My pocket notebook from 2007, with cover art by Mark Frauenfelder.

Do you keep idea and project notebooks? I do. I have dozens of them from over the years. One of the things I like to do is to go back through them periodically, to see what I was up to, in say 2007, what projects I was thinking about, what big ideas I thought I was having, and what articles ideas I was percolating. Sometimes, I find real gems in there, things I’d forgotten about that get me re-inspired.

This week, I was going through an old notebook from (you guessed it) 2007. Among other fun things I unearthed (e.g. my notes on “the best damn robot book, ever!”), I found three tips that I jotted down and had planned to share (and apparently never did). On a page by itself, I’d written:


1) Automatic wire strippers
2) Figuring out motor direction with a piece of tape
3) Be mindful of headroom!

Since I have a handy place for these now, I start off this week’s column with three oldies but goodies from 2007.

Automatic Wire Strippers

If you’ve used any sort of common method of wire cutting and stripping for electronics work, you know how futzy it can be. Some methods can cut into the wire, others require that you adjust the tool or place the wire in the proper cutting blade for the gauge of wire that you’re cutting. An automatic wire stripper requires none of this. You simply set the desired depth of the strip, feed the end of the wire into the tool’s jaw, and pull the trigger. The cutter slices through the insulating jacket and leaves the wire unmolested. You can get one of these tools for as little as $9. If you do a lot of wire stripping, you probably want to invest in a slightly higher quality model.

Max Headroom!

Bre Pettis’ Mousey the Junkbot feeling a little bloated.

I jotted down this tip because, at the time, many versions of my Mousey the Junkbot build were starting to show up online. I noticed that many people were not considering the “headroom” the wires would consume inside of the mouse case. It’s a tight circuit with a fair number of solder points and it’s in a very small project enclosure. When doing a project that’s going to go inside of any enclosure, you need to consider this headroom and adjust the size of your wire runs and project case accordingly. In this Weekend Projects video with Bre Pettis, you can see what happens when you don’t take max headroom into consideration.

Tape-Flag to Determine Motor Direction

Here’s a simple trick that will save you a lot of aggravation. When working with motor control, in trying to figure out what direction a motor shaft is spinning, make a little flag of tape to affix to the shaft. This makes it unambiguous as to what direction your motor is turning in. [Image from Nuts and Volts.]

Dead Grass Drilling

In this video, Brian from WoodCreationz needed a quick n’ dirty way of digging up some clumps of dead grass in his yard for re-seeding. Laziness being the mother of invention, he found a giant allen wrench in his tool chest, chucked it into his cordless drill, and off he went. His little dirt aerator made quick work of the re-seeding effort.

Twisting Wire with a Drill

The forever-clever John Edgar Park posted a quick-vid on Instagram this week reminding me of this little trick: using a drill for twisting up wire pairs. Note how he’s chucked the wires. I’ve seen people make and chuck little hooks into their drills but you really only need to do what John has done here.

Binder Clip Glue Gun Stand

Add this to the growing list of cool and useful things you can do with binder clips. If you lost that stand that came with your glue gun (or the wire-clip stand that’s built into some), you can use a binder clip as a stand. It’s actually sturdier than some of the stands that come with cheaper guns.

As always, we want to hear from you. What tips, tricks, or new techniques did you discover this week? Please share in the comments below.