Tips of the Week is our weekly peek at some of the best making tips, tricks, and recommendations we’ve discovered in our travels. Check in every Friday to see what we’ve discovered. And we want to hear from you. Please share your tips, shortcuts, best practices, and tall shop tales in the comments below and we might use your tip in a future column.


Using Cheap Paint Stripper as Solvent Cement

From Sean Michael Ragan: Unless your application is critical, cheap liquid paint stripper from the hardware store (not the gel, paste, or color-changing varieties) is a fine substitute for commercial acrylic solvent cement. Comparing one MSDS (Manage Material Safety Data Sheet) to another, we see that each product is about 75 wt% dichloromethane (AKA methylene chloride), which is the “active ingredient” that softens the plastic and allows it to weld. Purpose-made acrylic solvent is a bit thinner, evaporates a little faster, and contains trace amounts of acrylic monomer that may result in a slightly stronger bond, but for most practical purposes, these qualities don’t justify paying twice as much for it.

Making Your Own Cutting Oil

On Laura Kampf’s Instagram feed, she shared this tip for making your own cutting oil (for cooling tools and materials while machining) using Ballistol (mineral-oil-based ballistic oil) and water, in a 1:1 mix.

Libraries are Your Friends, and Data Sheets are Super Helpful!

In this excellent little tutorial, Jen Foxbot explains how serial communications works and how you can use the info found on sensor data sheets to program serial comms between computer controllers and sensors. At the end of the video, she says that “libraries are your friends and data sheets are super helpful.” And that is a tip worthy of pointing out. Knowing how to find and use online code libraries and how to properly read component data sheets are really important in all form of digital and microcontroller makery.

Using a Servo Recorder

In this Tested video, where team member Simone Giertz runs through some of her favorite hardware from 2017, she introduces a device I didn’t even know existed: the servo recorder. Just as you might image, this simple device can mimic the movements of a servo motor that you have stepped through a motion sequence (while in a record mode) and then play that sequence back. We covered servo testers in a previous installment of Tips of the Week. This is yet another way of controlling and using the ever-versatile servomotor. At $110, this widget ain’t cheap, but if you’re doing animatronic work, it will allow you to record and play back up to 4 servomotors.

Using a Soap Finish

In one of DiResta’s latest videos he builds a large oak farm table, and to my surprise, finishes the table with soap! He tries out what’s called a soap finish, consisting of a paste of Castile soap and water. Here is an article from Popular Woodworking for more on this technique.