Useful Stuff 4: Home Improvement Tips

Here's a random collection of home improvement tips for you.

  • Apply finish to hardwood before grouting ceramic tile that's touching it. This prevents the grout turning the hardwood black.
  • With oak flooring, don't use a nail set. Use a slotted screwdriver instead, aligned with the grain. These marks, when filled in, will blend better with the grain than a round hole from a nail set.
  • When installing a tall, narrow book shelf, make sure you secure the top to the wall to prevent the whole thing from falling over.
  • Always put the crown of a board up when installing rafters, joists and beams.
  • To make a stationary tool out of a portable tool, place it in a vice. You can put your belt sander upside down in a vice. For small pieces of wood it is better to hold onto them than the sander.
  • When moving a large L-shaped sheet of arborite, the inside corner often rips. To prevent this, put a small piece of plywood over and another piece under the arborite, spanning across the corner and clamp them together, making the corner rigid.
  • When trimming off an asphalt shingle roof, use a utility knife with a hooked blade. You'll find it cuts easier than a straight blade and stays sharper longer.
  • To make a table saw, place a portable circular saw under a table with the blade through the board. For the fence use a straight piece of board held with C-clamps.
  • Before working on your kitchen or bathroom taps or the water supply to a dishwasher, turn off the water first. The shut-off for the dishwasher is usually under the sink.
  • To get rid of moss or algae off your sidewalks or driveway, use TSP and bleach in warm water. Keep clear of grassy areas.
  • To remove an oil spill from concrete garage floors, use cat litter and work it in well. Use a small piece of wood and rub it into the surface of the concrete. Amazingly, the concrete becomes white again.
  • Put a paint roller in a plastic bag and seal tightly for next day's use, to avoid having to clean it.
  • A little candle wax on screws help them go in easier.
  • Stagger your screws or nails to avoid splitting the grain of the wood.
  • An important thing to remember when building stairs is that there is one less tread than riser.
  • When constructing a project outdoors, use treated lumber for pieces near the ground or on concrete.
  • Attach stair gauges to the edge of the steel square so it can slide along the stringer or rafter, maintaining the same measurements.
  • To nail brads or very small finish nails use a brad pusher.
  • When working by yourself, use a nail or spike (a nail 3 inches or longer) as your third hand to hold the end of a long board up.
  • If requiring a straight line to start in the middle of a board, rather than the edge, drive in a nail to hold one end of the chalk line.
  • When building a project from wood, draw a simple sketch to make it easier to allow for thickness of materials.
  • When installing a new tub, insulate the cavity below and around the tub with fibreglass insulation to keep the water warmer longer for those long soaks.
  • Drill holes for nails near the ends of boards to prevent their splitting.
  • Before drywalling over the cavity holding a pipe chase, place extra pieces of drywall around the pipe to soften the noise of water coming down the pipe. This applies to heating pipes, also.
  • Buy short lumber, if you can. Two 6 footers are cheaper than one 12 footer
  • A finishing carpenter never leaves the edge grain of plywood visible in his work. Use edging tape or apply your own edging.
  • If you have a multibit screw driver, use the bits in your variable speed drill to make a power screwdriver.
  • If you spill a drop of paint on concrete, quickly grab a handful of dirt and rub it over the paint before it dries. Later you can wash off the dirt.
  • When pulling finish nails out of a piece of molding, pull them all the way through from the back using a pair of pliers to avoid scratching or splintering the face of the wood.
  • If you are cutting on saw horses, it is a good idea to set the depth of the blade just below the surface you are cutting to avoid too much damage to the saw horses. It is also easier on the saw.
  • If the drawer is slightly too large for the opening and is binding on the sides, remove the slide on the left side of the drawer and with the table saw remove a thin slice the height of the slide off the drawer side. It is better to be 1/16" too small than too large.
  • When drilling through a finished frame, as when installing door pulls, hold a scrap block of plywood on the inside to prevent the drill from chipping the wood as it goes through the other side.
  • When cutting a machine screw to length, thread on a proper size nut first, cut the screw and back off the nut which cleans the threads in the process.
  • Diagram showing tapemeasure math.An easy way to figure out the length of rail between two stiles. Place the two stiles together, edge to edge. Put your tape measure on the right side edge at the measurement wanted, say 13 15/32 and read off on the opposite edge what the measurement will be, as shown on the drawing.
  • When using a router always try the setup on a scrap piece of identical material to be sure it is correct before trying it on the actual piece.
  • When cutting identical pieces of boards for opposite ends of a project, place the pattern on the piece to be copied good face against good face. This way both opposite ends will have the best side of the pieces facing out. With the wood we get nowadays, each piece seems to have a good side and a bad side.
  • When buying an older house, pay that inspector his dues. He'll give you a report of what needs attention and your offer on the house can be based on this report.
  • When making stairs, to save your carpet, round over the top edge of each nosing. Do this with a router, a belt sander or a block plane. It is easier to do this before installing the treads.
  • Don't install doors on a floor standing cabinet, until the cabinet is placed in its final resting place. And attached to the wall.
  • I've recently learned an interesting trick for anchoring wood to concrete or rock. If you want to remove the piece later, drill a 3/16" hole through the wood and the stone or concrete, slide a piece of rebar wire into the hole and drive in a 3 1/4" duplex nail. If you never and I mean never want the nail back out, skip the wire part and drive in a galvanized 3 1/2" spike. I've found this to be a quick and more reliable method than power fasteners or concrete nails and is way cheaper than Tapcons! (Thanks to Damian in Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada)
  • Clean out air ducts once per year. These are the dryer, bath and kitchen fan ducts, as well as, furnace and HRV ducts.


(Ask Dave) (About Dave)

Your source for building tips, woodworking & furniture plans, house plans and building advice directly from Dave...

Hi, I'm Dave Osborne. With over 50 years experience as a journeyman carpenter, foreman and contractor in heavy construction I enjoyed working with apprentices and sharing the tricks of the trade that others shared with me. Now I get emails from Members all over the world and we include many of my answers in our Free Monthly Newsletters. Some of my answers include drawings and instructions specific to a project, but may also answer your questions. I use correct construction terminology, so you can confidently inform your building supply dealers or contractors exactly what you need.


The Benefits of Membership

Membership gives you full access to our hundreds of how-to articles, woodworking plans, converters, calculators and tables. Our Stair Calculator is one of the most popular on the internet. We have projects you can build for (and with) your kids, furniture for your wife, and sheds and gazebos. If you run into a problem or need advice your Membership includes unlimited email questions to me through our Ask Dave quick response button.

Join us!