Repair and maintenance tips from Laura’s dad

Repair and maintenance tips from Laura’s dad

When we put out the call for our Make and Mend theme, our awesome editorial assistant, Laura Cochrane, asked her dad for some ideas. Craig Cochrane is a former U.S. naval officer, a general building contractor, and a woodworker. He’s currently building a one-and-a-half story architecturally detailed carriage house. Here are a few tips he shared with us. [Thanks, Laura! Thanks, Craig!]


Plastic-coating pruning shears, pliers, etc.
When factory plastic coating on handles wears off, re-coat them with a rubber dipping compound, which can be purchased at a home/hardware store or online. (If handles are aluminum and the plastic wears off, the aluminum will turn your hands black.)

Door “tune-up,” for when a door is not latching, is sticking, or is scraping the floor.
Frequently, it’s the hinges that are loose. If they are:

* Tighten screws.
* If screws won’t tighten (if they’re stripped), break off a piece of wooden matchstick and insert it into the screw hole.
* Re-insert screw and tighten.


Sharpen lawn mower blades with an electric hand grinder tool
This can be done with a file, but it takes a long time. Many lawn mowers have dull blades and don’t cut well. The lawn ends up raggedy, and the ends of the grass will turn brown if it isn’t a sharp cut. Use care in sharpening.

Optional: To get rid of jagged edges and burrs, file and/or use a sharpening stone with oil on the blades.

Sharpen hedge clippers and pruning shears
Use a fine sharpening stone and 3-in-1 oil (or any oil). Makes the job a lot easier, but be careful of sharp edges!

Handsaw sharpening… most hand saws are dull and don’t cut well.
This requires a professional saw-sharpening service (I use Walton’s Saw Works in San Rafael), but it’s worth it when you see how much easier it is to cut wood with a well-sharpened saw.


8 thoughts on “Repair and maintenance tips from Laura’s dad

  1. Alan says:

    Rather than gumming up your sharpening stones with 3-in-1 oil, just use water that has a couple of drops of dish detergent in it. Works beautifully.

    1. unigamer says:

      from what I’ve read (I’ve only used diamond sharpening stones) once you’ve used oil on a stone you have to always use oil. So I think the water trick would only work with a new stone or obviously one that has been used solely with water.

  2. Peter says:

    A couple more tips:
    – ALWAYS remove the spark plug wire before turning the mower over (no way it can start with no spark)
    – After sharpening, suspend the blade from a dowel through the center hole to make sure it’s balanced. Remove additional metal from the low side until the blade balances horizontal.

    Sharp tools are safer!

  3. jason_scope says:

    Longer screws! Pre-hung doors come with screws only long enough to secure the hinges to the jamb. If tightening the screws doesn’t help, replace a hinge screw with a 3″ wood screw. You can probably find one to match the finish on the hinge.

    If the door swings open, shim the lower hinge. If the door swings closed, shim the upper hinge. Pizza boxes & such make good shim material. Easily cut to the shape of the hinge, and 2 layers will fit into the hinge mortise. Don’t forget you can shim the door-side, as well as the jamb-side.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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