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.


Popsicle Sanding Sticks

There are some great tips in this Tested “This Old F/X Shop” video I posted about this week. One of them is about making sanding sticks using Popsicle sticks. I just bought a set of hobby sanding sticks and I love them. But I love the idea of making your own even more. This way, you have complete control over what grits you want. The commercial sticks have thin foam between the stick and the paper. In some situations, you might want that kind of give, in others, you’d want a harder sanding surface. You could also easily make your own foamy kind by simply adding foam tape between the stick and sandpaper.

Marking Studs with a Framing Square

In this See Jane Drill video, Leah Bolden shows off a feature of a framing square that some newbie framing carpenters may not be aware of. Framing squares have two arms on the blade — the thicker bottom blade, called the body, and a thinner arm (90-degrees from the body), called the tongue. The tongue is designed to be the exact width of a stud. To mark stud placement on a 2 x 4 base plate, you simply measure 16″ along the plate (for standard 16″ on-center stud placement), back off half the width of a 2 x 4 (which is actually a 1-1/2″ by 3-1/2″) ), so 3/4″, line up the tongue of the square as shown in the image, and strike a line on either side. Your stud will now be exactly centered on the 16″ interval.

Damage Always Needs a Backstory

In the “This Old F/X Shop” video on making drowned world cityscapes, F/X creator Frank Ippolito offers this important tip: When you’re adding damage and weathering to a model, that damage should always have a backstory. This applies to any sort of scale modeling, tabletop game modeling, dioramas, or the application of any sort of stress, damage, or weathering to a project. Think about how the model received that damage, how rain would drip, where rust would form, how wear would occur, mud spatter, etc. Thinking this through as you damage and weather the model can go a long way toward “selling” the illusion of the model to the viewer when it’s done.

Removable Benchtop Work Surface

Make: contributor Andrew Lewis came up with this easy and clever system of swapable surfaces for the bench in his shop. Besides being able to swap out a spoil board when it’s… well… spoiled, he can also swap out specialty surfaces (e.g. self-healing cutting board) and boards with tools mounted on them.

Drill Boot Camp

On the most recent Maker Update (now part of the Make: YouTube channel!), Donald Bell shared a link to a great drilling tutorial from the Essential Craftsman. As with many Essential Craftsman videos, this one is detailed, methodical, and very informative.

[From my new book, Make: Tips and Tales from the Workshop]


Developed during the heyday of the telegraph, the Lineman’s splice is designed for connections that will be under tension. It is commonly claimed that, properly made, a Lineman’s splice is stronger than the wires of which it is composed. In any case, it is a time-proven method, and coolest of all, one of NASA’s Required Workmanship Standards. To wit, in a NASA-approved Lineman’s splice:

1. The conductors shall be pre-tinned.
2. There shall be at least three turns around each conductor and the wraps shall be tight with no gaps between adjacent turns.
3. The wraps shall not overlap and the ends of the wrap shall be trimmed flush prior to soldering to prevent protruding ends.
4. Conductors shall not overlap the insulation of the other wire.

Though the Lineman’s splice was originally used without solder, today soldering is common, and NASA insists on it:

1. Solder shall wet all elements of the connection.
2. The solder shall fillet between connection elements over the complete periphery of the connection.

This material comes from page 84 of the document NASA-STD 8739.4, which is a great reference if you’re interested in best practices for interconnecting cables and wires. [Sean Ragan]

[Watercolor by Richard Sheppard]


If you get a copy of my book, please take a picture of yourself holding it, tag me, and use the hashtag #tipsandtales. Besides being a book about tips, this is also a book about the human side of tools and how they’re used. Tips and Tales itself is a tool, so I’d like to see the humans who are using it.