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38 Simple Tool Tips, Hints and Tricks

You'll never know if you need these tips until you do. These hints are the ones we use every day they're difference between a fun time in the shop and a frustrating one.

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A 1-in. Belt Sander is a Versatile Sharpening ToolFamily Handyman

A 1-in. Belt Sander is a Versatile Sharpening Tool

Most carpenters know that a belt sander can produce a reasonably acceptable edge on a dull chisel. And knife-makers and professional sharpeners often use special belt grinders to shape and sharpen blades. You can get many of the benefits of a professional belt grinder for a fraction of the cost with a 1 x 30-in. benchtop belt sander. The one shown is the Grizzly 1-Inch Belt Sander, available from amazon.com for less than $100. Buy 180- and 240-grit belts and you'll be set for serious knife sharpening. Plus, you can use the belt sander to grind other tools like axes and chisels, and to sand small woodworking projects.For really dull knives, start with a 180-grit belt and finish with a 240-grit belt. Practice on an inexpensive knife until you get the feel of holding the knife at the correct angle as you move it across the belt. Try to maintain the angle that's on your knife. This is usually about 20 degrees. For a razor-sharp edge, buy a leather belt along with honing compound and mount it on your sander for the final sharpening step. Buy this belt sander now.

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Bit Gripper

Bit Gripper

Magnetic screwdriver bit holders sometimes leave the bit behind after you drive a screw. To make the bit stay put, wedge it tighter with a small scrap from a plastic bag.

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Instant Tool Holder

Instant Tool Holder

Store chisels, files, large drill bits, screwdrivers and other long tools so they're both visible and close at hand. Simply cut off the top from a clear 2-liter plastic soft drink bottle, leaving a flap for hanging. Use smaller bottles, which are extremely common household items for smaller tools.

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Super-Simple SharpenerFamily Handyman

Super-Simple Sharpener

Like most woodworkers, Dave Munkittrick relies on sharp chisels and planes for his livelihood. He has a large collection of sharpening tools, but his favorite sharpening device is the WorkSharp system, which sharpens chisels and plane blades quickly with no mess. The best part is that you dont need any practice to get a razor-sharp edge.I used to put off sharpening because it was such a hassle. With this machine, sharpening is a quick task, not a project," said Dave.

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New Uses for Old Glove FingersFamily Handyman

New Uses for Old Glove Fingers

Don't throw out your old work gloves. Cut the fingers off and you'll find lots of uses for them. Use them to protect the tips of chisels when you need to carry them. They're also good for softening the grip of pliers and many other applications.

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Lighted Screwdriver Hack

Lighted Screwdriver Hack

No need for fancy hand tools with built-in LED lights, opt for this lighted screwdriver hack instead. When working in a dark space such as inside a cabinet, make your own lighted screwdriver by taping a keychain-size flashlight to the shaft. It'll shine the light right where you need it.

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New Angles on Tool Sharpening

New Angles on Tool Sharpening

Here's a better way to hold tools securely while you're grinding them—and take the guesswork out of creating the right bevel angle. It's a short piece of 2x4 with an angled end and a 1-1/4-in. hole for a clamp. Make one for chisels and plane blades, and a few more with different angles for wood-turning tools. Large labels with the tool's name tell you which blocks are for which tools.

For a Delta grinder with a 6-in.-diameter wheel, a 5-1/2-in.-long piece of 2x4 aligns the tool to the wheel just right. For other grinders you may need to adjust this length. Note: The angle you cut on the block is not the same as the tool's bevel angle. But let's skip the math. To determine the block angle, turn off the grinder and hold the tool's bevel flush against the wheel. The angle of the tool shaft to the workbench is the angle to cut on the 2x4.

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Easy-Grip Tool Handles

Easy-Grip Tool Handles

Improve your grip and comfort when using hand tools by wrapping the handles of hammers, chisels, turning tools, clamps just about anything with a handlewith the self-clinging tape used on hockey sticks (sold at sporting goods stores). The absorbent, textured surface keeps the handle from slipping around in your hand as you work, and you won't have to grip it as firmly. It goes great on wheelbarrow handles as well and is just one of those common household items in some homes.

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Best All-Purpose Hammer

Best All-Purpose Hammer

Whether you're doing rough construction or fine finish work, the best all-around hammer is a smooth-faced 20-ounce with a straight claw. I use the claw to drive it under walls for lifting, to embed it in framing and even to do extremely crude chiseling. But best of all, it's a better shape for pulling nails than the curved claw style.

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A Superior HandsawFamily Handyman

A Superior Handsaw

When was the last time you used a handsaw? It was probably dull and hard to push, and chances are, you couldn't follow a straight line to save your life. But saws are not all created equal. Irwin's 15-in. Universal Handsaw is truly remarkable: It's extremely sharp and easy to grip, and it cuts up to three times faster than other handsaws. The secret is in the teeth. They're ground with three faces then hardened to stay sharp much longer than a conventional saw's teeth. Irwin calls this a 'universal' saw because it performs equally well with the grain and across the grain. Keep it around to break down longer boards that don't easily fit on your miter saw. And carry it with you to the lumberyard to cut down long lengths of wood so they fit in your car for the ride home. The teeth can't be sharpened, but at this price, who cares?

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Mini Putty Knife

Mini Putty Knife

Is your putty knife too wide to fit into that little can of wood filler? Snip a 6-in. segment from an old hacksaw blade, grind the snipped end to resemble a low-angled chisel and then wrap the blade with electrical tape for a makeshift handle. You'll like how your homemade flexible knife spreads putty in a narrow path, minimizing cleanup. (And the built-in hanging hole is a nice feature.)

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Mini Tools From Concrete Nails

Mini Tools From Concrete Nails

Need a nail punch or skinny chisel or tiny screwdriver RIGHT NOW? It's only as far away as a box of 3-in. concrete nails. These nails are made extra hard for pounding through stone, concrete and thick layers of stucco, and they're easy to grind into the mini tool you need. Be sure to hold the nail in a locking pliers for safe grinding, and dip it in water frequently to preserve its temper. Wear eye protection.

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How to Cut Conduit: Clamp Conduit for Easy CuttingFamily Handyman

How to Cut Conduit: Clamp Conduit for Easy Cutting

Large slip-joint pliers are all you need to hold conduit firmly in place while you cut it. Clamp the conduit to a workbench, sawhorse or even a wooden ladder step with pliers. Then mount a sharp, 32-tooth-per-inch hacksaw blade in your hacksaw frame and cut the conduit. After you make the cut, it's important to remove any metal burrs from inside and outside the conduit. Insert the blade of a screwdriver into the conduit and swivel it around to flatten any burrs on the inside of the pipe. Twist the jaws of slip-joint pliers around the outside of the conduit to remove burrs there.

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Foam Ball Tool StorageFamily Handyman

Foam Ball Tool Storage

Here's a pointer on storing pointed tools for instant availability. Drill 5/8-in. holes through a few 4- or 5-in. foam craft balls (available at craft stores), and skewer and glue them along a 5/8-in. dia. dowel with construction adhesive. Screw together a 3/4-in. wood bracket, drilling a stopped 5/8-in.-diameter hole 1/2 in. deep in the bottom end and a 3/4-in. hole through the upper end. Screw the bracket at a convenient height, slide in the foam balls and load them with drill, router and spade bits; paint brushes; screwdrivers; Allen wrenches; awls; X-Acto knives; pencils and, well, you get the point.

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Screw Extraction

Screw Extraction

Try this tip for extracting screws with stripped heads. Mount a cut-off wheel in a Dremel rotary tool and grind the wheel against a piece of scrap metal to reduce the circumference. Make it small enough to cut into the screwhead without slicing into the wood surrounding the screw. Now grind a slot in the screwhead at an angle to the original slot, insert your screwdriver and gingerly unscrew that battered fastener.

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Electrical Tools with Onboard Voltage TesterFamily Handyman

Electrical Tools with Onboard Voltage Tester

Non-contact voltage testers are great for making sure the power is off before you start an electrical project. But the testers are easy to lose track of and misplacewhich pocket is it in?Tool manufacturer Gardner Bender solves the problem of lost testers by incorporating a tester right into the handles of its wire stripper and screwdrivertools you're bound to have on hand whenever you're doing electrical work. Simply press the button and move the tool handle near the wires to test before touching. Or, slide the tester off the tool handle to use it as a freestanding unit.Find the GST-70M Circuit Alert Voltage sensing stripper and SDT-10 screwdriver at home centers and online.

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PVC Tool Pockets

PVC Tool Pockets

Holster your screwdrivers, chisels, files and other hand tools in 3-in.-long pieces of 1/2- and 3/4-in. PVC pipe. Cut away the upper open section with a hacksaw or band saw, drill a hole, screw the piece on a board, and drop in the tools. If you're using a band saw, slice off the cutaway section from a long length before cutting off the 3-in. holster.21 Top Tool Storage Tips, Tricks and Ideas

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Portable Tool KitFamily Handyman

Portable Tool Kit

For many electricians, a 5-gallon bucket tool kit is a constant companion. Making one is super simple. Use an awl to poke holes around the perimeter for screwdrivers and store the rest of your tools in the bucket. Everything you need is at your fingertips and easy to carry from job to job.Plus: must have additions for a homeowner tool kit.

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Foam Ball Hand Protector

Foam Ball Hand Protector

To protect your hand when you're holding a masonry or cold chisel, cut a slit through the center of a soft foam ball and slip it over the shaft of the chisel. Then hammer away.

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Foolproof Chisel and Plane SharpeningFamily Handyman

Foolproof Chisel and Plane Sharpening

There's nothing like working with a razor-sharp plane or chisel, and nothing more frustrating than trying to use dull ones. Arkansas or Japanese stones are the traditional tool, but they're expensive to buy and take practice and skill to use. But there's an easy and inexpensive way to get great results without stones or much practice. The key to success is the honing guide, which ensures a consistent bevel. The guide shown ($15 at woodworking stores) works for both chisel and plane blades. You'll also need a 12-in. square of 1/4-in. plate glass to provide a perfectly flat honing surface. You can order one at any hardware store, but be sure to have the sharp edges sanded smooth. You'll glue sandpaper to the glass and use it like a sharpening stone.Use spray adhesive to attach half sheets of silicone carbide sandpaper to the glass. Cover one side with 220- and 320-grit paper and the other side with 400- and 600-grit. The sharpening angle is determined by how far you extend the blade before clamping it to the guide. Dimensions on the side of the guide show where to set chisels and planes to maintain 25- and 30-degree angles.Clamp the blade in the guide and roll it back and forth on the coarsest paper until the edge is uniformly shiny. It should take only 15 or 20 seconds. Repeat this process for each progressively finer grit.

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Long-Reach ScrewdriverFamily Handyman

Long-Reach Screwdriver

When you need to extend the reach of your cordless screwdriver, just pull the shaft out of a four-way screwdriver and clamp it in the chuck.

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Perfect Junk Drawer DriverFamily Handyman

Perfect Junk Drawer Driver

Ratcheting screwdrivers make driving and removing screws by hand a breeze, and many come with an assortment of bits that store inside the handle for just about any type of screw head. Keep it in your kitchen junk drawer and you'll always know where it is.

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Screw Loosener

Screw Loosener

When you've got a stubborn Phillips head screw that you can't get loose, try this. Place the screwdriver in the screwhead and strike it sharply with a hammer. This helps break the initial friction that locked the screw in place, and it embeds the screwdriver point completely into the screw slot for a better bite. Find out an easy way to remove a stripped screw.

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Curvy Sanders

Curvy Sanders

Make contour sanders for convex and concave surfaces with short pieces of PVC pipe cut lengthwise. (It cuts easily with a handsaw, saber saw or band saw.) If you like, leave a section of the pipe uncut for a handle. Apply adhesive-backed sandpaper to the inner and outer diameters, or spray photo-mount adhesive on the pipe and apply regular sandpaper. You can match the PVC's inner and outer diameters to rounded or curved surfaces and edges so when you sand the contour, you'll preserve its original shape. Make a few PVC sanders in various diameters and you'll find yourself using them for all kinds of filing, sculpting and intricate fitting jobs.

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Notched-Jaw Hand-Screw Vise

Notched-Jaw Hand-Screw Vise

Hand screws are ideal for holding cylindrical workpieces if you saw notches in the opposing jaws with your handsaw (one small notch for thin pipe or dowels and a second, larger one for big stuff). Now pieces won't slip or revolve as you carve, sand or saw. And don't worry; your notched hand screw will still work fine for regular clamping jobs.

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Rosin Paper Workbench CoverFamily Handyman

Rosin Paper Workbench Cover

Here's instant protection for any kind of messy job. Before you start, just unroll enough rosin paper from this jumbo paper towel holder to protect your workbench. The thick paper absorbs all the glue or finish. When the paper gets too dirty, tear it off and throw it away. A roll of rosin paper is 170 ft. long, so one will last a long time. Here's how to build your paper holder: Buy a roll of rosin paper and a length of 1-1/2-in. pipe at a home center. Round up some scrap lumber and get ready to do a little bit of head scratching to customize a bracket arrangement that works with your bench design. Our setup should give you the general idea. Bore 1-7/8-in. holes in the scrap wood brackets. Screw keeper strips over the holes to keep the pipe from falling out as you unroll the paper. Use a handsaw to cut the paper roll and a hacksaw to cut the pipe to match the width of your bench. Then load the roll and start dripping stuff all over it. If you don't have a dedicated workbench and you'd like to build one, we've got more than a dozen different step-by-step plans for workbenches from simple to spectacular. For complete step-by-step instructions, click here.

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How to Magnetize a Screwdriver

How to Magnetize a Screwdriver

Magnetize the end of a screwdriver to drive screws with just one hand. This hint is especially useful for working in tight spaces where there isnt room for you to hold a screw with one hand while you turn the screwdriver with the other.

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Edge-Banding Plywood

Edge-Banding Plywood

There's no better way to clamp wood edging strips to plywood shelves than with pieces of masking tape. Just apply your glue to the back of the strip and secure it with pieces of tape every 3 in. or so. Always cut your edging an inch longer to save the hassle of trying to align the ends perfectly. The excess length is easy to trim off later with a fine-tooth handsaw.

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Socket Wrench ScrewdriverFamily Handyman

Socket Wrench Screwdriver

Sometimes there's just no way to make even a short screwdriver work in a tight place. Use a Phillips head screwdriver bit with a ratchet wrench. The hex shaft of most bits fits into the 1/4-in. socket. Plus: 25 gift ideas for the budding home mechanic.

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Kitty Litter Pouch for Tool Protection

Kitty Litter Pouch for Tool Protection

Make a rust-preventing pouch for your toolbox with a scoop of silica crystal kitty litter, a piece of breathable fabric and a zip tie. Toss it in your toolbox to keep out excess moisture and protect your prized possessions.

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Two Sizes of Brad Nails in One Gun

Two Sizes of Brad Nails in One Gun

For small projects such as trimming one door, store two sizes of brad nails in one nail gun. This puts both sizes of nails right in your hand; you just have to open up the magazine and put the correct-size nail at the top when you need it.

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Caulk Gun Clamp

Caulk Gun Clamp

Did you know that you can use a caulk gun as a clamp? Its perfect for gluing up small projects such as a cutting board. Just place a couple of pieces of scrap wood or cardboard at the ends of the caulk gun and then squeeze the trigger to apply pressure.

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Hammer Cushion

Hammer Cushion

A rubber chair leg cap instantly converts a hammer into a rubber mallet. And if you want to drive a nail without denting the surrounding wood, cut a hole in the rubber cap. Pound until the rubber strikes wood, then finish driving the nail with a nail set. A 1-1/8-in. rubber cap fits tightly over most hammers and costs about $1 at home centers and hardware stores.

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Compressor Creeper

Compressor Creeper

Save your back by storing your air compressor on a mechanics creeper, so you can easily tote it around your workshop or garage. Depending on the size of your compressor, you may be able to store your hose on the creeper, too.

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Vise-Grips to Pull Nails

Vise-Grips to Pull Nails

Vise-Grip pliers make great nail pullers. The tool locks onto the nail, creating a secure hold, and the curve of the head provides excellent leverage. Use a putty knife under the pliers if you plan to salvage the material after removing the nails.

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Customized Chuck KeyFamily Handyman

Customized Chuck Key

If you've ever scraped your fingers when tightening a drill chuck, you'll love this tip. First measure the diameter and length of the chuck key's handle and drill a matching hole in the end of a 4-in. x 3/4-in.-diameter wood dowel. Then hold the handle in a vise and tap the dowel onto the chuck with a hammer.The advantages? Besides no longer scraping your fingers on the gears, you'll have increased leverage with less effort and a much more comfortable grip when tightening the chuck. Plus: Never lose your chuck key again!

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Long-Reach ScrewdriverFamily Handyman

Long-Reach Screwdriver

When you need to extend the reach of your cordless screwdriver, just pull the shaft out of a four-way screwdriver and clamp it in the chuck.

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Wrench for Rounded Bolts

Loosen bolts with worn, rounded heads with a pipe wrench! The pipe wrench jaws dig in and grab the head so you can remove the bolt. Check out these other clever new uses for your tools.