How to Make Your Own Fluted Dowels Using a Handsaw
No need to panic when you're out of fluted dowels
With the nearest hardware store about 15 miles away, I’ve learned a few tricks to save on driving. If you need to glue a dowel and you’re out of the fluted version, just make your own. Put a smooth dowel in your vise and drag your hacksaw over it a few times to roughen up the surface. You’ll create the grooves that the glue and air need to escape when you drive in the dowel. — Billy Potter
Twist Tie Hacksaw HackHere’s a sharp tip from reader George Sarna. Use tape or twist ties to attach spare blades to the frames of your hacksaw and coping saw. The next time a blade breaks or dulls, you won’t scratch your head trying to remember where you put the spares. Put that hacksaw to use creating convenient PVC hacks for your lawn mower or as a way to clean gutters.
Oil Bottle Hardware ToteHere’s a fun little project to keep your screws, nails, nuts and electrical whatsits handy and neatly organized. Get all the detail and tools to make one. Check out what you do with an old oil bottle when you tip it on the side.
Easy-to-Access Cordless Tool ChargersMount charger stands for your cordless tools on scrap pieces of pegboard and hang them on a pegboard wall so they don’t become an octopus-like tangle on a shelf or workbench. Just pull one out for charging, or plug it into a power strip under the pegboard and charge batteries right on the pegboard. Most chargers have mounting holes or keyhole slots on the bottom. For those that don’t, use a large hose clamp ($2 at a hardware store) to mount them. Getting sick of that cordless tool battery? Rebuild it. Thanks to George Moyer for ending our charger clutter.
Biscuit-Joining WorkstationA table saw—with the blade retracted!—is the perfect spot for biscuit joining. The fence keeps the boards from sliding around while you’re cutting the slots, and it provides easy access for clamps. The flat metal table aligns board edges with the cutter to ensure that your biscuit cuts line up every time. Thanks to Warren Tryndahl for this slick tip.
Pencil Sanding AidHere’s a great old tip that’s worth revisiting. Can’t tell where you’ve sanded and where you haven’t? Scribble light pencil lines over the surface, and then sand away until they’re gone. You’ll sand the entire surface without missing a spot, even out hard-to-see high and low areas, and know when to switch to a finer grit of sandpaper. The finer the grit, the lighter the pencil lines should be. It’ll take forever to sand off dark lines with fine grits. Find the best sander for finishing cabinets and learn all the sanding secrets. Our thanks to Karen Dybdahl for this smooth tip.
Solo Plywood TransportYou can easily move 4 x 8-ft. sheets of plywood by your lonesome with this plywood carrier recommended by cabinetmaker Graham McCulloch. It’s a 30-in.-long x 12-in.-wide piece of 1/2-in. plywood with a carrying hook at the end. Make the hook by attaching a 2-in. and a 4-in. piece of 3/4-in. plywood with glue and screws. Cut a handle slot 2 in. down from the other end. This carrier is designed for people of average height. If you’re on the short side, nest your underarm over a sheet of plywood, mark your hand position on the sheet and lengthen the carrier accordingly. Avoid falling from a ladder when flying solo on DIY work and make working on your DIY ideas easier with ancient technology.
In-the-Bag Wood FillerMix up your own perfectly matching wood filler in a disposable sandwich bag dispenser. First, put a couple of squirts of two-part epoxy into a plastic bag and add some sanding dust from the project (to match the wood). Knead the dust and epoxy with your fingers. Add more dust or epoxy as needed to create the right color. Protect the surrounding wood with masking tape, then nip off one corner of the bag and squeeze out the filler like toothpaste. Smooth off excess filler with a putty knife and let it dry to form an unshrinkable, rock-hard patch. Even better, you’ll walk away without epoxy smeared all over your workpiece—or your fingers! Also, fix up rotted wood with epoxy to make it look new. Thanks to tech-ed instructor Bill Waite for this tip.
Box-Making BitYou can get good-looking joints on your boxes and drawers without taking a lifetime to cut them by hand. To cut these joints, you’ll need a router that accepts bits with a 1/2-in. dia. shank, a router table with a sturdy fence, and a lock miter router bit. (The bit shown and other lock miter bits cost $25 and up at specialty woodworking stores.) When you’re routing, the bit remains at the same height setting for all the pieces. All you do is shift the fence when routing each part to expose more or less of the bit. To ensure perfectly ﬁtting joints, the height adjustment has to be just right, so make practice cuts on scrap boards from your workpieces. These joints are easier to glue than a miter joint because they can’t slide out of alignment when you tighten the clamps. And because they have more glue surface, they’re stronger, too. Thanks to reader Fred Forquer for this tip.
Fence-Straddling Push BoxThis little three-sided, handled box keeps your fingers a lot safer when you rip boards on a table saw. And you can make it in about 30 minutes. Cut a 10-in.-long piece of 3/4-in. plywood the same width as your saw’s fence, and then saw out and screw on a comfortable handle. Cut a notch on the front end of the1/4-in. plywood sides a little deeper than the board you’re sawing, then screw the sides to the top piece. Mount the push box on the fence. As you saw, the notches lock down on the end of the board to hold it flat on the table. You can further ensure safety and accuracy when you cut narrow boards by using a second push stick in the opposite hand to lightly press the board against the fence. Thanks to Bryan Fehn for this tip.
Slant-Ruler Board DividerWant to divide a board or sheet of plywood perfectly in half, thirds or any other equal fractions? Grab a Speed Square or try this tip. To halve the board, line up the end of a ruler or tape measure on one side, slant the tape to read 8 in. on the right edge and make your mark at 4 in. To divide it into thirds, slant the ruler to read 9 in. and mark the board at 3 and 6 in. The key is to select a measurement that’s easily divisible by the number of spaces you want. For example, if you want to cut a sheet of plywood into six sections, use the 60-in. mark on your tape measure. Measure at a 90-degree angle from one side to each mark to get the real numbers to transfer them wherever you need them. Also, see what a plumb bob can do to make a job easier. Thanks to John Vitka for this time-saving tip.
Space-Saving Cutting and Finishing BenchSave space and make plywood cutting easier by building this hinged, flip-up, open-web bench. It’ll take some care and patience to cut the interlocking joints, but after that, assembly is a cinch. Make everything from 1x4s. The bench shown is about 3 x 5 ft.—a good size for nearly any plywood cut. Keep the screws at least 1/4 in. from the top edge. Get it out of the way by tipping it up against the wall and locking it into place with a wooden turnbuckle, turned behind a 1x2 catch block that’s mounted with the thin side against the front board. The grid work provides solid, even support for sawing or finishing. But make sure to set your saw to cut only 1/8 in. into the table so you don’t hit any of the assembly screws or weaken the table. Thanks to Bob Dawson for this cutting-edge tip.
Sandwich Sheet Metal SawingEver gouged up your hand while plowing through sheet metal with a pair of snips? Or been dissatisfied with an uneven, crinkled edge? Next time, try readers James Nelson's sacrificial plywood sandwich technique. You'll bid farewell to wavy edges and undeleted expletives, and cut a dead-straight line every time. Here's how: Clamp the metal between pieces of 1/2-in. or 3/4-in. scrap plywood and clamp on a straightedge to guide a circular saw. Now just saw through the sandwich using a carbide blade. This tip is for cutting thin sheet metal only, not thicker plate steel. P.S. This sandwich technique also produces great results when you're drilling holes through sheet metal.
Flashing Shield for SandingCareful! When you're sanding in the corner of that next masterpiece, your vibrating or random orbital sander can dig some nasty scratches or dents with the sander body and the sandpaper on adjoining surfaces. And they're nearly impossible to fix. Try this bulletproof tip from Leo Tellgren. Hold a small sheet of metal flashing or plastic laminate between the sander and the surface you don't want dinged up, and then sand as close as you want with no worries. Scratches go on the metal, not on the wood.
Double-Duty Sanding DrumIf you sand a lot of thin wood on your drum sander, you’ll wear out only the bottom part of the drums. Flipping them over allows you to use the top, but the middle remains unused. Here’s a frugal solution, courtesy of reader Robert Allen: Cut the sanding drum in half and flip the parts end for end.
Easy-to-Read WrenchesEnd eyestrain when you’re hunting for the right wrench or socket. Wrap each one with a couple of layers of bright-colored tape, then write its dimensions on the tape with a permanent marker. (After a bit, you’ll remember the colors and their corresponding sizes and won’t even need the numbers.) Your eyes will thank you each time you change the oil, assemble that new wagon for the kids or work on the lawn mower. Thanks to reader Jason Nash for this visionary tip.
Clothespin ScriberHere’s a great way to scribe lines when you’re fitting countertops, cabinets and built-in furniture against irregular walls. Tape a pencil to a clothespin with the tip pointing away from the clothespin’s jaws. Wedge the jaws open with a chunk of wood until the pencil matches the widest gap between the workpiece and the wall. As you scribe, the flat side of the clothespin spaces the pencil point to exactly match the wall contour. Sand to the line for a perfect fit. Thanks to master furniture maker Bruce Kieffer for sending this great tip.
Carpet Cushion for Project SandingDon’t scratch up the workpiece you just sanded by flipping it over on a dinged up workbench. Next time you sand a project, lay down a scrap piece of carpet to protect the wood, keep it stationary as you sand and dampen the sander vibrations on your hands. No scrap carpet around? A 2 x 6-ft. washable runner works great—just shake it out between jobs and roll it up for storage. Thanks to Dan McGuinn for this neat tip.
Homemade Miter GaugesEnd frustration when you are trying to dial up that perfect angle on your disc sander’s miter gauge. With a table saw, cut frequently used angles on scraps of 3/4-in. plywood and screw them to wood “runner” strips to slide into the miter slot on the sander’s table. To get the angles just right, screw the plywood and runner strip together with one screw, then position the miter gauge on the table and set the disc-to-gauge angle with a drafting triangle. Now gently slide the miter gauge out, clamp and drive in a second screw. Test the angle by sanding a scrap workpiece. If the angle’s a little off, unscrew the second screw, adjust it and drive another screw in a new hole. Thanks to reader Bernard Lewan for this helpful tip.
Stick-On Scroll Saw PatternsHere’s the quickest way to lay out patterns on wood for scroll saw work, courtesy of Greg Schowalter. Invest in a pack of Rayven Repro Film Clear No. 400. This adhesive film, which architects use for speedy design transfers, also works great for transferring scroll saw patterns to the wood you’re cutting. All you do is photocopy the plan or pattern from a book onto the adhesive-backed film, then peel off the film and stick it on the wood. The thin (1-mil) poly film adheres well and the pattern looks like it’s traced right onto the wood. The old method entailed spray-mounting paper patterns to the wood, then hassling with removing the spraymount adhesive before sanding or finishing. And the poly film also lubricates the saw blade with each stroke, so you won’t get any burn marks.
Paper Towel Dispenser UpgradeGive your paper towels a brake! Cut a 6-in.-wide section from the rounded side of a 1-gallon bleach bottle, then attach it to your paper towel rack so one edge presses against the roll. The inward-flexing edge holds the towels for easy one-hand tearing and works as a brake to keep the towels from unraveling. We mounted our rack vertically so it’s even easier to tear off a towel. Our thanks to reader Ken Hanneman for this tight tip.
Putty-Good Finish NailingIn seventh-grade shop class, we were famous for slathering our nail holes with oversized lumps of putty. Even after sanding, the huge glob of putty showed through the finish. Sound familiar? Here’s the A-plus alternative: Before you nail, apply strips of lightly adhering masking tape, then drive the nails through the tape. After you set the nails, press putty in the holes and let it dry thoroughly. Remove the tape and sand off the putty nubbins. Our thanks to Mike Janney for this slick tip.
Cannery Row Hardware StorageDon’t recycle those steel or aluminum cans quite yet. Set aside a few months' worth of fruit and coffee cans and put these cannery rows to work organizing all of the small hardware in your shop. All you need are some homemade wood clips and a hunk of 3/4-in. plywood screwed to a wall. To make the clips, rip a 3/4-in.-thick board into 1-3/8-in.-wide strips. Saw or rout a 3/8-in. x 1/4-in. rabbet along one edge. Drill 1/8-in. screw holes every 3/4 in. and then cut off 3/4-in.-wide clips. To mount the clips and cans on the plywood, screw on a clip, notch end down, then set a can on the clip and screw on a second clip overlapping the can’s rim about 1/4 in. That’s it. Keep adding clips and cans until every screw, bolt, nail and nut has a can it can call home. Label the cans, and keep one loaded with surplus clips and screws for adding on. Thanks to Armand Bruggert for this tip.
'On the Level' Table SawYou’ve finally got your table saw on a mobile base so it’s easy to pull out and put away on the weekend. Finish the job by finding a level spot on the floor that’s also convenient for sawing boards without obstruction. Mark the wheel positions with bright-colored duct tape and now you can roll the saw to the same flat spot every time you saw. Many thanks to reader Larry LeMasters for this level-footed tip.
Flux Brush Glue ApplicatorsKeep a few plumber’s flux brushes ready for spreading glue on your projects. They’re perfect for brushing on just the right thickness of glue. Bend the handles into U-shapes so you can hang the brushes on the edge of a jar half-filled with water to keep them from drying out. No cleaning needed. Just wipe off the excess water with a paper towel before use. Thanks to furniture maker Bruce Kieffer for brushing us up on this great gluing technique.
Woodworker’s TableclothA vinyl tablecloth—any size—comes in handy for all kinds of woodworking jobs. Put it under boards you’re gluing together. Any glue drips will easily peel off the plastic surface after they dry. Or place the tablecloth as a thin cushion under workpieces you’re sanding and finishing, and use it as a protective barrier between the workbench and project parts when you’re tapping that next masterpiece together. Many thanks to reader Kate Gallivan for serving us this tip.
Storable, Portable TurntableIf you do a lot of spray painting and finishing but don’t have room for a permanent finishing bench, give this turntable a spin. It’s surprisingly sturdy, and because it rotates, you can get to all sides of your project while standing in one spot. It’s lightweight, so it can easily be taken outside. When you’re done, just unscrew the pipes from the flanges and store all the parts out of the way in the corner of your shop. The pipe parts are available at home centers, hardware stores and plumbing stores. Don’t try to use pipes with diameters other than 1 in. and 1-1/4 in. These are the only pipe diameters that telescope together well. The plywood top is 36 in. in diameter and the base is 24 in. in diameter. The total cost of the turntable, including the plywood, is about $40. Our thanks to Michael Dresdner for this tip.
On-the-Go Paint ShieldThanks to reader Bill Chamberland’s great tip, we'll be spending a lot less time applying masking tape and more time painting trim and baseboard molding. Firmly press a wide-blade drywall knife alongside the trim or molding and brush on the paint. Excess paint goes on the top side of the knife if you press it down firmly, but it’s smart to check the underside occasionally while you work and wipe the knife clean as needed with a solvent- or water-moistened rag.
Fingernail SubstitutesPick up a few guitar picks (about 25 cents each at a music store) and use one the next time you feel the urge to use your fingernail as a tool. They’re practically perfect for applying wood putty to nail holes and scraping squeezed-out glue from project corners. Use one any time you need a mini scraper or spatula. Thanks to reader Bill Waite for hitting this high note.
Stretchy Pipe ClampsMoaning again that your pipe clamps aren’t long enough to assemble your new “monsterpiece?" Pipe down and quit whining. A few extra 2- and 4-ft. pipe segments plus a handful of pipe couplings are all you need for the extra-long or extra-wide job. Screw couplings and extra pipes to those too short pipes to create the needed lengths. If the clamps are under the wood, add spacers slightly higher than the couplings perpendicular to the pipes. When you’re finished, unscrew and store the extra pipes with couplings and you’ll be ready for the next jumbo project that comes down the pipeline. A big thanks to Jeff Poirier for tipping us off to this great idea.
Hardware LassosTo keep your hardware neat and accessible, thread nuts, washers, sockets and other items on short pieces of 12- or 14- gauge electrical wire, then hang them on a toolbox handle or a pegboard hook. Twist the ends of the wire into hook shapes that interlock for easy closing and opening. Many thanks to reader Roger Swanson for tying up this neat tip.
Scratch-Free SawingHere’s how to cut an inch off a nicely finished door or workpiece when you don’t want to risk dinging up the surface with that scratched-up shoe on your circular saw. Apply painter’s masking tape to the shoe and you’ll saw scratch-free every time. Thanks to reader Chris Siemasko for this tip.
Pie Plate Storage PocketsScrew cut-in-half pie tins and heavy-duty paper plates to a shop wall and you've got space-saving storage for the sanding discs, circular saw blades and abrasive discs that like to hide in a drawer. Be sure to tape the sharp edges on the cut pie plates to protect your fingers! Our thanks to reader Bill Weiss for this ingenious after-dinner idea.
Snip ‘N’ Grip Wire CuttersHere's a time-saving tool modification from reader Clay Hickman. Fill the concave section of a wire cutter with silicone caulk, let it dry overnight, then slit the silicone with a razor blade to create a soft-jaw section on the wire cutter. Now when you cut off nails or pieces of wire, the cut pieces will stay in the cutter and not fly across the room. No more getting out the reading glasses and flashlight to hunt down cutoffs on your shop floor!
Chain CompassProject running you in circles? Trace perfect arcs or circles in an instant with a ballpoint pen, an awl or a nail, and a short length of plumber’s chain. The pen pokes through the chain’s smaller links just enough to create an exact radius when you keep the chain taut while tracing. As a bonus, each link provides a 1/2-in. increase or decrease in radius for quick adjustments without measuring. Thanks to reader Bill Waite for hooking us up to a well-rounded tip.
Gluing PedestalEver scratched your head over how to position clamps on a project that requires clamping from all four sides? This gluing pedestal makes the job a breeze. Buy a 12-in. pipe nipple with pipe flanges on both ends and screw it to a couple of scraps of 3/4-in. plywood. Cut the pedestal top an inch or so bigger than the project to make clamping easier. Now, with the base of the pedestal clamped on your workbench, you can crank on the clamps from every angle; up, down and sideways. (Be sure to cover the top with plastic sheeting or wax paper, or the top will become a permanent part of the project.) Thanks to Travis Larson for this high-flying tip.
Glue-Go-Round Glue CaddyHere are four good reasons to build this glue caddy for your shop. First, no more hunting for the right type of glue; they’ll all be right at your fingertips. Second, you can store the containers upside down. That keeps the glue near the spout—no more shaking down half-filled bottles. Third, upside-down storage helps polyurethane glues last longer without hardening because it keeps the air out. Last, the caddy is so doggone handsome. Here’s how to make yours: First, arrange all your glue bottles in a circle with 1-in. spacing between the bottles. Add 2 in. to the circle diameter and cut out two 3/4-in. plywood discs. Drill 7/8-in. holes in the center of each one. Measure the various bottle diameters and drill storage holes around the top disc a smidgen larger than the bottles. Glue the discs on a 12-in.-long, 7/8-in. dowel, with a 5-in. space between the discs. Add a knob of your choice, load up your glue, and you’ve got an instant grip on every type of sticky problem that comes your way. Our thanks to Paul Gentry for rounding up this great tip.
Really Cool Hole SawingDread using a hole saw? The friction heats up the blade to the point where it dulls the blade, burns the wood and actually heat-bonds the plug inside the hole saw. Today, thanks to John Baker’s great tip, a cooler head prevails. Before sawing the hole, run the saw lightly on the wood to scribe the hole’s circumference, then drill two 3/8- in. holes just inside the circle. As you saw, sawdust falls through the holes rather than binding, clogging and burning against the cutting teeth. The saw runs cooler and cuts faster, and the sawn plug pulls out much easier. P.S. If you saw the hole until the pilot bit just breaks through the wood, then flip the board over and saw from the other side, the plug will practically fall out on its own.
How to Build a Classic SawhorseHere’s a classic sawhorse that’ll take a ton of punishment with nary a wobble. The key is a boxlike construction where the legs join with the top board. For each one you make, you need:
- 1 42-in. long 2x6 for the top board
- 4 28-in. long 1x8 boards for the legs
- 4 8-3/4 in. x 7-in. x 3/4-in. thick boards for the gussets
- 2-in. drywall screws