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10 Uses for Steel Wool

What you can do with friction, elbow grease, and this ball of spun steel?

Photo by Russell Gera/Time Inc. Digital Studio

An all-purpose buffer, steel wool comes in grades ranging from super fine, labeled #0000, to extra coarse, or #4. What can't you do with friction and elbow grease?

Use it to:

1. Start a fire. Touching the terminals of a 9-volt battery to a wad of steel wool can spark a campfire.

2. Stymie critters. Packing steel wool into gaps around pipes forms a barrier mice can't chew through.

3. Stain wood. Woodworker and This Old House contributor Joe Hurst-Wajszczuk mixes steel wool and vinegar in a jelly jar, which reacts to create an ebonizing stain.

4. Prevent a clog. Temporarily stuff steel wool in the drain while you bathe your pet to catch shed hair.

5. Secure a screw. TOH master carpenter Norm Abram finds that steel wool tucked into an oversize hole can keep its screw secure after that last turn.

6. Revive aluminum. Storm windows regain their original shine when buffed with grade #00 steel wool.

7. Untrace your steps. With a little water, it lifts black heel marks on vinyl flooring.

8. Hush a motorcycle. To cut noise, International Steel Wool's auto-buff clients pack the muffler can with stainless #3, says sales manager Eric Bonn.

9. Degloss paint. Knock down the shine by buffing it with the finest grade.

10. Mind your metal. TOH technical editor Mark Powers rests his soldering iron in a can filled with it for a clean tip and unburnt workbench.