27 Reader Tips That Save Time and Money
The can-do readers of TOH have come up with a trove of ingenious, useful ways to make working on and living in your home a little easier
Faced with the same conundrums that crop up around everyone's house, the can-do readers of TOH have come up with a trove of ingenious, useful ways to make working on and living in your home a little easier
I'm not a tall person, and I wanted to be able to see the items stored in my new upper kitchen cabinets. So I installed super-clear, iron-free glass shelves, ⅜ inch thick. Now I always know what's up there.
Therese Pesce, Miami Beach, FL
Before you set a toilet, stick its wax ring in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes to cool it down. The hardened wax stands up to the weight of the commode and doesn't rub off on your fingers or leave your tools all slippery. A cold ring means that the seal will be tight—no more crossed fingers on that first flush.
Steve Matesic, Pittsburgh
When you have as many pine trees as we do in eastern North Carolina, picking up all the pinecones can be a real backbreaker. My friend's grandfather had a granddaddy of an idea: Tap the cones into a long-handle fishing net with your foot. Surprisingly, the pinecones fall easily out of the net when you turn it upside down.
Kelly Kurz, Greenville, NC
Cutting vinyl siding with a utility knife is hard work and hard to do well, so I use a mini grinder fitted with a 4½-inch abrasive cutting wheel. This setup makes it easy to follow a line and to make plunge cuts when fitting the siding around doors, windows, and other trim. Plus, the wheel automatically sands edges smooth and doesn't wear out.
Richard LeBlanc, Kingston, Nova Scotia, Canada
Leaves and acorns kept falling into our outdoor AC unit, which I had to clean out every year. To avoid that, I covered it with ⅛-inch hardware cloth, fastened with the same screws that hold the housing together. That's one less cleaning chore I have to do.
Bob Grier, Lizella, GA
You know those fake spiderwebs that show up in yards around Halloween? Draped over bushes and flower beds, they make great leaf catchers while remaining appropriately spooky. Stretch them over window wells and they eliminate the unpleasant chore of raking or vacuuming out wet leaves. And once all the leaves have dropped, I simply roll up the webbing along with the captured leaves and toss out the whole mess.
Kyle Bodenstab, Lenexa, KS
The next time you have to hole-saw metal, first hole-saw through one of those big yellow car-washing sponges. Leave the plug of sponge inside the saw and soak it with some cutting fluid. When you push the saw into the metal, the cutting fluid is squeezed out of the sponge, giving you a cleaner, faster cut that will preserve your hole-saw teeth. Store the sponge in a container with a tight-fitting lid, and reapply fluid when you use the hole saw again.
Justyn Clarke, North Dartmouth, MA
If you're looking to kill some grass to create a new garden bed, you don't need chemicals or expensive rental machines—or much effort, really—if you bide your time and use flattened cardboard boxes. Lay the cardboard over the grass you want to get rid of and weight it down. It will have done its job when the grass shrivels up and turns brown. You can leave it in place and dig right through it if you're planting a few shrubs, but if you're digging a lot of holes, it's easy enough to pull up the cardboard.
Donna De Graaf-Smith, Gary, IN
After coping trim with a saw, I use the sanding attachment on my rotary tool to fine-tune the fit.
Tom Koehler, Rolling Meadows, IL
When it's time to install the strike plate for a new lockset, I place a small piece of double-stick tape on the end of a retracted dead bolt. Then I close the door and turn the bolt as if I'm locking it. The tape comes off the bolt and sticks to the jamb at the exact location where I need to chisel out the strike plate's mortise. Works like a charm!
Mark Polivka, Dallas
While putting poly on my kitchen cabinets, I was going through latex gloves like crazy. Every time I wanted to grab something with a clean hand, I'd take a glove off and toss it. But then I found I could invert a glove from one hand halfway onto the other, do what I needed with my clean hand, and coax the glove back on. It gets me a lot more mileage out of each package of gloves.
Derek Olson, Moorhead, MN
Tape a screw or a nail to the outside of the box it came in so that you can see at a glance exactly what's inside.
Julie Sindora, Seattle
When I'm staining doors, I use a marker to write down the stain color on the top edge of the door. No one sees it, but I have a reminder of the color in case I ever have to re-stain. Works with paint, too.
Tom J. Turrisi, Fairfax, VA
Instead of buying new 4-inch mini rollers when I paint, I have an easy way to wash the old ones clean. Take a jar with a tight-fitting lid and fill it with warm water and a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent. Squeeze as much paint out of the roller as you can, then drop it into the jar and close the lid. Shake it for a minute, let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes, and shake again. Pour out the dirty water, then shake the roller in clean, warm water and detergent. When the roller's fibers are paint-free, add warm, clean water to the jar and shake well. Repeat to rinse the roller thoroughly, and lay it out to dry. This is a real money-saver.
Mary Julia Coons, Thomasville, GA
Make a shallow circular kerf with a hole saw, then set it aside and use a regular twist bit to drill a handful of ¼-inch relief holes just inside of and touching the kerf. Now when you resume cutting, the small holes capture the sawdust, reducing friction and effort.
Michael Gingerella, Hopkinton, RI
Tired of Phillips-head screws falling off the screwdriver? Stick a little modeling clay or glazing compound on the tip of the screwdriver before you put it in a screw. I've found this to be particularly useful with screws made of brass or aluminum.
Ed Wojtkiewicz, Omaha
Here's a quick way to take out a tree stump. First, leave 6 feet of trunk standing to act as a lever. Next, use a reciprocating saw with a 9- or 12-inch pruning blade to make two vertical cuts around the trunk, one 4 to 6 inches out from the trunk and the other a foot out from the first. Now, dig a trench between these cuts, pull the trunk over at a 45-degree angle, and saw through as many roots as you can. Finally, pull the trunk over in the opposite direction, cut the remaining roots, and yank the stump out of the ground. With this method, I can remove tree stumps as big as 14 inches in diameter in about half an hour.
John Nakos, Rio Rancho, NM
To remove a grounding rod or a fence post, wrap a small chain tightly around it, and hold the chain in place with locking pliers. Hook the chain over the nose of a high-lift jack, place the jack on a piece of plywood next to what you're removing, and start pumping. The jack will lift the post or rod straight out of the ground.
Jack Cramer, Bartlesville, OK
When I'm staking out a right triangle with a string line, I mark the string with paper clips rather than a felt-tip marker. They're easy to adjust and won't leave you confused about which spots are which on your next project.
William Sandt, West Lawn, PA
As the nonslip pads on my cast-iron bathtub wore away, I tried many different ways to get rid of the rectangular yellow stains that were left behind, but nothing worked. Finally, I came up with the answer: tooth-whitening strips. They removed all the yellow staining on the bottom of my tub!
Brien Braun, Huntington Beach, CA
If blue painter's tape isn't coming off the roll easily, place the tape in the microwave for 20 to 25 seconds. That's enough to soften the glue and allow the tape to pull off easily. Warmed tape is also better at stopping paint from bleeding under the edge.
Stephen Miller, Batavia, NY
To scribe an arc, use a length of ½-inch PEX tubing. It's flexible enough to bend but stiff enough to keep its shape as you run a pencil along it. Hold the pipe in place with one screw, make the curve you want, and lock it down with more screws in a few spots.
Rik Bagtaz, Boston
How do you pull an old nail that has no head? Just clamp locking pliers onto the nail's exposed shaft and slide a pry bar or a hammer between the jaws of the pliers and the surface the nail is stuck in. Apply some muscle to the hammer or pry bar, and the nail comes out with minimal sweat or swearing. My 22-year-old son showed me how to do this while working on his 100-year-old house, in Minneapolis. He taught this old dog a new trick!
Gary S. Schroeter, Chicago
Every time I added oil to my lawn mower, it would splash as it slowly glug-glugged down the funnel. So I made my own no-glug funnel with a straw and an empty plastic water bottle. Here's how: Slice off the bottom of a bottle at a 60-degree angle and discard. On the remaining part of the bottle, near the tapered end of this cut, make a hole in the plastic with a paper punch. Insert a straw through the hole and into the bottle's neck. The straw gives the displaced air in the tank a chance to escape, eliminating the glugging and splashing.
David S. Wise, Sequim, WA
To get rid of the mirror tiles that covered a wall in our kitchen, I first covered them entirely with sections of carpet protector, a thick, adhesive-backed plastic that comes on a roll. Then I went at the tiles with a hammer, breaking them into small pieces. When I peeled off the sticky protector, most of the slivers and shards came with it. I just rolled up the plastic with the shattered tiles inside and dropped it in the trash. The remaining bits that stuck to the wall popped off with a putty knife. For both steps of the process, I made sure to wear safety goggles, leather gloves, long sleeves, long pants, and work boots.
Dick Droste, Charleston, IL
When the service technician vacuumed out the PVC condensate drain line for my heat pump, a lot of bugs and slugs came out. He told me this was not uncommon and that he's even found nakes in there. So I inserted a small wire-mesh sink-drain strainer into the wide end of a ¾-to-1-inch PVC adapter and held the strainer in place with silicone adhesive. The adapter's small end fits onto the drain line without glue, allowing the technician to pop it off and clean it. No more bugs, no more slugs.
Don Elgin, Belton, SC
Stick adhesive felt pads to the front and sides of your upright vacuum so that it can glide against baseboards without scratching or scuffing the finish.
Isaac Wiley, Lawrence, KS