33 Clever, Time-Saving, Money-Saving Reader Tips
From easier paint clean-up to getting tire marks out of a yard, TOHers share their collective home improvement knowledge
You Guys Have Great Ideas
To be perfectly honest, when we asked you all to contribute your best DIY trade secrets to this, our annual Reader-Created Issue, we figured we'd get one or two aha! head-slappers from you and a whole bunch of other tips we'd heard before. But man, were we wrong. And man, oh, man, do our heads hurt. From the tricks you use to speed repairs, to the tools you fabricate when the right one is unavailable, to the way you stretch money by repurposing leftover materials, your advice left a lot of red handprints on a lot of noggins around here.
Fix it Outside
1. Fix a Flat Tire
My old wheelbarrow had a flat, but the bolts were rusted on and the replacement was expensive. So I drilled a hole in the tire and sprayed expanding foam insulation inside until it was full. This fix won't last forever,
but it's made it through one season so far. —Art Papayanopulos, Huntington, N.Y.
2. Lift out ruts
When a truck left deep tire marks in my yard, instead of filling them in with soil and seed, I lifted the sod with a spading fork. I gave the grass a small lift every other day, and after two weeks the tire marks were gone. —Louis Spezialetti, Grove City, Ohio
3. Hang the hose
Rather than lay our garden hoses flat on the garage floor, I took a heavy-duty 101⁄2-inch plastic pot and screwed its base to a stud with a washer and lag bolt. Then I coiled the hose around it. The pot's tapered shape keeps the hose neatly in place.—Bill Engelke, Bowling Green, Ohio
4. Scrape with a wrench
I remove the scale from my iron railing with a wrench sized to fit tightly over the bar. Dragging it up, down, or around to remove the larger blisters saves a lot of sanding later on. —Michael Strausbaugh, West Haven, Conn.
5. Cart the sprayer
When I'm out spraying for weeds with my plastic pump sprayer, I use an old golf-bag cart to wheel it around. The cart's circular base is a perfect fit for the sprayer's tank, and its big wheels were made for lawns. —Richard Hill, Suffolk, Va.
6. Trap wasp nests
Rather than try to knock off wasp nests under the eaves while standing on a ladder, I take a long plastic downspout, attach a plastic bag to one end with a rubber band, and squirt a shot of flying insect spray into the other end. Then I place that end over the nest and scoot the pipe sideways to dislodge it. The nest
and any wasps fall down the pipe and into the bag for disposal.
—Dennis Conard, Sacramento, Calif.
Raid The Kitchen
7. Carton the hardware
Keeping small parts organized
when repairing an item is as easy as
making breakfast. I use empty egg cartons to group and contain the pieces.—Brent Kirby, Douglas, Mass.
8. Stick it to grout
My husband and I discovered that the fat end of a chopstick works great for removing excess grout
from tile joints. —Kellie Lupica, Rocky River, Ohio
9. Stop water with bread
I'd cut some water lines under the sink, but a valve got stuck and they kept leaking a steady dribble of water, which prevented me from soldering. The plumber I called in (at emergency rates) asked for a slice of bread. He tore off the crust, rolled it up, and stuck it inside the line. It stopped the flow long enough for him to solder the pipes before it dissolved and washed away. This tip cost me $130 and a slice of bread. —Jerry Schlegel, Indianapolis
10. Carve insulation
I use an electric carving knife instead of a utility knife to slice easily through fiberglass batt insulation, no hard cutting surface needed. —Patrick Schumacher, Columbus, Ind.
11. Find the bolts
When replacing a toilet, the hardest part is to line up the bowl with the short bolts in the floor without touching the wax ring. So I stick plastic straws on the ends of the bolts as guides and set the toilet down perfectly in one go—without messing up the wax ring. —Ed Carlson, Charlotte, N.C.
12. Get a good hold
When you're driving hard-to-turn screws with a manual screwdriver, put on a rubber kitchen glove
and you'll get a no-slip grip. —Forrest Rich, Mount Vernon, Ga.
Paint Like A Pro
13. Paper the windows
wood windows and sills in a humid climate like we have here in the Deep South, leave the windows open to dry for a day, then put waxed paper across the sill and close the sash. The paint will cure without sticking.—Cathi Gray, Gulfport, Miss.
14. Mask off the floor
Before you nail down shoe molding at the baseboard, put a strip of painter's paper between the molding and the floor. Then you won't have to tape off the floor when you paint. After you're done, cut off the paper. No one will ever know it's there. —Mark Shearman, Philadelphia
15. Note the paint color
Keep the paint names for each room handy by writing each name on a piece of tape and sticking it behind the light-switch cover plate.
—Robert Socha, Green Lake, Wis.
16. Bag the paint tray
Put your roller tray inside a drawstring kitchen trash bag and pull the strings tight, then pour the paint into the tray as usual. After painting, turn the bag inside out so that the paint is inside. Pull the strings and throw the bag away. The tray is clean and ready for another color. —Ruffin Waller, Richmond, Va.
17. Swab wall holes
Before you spackle nail holes, cut a cotton swab in half and push it into the hole, stick end first. For larger holes, fold the swab in half and use it all. Then trim the excess and spackle. You won't need to go back for a second pass.—George Martins, New Bedford, Mass.
18. Smooth with a roller
When I repaired a cracked ceiling, I waited until the joint compound was barely set up and used a dry paint roller to smooth out the knife seams. A damp sponge got rid of any residual roughness after the compound dried, so no sandpaper and no dust. —Jim McNamara, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Clean up With Ease
19. Catch dust with a basketball
I had to drill holes for can lights in the ceiling, so I cut an old basketball in half to collect the dust. A ½-inch hole drilled into the bottom allowed the ball to fit between the drill and the hole saw. Then I held the drill with one hand and the ball tight to the ceiling. No dust fell in my face
or on my floors.—Jared Rishel, St. Pete Beach, Fla.
20. Launder greasy hands
greasy pipes or yard equipment, wash up with liquid laundry detergent. It cuts oil better than ordinary bar soap and costs less than specialty hand cleaners. —Matthew Hyman, St. Paul, Minn.
21. Remove paint with oil
I've used canola or corn oil rather than mineral spirits to clean oil-based paint off my skin. It works great, washes off with soap and water, and moisturizes my hands, too! —Geoffrey G. Bell, Duluth, Minn.
22. Cut with two blades
It's hard to start a hacksaw on a
bolt or rod without jumping off your line. Solution: Put two blades on your hacksaw frame, with the teeth pointing in opposite directions.
Not only will your saw stay on its line, but it will also cut faster, on both the pull and the push strokes. —Walter Crossmon, Rutland, Vt.
23.Find tools in a flash
Stick automotive reflective tape onto tool handles, cell phones, or other small items that
are easy to misplace. You'll be able to find them by shining a flashlight around your work area. —Allen Pederson, Mabel, Minn.
24. Locate studs fast
A contractor at my workplace
uses an inexpensive stud finder
made by tying a string to a cow magnet, the really powerful
kind that's fed to cattle to keep barbed wire and other metal out
of their systems. You dangle the
magnet next to the wall and it
sticks to any nearby nails or
screws. —Marie Clark, Baltimore
Think Outside The Box
25. Drill with a bit off
the clothes rack
You don't have to buy a feeler bit to probe walls and ceilings. Just snip an 8-inch piece off a wire coat hanger with a wire cutter. Trim one end at a 60-degree angle and chuck the other end in your drill. The wire will worm its way through wood or drywall
in no time. —Larry S., York, Pa.
26. Shoulder the switch
If the light switch for your basement is on
a sidewall, install the switch upside down so that down
is on. When you head downstairs
with a load of laundry in your arms, just lean against the switch with
your shoulder to turn on the light. —Doug Jones, Stuyvesant Falls, Nev.
27. Fill holes with bats
After I took out old radiators, I filled the pipe holes in the floor with the handles of my son's old wooden baseball bats. I simply pushed each handle down a hole until it wedged in place, then traced a line even with the floor. I made a cut just above the mark, tapped the pieces into place with some wood glue, and covered the floor with carpeting.— Ernest Morin, Millbury, Mass.
28. Stop dropping screwsIn tight spaces, keep screws from falling off your screwdriver with
a piece of plastic wrap. Push
the screw point through the wrap, then hold it tight as you turn
the screwdriver. Pull away the plastic when you're done.
—Jerry A. Thomson, Tampa, Fla.
29. Plug holes with teesTo fill a stripped screw hole in a door, glue a wood golf tee in the hole. Cut off the excess when the glue dries. —Ed Boudreaux Jr., Albany, La.
30. Unclog hairy drains After our bathtub became clogged with dog hair, I snaked the drain
but without success. So my wife gave it a spray of Nair hair remover. Fifteen minutes later the drain worked better than it had in months! —Craig Brouillette, Woonsocket, R.I.
31. Oil your nailsBefore hammering a nail into hard wood, rub it over your nose. The
oil it picks up makes it easy to drive. —Sean Morrissey, Guilford, Conn.
32. Quiet water pipesMy massaging
caused the pipe
inside the wall to vibrate. Rather than tear up the wall, I drilled small holes though the wall around the pipe and shot a bit of spray foam into each one. When the foam hardened, the noise disappeared!
—Stephen Krauth, New London, Conn.
33. Bag the joint compound Lacking the talent to trowel joint compound evenly in corners, I made a disposable pastry bag. I took a plastic bag and reinforced a corner with duct tape. After putting in some compound and twisting the open end closed, I clipped the corner, squeezed out an even bead, then smoothed it with my finger. —Ken M., Kennewick, Wash.