - Open-End Wrenches

Photo: amazon.com

WRENCH TYPE: Open-end Wrench
No DIY toolbox is complete without at least a handful of open-end wrenches. One or both ends on this hand tool feature flat interior C-shaped jaws—and if both wrench heads are open, they’ll be of different sizes—that slip snugly along the sides of a nut or bolt, allowing you to exert torque pressure in either direction. After each turn of the nut, you must reposition an open-end wrench before turning again.

Best For: Narrow spots where you only have access to the side of the nut. If you don’t have enough room to slip a box-end wrench (see below) over the top of a nut, an open-end wrench is your best option. For a good starter set, try Zenith Industries’ Double Open End Wrench Set ($12.99 for an 8-piece set from Amazon).

Types of Wrenches - Box-End Wrenches

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WRENCH TYPE: Box-end Wrench
For tasks in which you have full access to the top of a nut, a box wrench offers more control over the torque process than its open-end counterpart. That’s because once the wrench head is securely positioned over the nut, it’s less likely to slip off. Whether you purchase a single or double-box wrench (which pairs two different size wrench heads), the box ends resemble rings with interior shapes featuring either six or 12 sides. The openings fit snugly over hex-head (six-sided) nuts and bolts. Box-end wrenches with 12-sided rings fit hex-head nuts in the same manner, but offer greater flexibility in handle positioning when fitting the wrench head over the nut or bolt—extremely helpful if you have limited space to maneuver. Some box wrenches on the market even come with offset handles, reducing the risk of scraping knuckles when tightening nuts on flat surfaces.

Best For: Around the house and automotive use. Like open-end wrenches, box-end wrenches are non-adjustable, so it’s a good idea to start with a standard set like this 8-Piece SAE Offset Box Wrench set ($24.95 from Amazon), and then add additional larger and smaller wrenches to your collection over time.

Types of Wrenches - Combination Wrenches

Photo: amazon.com

WRENCH TYPE: Combination Wrench
With a combination wrench you get the best of both open-end and box-end wrenches. Unlike how double open-end and double box-end wrenches feature different size wrench heads at each end, a combination wrench has the same head size on both ends, so you can flip the wrench around while you work—both ends will fit the same nut.

Best For: Again, around the house and automotive use. Also, a great wrench to stow in a bicycle bag for roadside repairs. Check out TEKTON’s 15-piece wrench set, which comes with a handy snap-on storage holder ($36.11 from Amazon).

Types of Wrenches - Adjustable Wrenches

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WRENCH TYPE: Adjustable Wrench
Arguably, if you only have one wrench, it should be an adjustable wrench because you can use it on many different sizes of nuts and bolts. But, though undeniably versatile, these wrenches require extra care during use.

In the DIY industry, an adjustable wrench is sometimes called a “knuckle buster” due to its tendency to slip off a nut and—if you’re exerting a lot of force—send your fist flying into something hard or sharp nearby. You can minimize knuckle injuries by remembering to pull the handle of the wrench toward you rather than push it away. Also rotate the wrench’s adjustment screw in order to clamp the wrench jaws as tightly as possible around the nut you’re working on, and readjust as necessary while you work. The jaws on some adjustable wrenches tend to loosen as you work, increasing the risk of slipping and damaging the edges of the nut or bolt.

Best For: Basic plumbing use, including tightening water supply line nuts, or when you can’t locate a non-adjustable wrench in a specific size. Unlike other types of wrenches, adjustable wrenches are sold individually more often than as a set. We like Channellock’s WideAzz Adjustable Wrench with comfort grip ($18.88 from Amazon).

Types of Wrenches - Hex-Key Wrenches

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WRENCH TYPE: Hex-Key Wrench
Also called Allen wrenches (although “Allen” actually refers to specific brand known for making hex-key wrenches), these short six-sided bars of steel are characteristically L-shaped, with one side shorter than the other. Rather than wrapping around hex-head nuts like most of the other wrenches in this guide, these turn them by snugly fitting into the six-sided depression at center of each nut. Both ends fit the same size hex-head nut, up to about 3/8-inch for use in household applications and larger only for more industrial work. After inserting one end of the hex-key wrench into a hex-head nut, the other end of the wrench is used as a handle to turn the nut. “Cheater bars,” or small tubes that slip over the end of the wrench handle, can create a longer handle and provide increased leverage when the nuts are stuck.

Best For: Installing and removing recessed hex-head nuts and bolts found in faucets, towel bars, and door knobs. They’re also used for assembling certain types of furniture, bookcases, and closet organizers. Typically, if you purchase an item requiring assembly, the exact hex-key wrench you need will be included, but it never hurts to keep a set of these wrenches like TEKTON’s 26-piece Long-Arm, Ball-end Hex-Key Wrench Set on hand for everyday use ($14.95 from Amazon).

Types of Wrenches - Ratcheting Wrenches

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WRENCH TYPE: Ratcheting Wrench
While a ratcheting wrench closely resembles the box-end wrench with one or two closed-heads, its function is wholly different. Once slipped over a nut or bolt, the ratcheting (grab-and-slip) assembly in the head grips the nut tightly when the wrench handle is pulled in one direction but not in the other, so that you can loosen or tighten a nut by simply moving the ratcheting handle back and forth—no need to reposition it after each turn.

Best For: Getting the job done quickly! A ratcheting wrench can be used in any situation where you might otherwise use a box-end wrench. If you have a lot of nuts or bolts to tighten, a ratcheting wrench will greatly reduce the time it takes to do so. Consider investing in a set like the Craftsman’ 20-piece Ratcheting Wrench Set, which offers a ratcheting head on one end of each wrench and an open wrench end on the other of the same size ($62 from Amazon).

Wrench Types - Socket Wrench

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WRENCH TYPE: Socket Wrench
A socket wrench works on the same principle as a ratcheting wrench, but instead of needing an individual wrench specific to each size of nut or bolt, a socket wrench features a single ratchet bar and interchangeable sockets (heads that fit directly over the nuts). For this reason, socket wrenches sell primarily in sets, although you can pick up individual replacement sockets when one gets lost. Depending on the brand, your set might also come with one or more extension bars—handy for reaching nuts and bolts in tight spots. The ratcheting part of a socket wrench is located in its handle; once a socket is fitted over a nut or bolt, tighten or loosen the nut by moving the handle back and forth in the same way you would move a ratcheting wrench.

Best For: Automotive and bicycle use. Many socket wrench sets come in metric sizes designed to fit nuts and bolts on imported automobiles, but they are also available in SAE measurements. Consider picking up one that coordinates with your car—Stanley makes a good 40-piece starter set—and store it in the trunk for quick repairs ($19.97 from Amazon).

Wrench Types - Torque Wrench

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WRENCH TYPE: Torque Wrench
With other wrenches, you can tighten a nut until it feels snug, but in special situations, that’s not good enough—you can’t afford to guess. The torque wrench will tighten a nut or bolt to a specific pressure. Torque wrenches sell individually and are used most often in an automotive setting. A single torque wrench is designed to fit a specific nut or bolt, but more importantly, it’s designed to tighten it to predetermined specs. For example, if you’re changing a tire on a late model car, the lug nuts that hold the wheel in place must be tightened to a specific pressure, measured in “pound/feet.” The car owner’s manual will specify both the size of the wrench head and the amount of torque pressure required to tighten these lug nuts, which DIYers can match to the exact torque pressure listed on the wrench packaging. When tightening a nut or bolt with a torque wrench, you’ll either hear a clicking sound or see LED readout, a scale, or a flashing light to alert you when you’ve reached the correct tightening pressure; tightening past this point will likely damage the nut or the object connected to it.

Best For: Mechanical work, although some types of metal building construction require a specific torque for fasteners. Always purchase the torque wrench that matches the required specs. For example, you might choose the TEKTON ½-inch Drive-Click Torque Wrench if you’re looking for a ½-in wrench torqued to 25-250 ft./lbs. ($57.80 from Amazon). TEKTON makes additional torque wrenches geared to other pressure specs, so read your owner’s manual carefully before buying.

Wrench Types - Basin Wrench

Photo: amazon.com

WRENCH TYPE: Basin Wrench
Wedging your body in the small cramped space beneath a sink while trying to install or disconnect water supply lines isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but a basin wrench can make the daunting task a whole lot more comfortable—and save your back in the process. A basin wrench acts as an extension bar, allowing you to reach upward in the small space behind the sink and tighten or loosen the nuts that connect the water supply lines to the faucet. Basin wrenches may vary in design, but once the jaws of the wrench head are secure on the nut, you simply turn the wrench handle from the bottom to tighten or loosen the nut.

Best For: Attaching and removing connecting nuts on the water supply lines of a standard sink. Looking to make short work of replacing a faucet? check out the long reach (adjustable from 10 to 17 inches), adjustable jaws, and easy-to-use perpendicular T-type handle on the RIGID Model 1017 Basin Wrench ($32.72 from Amazon).

Wrench Types - Strap Wrench

Photo: amazon.com

WRENCH TYPE: Strap Wrench
Not all wrenches are intended for use on small nuts and bolts. Strap wrenches exert torque force on larger cylindrical items, such as oil filters, large connecting pipe nuts, and even stuck-on jar lids! By wrapping the wrench strap (which is often made of rubber) around the item tightly to create a secure grip, you can then move the strap wrench handle to twist the item loose.

Best For: Removing round oil filters or large pipe connectors. While designs on the market vary, all strap wrenches work on the same gripping principle. For everyday use, try the Craftsman 2-Piece Rubber Strap Wrench Set, which comes with two sizes of strap wrench: a small tool for cylindrical items up to 4 inches in diameter and a larger option for those up to 6 3/8-inches ($17.18 from Amazon).

 

DIY Projects Anyone Can Do

All of the Best Hands-on Tutorials from BobVila.com
Get the nitty-gritty details you need—and the jaw-dropping inspiration you want—from our collection of the favorite projects ever featured on BobVila.com. Whether your goal is to fix, tinker, build or make something better, your next adventure in DIY starts here.


Genius! This Mirror Hides a Whole Gun Collection

When it comes to safely storing firearms and other hunting equipment in the home, this DIY gun cabinet is your secret weapon.

Secret Gun Storage

Photo: sawdust2stitches.com

Gun cabinets have long been the storage option of choice for responsible firearm owners looking to securely stash weapons in the home. But this type of bulky storage doesn’t tend to be aesthetically pleasing and can take up valuable real estate in any living space. When Corey of Sawdust 2 Stitches set out to build a hidden gun cabinet, she designed and placed the sleek, stealthy storage unit for her family’s firearms in the most unexpected of locations: the living room. While the glammed-up gun cabinet is not a substitute for a child-proof safe that locks, its secret location behind a mirror and its unique hinged door design can keep dangerous equipment out of sight, but still within easy reach.

Drawing inspiration from a Pottery Barn mirror cabinet, Corey assembled ripped 2×4’s into a cabinet frame. She then outfitted the frame with a customizable pegboard interior and hooks, which can secure firearms of any variety or size. At a depth of only 3 inches, the cabinet easily houses guns, magazines, and ammunition while remaining slim enough to avoid detection by unsuspecting guests and intruders. Yet the real beauty of the covert compartment is in its modern mirror cover-up. The striking 8-by-5 grid of 5-inch-square mirrors glued to the cabinet front elegantly masks the seam in the middle of the cabinet—not to mention the fact that two 47 3/4-inch long plywood doors (12 and 18 inches in height, respectively) hide a serious secret inside. Thanks to piano hinges attached to the doors, both the top and bottom doors carefully swing open to reveal your weapons cache, or close shut to hide the guns out of sight.

Like Corey, you can further customize—and secure—the gun cabinet by adding a key lock to the frame for an added measure of safety in households that include children. But even the original design offers some peace of mind in that the removable left trim piece of the cabinet features bolts that keep the closed cabinet doors in place most of the time. Without first sliding out this piece, the cabinet doors won’t fall open. With this clever DIY gun cabinet, you can rest easy knowing that your firearms are safely hidden at all times. Plus, you’ll gain a wow-worthy DIY mirror for your living room!

FOR MORE: Sawdust 2 Stitches

Secret Gun Storage

Photo: sawdust2stitches.com


Buyer’s Guide: Space Heaters

Understand which features matter most so that you can find the space heater that works best to warm up your home.

Best Space Heater

Photo: istockphoto.com

Ever-rising utility costs can make it difficult to heat an entire house during the coldest months of the year. To keep occupied areas comfortable—say, the home office from 9 to 5 or the living room during a movie marathon—while the rest of the house remains heated just enough, many homeowners turn to space heaters as a means of conserving energy. Those in the market for a replacement or addition are in for a pleasant surprise: Today’s models offer basic heating features at more affordable prices than in years past, and newer bells and whistles including upgraded safety features abound. Start your own shopping trip for the best space heater with this guide on what features matter most—and which models have them.

Consider safety first. Space heaters are a leading cause of house fires in winter, so it’s smart to stock one that boasts additional safety features that reduce the risk of burns and fires. Manufacturers have introduced automatic shut-offs that kick in when a unit overheats or gets inadvertently knocked over, and exterior cases keep a unit cool to the touch while the heater runs. Some models even come equipped with motion sensors that detect and turn the heater off when a pet or child comes too close. For extra peace of mind in your purchase, look for the letters “NTRL” on the space heater packaging; these indicate that the model has been tested for safety by the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory.

Note: Before heading out to buy a space heater, call your homeowners insurance agent. Some insurance policies will not cover damages from fire caused by a space heater.

Know your heating needs. A common consumer complaint about any space heater is that the unit does not warm the room adequately. Assessing your needs—as well as a room’s limitations—will help ensure you find the best space heater to meet your needs. As a general rule of thumb, select a space heater that will produce 10 watts of power for every square foot of floor space. For instance, to heat a 10-foot by 12-foot room, you’d need to purchase a 1200-watt space heater. A very large room may require more than one space heater to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout. Other factors that affect a space heater’s efficiency include ceiling height, the insulating factor of the exterior walls, the number of windows, and the available outlets. While high-wattage heaters offer more heat than lower-wattage models, they’re limited to the capacity of the electrical outlets they plug into. Since a home’s standard 110-volt electrical outlet can only provide 1,500 watts of power, that’s what the wattage would cap at for any machine plugged into it.

Find the right type. 

Fan space heaters are among the least expensive models on the market, ranging in price from $25 to $80, but the design design—one that heats the air around an electric coil or wire elements and disperses the heat with a fan—does not offer the same efficiency as other space heater types. Plus, the fan motor can be quite noisy. They’re best saved for rooms without drafts and for when you need to heat up a small space quickly.

Convection space heaters warm air over ceramic plates or disks and allow it to flow naturally back into the room. Some models do include fans for quicker heating, and, like plain fan heaters, they work best in rooms without drafts. Convection heaters come in compact or tower models, often with exterior cases that are cooler to the touch. Prices range from $30 to $80, depending on wattage and added features.

Infrared space heaters are among the quietest options for the home, starting at $60 per unit. They generate heat quickly, not by heating the air in the room but by radiating heat to the objects in front of them. Because this type of heater heats you—not the air—it’s a good choice for use in drafty rooms. Just aim it at your chair and enjoy.

Oil-filled space heaters take a while to heat up but, when they do, radiate continuous warm heat. These units are particularly well suited for larger rooms where they’re left on for long periods. Due to the weight of the oil and steel casing, many of these heavy heaters utilize wheels for easy relocation. Prices start around $65 for small units and run into the hundreds for larger models.

Micathermic space heaters combine convection and radiant heating processes. Designed as a panel to stand or hang on a wall as you would a picture, they create a welcoming ambiance for all of the senses by mimicking the look of a real fire and radiating heat. Some models include fans for greater efficiency and remote controls for extra convenience. These advanced heaters range in price from $300 to over $1,000 for designer models.

 

More Than Just Hot Air

After comparing space heater reviews from consumers and publishers alike, we’ve rounded up three of the most highly rated models available today to help you find one that fits your home’s needs and your wallet’s budget. Start your shopping for the best space heater with the picks below.

 

Best Space Heater - Lasko Ceramic Heater with Adjustable Thermostat

Photo: amazon.com

Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater ($30)
A compact choice for small spaces, the 9.2″-tall Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater makes it a good choice for an under-the-table heater with a stay-cool carry handle to move with you during the day. This little powerhouse features a manual High/Low temperature control, a fan-only option, and an automatic shut-off to prevent overheating, all for one of the most affordable prices on the market. Sweethome recommends it for its “proven reliability, affordability, and excellent heating ability,” and Amazon buyers agree, awarding the Lasko heater a resounding 4.1 stars! Available from Amazon.

 

Best Space Heater - Honeywell Digital Ceramic Tower Heater with Motion Sensor

Photo: amazon.com

Honeywell’s Digital Motion Sensor Room Heater ($60)
The 23″-tall Honeywell Digital Motion Sensor Room Heater oscillates to distribute “Max Heat” or “Energy Saver” temperatures evenly in small to mid-size rooms (up to 12 feet by 12 feet). Good Housekeeping recognizes the tower not only as a quick-heating option, but a very safe one, to boot. This unit includes many extra precautions: a motion sensor that prompts a shut-off when it detects movement, an auto shut-off when tipped over, and cool-touch housing and handle. The model’s safety features and ease of operation—thanks to a large LCD display, programmable thermostat, adjustable timer, and remote control—ultimately outweigh the low fan noise for its Amazon customers and fans. Available from Amazon.

 

Best Space Heater - DeLonghi Oil Filled Radiator Heater

Photo: amazon.com

DeLonghi EW7507EB Oil Filled Radiator Heater Black 1500W ($70)
For larger rooms with constant supplemental heating needs, Consumersearch recommends a unit with superior ability to retain and radiate heat, even after you turn it off: the DeLonghi EW7507EB Oil Filled Radiator Heater. Though it takes a while to get warm, once its sealed oil-filled reservoir heats up, the DeLonghi operates silently. Amazon customers, who gave it 4.1 stars, rave about its three adjustable heat settings and a “climate control” feature that allows users to select and maintain a desired room temperature between 41 and 95 degrees. Its energy-saving timer even allows homeowners to program on-and-off cycles for a 24-hour period, meaning that you can wake up to a warmed bedroom without needing to leave the heater running all night. Available from Amazon.


How To: Drill Into Concrete

Bore a hole through masonry or concrete in a minute or less when you use this special tool and the correct technique.

How to Drill into Concrete with a Rotary Hammer

Photo: istockphoto.com

While concrete’s cool, industrial aesthetic is a go-to design touch in modern homes, its density and strength are what have long made it an attractive building material. That durability can be quite the obstacle, however, for homeowners trying to mount an art installation on a concrete feature wall, drill a hole to set a fence post at the end of the driveway, or sink a hole through the back corner of a concrete countertop. Such activities run the very real risk of damaging a drill bit or accidentally marring the concrete surface in an overzealous, poorly executed attempt at how to drill into concrete.

You can, in fact, drill a hole in a concrete interior feature wall armed with nothing more than your trusty rotary drill and a masonry bit—so long as you take care to not burn out the motor of the drill or demolish the bits. Older concrete, however, is often much more dense than some of the cosmetic concrete used in modern finishes, so boring through a 50-year-old concrete wall in your foundation with your old-school rotary drill just won’t cut it. When you’re working with older concrete—or if you’re planning to drill multiple holes about two to four inches deep and up to ¾ inch wide—it’s best to upgrade to an electric hammer drill.

Specially designed for drilling into masonry or rock using a rapid hammer action, these drills and their carbide-tipped masonry bits are widely available at tool rental shops. A quality hammer drill (also known as a rotary hammer) can bore a two-inch-deep, ¼-inch-wide hole in less than a minute, which is much faster than a rotary drill and thus justifies its roughly $40 afternoon rental cost. When renting or buying a hammer drill, look for one with good power, ideally more than one speed setting, a stop function, and an auxiliary handle for your spare hand for enhanced comfort, control, and safety.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Pencil
– Ruler
– Hammer drill
– Masking tape (optional)
– Goggles
– Tungsten carbide masonry bits
– Large masonry nail (at least 3 inches)
– Hammer
– Canned compressed air
– Vacuum

How to Drill into Concrete

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Mark the desired position of the holes in pencil on the concrete surface, and double-check their locations before you proceed. Also, during this planning and prep work, consider the drilling depth necessary for each hole. If your drill’s features include a stop bar, set it to the exact depth you want by following the drill manufacturer’s specifications. No stop bar feature? Instead, wrap a piece of masking tape around the drill bit to show you where to stop.

STEP 2
Don your goggles, then insert the appropriate tungsten carbide masonry drill bit for your desired hole size into the hammer drill. Next, get into position to drill by planting your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Hold your drill securely with both hands: Grip it in one hand like a handgun, and, if there’s no auxiliary handle for your spare hand, use that hand to brace the back of the drill.

It’s critical to control the drill so it doesn’t run away once you begin work. When you lean in to bore the hole, the drill bit should be perfectly perpendicular to the concrete. Be prepared for some recoil from the drill’s hammer action.

STEP 3
Make a guide hole first. Many hammer drills offer only two speeds, so turn your drill on at the slower speed for best control when making the guide hole. If your drill has only one speed, then work in short, controlled bursts of a few seconds each until you’ve established a hole. The guide hole needs to be just 1/8 to ¼ inch deep.

STEP 4
When you start with a guide hole at least 1/8 inch deep, your drill will be easier to control, but all the same continue to operate the drill with a steady, light-but-firm touch so you’re never forcing it in. If you’re feeling confident, turn the speed to full, keeping a firm grip on the tool with both hands, and drill into the concrete until the hole is complete.

Beware: Concrete can have air pockets and pebbles or stones that can make resistance unpredictable, with the result that it can be disturbingly easy to lose control of the tool for a moment.

STEP 5
If you hit obstructions, never force the drill farther into the concrete. This can damage the bits or drill, or cause you to lose control of the drill and mess up your hole, damage the concrete surface, or worse.

Whenever you reach any too-tough-to-crack spots that impede progress, set the drill down and grab the masonry nail and hammer. Put the tip of the masonry nail at the problem spot and give it a few taps—not hard whacks—with the hammer to break up the obstruction. When you’re done, resume drilling the concrete at a slow speed until you’re sure you’ve passed the rough patch.

STEP 6
Periodically pull the drill out to brush away concrete dust. Considering you can bore a two-inch hole in under a minute using a hammer drill, pausing every 15 to 20 seconds should suffice.

STEP 7
Once you have drilled your hole to the necessary depth, blow all of the concrete dust out of the hole with a can of compressed air then vacuum up whatever has fallen to the ground. You should still be wearing your goggles throughout this process in order to protect against any concrete dust and shards that might fly in your face and scratch your eyes.

STEP 8
Repeat this procedure for any other holes you need. Once through, a pass with a vacuum will make cleanup a breeze.


Buyer’s Guide: Snow Blowers

Armed with these insider tips and best picks, you'll bring home a snow blower that will make you the envy (or the hero) of the neighborhood, clearing driveways and walkways with ease all winter long.

Best Snow Blower

Photo: istockphoto.com

When Old Man Winter blows into town, home improvement stores roll out their snow blower displays—rows of shiny red, blue, and yellow machines—tempting you to pull out your credit card and take one home. But, as its price tag will remind you, a snow blower is a major purchase that will cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Before you invest that sort of money, get a better understanding of what to look for in the best snow blower. We’ve outlined the need-to-know information and identified three top-rated models so you can confidently select the best machine for your snow-removal needs, whether you’re a first-time buyer or just upgrading to a new model.

Size up the muscle power: Most people think of size in terms of the width of the path a snow blower will clear. While that is a consideration, especially if you have a large area to clear, the real challenge is in finding the best snow blower for efficiently removing both the amount and the type of snow you’re likely to receive in your region—at a price you’re willing to pay. Manufacturers describe snow blowers as “single-stage,” “two-stage,” or “three-stage” to distinguish strength.

Best Snow Blower

Photo: istockphoto.com

• Single-stage snow blowers feature a horizontal auger at the front of the machine that rotates rapidly, scooping up snow and tossing it out the chute. The motion of the spinning auger creates the force that blows the snow from the chute, so single-stage snow blowers generally do not generate sufficient power to blow the snow more than 15 to 25 feet away. The auger blades on a single-stage blower skim the ground during operation, so the machine can effectively clear flat and smooth paved areas. Because the blades are so low, however, they tend to pick up small rocks and toss them out the chute, making single-stage blowers unsuitable for clearing gravel driveways. Most single-stage blowers can clear a 12- to 18-inch swath of light, fluffy snow, and they’re available in both gas- and electric-powered models

• Two-stage snow blowers, which are usually fuel-powered, feature a powerful impeller fan that works in combination with an auger to draw in snow and forcefully throw it out the chute. A two-stage snow blower can shoot snow in excess of 35 feet, depending on the power of the fan on a particular model and the weight of the snow. A snow blower will throw powder snow—the kind skiers love—the farthest, but if you’re clearing heavy, wet snow, don’t expect your blower to reach the maximum distance. Two-stage blowers can handle wet snow as well as fluffy snow, and clear a swath ranging from approximately 12 inches to 2.5 feet. Unlike their single-stage counterparts, two-stage snow blowers are suitable for use on gravel drives because their auger blades don’t touch the ground.

Three-stage snow blowers are the big boys in the snow-removal world—and, unsurprisingly, the most expensive. In addition to an auger and impeller fan, they feature an accelerator that grinds chunks of ice and powerfully expels snow and slush from the chute. It’s not unusual for a three-stage blower to throw lightweight snow a distance of 50 feet. These muscle-bound machines can clear paths as wide as 40 inches, depending on the specific model. If you have heavy-duty snow-removal needs, a three-stage blower might be the machine for you.

Find the appropriate fuel: Like most outdoor maintenance machines, snow blowers can be powered either by electricity or by gas or diesel. Each option has its benefits and drawbacks.

• Electric-powered snow blowers are the least expensive options and smallest in overall size. Typically single-stage machines, these models clear light snow best, up to about 8 inches deep—but won’t dig you out of deep and heavy snows. Their need to be plugged in to an outlet via an extension cord limits their performance ever so slightly, making them best suited for homeowners who receive minimal snowfall and have relatively short sidewalks and driveways. They’re also handy for clearing snow from decks and steps, because they’re lightweight enough to lift and move. An added bonus: These machines don’t create fumes and won’t raise concerns about where to store their fuel.

• Gas- and diesel-powered snow blowers boast more power than electric blowers, albeit at a higher price tag. They efficiently clear away deeper and heavier snows without restricting their users to the length of an extension cord. With a fuel-powered blower, once you’ve cleared your own driveway, you can continue down the sidewalk and clear your neighbor’s drive as well.

 

OUR PICKS

Here’s what reviewers—everyone from the experts who tested selections out in their laboratories to the consumers who have already grappled with the pros and cons to find the best snow blower—said about today’s top models.

 

Best Snow Blower

Photo: homedepot.com

Toro Power Clear 518 ZE 18 in. Single-Stage Gas Snow Blower ($399)
For the homeowner with low to medium snow-removal needs, Consumer Reports gives the Toro Power Clear 518 ZE Snow Blower 4.4 out of 5 stars, a rating that Home Depot consumers confirm with an impressive 4.3 out of 5 stars. In field tests, this gas-powered single-stage snow blower excelled in quickly removing snow without engine drag. Compact but commanding, the blower clears a respectable 18-inch path, yet takes up no more room than a standard push-mower in the garage or storage shed. It comes with a rotating chute and snow deflector, allowing you to easily change snow discharge direction, and an electric start to get things up and running even in bitter temps. The Toro Power Clear is designed to remove light-to-moderate snow at depths of up to 12 inches. Available at Home Depot.

 

Best Snow Blower

Photo: sears.com

Craftsman 26″ Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Zero-Turn Snow Blower ($899)
A respected authority on all aspects of home technology, The Sweethome recommends the Craftsman 26″ Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Zero-Turn Snow blower as the best machine for most people. This two-stage powerhouse is designed to handle snow depths up to 12 inches quickly and quietly, which should keep your neighbors happy. Powerful enough to quickly clear a 26-inch path—even when snow gets packed, thanks to its heavy-duty impeller fan—the two-stage blower from Craftsman earned 4 out of 5 stars from Sears consumers. With power steering and zero-turn capability, the Craftsman blower easily maneuvers through tight sidewalk turns and can reverse direction on a dime. Plus, its six forward speeds and two reverse speeds enable you to hustle through light snow or slow down for accumulations of heavy  snow and slush. Available at Sears.

 

Best Snow Blower

Photo: homedepot.com

Cub Cadet 3X 3-Stage Snow Blower ($1,399)
For the ultimate snow-removal power, Popular Mechanics recommends the Cub Cadet 3X 3-Stage Snow Blower, which rapidly clears a 28-inch swath and ejects the snow as far as 50 feet. Designed to tackle heavy snows on large driveways and walks, the Cub Cadet chews through formidable drifts and icy chunks. Its push-button start, easy maneuverability, and ability to clear snow twice as fast as two-stage blowers earned it 3.9 stars from Home Depot consumers. And if it somehow gets dark before you’ve sped through the job, never fear: The Cub Cadet comes with an in-dash headlight so you can blow snow long after sundown. The Cub Cadet even offers one-hand operation with fingertip controls—although with heated handles that make the chore almost pleasurable, you may not want to let go. Available at Home Depot.


The Right Stuff: 3 Types of Safety Gear You Need for DIY

Check out the strides made in personal protective equipment, and gear up right before you start your next big project.

SHARES

Photo: Honeywell

Few do-it-yourselfers would consider remodeling a room, building an addition, or addressing a plumbing or electrical issue without the right tools. Yet, unlike pros who are required to wear safety gear, too many DIYers risk serious injury by tackling projects without appropriate eyewear, footwear, and hearing protection—a bad habit that needs to change. And thanks to comfortable, streamlined, and tough new products from Honeywell, a leading manufacturer of quality personal protective equipment, weekend work warriors now have every reason to put safety first. Read these three considerations before your next home improvement endeavor, so you can get smart, and gear up right!

 

Honeywell Oliver 45 Series Protective Footwear

Photo: Honeywell

Put Your Best Foot Forward
Have some demo on your to-do list? Hauling lumber, bricks, or other light construction soon? Perhaps you’ll reach new heights in roofing. Step one for any of these jobs is lacing up a top-notch pair of work boots. Foot injuries from construction sites run the gamut from punctures, burns, and lacerations to sprains, breaks, even the loss of a toe or two.

With Oliver Safety Footwear by Honeywell 45 Series, you won’t sacrifice comfort for safety. An innovative composite toe makes the boots 40 percent lighter than their steel toe counterparts while still offering optimal high-impact protection. Throw in flexible underfoot support that absorbs shocks and impacts, a heat-resistant outer sole that withstands temperatures up to 266 degrees Fahrenheit, and a fully lined padded collar and tongue, and you’ve got a boot that’ll thwart foot, leg, and lower back fatigue as well. Plus, like any good tool, the Oliver 45 Series—made of water-resistant leather with a rugged sole—is built to last. You’ll run out of projects before you’ll need another pair!

 

Honeywell Uvex Hypershock Protective Eyewear

Photo: Honeywell

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
With all the debris that goes flying, it’s no surprise that construction has the highest incidence of eye injury than any other industry. But electrical work (due largely to its overhead nature) and plumbing also present their share of eye hazards. Even heavy-duty garden chores, like taking down tree limbs, put your vision at risk. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, nearly 90 percent of all eye injuries could be avoided with safety eyewear, yet only 35 percent of people consistently protect their eyes while doing home repairs or projects. The reinvention of once clunky protective gear aims to change all of that.

Now, the Uvex by Honeywell line of sport-inspired eyewear offers excellent performance, superior comfort, and sleek, bold style. Its Acadia model boasts a ¾ frame design and sculpted padded temples for high-impact protection, plus a soft, ribbed ergonomic nosepiece to keep the pair from slipping. Or, pick the full-frame Hypershock, with padded temples and a molded nosepiece for a secure, comfortable fit. You can even choose frame color and lens tint, and opt for Uvextreme Plus® anti-fog lens coating. With either selection, safety has never looked so good!

 

Photo: Honeywell

Take This Sound Advice
Carpentry is cacophonous, as a quick check of decibel levels makes clear. A router and circular saw both clock in at 110 dBs, while a nail gun pops at a whopping 120 dBs—not much quieter than a roaring jet engine (140 dBs). And, it doesn’t take a lot of exposure to too-loud tools to harm your hearing.

Today’s hearing protection has come a long way not just in noise reduction ratings, but also in comfort, style, and even built-in entertainment. Take for example the Honeywell SYNC Digital AM/FM Radio, a sleek, smart electronic headset that combines hearing protection with high-fidelity sound. SYNC Radio lets you digitally tune in up to 10 of your favorite AM/FM stations, or use the AUX input jack to connect your MP3 player, mobile phone, or other personal listening device. With DJ-inspired earcups and sound quality that’s on par with professional headphones, you’ll have more than enough motivation to get the job done. Hey, you may just whistle while you work!

Photo: Honeywell

This post has been brought to you by Honeywell. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Buyer’s Guide: Flashlights

If it’s time for a new torch, learn the basics of bulbs, beams, batteries, and more before heading to the store. Then, read on for our top picks to get the right light to suit your needs.

SHARES
Shopping for the Best Flashlight

Photo: istockphoto.com

Battery-operated, hand-held flashlights have been around since 1898 and have come a long way since. These household must-haves—crucial in power outages, helpful for late-night security checks, and valuable when trying to find something under the bed—are not only brighter and more dependable than ever, they’ve also become more compact and lightweight. So whether you need a beacon for your bedside table, glove compartment, utility drawer, or emergency kit, here’s all the info you need to find the best flashlight at the best price.

MAKING SENSE OF FLASHLIGHT PACKAGING

Shopping for the Best Flashlight - A Buyer's Guide

Photo: istockphoto.com

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rates flashlights by their light output, battery runtime, beam distance, and beam intensity. When browsing the flashlight aisle at your hardware store, you’ll notice that every package bears a series of ratings. Understanding what these ratings mean is key to locating the best flashlight to meet your needs.

Light Output. You can still find a few flashlights with incandescent, krypton-type bulbs, but the vast majority of today’s models feature LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs that produce brighter beams over greater distances. The amount of light a flashlight produces is measured in “lumens.” A flashlight producing 25 lumens is sufficient for reading a book under the covers, while 200 lumens will illuminate the corners of an average size yard. Need more? Flashlights with over 1,000 lumens are available; just don’t aim them toward your neighbor’s windows at night!

Beam Distance and Type. Flashlight packages tell how far the beam will go and what sort of beam it is—both important considerations. The distance a beam will shine is given in meters. For instance, a beam distance of 200 meters is equal to just over 650 feet. There are also two types of beams. A “flood” beam lights up a wide area, while a “spot” beam produces a narrower stream of light that travels a greater distance. Some flashlights allow you to toggle between a flood beam and a spot beam as needed.

Battery Runtime. With more intense and powerful light output comes the need for longer battery runtimes—after all, a high-lumen flashlight won’t do you much good on a weekend camping trip if the batteries run out in two hours. The more powerful the beam, the more quickly the batteries will drain. Fortunately, many flashlights today use rechargeable batteries. They cost a bit more than disposables but will save money over time if you use the flashlight frequently.

Waterproof Ratings. The abbreviation “IPX” (for Ingress Protection) denotes that a flashlight will resist moisture and water, something to check for if you plan to take your torch on adventures where it might get wet.

• A rating of IPX-4 means the flashlight should be okay if gets splashed by a little water.
• A rating of IPX-7 indicates the flashlight should survive being submerged for up to half an hour.
• A rating of IPX-8 indicates that the flashlight will still be operable after being submerged for up to four hours.

THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST

After thoroughly comparing flashlight reviews from consumers and publishers alike, we’ve rounded up three of the most highly-rated models available today to help you find the best flashlight for all of your needs. Check out the top picks:

 

Best Flashlight - Streamlight ProTac HL

Photo: amazon.com

Streamlight ProTac HL ($73)
Ranking among Wired.com’s top choices for compact flashlights, the Streamlight ProTac HL packs a ton of features into a pocket-sized powerhouse. Made of impact-resistant anodized aircraft aluminum, it weighs less than 6 ounces, measures only 5.4 inches in length, and comes with a canvas holster. Its adjustable light output lets you crank beam intensity all the way up to 600 lumens or tone it down to a discrete 33 lumens. The ProTac features a no-fumble, push-button end-switch for easy on-and-off operating. At full beam intensity, the ProTac operates for approximately 1.5 hours before needing to recharge its lithium batteries; at its lowest output, batteries will last up to 18 hours. Satisfied buyers on Amazon.com give the Streamlight ProTac 4.5 stars for its super-bright light and small size, making it a great flashlight for evening walks. Available on Amazon

 

Best Flashlight - NITECORE P12 1000-Lumen Waterproof Tactical Flashlight

Photo: amazon.com


NITECORE P12 1000-Lumen Waterproof Tactical Flashlight ($72)
Patterned after military and law enforcement gear, the NITECORE P12 1000-Lumen Waterproof Tactical Flashlight wins top honors from Outdoors Magazine for its powerful beam that illuminates up to 232 meters. It comes with an IPX-8 waterproof rating and a tough, military-grade body. Its side-oriented power switch doubles as a battery life indicator. At maximum intensity, the NITECORP’s rechargeable batteries last approximately 1.5 hours; reduce the beam to 70 lumens and battery runtime can last up to 28 hours. Among its best features is the ability to strobe an S.O.S. signal in emergency situations, and an included car-charger for recharging on the go, earning the NITECORP an impressive 4.3 Stars from Amazon buyers. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Flashlight - DEWALT 20-Volt Max Lithium-Ion LED Flashlight

Photo: homedepot.com

DEWALT 20-Volt Max Lithium-Ion LED Flashlight (starting at $39)
From a manufacturer well-known to DIYers, the DEWALT 20-Volt Max Lithium-Ion LED Flashlight earns a 4.7 star ranking by Home Depot buyers. This quality multipurpose flashlight weighs in at 9 ounces and measures 7.5 inches long, with a comfortable pistol-grip, and its 110 lumens is ideal for illuminating your yard at night. Yet perhaps its best feature—making it the perfect flashlight to stow in a toolbox—is a 120-degree pivoting head and stand-up base that let you direct the light where you need it (such as at under-sink plumbing) while leaving both hands free to work. A 20-volt max 3.0 Ah lithium-ion battery and charger, both sold separately at $99 each, are required—but if you own other battery-operated DEWALT tools, the batteries are interchangeable, so you’ll have nothing else to buy. Available at The Home Depot.


How To: Use a Stud Finder

Master this tool and technique, and you can rest assured that whatever you wall-mount—mirror, television, or shelves—won't be going anywhere.

How to Use a Stud Finder

Photo: istockphoto.com

When hanging heavy mirrors, bracing large furniture, wall-mounting a new television, or erecting shelving, you need to start with the sturdy support of a 2×4 wall stud. Sure, nailing into drywall alone may be sufficient for hanging light wall art, but these fasteners can cause the wall to crumble if weighed down too much—not like the wood studs that exist to hold up drywall. There’s too much at stake to be less than 100 percent certain of the location of the stud’s center. Why risk a kitchen shelf loaded with dishes or baking supplies crashing down at any moment because you miscalculated where to place the fasteners? Fortunately, stud finders are practically foolproof and even easier to use than the old-school stud-finding methods,which can come in handy in minor situations. Read on for how to use a stud finder for a worry-free wall-hanging project.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Stud finder
– Pencil
– Tape measure

Before You Begin
Get to know the kind of stud finder you picked up. Is it a magnetic stud finder or does it read the density of the wall? A magnetic stud finder will read screws and nails behind the wall, but whether or not these are dead-center still requires some guesswork. If your project is valuable or heavy, it’s best to use a center-finding density-reading stud finder that will show the edges of your studs. No matter which type you pick up at the home improvement store, how to use a stud finder doesn’t change—only the information is displayed differently.

How to Use a Stud Finder to Locate Studs

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Decide where you roughly want to hang your item. Know where the top should be and how far down it requires mounting. This is the height at which you want to search the wall for studs. Remove any nearby wall-mounted photos or other partly-metal objects that could interfere with readings on a magnetic stud finder and set them aside for now.

STEP 2
Ensure your stud finder batteries are fresh and functioning, as weak batteries can greatly distort readings. Also check to make sure the flat side of the stud finder (where you’ll see the contacts and usually some felt to protect the wall from scratches) is clean of debris and dust.

STEP 3
Studs are typically either 16 or 24 inches apart, so you’ll be looking for a stud somewhere within a two-foot span. Hold your stud finder flat against the wall, about 1 foot left of where you ideally want to drill.

Turn it on. Usually this is done with buttons mounted on the sides where you grip the tool. Now press a button to calibrate the stud finder; when the tool stops flashing or beeping, then it’s ready to go. (Check your manual for exactly how your stud finder is calibrated, as it varies.)

STEP 4
Slowly slide the stud finder to the right, horizontally, while keeping the unit flat on the wall.

STEP 5
When the stud finder alerts you to a stud—via a beep or flashing light, depending on the finder in question—retrace the last few inches with the unit, to double-check where the alert is occurring.

STEP 6
Mark the correct spot with your pencil. If you’re using a center-finding stud finder, you’ll be shown where the edges of the studs are. Mark each edge so that, when you go to drill or hammer into the stud, you’ll know where dead center is.

STEP 7
Don’t accept this alert as the end of your journey; instead, continue searching for the flanking studs 16 to 24 inches away from the initial mark following steps 3 through 6.

Even though your tool indicated that it located a stud right where you need it, a stud finder can signal false positives when there is metal piping or flashing or brackets within the wall. Make sure your alert wasn’t a false positive by also locating the studs on either side of the one on which you plan to mount your mirror, television, shelf bracket, or other heavy item.

Mark their locations upon finding them, and then measure. If, in fact, they are 16 or 24 inches apart, then you’ve found your center stud. Now you’re ready to hammer or drill as needed. Proceed carefully and precisely, and you’ll have no regrets.

Of course, if you prefer the DIY route, you can find wall studs without dedicated equipment. While not fail-proof, these three methods will come in handy if you choose to forgo using a stud finder.


How To: Remove a Broken Bolt

Don’t let a defunct fastener foul you up. Follow these steps to take it off neatly without damaging the threaded hole.

How to Remove a Broken Bolt from Wood

Photo: istockphoto.com

In theory, metal bolts—headed fasteners with external threads that fit into suitable non-tapered nuts—can be removed and even reattached as needed. Unfortunately, when over-tightened or otherwise forced, bolts can seize and break, making them a challenge to remove. Stuck wondering how to remove a broken bolt? With the right gear and technique, a broken bolt can be extracted successfully to let you insert a new one.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Hammer
– Center punch
– Variable-speed reversible electric drill
– Left-handed drill bit
– Extraction drill bits kit
– Vise grip pliers
– Magnet and/or compressed air

How to Remove a Broken Bolt

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Place the center punch as close to the middle of the broken bolt as possible. Hit it squarely with the hammer to create a starting point for drilling a pilot hole. A precise pilot hole is critical to help you to avoid damaging the threads of the broken bolt when you extract it. If the threads on either the bolt or the bolt hole are damaged, it may make bolt removal impossible. Furthermore, if the threading on the bolt hole is damaged, you may be unable to use a new bolt once the old one is extracted.

STEP 2
Check the table on your extraction kit to select the proper-sized left-handed drill bit to make a pilot hole in this broken bolt. If you’re picking up a kit for the job, invest in quality; the last thing you need is a cheap bit breaking during this process.

Set your drill on reverse and as slow a speed as possible (ideally, 20 RPM), and insert the left-handed drill bit. The torque of drilling in reverse (i.e., counter-clockwise) will prevent you from further tightening the threads on the bolt. Now, place the drill bit on the punch mark you made and, holding the drill securely, slowly reverse-drill a small pilot hole in the bolt, about ¼-inch deep. Hopefully, reverse-drilling your pilot hole will loosen the bolt enough to let you use vise grip pliers to remove the bolt. Remember, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey”—turn the bolt left (counter-clockwise) to remove it. If the bolt hasn’t loosened at all, proceed to Step 3 for extraction.

STEP 3
For a stubbornly entrenched bolt, you’ll need an extraction bit. Check your extraction kit’s table for the right size bit for the bolt size. The extraction bit is also a left-handed drill bit (but with a different purpose) so you’ll continue using the reverse drilling setting. Exchange the first bit for the extraction bit in your drill, insert it in the pilot hole, and very gently tap your drill and the bit snuggly into place with a hammer.

STEP 4
Still using a very slow reverse-drilling setting, such as 20 RPM, begin drilling into the pilot hole. Slow and gentle is critical here: The bit is likely made of hardened steel, and if it breaks off during this process, you’ll face an even more challenging extraction. The broken bolt should soon “grab” onto the extraction bit while reverse drilling, and begin extracting. Continue slowly and steadily until the entire bolt has been fully extracted, ideally salvaging the threading so you want can put a new bolt in. Phew!

STEP 5
Any metal shavings or filings left in the threaded hole must be removed before inserting a new bolt. Set a powerful magnet over the hole to attract the loose bits, or use compressed air to blast the threading clean. Don’t skip this step or a new bolt could seize or sheer off.

The tried-and-tested method you just learned ought to safely remove any broken bolt, while ensuring you can later reuse the hole to insert a new one. If not, contact a local welding shop, which ought to have the skills and tools to remove a broken bolt. And remember, insert all bolts slowly and carefully in the future, to avoid seizing and the top of the bolt snapping off.


Buyer’s Guide: Fire Starters

Light the grill or fireplace fast with a single flammable pellet or package! We guarantee you'll warm up fast to any of these 7 top-rated fire starters.

Best Fire Starter for Lighting a Fire

Photo: istockphoto.com

While a toasty fire is a welcome addition to any chilly evening, wrestling with wet wood or crumpled-up newspapers to get the first flames going—and the wait time that follows—is not so much. You’ll eventually get something more than a smoking, smoldering pile of timber, but wouldn’t it be better to go right to a roaring blaze? That’s where fire starters come in.

Originally marketed and sold to the specialty camping, hunting, and fishing crowd, commercial fire starters are now a must-have accessory for anyone with a fireplace, wood stove, fire pit, chiminea, hibachi, food smoker, or even a trusty old-fashioned charcoal grill. Sure, you could fashion your own homemade fire starters from used dryer lint, cardboard egg cartons and candle wax, but commercial fire starters are fairly inexpensive and much less of a hassle than making your own. And since fire starters are readily available at hardware stores, home centers, and garden shops, there’s really no reason not to keep a case or two on hand throughout the year, to be ready whenever you need get the grill going or want to relax in the warm glow of the firelight.

Not all fire starters are created equal, however. Before you buy in bulk, mind these considerations—and product recommendations—to make sure you get the best burn for your buck.

Size matters. Fire starters are handy to have around, but the last thing you want is a large box that rivals your stack of firewood detracting from the attractive environment you’ve created around your fireplace. Fortunately, some of the best-reviewed fire starters are lightweight and compact, ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length, since most were originally developed to be tucked into a hiker’s backpack. Typically sold in cases of 12 or 24, these pocket-sized pouches, pods, or cubes can be stored in plain site in a basket or tucked out of sight.

Look for lengthy burn time. Highly flammable, fire starters are meant to speed through the painstaking process of starting a fire with wet wood, charcoal, or even coal alone by providing a persistent flame that can then catch on nearby kindling. To do so, the fire starter has to burn long enough to actually get the fire established. The best fire starter burns from 10 to 30 minutes, ensuring that you achieve a robust blaze.

The nose knows. A big barrier to the adoption of early, camping-oriented fire starters for home use was the smell. Older fire starters were impregnated with flame-inducing chemicals that smelled awful. Today’s best fire starters are nearly odorless—a big plus for using fire starters as an alternative to lighter fluid when starting the grill or food smoker.

Pick what’s best for the planet. You’re not the only one who benefits from abandoning fire starters that utilize noxious chemicals. The best fire starter burns clean thanks to environmentally-friendly flammable materials, be it wood waste (sawdust or shavings), non-toxic wax, recycled paper, waste textile fibers—or, for fireplace purists, all-natural fatwood. Fortunately, you won’t have to look too hard: Nearly all commercial fire starters have no byproducts or waste, because the paper packaging burns up right along with the fire starter. Plus, using fire starters typically results in faster and more complete ignition, thereby reducing emissions of particulate matter and carbon monoxide.

Brightest of the Bunch

We’ve done the dirty work for you and scouted the market for the handy nuggets, cubes, and packages worth stashing by the grill or fireplace. Keep reading for which options have been reviewed as the best fire starter in the business by consumers who have tried them all—as well as where you can stock up.

 

Best Fire Starter - Light-a-Fire by Vision Home Products

Photo: amazon.com

Light-a-Fire by Vision Home Products, $17.99 for 30
Listed as Amazon’s “Best All-Natural Fire Starter,” these pods received 4.9 out of 5 stars from customers who praised the compact cubes for being “remarkable,” “simple,” and “easy and safe to use.” Only one pod from the bucket supply of 30 is needed to instantly light a grill, campfire, or fireplace, and it will burn for 15 minutes to ensure your fire roars. Made from wood shavings and food-grade wax, these pods are totally odorless, non-toxic, and environmentally safe. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Zip Premium All Purpose Wrapped Fire Starters

Photo: amazon.com

Zip Premium All Purpose Wrapped Fire Starter, $4.84 for 12
These individually-wrapped fire starters are formulated to light in even the most difficult and damp conditions, earning them praise as a “surefire way to start a fire” and 4.8 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers. The cube design was formulated specifically to burn hotter for longer, up to 18 minutes of burn time. The cubes are safe, odorless, and convenient—just light the wrapper to see. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarters

Photo: amazon.com

Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarter, $4.99 for 12
This multipurpose fire starter ignites firewood or charcoal fast and burns for 20 minutes, garnering 4.5 out of 5 stars from Home Depot shoppers, who rave that it’s “long-lasting, so you only need one.” The small, pocket-sized logs create a clean burn—odorless and perfect for tailgating, campfires, or a quiet evening in front of the fireplace. Simply light the paper wrapper, and you’re on your way to a comfy fire. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Duraflame Firestart Firelighters

Photo: amazon.com

Duraflame Firestart Firelighters, $20.30 for 24
Well known for manufacturing colorful fire logs, Duraflame also secured a solid reputation for its fire starters, which are rated 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon and 4.7 out of 5 stars on Home Depot. The 6-ounce, individually-wrapped fire starters made from blend of wax and renewable, recycled biomass fiber ignite easily with a single match and burn up to 30 minutes, long enough to start even stubborn wood fires. Consumers even say, “they work so well, you can cut them in half.” Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Lightning Nuggets

Photo: lowes.com

Lightning Nuggets, $10.99 for 35
Just one small nugget is all it takes to light a fire, earning the product 4.5 out of 5 stars from Lowes shoppers. Consumers called it “the easiest way to get charcoal started,” and even raved that there’s “no more messing with newspaper or kindling.” Each Lightning Nugget burns for 15 minutes, thanks to a blend of all-natural, recycled, and non-toxic flammable materials, and this 2-pound supply provides enough to ignite the next 35 fires in your future. Available at Lowes.

 

Best Fire Starter - QuickFire Instant Fire Starters

Photo: amazon.com

QuickFire Instant Fire Starters; $9.99 for 25
These innovative compressed oil pouches are 100 percent waterproof with an infinite shelf life, and, come time to use them, the packaging material itself acts as a wick. Light and corner and a pack’s 10-minute burn will effortlessly start fireplaces, grills, campfires, fire pits, wood burning stoves, and more—all without odor or toxicity. Amazon users rated these fire starters 4.3 out of 5 stars for their “speed,” “convenience,” and “easy of use.” Available from Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - L.L. Bean Fatwood

Photo: llbean.com

Fatwood; $39.95 for 25 pounds
L.L. Bean calls this found-in-nature fire starter “the most efficient kindling,” and its customers don’t disagree. Fatwood—typically sticks cut from the stumps of pine trees that contain a high concentration of natural resin—garners 4.4 out of 5 stars from reviewers. It ignites quickly, burns cleanly, and smells naturally fragrant. The resin in the sticks burns extremely hot for 10 to 15 minutes, even when wet, to get the fire going in no time. Available at L.L. Bean.