Tips of the Week: Shop Fun with Magnets, Hot-Knifing Plastic, Creating a Samples Library

Tips of the Week: Shop Fun with Magnets, Hot-Knifing Plastic, Creating a Samples Library

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.


Jimmy’s Tips from Making It

If you didn’t get a chance to see NBC’s maker reality contest show, Making It, it might be worth a look. I really enjoyed the spirit of it. Great heart, wonderful, goofy chemistry between hosts Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, and some very talented contestants. It really was more of a traditional crafts show, so the subject matter wasn’t all that interesting to me, but it was nice to see the mainstreaming of talk about makers, the maker movement, and the joys of getting creative and getting your hands dirty. One other selling feature was our pal, Jimmy DiResta, showing up as the show’s Shop Master. They criminally under-utilized him, but it was always fun when Jimmy did show up. There was more Jimmy content on the show’s website, including a number of short tips videos. Here is a video round-up of them all. Some fun ones here, like using compressed air to accelerate (or de-bond) hot glue and using a rag-covered magnet to pick up lots of metal parts at the same time.

Magnetic Pick Up Tool

Dirt Farmer Jay has a different approach to picking up loose metal parts than DiResta’s magnet and bandana trick. Jay has made a set of magnet pick up tools that he keeps handy throughout the shop. These are little more than chunks of scrap wood with magnet glued to them. You can use these to “vacuum” up loose hardware and other metal pieces on your bench or to pick up metal objects that have fallen in hard to reach places.

Cutting Plastic with a Hot Blade

In a recent Laura Kampf video, she reminds us that you can more easily cut plastic-based strapping, webbing, and other plastic material if you heat your razor knife blade up before each cut. Like butah!

Tool Hacks Slideshow That Doesn’t Suck

As I have mentioned numerous times in the past, there are a ridiculous number of “life hacks” and other “hacks” slideshows and video collections out there. Many of them are a confusing mix of decent tips, tips that look good but are less than useful, and ones that are downright fraudulent or even dangerous. This Imgur slideshow I bumped into this week is a pretty solid collection and includes some really great tips and reminders, like pointing out that many drivers include a section on the handle that can accept an open-ended or box wrench to give you extra torquing power.

A Samples Collection for your Shop

In this video, the guys at discuss the value of keeping materials sample books and swatches organized and ready for reference. If you’re going to take the time to acquire materials samples and swatch books, you want to make sure you have them accessible for future use. They also talk about suppliers giving away (or for a modest fee) samples of their products. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Using a Bit to De-Burr Metal Tear Out

I wrote about DIY Perks’ DIY studio lights earlier this week. In that video, while cutting some aluminum, he shows how you can use a drill bit larger than the hole to de-burr any metal “tear-out” that happened while drilling the hole.

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


Make: contributor Kent Barnes sent us this idea. He uses the magnetic strip from an old fridge magnet to organize his button cell and coin cell batteries. [KB]


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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