Tips of the Week: Battery Tabs, Baking Pan Hacks, Buying Cheap and Upgrading, and Is it On?

Tips of the Week: Battery Tabs, Baking Pan Hacks, Buying Cheap and Upgrading, and Is it On?

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.


Tape Tab Battery Pulls

hacksIn Donald Bell’s Maker Update from last week, in a review of EBL 18650 rechargeable batteries, he shows a little battery access trick that everyone should know. If your battery holder doesn’t have a built-in pull-tab for removing the batteries, you can make one by simply wrapping a short length of tape around the battery.

Baking Pan Hacking

This was one of those ah-ha tip moments that I live for. Alex from French Cooking Guy wanted to make some lasagna from the fresh pasta he’d made, but he didn’t have a baking pan the right size. So, he took a bigger pan and simply walled off the pan size he needed with aluminum foil. If ever there was a “Now, why didn’t I think of that!?” moment, it was this one.

Adding a Keyholed Ruler to Your Bench

Here’s a smart idea I saw on a video about building a solar work shed. You can mount a removable metal ruler on the front edge of your workbench, for both measuring in situ and removing the ruler for measuring and marking elsewhere. Simply drill keyholes (a larger hole with an overlapping smaller hole above it) in several locations along the ruler and use those to attach the ruler to the bench with screws.

Always Start with the Simplest Solution

In Andy Birkey’s latest On a Shop Stool vlog, he tells the story of his home furnace dying and him immediately jumping into problem-solving mode, calling an HVAC guy, and spending some time scratching his head before he thought to check the thermostat only to discover that it had been turned off. I had a similar embarrassing experience recently. I was throwing a party and setting up my sound system in the living room. My Harmon Kardon speaker system wasn’t powering up. I and a friend who works in TV and radio spent way too much time trying to troubleshoot the problem and were about to scramble to find another set of powered speakers when I finally discovered that the volume knob on the sub-woofer was also a push-button power switch. Who knew? These are painful reminders of that tech support adage of always first asking if the computer is plugged in and powered on. But, even beyond the “Is it on?” first question, there is a greater point here about always trying to find the simplest solution to a problem first and then working out from there.

Squiggly Line and Fingernail Sanding

hacksIn more Andy Birkey tip news, in his latest “Gimme a Minute” video, he shares this trick I’ve seen woodworkers often use. When sanding two surfaces to the same level, draw a squiggly line across both. Then sand across both until all of the pencil marks are sanded away. As you go, you can also test for a smooth, level transition by gently scraping your fingernails against the transition. If it’s smooth, your fingers will not catch on the seam between the two pieces.

Buying Cheap Hardware and Upgrading It

hacksIn a recent video series on making his own pasta, Alex French Cooking Guy, decided to buy a cheap, heavy-duty manual pasta machine from China. When it arrived, it was already broken and parts of it were just too chintzy for serious use. The main components of the crank wheel, gearing, the cutting heads, and the frame were all solid and of decent quality. With a little time, effort, and extra… dough, Alex fashioned a new feeder, installed better hardware for attaching the cutting head, better knobs for adjusting the pasta drums, and he mounted the machine on a solid wooden and metal base. I have talked to a number of makers who do this on purpose. They buy cheap 3D printers, CNC machines, and the like from China on the cheap and then replace the controllers, power supplies, or whatever other components the manufacturer cut corners on to get the price below a certain point. If this is done wisely, you can end up with a pretty decent machine at a lower cost than if you had bought that level of machine outright.

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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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