Workshop Tips and Helpers
Make your shop more efficient with these handyman tips and hacks
T-Stands for Everything
T-stands have any number of uses in a shop. Use them on your workbench, on sawhorses, even on the floor. Set projects on them for painting and staining, use them as drying racks when you're finishing trim boards, rest cabinets on them when you're clamping on a face frame, and lay planks on them for gluing and clamping. They stack together neatly and don't take up a lot of precious shop space.
Save Your Containers
Save all your glass and plastic containers for your shop. Glass jars work well for liquids. Clean brushes in an old tin can. Brush on glue from small containers of all kinds. Sour cream/cottage cheese containers work for just about everything. Clear plastic containers are great for miscellaneous storage because you can see what's in them. Just label everything with a permanent marker.
Repurpose a Foam Brush
Don't throw out a foam brush when you're done with it. Cut away the foam and you'll be left with a great flexible glue applicator!
Need more work space? Just lay a door across sawhorses for an instant workbench. A solid-core door makes for a stiff, flat work surface. Hollow-core doors are lightweight but not as strong. To make a hollow-core door tougher and stiffer, glue on a layer of 1/4-in. hardboard.
Write on Your Walls
If you have the wall space, get a 4 x 8-ft. sheet of panel board and hang it on your wall. It's cheap and makes a great dry-erase board. Use it for shopping lists, tool wish lists, phone numbers, cutting lists, figuring out designs and whatever else comes to mind.
New Life for Broken Shop Vacuums
Next time an old shop vacuum dies, don't trash the whole thing—just toss the lid and motor, and then use the canister as a roll-around trash can. Just nudge it with your toe to move it wherever you need it.
Simple Putty Knife Cleaning
When you're stripping furniture, use this easy method for getting all the goo off your putty knife. Make some slits in the side of a cardboard box and just pull your knife through the slits. All the goo will drop off into the box. Stripping chemicals can be combustible, so make sure you let the goo dry thoroughly before disposing of it.
Portable Paper Towel Holder
Use this simple tip all the time when you're working in your shop or out in the yard. Slide a roll of paper towels over a quick-release clamp and move it around with you. Clamp it to the side of your workbench, the hood of your car or the side of your stepladder—you name it. No more excuses for wiping your hands on your pants.
Here's a great way to keep track of your carpenter's pencil when you're working in the shop and your shirt doesn't have a pocket. Just stick the pencil to your safety glasses with hook-and-loop tape.
Miscellaneous Hardware Holder
To keep track of small parts, carry quart-size zippered plastic bags in your toolbox. They're a perfect place to store bits and pieces of things you're taking apart. Just write what's inside on the front of the bag, and you'll have everything in one spot when you get around to putting the item back together again.
Wet Paintbrush Storage
Here's another way to keep your paintbrush fresh while you take a break in the middle of painting. Snip the corner of a zippered plastic bag. Then slide your paintbrush inside the bag, handle first, and zip it closed. The paintbrush won't dry out, and the mess will stay inside the bag.
Simple Paintbrush Drying Rack
This rack is a great place to let paintbrushes drip dry after washing. Just notch a couple of pieces of 1-by material and attach them to a cross support. Pound in some nails and set the rack on top of your sink edge.
DIY Dust Collector
If your shop vacuum hose is a little too big to attach to your miter saw's exhaust port, try this simple but effective DIY adapter. Cut a 3/4-in.-nap paint roller cover in half and duct-tape it to the saw's exhaust port. The shop vacuum hose fits perfectly over the roller cover, creating a tight seal that allows almost all of the sawdust to be captured. The thicker the nap, the tighter the seal. Works great!
Easy-on-the-Hands Bucket Handles
Old 5-gallon buckets are great for hauling stuff, but the plastic handles eventually break and the wire handles can cut into your hands. To solve the problem, retrofit the buckets with new handles made from an old garden hose. Just cut short lengths of hose, slit each one with a utility knife and slide them over the handles. If you can remove one side of the wire handle, you can just slide the hose grip on without slitting it. The handles work great and keep those buckets working hard!
Get a Beefy Bench Vise
A wimpy $30 vise may satisfy your wallet, but you'll regret buying one the first time you have to crank the bolts off a really big part. So skip the cheapies and invest in a heavy-duty vise. You want a vise with at least 5-1/2-in. jaws, a pipe clamping area, dual swivel locks and a large anvil area. I found this model at a home center for $100. But you can find great deals on good used vises on Craigslist or at neighborhood garage sales.
Save Your Back and Knees With a Rolling Seat
A rolling creeper seat doesn't need much explanation. You sit on it. You store tools and parts under it. And you roll around to reach the tools and parts you forgot.
Find creeper seats at any auto parts store, home center or online tool site. The model shown here costs about $35. A unit with a pneumatic lift and a contoured seat (for you Ferrari owners) could set you back $150 or more.
Handy Razor Blade Storage
It's convenient to keep extra utility and straight box cutter blades near your workbench, in the kitchen and in the garage. But the question is how to store them when they're not in use. A good solution is to glue a magnetic business card (a refrigerator magnet) to the inside of a cupboard door and to your workbench with the magnetic side out. The magnet is strong enough to hold the blades in place even if you slam the cupboard door.
Cake Pan Hardware Sorter
Make this time-saving device for sorting through your fastener jar from an old baking pan. Using a bimetal hole saw, drill a hole slightly smaller than the jar opening. Carefully file and then sand the sharp edges around the cut edge. Now you can pour the contents into the pan, find what you need and then rake the contents through the hole back into the jar!
No Sawdust in the House
Here's a good way to keep the sawdust off your clothes when you work in the shop. Pick up some cheap nylon athletic pants and a nylon rain jacket at a thrift store. Just slip them over your street clothes when you're kicking up dust in the shop—nothing sticks to them. Your regular clothes will last longer too!
Magnet in a Bag
Cleaning up metal shavings around a drill press will almost always get you a metal sliver or two. Using a magnet works fine, but it's no fun to get all those shavings off the magnet. Instead, put the magnet inside a plastic bag that's turned inside out. Now you can attract the shavings to the bag, seal it and pull it free, and throw them away without touching a single shaving.