Category: Tools & Workshop

How To: Use a Multimeter

No more scratching your head at malfunctioning appliances. With this guide, you'll learn the ins and outs of troubleshooting your home and household electronics using one of your toolkit's handiest instrument.

How to Use a Multimeter


Once reserved for engineers and electronic technicians, multimeters—sometimes called “multitesters”—have come down in price and size, making them indispensable for homeowners who have basic knowledge of circuitry. When troubleshooting problems with small appliances, smart-home modules, speaker systems, or just about any other electronic item, a multimeter will be among the most valued tools in your arsenal.

If you’re new to multimeters, these gadgets may seem daunting at first. Learn the basics, however, and you’ll soon be able to perform a number of diagnostic tests on your own. Because multimeters vary from model to model, be sure to study your specific unit’s operating manual before you get started.

How to Use a Multimeter - Check an Outlet


Two Types of Multimeters
Analog multimeters, or volt-ohm-milliammeters (VOM), have been around for decades and can still be found, affordably, at any do-it-yourself-type store. The new kids on the block—digital multimeters (DMM)—offer greater precision with decimal point readouts, even enhanced functions, such as the ability to auto-detect alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC).


Applications and Limitations
Both VOM and DMM models measure voltage, resistance, and current, replacing the need for individual voltmeters, ohmmeters, and ammeters. While you can test household voltage with a multimeter, electrical-current-testing is limited to low-voltage circuits, such as small direct current (DC) motors or low-voltage alternating current (AC) appliances—your thermostats and doorbells, for example. To avoid blowing a fuse, destroying the multimeter, or risking injury, do not attempt to test current higher than the maximum allowed for your unit.

Among other things, multimeters can determine:
• Available battery charge
• Voltage at an outlet or switch
• Damage in cables and cords
• Viability of fuses, diodes and resisters
• Conductive ability of an electrical pathway


Measuring Voltage
With a multimeter, you can measure both AC and DC voltage—particularly useful for locating short circuits or determining if a rechargeable battery is holding a charge. Start by selecting the corresponding current on the multimeter and a voltage range higher than the current you’re testing. For example, if you’re measuring the voltage in a 120-volt wall outlet, turn the multimeter knob to the next highest option—200 ACV. If you’re testing a 12-volt car battery, select the next highest option—20 DCV.

Then make sure to connect your test leads to the proper jacks before testing: For voltage testing, plug the red lead in to the port labeled “V.” For this and all multimeter tests, the black lead plugs into the common (COM) port.

To test a battery’s DC charge, touch the red probe to its positive terminal and the black probe to its negative terminal; the multimeter will display the existing charge in the battery. Since polarity isn’t an issue in AC voltage, it doesn’t matter which probe you insert in either hole of a wall outlet; insert both probes, and the multimeter will display the voltage at the outlet.

Safety Tip: Hold probes by their insulated handles. Do not touch the metal part of the probes to avoid electrical shock.


How to Use a Multimeter - Check an Appliance


Testing Resistance and Continuity
In electronics, “resistance,” is the amount of hindrance to the flow of electricity, and less is more—or, rather, good for the operation of your appliances. Multimeter in hand, you can test resistance in circuit board components and appliance elements throughout the house. If, for example, a microwave isn’t operating as it should, this checkup could help you you determine if you should replace a single non-functioning component on the circuit board or buy a new microwave outright.

First, make sure the appliance is unplugged before testing. Plug the red lead into the port with the ohm’s symbol, “Ω,” and select the lowest ohms’ function on the dial. While you can test individual capacitors and components directly on a circuit board, you’ll get a more accurate reading if you remove a component and then test it. When you touch the black and red probes to both ends of a component, simultaneously, you’ll get a reading. The lower the reading, the less the resistance to electrical flow. By comparing the readings from other components on the circuit board, you can determine whether or not to replace a component with an unusually high reading.

To test the continuity, or continuous flow, of an electrical path between two points, plug the red lead into the “Ω” jack and turn the dial to the continuity symbol, “continuity”. A small reading—or a beep—indicates there is a continuous path between the two points. No reading or beep, however, indicates a problem. For example, if you’ve just put a new bulb in your lamp but it still doesn’t turn on, running this test at both ends of its power cord can confirm that an internally broken cord is to blame for your dim room.


Testing Low-voltage Current
In order to measure low-voltage current, the multimeter must become part of the circuit, allowing the current to actually run through the multimeter. This is handy for determining whether a low-voltage circuit, such as a looped set of solar-powered landscape lights, is getting power to all the lights. For this test, plug the red lead into the port labeled, “A,” for Amps, and select the next-highest Amps function on the dial.

Your operating manual may provide a chart, but if not, you can test a simple circuit by connecting the live feed from the power-supply (usually black) to the multimeter’s red probe. The multimeter’s black probe then connects to the positive wire (usually black) on the appliance you’re testing. Finally, the neutral power-supply lead (usually white) connects to negative appliance wire (also white). When you’ve hooked up the circuit correctly, turn on the power source to measure the electrical flow rate, or amps, through the circuit.

Safety Tip: As previously mentioned, do not test a circuit that exceeds your multimeter’s capability. Multimeters are “fused” at a maximum amount of voltage, which is typically lower than household current. If a multimeter bears the words, “10A MAX FUSED,” do not test any current you suspect might be higher than 10 Amps.

Genius! Turn Any Belt into a Tool Belt

Every DIY-er knows that not all repairs happen at home. For on-the-go fixes, transform any belt into a tool belt with one simple (and free!) swap.

DIY Screwdriver Belt - How to Add a Screwdriver to Any Belt


Since the Bronze Age, belts have added functionality to our everyday uniform—from carrying soldiers’ heavy swords to holstering cowboys’ most important tool, the revolver. By the 1920s, most pants were sold with built-in loops, and the utility belt was reduced to a wardrobe staple. ShakeTheFuture‘s DIY is a tribute to an earlier time, when utility always won over fashion and the belt you wore did more than hold up your pants. If you’re a modern-day weekend warrior, don’t wait until you’re caught unprepared to try out his useful twist on this everyday accessory.

ShakeTheFuture swapped out his belt prong with a versatile screwdriver head—specifically, a voltage-testing screwdriver, which works on most Phillips and flat head screws. After breaking off the handle from his screwdriver, he used pliers to remove the buckle’s old prong and bend its replacement (the metal rod of the screwdriver) into shape. He then measured the screwdriver point against the old prong, trimmed the excess with his Dremel, and popped it into his buckle where it stays nearly invisible. When it’s this simple, why not make your gear work harder for you? Even better, the belt’s buckle works as a handle for better leverage.

The uses for an on-hand screwdriver are endless. In a single day, you might need one to prop open a door, fix a wobbly desk, or pry open a stuck drawer or latch. If you hate being caught unprepared, keep a screwdriver by your side at all times by making this simple switch. Any belt can be a tool belt!

FOR MORE: Instructables via ShakeTheFuture

DIY Screwdriver Belt


How To: Sharpen an Axe

If you have an axe to grind with your wood chopping tool's dull blade, then follow this step-by-step tutorial to get it back in business.

How to Sharpen an Axe - File


Few outdoor chores are as inherently hazardous as cutting down trees or chopping up wood, especially when your axe is subject to heavy use. Working with a dull axe is not only ineffective, but it’s also downright dangerous. A worn or damaged blade may bounce or glance off the wood rather than making a clean cut. Fortunately, sharpening an axe is a fairly simple procedure, requiring only a few easily gathered tools and some straightforward steps. Remember: Sharpening any tool is a task that requires undivided attention and proper safety equipment. Always wear protective goggles over your eyes, don sturdy gloves on your hands, and equip yourself with the proper guidelines for how to sharpen an axe.

- Safety goggles
- Sturdy gloves
- Table clamp or vise
- Grinding wheel (optional)
- Bastard file
- Wire brush
- Axe gauge
- Dual-sided sharpening stone
- Honing oil or water
- Beeswax

How to Sharpen an Axe


Clean the axe head well to remove rust and reveal any chips or gouges. If you find major damage, consider first using a grinding wheel to create a clean, straight edge. Don’t try to do it all in one pass—a little bit of grinding goes a long way! Use short strokes with the wheel, and pause between each to allow the steel to cool before continuing. Alternatively, you can dip the axe head in a bucket of cold water between passes. If there are only small nicks, you can skip this step and proceed directly to filing.

Clamp the axe handle into a bench vise. Begin perfecting the surface by running a 10-inch bastard file along one side of the bevel of the blade, keeping in mind that the ideal angle is between 25 and 30 degrees (you can check the angle with a bevel gauge). Work on one side at a time, filing slowly and pushing the file away from you in long, smooth strokes. Do not use a push-pull motion; if the tool makes contact with the blade on the return stroke, you may damage the file—and you won’t get your blade any sharper. Use a wire brush to remove metal shavings that come about as you practice how to sharpen an axe. Keep count of the number of strokes you use on this side of the blade, as you’ll want to apply the same number to the other side.

Continue filing evenly until a burr of metal, called a “wire edge,” appears at the apex of the cutting edge on the side of the blade opposite to the one you’re filing. Turn the axe over and repeat the filing process, using the same number of strokes you used on the first side to ensure that you don’t end up with an asymmetrical blade. Be careful to keep the edge beveled and centered on the head.

Once you have a nice, sharp edge, hone the blade using a dual-sided sharpening stone. Run the coarse grit over one side of the blade using a circular motion, remembering again to count the number of strokes you use. After applying the same number of coarse strokes to the opposite side of the blade, repeat this process with the fine side of the stone.

Once you’ve mastered how to sharpen an axe, keep your cutting tool in fine fettle by remembering to apply a protective coating of beeswax, linseed oil, or machine oil to the head after each use. Dispense a liberal amount onto a rag, then rub it in and buff it so the entire axe head is covered and protected.

Genius! Turn a Toothbrush into a Power Sander

Want to put a new spin on your old electric toothbrush? Transform yours into a pint-size power sander that can tackle small projects at home and in your workshop—for just $5!


Photo: via kipkay

Power sanders are incredibly useful—and incredibly expensive. The smallest versions, called detail sanders, allow you to maneuver in tight corners like a pro. With a light touch, you can use these tiny power tools to sand away scratches in old furniture, perfect painted trim, smooth rough edges in wood—and even deep-clean grout! In an effort to get all the function without the hefty price tag, YouTube guru and professional tinkerer kipkay built a simpler sander from an electric toothbrush for just $5.

He first hacked off the bristles with a small pair of scissors, then cut a piece of plastic from an old DVD case to cover the empty patch on the toothbrush head. (This scrap plastic creates a smooth base for attaching the sandpaper.) After coating the top of the toothbrush in superglue, kipkay pressed the piece of plastic in place for a few minutes to create a strong bond. Finally, he added a cut-to-fit circle of adhesive-backed sandpaper to the top of the toothbrush, and prepared his to-do list of around-the-house jobs.

Just like a detail sander, the oscillating head of the electric toothbrush wears down surfaces in small circles, or “orbits,” so you’ll need to move it back and forth for an even, smooth finish. Inspired to take your old toothbrush for a spin? Check out the settings before you get started—most have more than one, so test all the options before diving into your next big DIY.

FOR MORE: Kipkay on YouTube 


Photo: via kipkay

Bob Vila Radio: Remove Old Paint with a Heat Gun

Whether you're refinishing a vintage dresser or woodwork on the outside of your home, a heat gun makes quicker work of what might otherwise become a labor-intensive, time-consuming task. Read on for a few pointers on using the tool safely and effectively.

Looking for a quick way to remove old layers of paint? Your best bet might be a heat gun—and it’s easy enough to use one, so long as you make safety a top priority.

How to Use a Heat Gun


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To heat only one painted area and not its surroundings, consider crafting a simple heat shield. Here, cut a hole in a piece of cardboard, making the hole a tad larger than your target. Cover the cardboard in heavy-duty aluminum foil, then get to work.

Having readied the heat gun, run it over the old paint in a continuous sweeping motion, keeping the nozzle of the gun about two inches above the painted surface. When the paint begins to release from the surface, use an angled paint scraper to peel away the old paint. Have a trash can handy and wipe off the scraper every minute or two.

Above all, avoid distractions! Even a momentary lapse in concentration can lead to serious injury. Remember to wear long sleeves and safety glasses when you’re doing the job, and keep a fire extinguisher close at hand.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

5 Things to Do with… Painter’s Tape

Do you have a couple of extra rolls of painter’s tape left over from your last painting project? Put them to good use with these unexpected tasks.

While you hardly ever venture to the paint section of your hardware store without a specific job in mind, one of its contents offers a multitude of reasons to keep coming back. A multi-tasking roll of painter’s tape can solve a plethora of household problems beyond simply masking trim, fixtures, and other clean surfaces from paint splatter. So, stock up on a couple of extra rolls! We’ve got five additional ways to put them to good use.



How to Use Painter's Tape - DIY Gallery Wall


Would you like to know what your gallery wall would look like ahead of time without marring up the drywall with misplaced nail holes? Now you can, thanks to the semi-adhesive quality of painter’s tape. Simply trace the soon-to-be-hung frames on craft paper (cut-up brown paper bags work well, too), and cut out the templates. Then hang them one by one to the wall, securing each with a few strips of tape. The adhesive isn’t strong enough to peel off the wall’s paint, so feel free to stick and un-stick the shapes until your design looks right. Once you commit to a final configuration and nail the arrangement to the wall, ball up a little extra painter’s tape to place behind the bottom of each frame—you won’t see any shifting.



How to Use Painter's Tape - With Caulking

Photo: via emilysnuffer

Painter’s tape not only allows you to paint like a pro, but caulk like one, too! Just mask off the surfaces on either side of where you’ll apply caulk using the tape to ensure a clean, guided line. Stick to using long pieces of tape rather than short strips so that you don’t run the risk of changing your line’s angle in the slightest. When you get to applying your second line, space the tape about a quarter-inch away from the first for best results—a thinner joint is a cleaner one. Once all the caulk has been squeezed, smooth the joint with your finger. Typically, fresh caulk starts to smear at this point, making a joint look sloppy and amateurish. But when you remove your painter’s tape, you’ll be left with a crisp edge.



How to Use Painter's Tape  - DIY Car Bra

Photo: via oursaviorjoe

If you’re planning a last-minute road trip over some rough terrain, consider creating a makeshift car bra out of blue painter’s tape. By covering up key areas—a hack favored by some automotive aficionados—not only will you protect your car from small rocks, bugs, and other road debris, but the adhesive won’t ruin the paint when you peel away the strips. Just be sure to apply the tape horizontally, and work your way from the top down so the wind doesn’t lift up the edges while out on the open road. While you may get a few funny looks, remember that this thrifty  move can save thousands of dollars in potential auto body damage.



How to Use Painter's Tape - When Sawing


If you’ve ever cut a thin piece of wood with a table saw, you know splintering can be a problem. One of the easiest remedies involves this paint job staple. To use tape to your advantage in the woodshop, first mark your cut with a pencil and then place a strip of tape along the line on the side of the wood you don’t plan to use. Make your cut with the saw and rest assured, the tape will hold the wood together so the end result will be a nice clean line – no more rough or splintered edges!



How to Use Painter's Tape - Seal Snack Bags


Plastic chip clips often break or disappear just when you need them the most. When you don’t have one on hand, your trusty roll of painter’s tape makes a wonderfully disposable seal to lock in the freshness of your favorite snack. Use it to fold and close every bag from chips to cereal and coffee to salad greens. A single sticky, 4-inch strip can be used over and over again to reseal a bag that has been opened. In most cases, the tape will hold its adhesive strength just long enough to finish the bag, so you can say goodbye to stale foods forever.

Bob Vila Radio: Prevent Electrical Shocks in Your Workshop

When setting up your workshop, don't overlook the crucial importance of electrical safety. By observing only a few initial precautions, you can go a long way toward steering clear of issues and incidents down the line.

If you’re setting up a home workshop for your do-it-yourself projects, recognize that in a room with so many power tools, it’s only prudent to take steps toward preventing electrical shocks.

Workshop Electrical Safety Detail


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For the best protection, choose electrical outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters, commonly known as GFCIs. If there’s a power leakage, GFCIs instantly cut off the current, keeping you from experiencing an unpleasant or potentially dangerous jolt.

Of course, DIYers must always uphold electricity safety best practices, with or without GFCIs in place. Be sensible in your decision-making. For instance, remember that it’s a much better idea to replace a damaged cord than to prolong its life by wrapping frayed areas in electrical tape. Meanwhile, only use cords that are rated to supply more than enough current for the tools you plan to use. Finally, don’t forget your workbench; if it’s metal, then it’s only prudent to make sure that it’s grounded. Here, hire an electrician to do the work of running a wire from the bench to an electrical subpanel.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

Bob Vila Radio: Cleaning Reclaimed Wood

Salvaged wood often comes with an intriguing backstory and a unique appearance—but also with embedded dirt, dust, and debris. Here's how to clean the material before including it in your next project.

Looking to add a sense of warmth and history to your home? For your next project, eschew stock lumber in favor of salvaged wood. Though it sometimes commands a higher price, you can still find weathered, character-rich old timber at an affordable cost in many parts of the country. Consider the material not only for the familiar applications—exposed beams and columns—but also for creative new uses like fireplace mantels and countertops.

How to Clean Reclaimed Wood


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Listen to BOB VILA ON USING SALVAGED WOOD or read the text below:

Typically, reclaimed boards are rough hewn and pocked with nooks and crannies. Especially when held in storage for a prolonged period of time, all those little crevices collect no small amount of dirt and debris. Therefore, the first thing to do is give the salvaged wood a thorough cleaning. The easiest way to dislodge the dirt is to use a pressure washer. Just be sure to turn the tool down to its lowest setting. That way, you avoid ruining the patina that gives the wood its special look. Remember to wash all sides, including the ends, and when you’re done, run a fun to facilitate the drying process. Finally, if desired, lightly sand the wood before getting to work.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

Bob Vila Radio: Every DIYer Needs a Random Orbital Sander

Read on for the basics of a powerful yet precise tool useful for any number of building and repair projects, no matter your skill level or experience.

If you’re looking to create a really smooth finish on woodwork, your best bet is to use a random orbital sander—a power tool that finely sands, rounds edges, and removes coats of paint or vanish, all without leaving gouges or swirls on the surface.


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Listen to BOB VILA ON RANDOM ORBITAL SANDERS or read the text below:

The random orbital sander works in a unique way: It spins the sanding disk even while moving the disk in small ellipses. That way, no part of the sandpaper travels the same path in a given rotation. The result is that you can move the sander in any direction, including against the grain of the wood. Few power tools are easier or more satisfying to work with.

Disks usually attach to the sander by way of hook-and-loop fasteners or pressure-sensitive adhesives. Your local home center advise you on what grade of sanding disk to use for the job at hand. Note that while some random orbital sanders include a built-in container for dust, you should wear goggles and a mask anyway in order to protect your eyes and lungs.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

Bob Vila Radio: Focus on Framing Fasteners

Builders owe a debt of gratitude to the inventor of framing fasteners. Not only do they simplify the arduous construction process, but they also make for stronger, more secure structures. Read on for the basics.

If you’re framing new construction—a simple backyard deck, for example, or even an entire house—framing fasteners allow you to join two boards (two-by-fours or two-by-sixes) easily and, above all, securely.

What Is a Framing Fastener


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Listen to BOB VILA ON FRAMING FASTENERS or read the text below:

Made of zinc-coated sheet metal, framing fasteners usually include conveniently pre-drilled holes for screws or nails. Though they come in a wide variety of shapes, some are much more common than others. Perhaps most common are angle brackets. Also frequently used are joist hangers, which are similar to stirrups in design and application. Other types of framing fasteners help builders do such things as secure roofing rafters or mount vertical posts to horizontal beams.

Framing fasteners are especially important—indeed, often required—in geographical areas subject to extreme weather and natural disasters. That’s because they reinforce the structure, working to evenly distribute any stress that threatens its integrity. Stocking up? Save a considerable sum and be sure to buy in bulk.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!