Tips of the Week: Mini Lathes, Wheelie Clamps, Paint Mixing, and Using Nail Clippers on Component Leads

Tips of the Week: Mini Lathes, Wheelie Clamps, Paint Mixing, and Using Nail Clippers on Component Leads

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.


Buying a Cheap Mini Lathe

Ever since I was a model-making teen, I have been tempted by ads for cheap desktop “mini lathes.” Are they worth it? In this video on This Old Tony, Tony runs through the strengths and weaknesses of such a machine and how you can get the most out of one.

Hotel Key Card Solder Paste Spreader

On Twitter, the brilliant hardware engineer, Mohit Bhoite, shares this little tip on yet another use for the lowly hotel room keycard. He uses them for spreading solder paste for surface-mount soldering. As I point out in my book, Tips and Tales from the Workshop, you can also use a cut key (or old credit) card (cut on the diagonal) as a non-marring prying tool for use on the seams of plastic consumer hardware cases (or other prying functions around the shop). If you haven’t seen Mohit’s work, you have to check it out. He has raised freeform soldering to an artform.

Trimming Leads with Nail Clippers

Make: Contributing Editor, Charles Platt, writes: “If you trim the leads of a component using any of the usual tools, the cutting pressure flattens the lead and broadens the end of it (under high magnification). This means it will slide easily into a breadboard in the right orientation, but in the wrong orientation it may tend to jam. My solution: Make an angled cut using nail clippers, which are much more precise than other cutting tools. A 45-degree angle creates a sharp point that easily pushes into the little clip inside the board.” [Image via Open Chord]

Turning an F-Clamp into a Wheel Clamp

From the site, Create (by way of Donald Bell’s Maker Update) has this wonderful tutorial on how to add a skate wheel to an old F-clamp to make a wheeled clamp for moving large boards and sheet goods around. Genius!

Paint Dries Half a Shade Darker

In this absolutely awesome video of Adam Savage building a prop replica of the NASA ACES (Advanced Crew Escape Suit) astronaut helmet, he shares numerous build tips (as he is want to do). One of them I have learned after a year of near-daily miniature modeling and painting: “You have to remember that colors often dry half a shade darker than they are when they’re wet.” Making this calculation while choosing, mixing, and applying paint is very important in getting the final colors you desire. Another paint tip: Don’t try and lighten a dark color by adding white/a lighter color to it. Add the darker color to the light and bring it up to the shade you desire.

Buy a Book of Great Collected Tips

My last tip of the year (no column next week) is a completely selfish one: Buy my book! Releasing Tips and Tales from the Workshop into the world, traveling to Maker Faires and other events, talking to people about it, hearing people’s enthusiasm for it, was one of the highlights of my year. Especially gratifying was how much this book was a community effort. I used tips and tales from dozens of makers. Also, all of the comments about how beautiful the book is, how impressive the watercolor art of Richard Sheppard, made me so happy. I hope you’ve had a chance to look at the book by now, and if you haven’t, please check it out.


Thanks to everyone who contributed to and support this column and my tips-wrangling obsession. I look forward to collaborating with you and sharing more great tips, tricks, recommendations, and hacks in the new year. Happy Holidays!

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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

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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