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.

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Choosing the Right Needle for Sewing

In this week’s trip through the Make: stacks, I unearthed this piece which points to a wonderful flow chart showing you what type of needle you need for what type of sewing machine project. Useful!

Cheap, Acrylic Nail Polish Shelves

I ran out of space for my hobby paints so I got this acrylic nail polish stand on Amazon for 13 bucks. It holds 60 nail polish bottles. That’s about 75 17ml hobby paint bottles. Comparable CNC-cut stands are at least twice as much and require a fair amount of assembly. This was four nuts, washers, and bolts. Once you do the math, there’s no contest. I spent $50 on two CNC-cut rack kits that hold a total of 90 hobby paints. And I spent a good hour and a half gluing them together. For $26, you can get 2 nail racks (delivered) that hold 150 paint bottles. And they take 5 minutes to assemble.

Turns out, there is a lot of good hobby hardware in the nail polish dept. They have teeny-tiny-point brushes for nail art, agitator balls for paint bottles, and all kinds of acrylic stands for holding everything. And it’s all a lot cheaper than hobby market equivalents.

Cleaning the Cutting Mats on Stencil Cutting Machines


Graphic artist Sara Mfwic Conner, of Wartooth Designs, offered this tip on a private Facebook makers group:

You can bring your cutting mat back to life on your Silhouette or Cricut [stencil-cutting machine] . This is the 4th time I have redone my mat. Follow these simple steps:

1. Schmear on some Goo Gone.
2. Use a razor blade to scrape all of the boogery crap off.
3. Give it a good bath in warm, soapy water. After drying, give it final wipe down with rubbing alcohol.
4. Tape the edges off and spray it with low tack repositionable spray adhesive.

TADA! Good as new!

Using Clay to Make Templates for Odd Spaces and Shapes

On Sara Mfwic Conner’s YouTube channel, she also shared this tip. If you need to cut out something to fit in an odd place/odd shape, make a template of that space with clay, poster tack, Play-Doh, or similar. In her case, she had a corner cubby in her car’s dash that she wanted to cut out a lining for. Simply press the clay into the shape, peel it away (without deforming it), and then use it as your template.

Gear Generator

On this week’s Maker Update, Donald Bell pointed us to this wonderful web-based gear generator. It allows you to create “involute spur gears and download them in DXF or SVG format. In addition, it will let you compose full gear layouts with connected gears to design multiple gear systems with control of the input/output ratio and rotation speed. Gears can be animated with various speeds to demonstrate working mechanisms.”

Working with Epoxies 101

The lovely and talented Andy Birkey was asked by one of his YouTube viewers for any basic tips on working with epoxies, casting resins, and the like. Here was his response:

Follow Instructions: Normally, I’m a do it as a you go, seat of the pants kinda guy. But when it comes to epoxy, that’s chemistry. That’s math. You have to do it exactly right. That’s one time in my world where I don’t futz with things. I just do what they tell me.

Buy the Best: I use the best epoxies I can afford.

Measure Accurately: I use a digital scale and try to get everything as close as it can possible be.

Temperature: Make sure your temperatures are right. That’s very critical to proper curing.

Know Your Material: Get to know your material. Experiment as much as possible. Try it on little things, something you don’t care about. Get comfortable with the chemicals.