• 50 Things Every Handyman Should Know

    From Canadian Home Workshop, March 2011 “By Matthew Pioro , with contributions from Canadian Home Workshop editors and Bryan Baeumler

    1. Fastener types

    A real handyman does not say “Pass me the star screwdriver.” Or, “Not the cross but the square one.” That cross-shaped head that strips so easily is a Phillips. When you pick up the square-shaped one, your heart should fill with patriotic pride and you should thank Mr. Peter L. Robertson for his wonderful invention. The handles of Robertson screwdrivers are colour coded: Orange - No. 1 and 2 screw type, Yellow - No. 3 and 4, Green - No. 5,6,and 7, Red - No. 8, 9, and 10, and Black - No. 12, 13 and 14.

    2. How to Hone a Chisel

    If you have a chisel to hone, and it hasn’t been bashed so much that you need to fix it up at the bench grinder (because you violated tip No. 48) follow these two easy steps. Add the proper lubricant to your whetstone, hold the chisel on its microbevel and slide the cutting edge on the stone in a figure eight pattern. Keeping a consistent angle is key here. If you are having trouble with the angle, use a honing guide. Then, turn the chisel over and remove the burr with a few light strokes.

    3. Put Bread in Your Plumbing Kit

    An infuriating little trickle of water is all it takes to mess up your soldering job. If you’ve shut off the water and still have a little dribble coming out, you can keep it at bay with a piece of white bread – not whole wheat, rye or pumpernickel - and hold the crust. The small piece of bread in the line holds water long enough for you to connect the pipes and then dissolves once the water is back on. You can also dry out a water pipe quickly with a compressor or a vacuum.

    4. Duct tape will not fix everything

    5. When to use Backup

    A perfect cut can be ruined right at the end. As a bit or blade leaves a work piece, the cutter can cause some splintering as it exits the wood. To prevent this tear out, set a sacrificial backer board against the wood where the bit or blade will exit. The backer board will support those fibres on the end as you drill, rout or cut. Ensure that you cut well into the backer board.

    6. Furniture Styles

    Ukrainian furniture from western Canada is typified by an emphasis on wood grain and visible joinery. Mission style furniture has a sturdy construction with a lack of ornamentation while Shaker furniture is a style of peasant baroque: curvilinear forms with multi-coloured finishses.

    7. Electricity Deserves Your Utmost Respect

    In a match of you versus 120 volts, the electricity will win. Before you mess with a wire or electrical outlet, wave a non-contact voltage tester around. Also, keep in mind that a non-contact voltage tester may register a live wire even though you have cut its juice. A parallel wire with current can induce current in its otherwise “powerless” neighbor. Actually, before you do anything with electricity, make sure you have the proper know-how, including whether or not your province or territory allows for DIY electrical work.

    8. When soldering copper pipe, heat the joint, not the pipe.

    9. You Can’t Avoid the Grit

    The golden rule of sanding: for many finishing jobs, start with 100 – grit paper and preogress through the entire range of abrasives until you reach 220 grit. Skipping grits could leave scratch marks on the surface, and sanding beyond 220-grit paper can seal off the grain and prevent the even penetration of stain.

    10. Wood tells you when to begin

    Getting fresh lumber into your shop can be exciting. All that woodworking potential makes you itch to get cutting. But hold it there, sport. Relax. That wood needs some time. If that wood is dry and from a covered but unheated storage area, it still needs to acclimatize and reach a moisture content of 7 to 9 percent. Give wood at least three weeks to work things out in a warm, heated space before you build, which will allow you to avoid cracks, caps and twists in the finished project.

    11. Minimize Squeeze-Out

    Applying glue to small surfaces with a brush is like using a sledge hammer to drive in a finishing nail – not pretty. Keep squeeze-out to a minimum by dabbing glue onto your project in precise locations with a palette knife.

    12. The Proper Twist

    Don’t let anyone see your lips move if you are reciting “lefty – loosey, righty – tighty” before you start twisting on a screwdriver. You might get razzed a bit. If you find yourself at an odd angle or fighting a frozen bolt and left and right are mixed up, give the thumbs – up with your tight hand (lefties take note). Point your thumb in the direction you wish the screw to go. The curl of your fingers shows the direction you twist the screwdriver. Again, do this a subtly as you can, lest you get ribbed by the guys helping you out.

    13. Dent Management

    The trim went up in record time with your new nailer. You can’t even see the nails, but what are those marks? Ah, nose dents, which can be caused by the slight recoil of the nailer. How can you prevent those? Fire the nail through a thin piece of cardboard. The nail will set and there will be no dents.

    14. The Dangers of Sawdust

    Yes, you love the smell of sawdust, but you need to keep that stuff from going up your nose and into your lungs. Start with a quality dust mask. Next, make sure you have a dust-collection system to capture chips and other wood bits as you work. Finally, run an air cleaner to capture those microscopic but incredibly nasty-on-your-lungs bits.

    15. The Proper Patch

    Not all holes in the wall are equal. For small ones (drywall screw recesses, holes from picture hooks, etc.) use drywall compound, which comes premixed, and sets through evaporation. For larger holes (you son’s lacrosse ball somehow left a 1” – diameter hole in the wall), reach for a setting joint compound, which is stronger than drywall compound and sets much quicker because the former cures through a chemical process.

    16. Keep from being Drippy

    Keep your paint can clean by punching a few holes in the lip with a nail. These holes will allow the paint that accumulates in the lip to drip back into the can.

    17. Fractions

    North American woodworker and DIYers do not acknowledge any system of measurement other than imperial. Decimals be hanged! So, handyman, know how to work with fractions.

    18. Species of Wood

    Western Red Cedar: soft, reddish wood that will weather to a slivery grey outdoors. Good for outdoor furniture and decks.
    Spruce: white softwood used mostly for construction, but choice pieces can be used for woodworking.
    Oak: a hardwood that is essential for Mission furniture in its ray-flecked, quarter-sawn variation.
    Maple: a white hardwood that is well suited for crafting furniture and musical instruments.

    19. Be a Safe Monkey

    Eye injuries are spectacular. One minute, you are sawing away; the next, a chip has flown into your eye. You are in pain. Everything comes to a stop. Wearing safety glasses becomes obvious. But what of the scream of your tablesaw? Sure, it’s loud, but it doesn’t hurt. A few cuts and then it’s silent. Big deal. Well, the deal is that those one or two cuts are repeated over time and eventually you are yelling “eh?” at the dinner table when someone asks for some salt. Wear ear protection because hearing you yell “eh?” for everything is annoying. Oh, and run that dust collector too. Lungfulls of microscopic bits of sawdust will also mess you up over time.

    20. Scribe

    Match the contour of your wall (you know it’s not perfectly straight, right?) to a new countertop by scribing with a compass. Cutting along this line will make a perfect match.

    21. Saw Straight

    To make a straight cut with a full-size handsaw, measure and mark the cutline with a square or a straightedge. Position yourself over the cutline. If you are right-handed, use your left-hand thumb to guide the first few cuts just on the waste side of the line. Then saw away.

    22. Tweak a Jointer

    That jointer is a tricky machine. It’s built to square stock, but it often seems to do anything but. The problem, sometimes, is you. First, ensure the outfeed table is at the same height as the knives. When jointing a workpiece, use pushpads to apply moderate pressure on both the outfeed and infeed sides of the wood. Some woodworkers will tell you to focus on only the outfeed side. Don’t listen to them.

    23. Cut Sheet Goods on a Tablesaw

    Handling sheet goods is like tap dancing in clown shoes – there’s no way to do it gracefully. The problem with, say, plywood is that eventually a tablesaw gets involved. Before you even think about ripping ply, set up an outfeed table or rollers to support the stock, as well as an extended fence. To minimize tearout, use a high – quality blade designed for sheet goods and use a throat plate. Also, it doesn’t hurt to keep the “good side” up so that any tearout will be hidden later. When pushing a sheet toward the saw blade, stand at the rear left corner. Place your left hand on the sheet’s long edge and your right hand at the rear. Your left hand keeps the sheet against the fence, but don’t apply sideways pressure once the blade starts cutting the plywood. Walk the sheet into the blade. As the blade passes the halfway point, shift your right hand so that it is between the blade and the fence. Reduce any pressure by the left hand to keep the offcut away from the blade.

    24. The Proper Hammer for the Job

    Wooden Mallet; used for woodworking, especially tapping chisels
    Claw Hammer: all-purpose hammer for the shop and around the home.
    Drywall Hammer: has a convex face and an axe-like peen.
    Framing Hammer: a 20 to 32 oz. tool for pounding nails into studs.

    25. To diagnose engine trouble, check spark, fuel and compression.

    26. Research Before you Rip

    Have you ever put in a skylight before? No? Then it’s not going to be something you’ll finish in an afternoon. Do the research. Make sure you have the necessary skills, tools and materials. Also, depending on the project, such as a deck, make sure you find out about pesky things such as bylaws and permits. A handyman does his homework.

    27. Paint Load

    Don’t be stingy and try to wring out one more pass from the paint roller. You’ll end up leaving uneven marks on the wall. Stop and load up that roller with more paint

    28. Anatomy of a saw blade

    A saw blade features carbide teeth, anti-kickback fingers behind the tooth, and extra deep gullets to keep you safe.

    29. Tape Tricks

    It may look very “TV contractor” when you bend your tape measure into a corner to get a measurement. But if you take that measurement to the mitre saw, you’ll be making more than one cut to get it right. Use a measuring block to get inside dimensions. For example, take a 5” block and place it in one corner. Measure to the edge of the block, keeping the tape flat. Take the number at the edge and add 5”. Simple, elegant accuracy.

    30. Handcut Tails

    When cutting th tails of a dovetail joint, angle your saw relative to the end of the board, but keep it square to the face.

    31. Nail Identification

    Match the proper nail to the job. Nails are built differently, for different purposes. Common nails for framing, Spiral nail for finishing, Hot dipped galvanized to resist rust, Subfloor nail for flooring and Roofing nail for, guess what, roofing.

    32. You’ve heard this before, and you’ve ignored it before: measure twice, cut once. For years, we’ve affectionately referred to this old saw as Rule 54. We don’t know how it got that number, but we may have to change it.

    33. Calculate board feet

    One board foot of wood is 1” thick x 12” wide x 12” long. The dimensions, however, don’t matter. It’s just volume. Every board foot is 144 cubic inches. So, a 2x4 will give you one board foot if it is 18” long. So will 9” of 4x4. If this math is a bit mind-bending for you, there are board-feet calculators online, including one at the Canadian Wood Council (cwc.ca).

    34. Brush Care

    To keep bristles from fraying (and tempting you to get out scissors to trim them), wrap a brush in a paper towel after you’ve washed the paint out.

    35. Label Your Fuse Box

    You are in your basement. Your helper yells from upstairs, “Did you switch it already?” You yell “No” but your partner doesn’t hear. He adds helpfully, “Because the light is still on.” You should only ever perform this comedy routine once because you will label the fuse box. Swear you will do it to save yourself time and aggravation. Do it this weekend. If you are alone, get a radio and turn it up really loud. When Zeppelin cuts out, you’ve found the right switch.

    36. Know Why the Hook Wiggles

    That tape measure isn’t defective or broken. The hook is supposed to jiggle a bit. It slides out when you are measuring, say, the outside of a box, so that the thickness of the hook does not affect the reading. Its’ inside edge is zero inches. When measuring the inside of a box, the hook slides in and outside edge becomes zero inches.

    37. Wood Dimensioning Order

    Step one is to run the face of a board through your jointer. Step two is to joint the adjacent edge to form a 90 degree angle. Step three is to run the unfinished face through the thickness planer. And last, at the tablesaw, rip the board to the width you want.

    38. Fell a Tree

    Cut a horizontal line about one third of the way into the trunk of the tree. The second cut is on the diagonal on the same side of the trunk to remove a triangular wedge from the tree. The last cut is from the opposite side of the trunk and about two inches higher than your first cut. Then stay clear of the tree. Also, don’t leave your hard hat behind.

    39. Square with 3, 4 and 5

    Good old grade-school geometry will help you make sure deck joists are square. Mark 4’ along the joist and 3’ along the ledger board. If the distance between the two marks is 5’ the joist is square. Thanks, Pythagoras.

    40. Organize

    “Now where’s that awl? It should be in the tool chest. No. Not there. On the bench between a pile of dead batteries and an old yogurt container full of random screws? Nope. Is that it in a sawdust pile on the floor? Weird. I wonder how it got there?” If you go through this drill or something similar, your shop is too messy. Think of how quickly you’d get your projects done if you could find everything.

    41. Avoid Router Burn, If you Want To

    Are there burns on the wood after you rout a profile? The rpm of your router may be set too high. You might also be moving the router too slowly. Use a variable-speed router and deep the bit moving quickly enough to prevent the burn but not so fast that you overload the router. Of course, burning is an inexpensive way of turning pine into walnut.

    42. Encourage Dents Out of Wood

    To remove a dent in softwood that hasn’t been treated with a film-forming finish, especially cedar, grab an iron, a cloth and some water. Place the cloth over the dent and wet the area covering the dent only. Heat the iron up, but don’t use its steam setting. And then iron the moistened cloth. The steam created on the cloth will raise the grain beneath, creating a small berm. Once the dent has been raised, let everything dry and then sand.

    43. Square a New Window

    When installing a new window, first use shims to make sure it’s level horizontally. Next, shim the window for its vertical alignment. To check that everything is square, measure the window diagonally. If both diagonals are equal, you’re golden.

    44. Back Up a Trailer

    Turn the steering wheel one way, the trailer or boat will go the other. Simple principle. Now, practice putting it into practice.

    45. You’re More Accurate Without the Tape Measure

    For repetitive cuts at a mitre saw, set up a stop block to ensure your pieces end up the same length. A folding rule with a slide out ruler, is an excellent tool for grabbing a physical representation of a measurement, which can then be transferred easily.

    46. Wax On

    A bit of wax will help screws go into dense hardwood. Wax also helps drawers slide a little more smoothly.

    47. Lay a Smooth Bead of Caulk

    Caulking a tub? Make it easy on yourself by getting a no-drip caulking gun. Use a wet finger to smooth out the bead. And, if you are a novice, don’t be too proud to tape things off.

    48. Right Tool, Right Job

    A chisel doesn’t open paint cans. An 18 – tpi dozuki saw does not prune tree branches. In short, use the proper tool for the job – or you will wreck said tool. Then you will start blaming shoddy work on that poor, abused instrument, which we know is wrong, wrong, wrong. While on the topic of tools, buy the best stuff you can afford. As contributor Gord Graff says, “Buy once, cry once” because multiple trips to the store to buy the same crappy tool lead to a lot of tears.

    49. Choose Lumber

    Lumber is funky stuff. It can bow, crook, cup or twist. When you are buying lumber; check to see which of these four qualities the board has. If it’s twisted, forget it. Bowed? If it’s bowed a little bit, you can probably square it on the jointer. Same goes for cupping and crooking. Remember to buy 30 per cent more wood than you think you need. You’ll lose material to checking on the board ends, loose knots, discoloured sapwood and even pith tracks. Of course, blemishes can provide wonderful design elements. That funky wood can lead to some real artistry.

    50. Real Men Do Read Instructions