Tips of the Week: Carpenter’s Pencil Tricks, Buying a 3DP, String Dispenser, Chamfering Welds

Tips of the Week: Carpenter’s Pencil Tricks, Buying a 3DP, String Dispenser, Chamfering Welds

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.


Using a Carpenter’s Pencil

In this video on See Jane Drill, Leah runs through some of the features of a carpenter’s pencil you may not be aware of. Like, did you know that a carpenter’s pencil has set width and thickness (1/2″ x 1/4″) and is designed to be used for things like deck board space? And that you can cut the ends to different lead shapes for different types of marking?

Intro to 3DP

Bob Clagett continues his excellent Bits series of tips videos with this introduction to 3D printing and the basics of what you need to know as you begin to research buying a printer.

Chamfering to Create More Welding Surface

In Bob Clagett’s latest project video, on building a metal and wood hexagonal table for his gazebo, he shares several good welding tips. On the legs, where he’s attaching the square metal tunes to the metal frame, he chamfers where the leg will be butt-welded to frame. This way, there’s a little extra bit of weldable surface to ensure a solid, sturdy weld. He also recommends spot-welded around your entire workpiece first and then completely beading the weld. This can help prevent warping of the metal as the surfaces are unevenly heated.

Smooth Integration of Sponsorships

At World Maker Faire, on my panel discussing YouTube makers best practices, we talked about the different ways that makers integrate sponsorship content and ads into their videos. I pointed out how much I like the way Bob Clagett does it. While some repetitive process of happening, say, cutting or sanding, midway through the video, he backgrounds that process and uses an inset window to plug his sponsor. His latest video is a great example. Here, he’s plugging Audible. I love that he also talks about a book he’s currently listening to and recommends. It all feels seamless, non-invasive, and motivates me to want to support his sponsor. (I didn’t intend this to be the Bob Clagett edition of Tips of the Week, but there you go.)

String and Cord Dispenser

I love this idea from Family Handyman for creating shop string and cord dispensers using old blank CD/DVD containers.

Tips for Wiring Up MCU Projects

Andreas Spiess has posted a video featuring 7 tips for wiring up microcontroller projects. For instance, he recommends using blank Dupont connectors, custom-wired to your headers rather than using individual, pre-made connectors. This way, you can connect/disconnect the whole bank without making mistakes and you can control the wire color-coding. Another cool tip: If your blank Duponts don’t have enough sockets on them, you can add what you need by taping additional connectors to arrive at your desired amount. You can even use adhesive labels to do the joining and they can then double as an identifying label for the connector’s purpose. You can buy blank Dupont connector kits online, with an assortment of header sizes, for around $10.

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


On The Ben Heck Show, in an episode on design tips for electronics projects, Ben suggests that you first draw your enclosure on paper, ideally blocking out the components that will go inside of it. When you’re building a workable enclosure, you need to consider all sorts of variables, such as component placement and needed allowances for screws, stand- offs, wire runs, and so on. Physically placing components onto a piece a paper can help you clearly visualize and think through all of that. Once you’ve worked out all of the place- ment and measurements, you can transfer your design to a 3D design program. [BH]

[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.

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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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