Six “Now, Why Didn’t I Think of That?” Shop Tips

Six “Now, Why Didn’t I Think of That?” Shop Tips

I’ve been working on a special project for Make: Books that has had me knee deep in the dusty stacks of the Make: archives. I’m going through the entire ten years of content looking for awesome and indispensable shop tips that we’ve published along the way.

I’ve always had a special fondness for shop and tool tips. I love how eye-opening and darn-near life changing a good tip can be, especially when it generates a real “ah-ha” moment, a solution so simple and brilliantly kludgey that you have to smack your forehead with a “Now, why didn’t I think of that?” Here are six of the tips I scooped up this week, from within the Make: corpus and beyond.

If you have a wavy wall that you want to perfectly fit a board to, use a washer to roll a pencil along the wall (and the board) to get a precise cut (or sanding) line. [From Popular Woodworking]

rubberbandScrewGot a screw with a stripped head? Place a wide rubber band over the damaged head and unscrew as normal. [Via the Make: Newsletter]

Need to bond two plastic pieces together? Consider friction welding. Simply chuck a short length of plastic rod into a rotary tool. Apply the spinning plastic tip to your join and the friction will melt the plastic, forming a pretty serviceable bond.

To prevent dust and small particles from escaping into the room when you’re sanding fine items, try building a simple dust containment box. Basically you need a cardboard box, some old rubber gloves, a few layers of saran wrap, and tape. [Via Pinterest]

A great way to add more customizable storage for “First Order Retrievability” is by using cheap magnetic knife racks. You can use them to store drivers, drill bits, metal rulers and squares, and other light hand tools. [Via Pinterest]

Create an easy jig for drilling perfectly straight holes by attaching a small piece of wood to your hand drill (either on the top or one side) and place that against a flat surface perpendicular to where you want to sink your hole. When attaching the wood, make sure it’s perfectly parallel with the bit. [Via Jimmy DiResta]

So, what are some of your best, most indispensable shop tips? Please share them in the comments.

16 thoughts on “Six “Now, Why Didn’t I Think of That?” Shop Tips

  1. Eli Peter says:

    I don’t think that rubber band hack actually works (or at least it’s never worked for me).

    I’ve had much better using vise grips.

  2. JimEJim says:

    Add baby powder to super glue to instantly cure it. I use it to sometimes weld like the friction technique above. Put the powder inside a cleaned out glue bottle or something else to control the flow since it can be messy if you’re not careful.

    1. ShortZircuit says:

      Makes sense, super glue is anaerobic, so the powder would keep the air away; like sand on a grease fire I suppose. I’d bet almost any powder would work the same way if baby powder was not available. Great tip!

    2. ccouden says:

      Hi JimEJim, I’m putting together the Reader Input section for our upcoming issue of Make: and would like to possibly include you comment. Please email me at ccouden [at] makermedia [dot] com with your name (if different from above), city, and state (or country), and if you’d like to include a full mailing address we’ll send you a copy of the upcoming issue when it comes out.


    3. Jon Peterman says:

      I use baking soda. works great

  3. Christian Unser says:

    A while ago I measured the span of my hand. It’s 9 inches. That’s come in handy when guesstimating the length of things in my shop or at the hardware store when I’ve forgotten my tape measure. Got that one from my dad.

  4. Jim Bob says:

    I like the tips. But as a 40+ mechanic I will suggest using automotive valve grinding compound to increase the coefficient of friction on any slippery metal, bolt nut, and especially screws. I keep a small tube in my toolbox and if it is a Phillips screw dip the tip of my driver in the paste and wiggle in the screw head. out side a rounded nut or bolt a little dab will make the wrench grip like it is welded. The compound used diamond dust. It even makes vise grips grip tighter. Can be bought for $2 at most auto parts stores. To magnetize any ferrous metal tool. Wrap at least 10 wraps of insulated 12 Volt electrical wire around the tool tightly and touch the wire ends to a 12 or 9 volt battery for a second. The current flow will create a temporary magnet out of the tool’s metal part.

    1. M Wilson says:

      Now THAT is a truly EXCELLENT tip!

    2. ccouden says:

      Hi Jim, I’m putting together the Reader Input section for our upcoming issue of Make: and would like to possibly include you comment. Please email me at ccouden [at] makermedia [dot] com with your name (if different from above), city, and state (or country), and if you’d like to include a full mailing address we’ll send you a copy of the upcoming issue when it comes out.


  5. Cefiar says:

    Fold-back style paper clips are great for hanging things off the sides of desks and shelves (eg: tools, headphones, cables). Simply get a clip large enough to sit on the timber and you’ve got a movable hook. You can either hang the object over the handle clip(s), or through the handle clips. I use this a lot on site as a temporary tool-rack of common items (where the items may change every few hours), to stop cables getting in the way when drilling/cutting, etc.

    Got two flat surfaces that slip just a bit too much, but you want to be easily moved in the future (ie: not permanent)? Put a few blobs of Blu-Tac between the surfaces. I use this one a lot on slide-in shelves sitting on flat pins (between the top of the pin and the bottom of the shelf). Stops them sliding out when I move the stuff around on the shelf, especially if the object has rubber feet. Also a little blob of Blu-Tac in the holes helps if the pins are slightly loose. They won’t fall out when you move the shelf. Also works great when you have two laminated or plastic surfaces pressing against each other, and stops them scratching each other, even during storage.

  6. Louis Charles Bruckner says:

    Using that Dremal in that enclosed space is dangerous.
    if you get a flammable particulate in the correct ratio the sparks from the motor in the Dremal could cause a explosion.

    1. Runsun says:

      Thx for the warning. A dust explosion happened last year in an outdoor music fair in Taiwan, when the hosting company spread “color powder” into the air to create party effect for people dancing in front the stage. It ignites the air into a huge tsunami of fire wave, killing douzen and created several hundred victims with varying degrees of burning, many who are lucky to survive, most are teenagers, had to go through many skin transplants and live their whole lives in disfigure

    2. CrazyDaneLady says:

      You do have a good point. It would be really easy to solve that problem just by adding another hole to the box and sticking the end of a vacuum hose in it.

  7. papagun says:

    I have found that storing various bits with magnetic devices tends to magnetize them. This is usually not a problem until I use the bits on metal. Then small chips and metal dust cling to the bit which is frustrating. I store bits in sections of Ethafoam which is used as packing material, “pool noodles”, and in other ways.

    Also, it appears in one picture that one is drilling using an impact driver which is fine for small holes… especially if one has fine enough motor skills to use the speed control on the device. Using an impact driver for large holes, such as those employing a “spade”, “paddle”, or “Speed-Bore” bit can be counter productive as the impact driver slows down considerably when the “hammer” ability of the tool kicks in. This is not good for the bit, the hole, and, I suspect, the user. (Bear in mind that in an impact driver, the ‘hammer’ is in the direction of the rotation, while in a hammer drill, it is in the direction of, I.e. ‘towards’ the hole.)

    I suggest one use a drill.

  8. Spychiatrist says:

    The washer idea for scribing along walls is brilliant.

  9. Dave says:

    If you want to drill straight through the exact center of a piece of pipe or tubing, take a strip of paper and wrap it around the pipe. Mark the spot where the end of the paper measures the circumference of the pipe. Fold it in half and then you have two places to mark on the pipe and you can drill on each mark. You’ll pass exactly through the center. It’s hard to explain, but hopefully you get the idea.

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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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