In our 65+ years of experience in the power tools and construction industries, we’ve learned a thing or two about power tools. Now we’re sharing our favorite power tools tricks, tips, and lifehacks with you to help you make your job or hobby easier, more accurate, and more efficient.
Catch metal shavings before they cause problems in the wood shop
Metal shavings can wreak havoc with dust collection systems and vacs. To corral these little buggers when using a drill press, put a backer block in the middle of a shallow pan. The thickness of the backer block should be the same as the depth of the pan. When finished drilling just dispose of the shavings into the garbage. We also find it best not us use a pan straight from the kitchen or a glass plate.
Test cut shows if saw is cutting square
When starting a project, make a trial cut with a piece of scrap wood. Use a try square to check that the saw is cutting square. This is especially important if using a miter saw that had been transported and possibly bumped along the way. It’s also a quick way to test the accuracy of your tablesaw’s miter gauge. In either case, make adjustments to the saw or miter gauge if the test cut isn’t square. Once the adjustments have been made make another test cut and recheck. Continue this process until the saw has been completely adjusted.
Add one step to your miter saw cut process to increase accuracy
When cutting hardwoods, a miter saw blade can flex slightly as it encounters the stock. To prevent this, sneak up on your cut line by making two cuts. Make the first cut about 1⁄16 ” to the waste side of your cut line. Then make a second cut to the line. This finishing cut will be clean, crisp and on the money
Easy-to-identify Router Bits
It’s often hard to tell router bits apart from each other. Hmmmm…is that a 45-degree chamfer bit or a 30-degree? Make it easier and quicker to select the right bits by marking them with a permanent marker. Write on the bottom where there’s plenty of room and the ink is less likely to be worn off.
Drill bumper cushion
When the bit suddenly breaks through the material being drilled into, the drill’s chuck can uncontrollably slam into the workpiece, causing a dent or scratch. When drilling into delicate materials protect the surface by securing a piece a felt at the base of the bit. A rotary tool’s felt polishing wheel or a furniture leg felt pad makes a perfect drill bumper cushion.
Fast way to twist wire
Have you ever found yourself struggling to twist wire for a picture frame or when securing some wire to a fence post? Here is how a couple of loops and a nail can come to your rescue. Bend the nail, chuck it into your drill, slide it through the wire loops, and tap the drill’s trigger a few times. Boom! You have an ultra-efficient way to twist wire.
Back up your belt sander
When using a belt sander on a small workpiece, clamp a scrap of wood behind the workpiece. This will keep your sander from launching the workpiece into your shop, or worse yet, into your stomach, and because clamps are used to hold the scrap down you don’t need them to hold your project. This will allow you to sand the entire face of the workpiece at the same time. The scrap should not be thicker than the workpiece so that sander has access to its whole length.
2 more household uses for your Heat Gun
1.) If you have finished painting but left the tape near your trim on too long, a heat gun can help remove it cleanly. The heat not only softens the adhesive, but also softens any paint that has over-lapped onto the tape allowing you to reveal a crisp paint line. Make sure you use the low setting.
2.) Use the heat gun to loosen all the burnt-on crud on grates so that it is easily brushed or scraped off. With one hand, move the heat gun back and forth over the grate. With the other hand, use a grill brush or scraper to easily remove the baked-on grime. (Yes, you could simply heat your grill to clean, but the heat gun can apply more heat directly on the grate. The typical LP grill can generate temperatures between 500°-600°F while a heat gun can generate temperatures over 1000°F, thus saving time and LP gas.) It’s smart to start on a lower setting and work your way up until the heat will do the trick. Also note that a heat gun can produce tremendous heat, so use common sense and be careful.
Best way to use a miter saw to cut laminate flooring
When cutting laminate flooring with a miter saw, place the good side up and use duct tape to minimize chipping. (If you use white duct tape, the cut lines are super easy to see.) Also, use a blade specifically made for laminate material, or at least, use a blade with a tooth count of 100 or more.
Stop vibration when cutting thin metal
When cutting thin sheet metal, place it between two scraps of plywood to stop vibration. Clamp this sandwich together and you’ll have a much smoother time when cutting with a jigsaw.
How to put together prefabricated furniture fast
Are you sick of cheap hex wrenches included with furniture stripping screws, wearing out fast, and being slow? Most ready-to-assemble furniture uses 1/4″ hex bolts so here is a trick to keep you up and running and will speed assembly right along. Take a 1/4″ hex screwdriver bit that most Impact Drivers use and chuck it into your drill backwards. The drill will give you all the speed you need but will also increase the torque, so be careful.
How to avoid blowout holes is wood while drilling
The first rule in drilling a clean, blowout free hole in wood is to use a quality brad-point bit. This drill bit actually has three points: two on the outside “shoulders” and one center point. The two “shoulders” cut the outside edge of the hole before the drilling portion of the bit does its work. This keeps the edges of the hole crisp and true. The center point allows you to drill exactly where you want because you can clearly see the point when the drill bit is spinning. So, just turn on the drill press and line up the drill bit with your mark as you lower the bit. Even with the best drill bits, you can still blowout the back of the hole, especially with veneers. You can avoid this by putting a backer board underneath your work piece to support the hole. A backer board can be any piece of scrap wood that has a uniform thickness. Drilling through your work piece and about 1/8” into the backer board will eliminate blow-out.
How to set your circular saw blade for the right cutting depth
Setting the blade on your circular saw incorrectly may produce ugly cuts and could cause serious injury. Here’s the right way to set up the blade cutting depth on your saw. First, always remember to unplug the saw when adjusting the blade. To determine the blade depth, retracting the blade guard and hold the saw alongside the board that will be cut. Then loosen the depth-adjusting lever or knob. If the blade is set too deep you can run into several problems. First, it’s dangerous, as more of the blade is exposed while cutting. Second, the saw is more likely to bind and kick back if the blade is too deep. What’s more, blades are designed to cut more efficiently when set to the proper depth. To set the correct depth, pivot the saw’s base until the blade extends about ¼” to ½” below the board. Tighten the lever or knob and you’re ready to saw. Remember to make sure the end of the board you’re cutting is free to fall away. Don’t clamp, support or otherwise restrict the cut-off piece, as this can cause the saw to bind and kick back.
How to use a router in place of a jointer
No jointer, not a problem! Grab your router instead. To put a straight, smooth edge along a board’s length, a jointer will do the trick. But if you don’t have a jointer handy, you can use your router and a straight bit with a bearing on the bottom. Clamp the work piece to plywood that has a factory-produced flat edge. Your work piece should be several inches shorter than the plywood and its edge should hand over the plywood slightly as shown. When routing, the bearing will follow the straight plywood edge, while cutting the work piece straight and smooth.
How to make sure your drill press table is level
Drill press tables can be tilted to drill holes at an angle. But, most of the time, you’ll want the table level to drill straight into the material. Even though there are settings on the table indicating it is level, you should still make sure that these settings are correct. Chuck a long bit into your drill press. Place a square on the table to make sure that the table is level (90-degrees to the bit.) Check both sides of the bit to be safe. If it’s not level, adjust your table settings until it is.
How to make accurate miter cuts on a bandsaw
Use a rafter square to make a 45° cut with the bandsaw. If you can’t find or don’t have a miter gauge handy, place a rafter square on your bandsaw’s table so it rides along outside edge as you use it to guide your wood past the blade. Use your right hand to push the rafter square along the edge while your left hand keeps the stock pressed against the square as you complete the miter cut. Keep your hands clear of the blade at all times.
How to make clean cuts in plywood
When cutting plywood, make sure the good side is down. If you need two good sides, use a straightedge to score the plywood with a sharp utility knife, cutting through the top layer of veneer. Then, position the saw blade on the scrap side of the score line when making the final cut.
Why starting a drill in reverse can be a good thing
Drill in reverse can actually produce the cleanest hole. When using a brad point bit, start with the drill in reverse for a few revolutions to score the edges of the hole. Then, change the bit direction and drill your hole. It will produce a crisp clean hole every time.
How to know what size air compressor you need
The size of air compressor depends on the tools you’ll be using. If you will be using tools that need continuous air pressure (like a sander), you should get a compressor with more power. Tools requiring short blasts of air (like a nail gun) don’t need as much power, so you can opt for a smaller compressor.
How to save money at the lumberyard with a planer
By surfacing your own boards with a planer, you can purchase less expensive rough lumber and save money on your next project. Here are some tips on using a planer and buying rough stock. Even boards with the wildest grain patterns can be tamed. Just feed the stock through your planer on an angled path, rather than pointing it straight ahead. Don’t angle it too far, however, or the back end will rub against the planer’s frame. “Skewing” the board through the planer decreases the cutting angle of the knives and produces a cleaner “shearing” cut. It’s a good rule of thumb to take no more than 1/16″-1/32″ on each pass though the planer. Then, when getting close to the final thickness, take off only 1/64″. Rough lumber is measured in ¼” increments. The thinnest rough boards are marked 4/4, are called four-quarter, and are 1” thick. Because rough stock does not come in standard lengths and widths, it is sold by volume, measured by the board foot. A board foot is 12” wide, 12” long, and 1” thick, or 144 cubic inches.
How to use a miter gauge to mark angles
A very easy and accurate way to mark angles on your stock is to use your table saw’s miter gauge. Simply set the angle you want on your miter gauge and then place it upside down onto your work piece. The shoulder of the miter gauge will be flush to the side of your work piece and the T-Slot will be set at your angle and will allow you to trace it. Quick and easy, and most likely you received it free with the purchase of a different tool.
How to know when to use a thin-kerf or full-kerf miter saw blade
For saws with a three-horsepower motor or less, use a thin-kerf blade. These blades make a narrow cut which removes less waste and puts less strain on the saw. Thin-kerf blades are good for crosscutting hard and soft woods, plywood, and sheet stock including chipboard. With more powerful saws, a full-kerf blade is an option. These thicker blades cut the same materials as a thinner blade, but are also good for MDF and plastic. Choose a thicker blade when accuracy is critical, as they are less likely to flex or warp. A full-kerf blade is ideal for cutting molding and trim.
How to set up a Dado Blade thickness
Find a flat surface, such as your table saw top, and stack your dado blade next to the stock that will fit into the groove you are going to cut. Keep adding blades and shims until the dado stack is the same height as the stock. Bingo! You now have the precise width of cut and are ready to install this right combination of blades and shims on your table saw.
How to effectively clean moisture and particles from an air compressor
Air-compressor tanks, especially older ones, can contain water and rust particles or scale that must be “drained” on a regular basis. To get the job done, repeatedly open and close the tank’s drain valve with the tank at a low pressure level of about 10 to 20 psi. The cycling action will help push particles out the drain valve. If it appears that scale might be clogging the drain valve, open the valve completely and use a smoking pipe cleaner to dislodge any obstructions. Leaving moisture and particles in the tank can corrode and weaken the tank over time. In a dry environment, drain your compressor’s tank at least once a week. In a humid environment, tanks should be drained daily. Never build up tank pressure and then open the valve—the release of air, water, and particles under high pressure could cause serious injury. For older or visibly consider having the tank hydrostatically tested.
How to speed cut alignment by marking dado widths on zero-clearance
For cutting splinter- and chip-free dadoes and grooves, outfit your table saw with a zero-clearance insert. This shop-made or purchased item replaces the metal throat plate that comes with a table saw. Because it is made of wood or plastic, you can cut through the insert with a dado set to make an opening with no clearance between the dado set and the insert opening. The zero-clearance surface fully supports delicate plywood veneers or melamine coatings to prevent tear-out and chipping.
How to find a wrench size quickly
The typical wood shop requires wrenches of many sizes for removing blades, bits, guards, and accessories. Rather than waste time guessing at the size and finding the wrench that fits, use a black marking pen to note the wrench size on the tool near the collet, nut, or other fastening device. Then, simply glance at the marked wrench size, grab the wrench, and make the change.
How to fix loose tool handles
Threaded handles on tools such as a mortiser or drill press have a tendency to work loose due to machine vibration. To prevent that from happening, simply wrap a short length of Teflon tape—the type plumbers use—around the threaded end of the offending handle. Thread the handle back into its hole—it should stay put, yet allow you to easily remove it if necessary.
How to avoid Forstner bit tear-out
Forstner bits are great for cutting large, flat-bottomed holes with splinter-free rims. But, if the work piece being drilled isn’t fully supported on its bottom side, the bit can “blow out” the grain on the exit side of the hole. To prevent that from happening, drill through the work piece until the center point or “spur” of the bit just pokes through the bottom surface. Then, simply flip the piece over, align the center point of the bit over the hole it just cut, and finish boring to create a clean-edged hole.
How to use an old mouse pad to make in-a-pinch push
Foam mouse pads are often given away as advertising promotions, and newer computer mice don’t even require them—so what do you do with the left-over and obsolete pads? Use them to make push pads for jointing and routing operations. First, cut ¾”-thick scrap stock for a 3×5″ base and handle. Then, cut and adhere a section of mouse pad to the bottom of the wood base (epoxy works well). Cut the pads a bit over size and use a utility knife to trim the protruding edges flush with the wood base. If the foam pad gets damaged over time, simply scrape it off and adhere a new piece.
How to plane thin stock safely and effective using a carrier
Many portable thickness planers will only cut to within ⅛”-or-so of their bed (the surface the planed stock rides on), preventing you from accidentally cutting into the bed with the planer’s cutter head. However, that built-in safety feature also prevents you from planing material thinner than ⅛” or so. Here’s a trick for safely getting around that limitation. Make a carrier board from a piece of ¾”-thick plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) that’s slightly narrower than the planer’s bed. About 1″ from one end cut a ¾”-wide dado 1/4″ deep. Glue into it (never use screws) a ¾”-wide strip of wood about 3/8″ thick. This cleat will provide support and pushing force to the stock being planed. Then, use double-faced tape or a few spots of hot-melt adhesive to secure the thin stock to the carrier board, with its end against the cleat. Take extremely light cuts to prevent shattering the thin stock.
How to make better table saw cuts
Clean up your (blade) act! Resin accumulations on saw blades reduce cutting efficiency and can cause burn marks on work pieces. To clean a blade, pour denatured alcohol or a commercial cleaner made especially for saw blades into a seven-quart oil-drain pan to a depth of about ¼”. The high sides of the oil-drain pan prevent accidental splashes from getting on you or surrounding. Place your blade into the pan and let it soak for about five minutes. Then, use a clean cloth or worn tooth brush to scrub each tooth. Clean one side of the blade, flip it over, and do the other side. For stubborn residue, gently use a soft-bristled brass brush. With the cleaning completed, remove the blade from the pan and wipe the blade dry. A hair dryer works well to get the blade completely dry. Store the contaminated solvent in a sealed container for reuse later. Finally, for extended blade life, apply a dry lubricant such as Bostik DriCote. Never use oven cleaners on saw blades. Caustic chemicals in the cleaner can weaken the brazing holding the carbide teeth to the blade.
How to avoid clamps from sticking together
The sliding-jaw mechanism of a pipe or bar clamp can occasionally slide too tightly against the clamp’s fixed jaw, making them difficult to separate. Many woodworkers have pulled a clamp out of storage only to find the jaws seemingly fixed to each other. To solve the problem, fit a scrap piece of 2×4 between the jaws and lightly clamp it in place before storing clamps. The next time you need the clamp, just ease off the pressure and the clamp will be ready to go.
How to clean rust with WD-40
Clean rusty areas on cast-iron machine surfaces using WD-40 and a 400- or 600-grit abrasive pad or gray or white Scotchbrite pads on a palm or detail sander. First, spray or wipe WD-40 on the cast-iron surface and remove the rust using the sanding machine and abrasive pad. Wipe away the oil/rust slurry with a clean cloth. Use an even finer-grit pad if you have patience and want a scratch-free surface. Avoid coarser abrasives that will work fast but leave deep scratches, making the surface much harder to clean in the future.
How to avoid air compressors from freezing up
While it’s always good to drain the moisture from your air compressor’s tank at the end of the day, this is especially true in cold weather because the water inside the tank can freeze and seize up the unit.
How to add speed and torque to your chuck key
Pick out a scrap piece of wood suitable for a handle. Here, we used a 1 ¼” dowel rod that is 6” long. Then, drill a 5/8” hole about an inch deep in one end as shown in the photo. Next, drill a hole about 3/8” from the end of the handle. The hole should be slightly bigger than the diameter of the key’s “arms.” Using the hole as a guide, cut a notch in the end of the handle. Then, drum roll please, insert the key into your new handle. Boom! Life just got better.
How to avoid a work piece from moving when using a Jigsaw
Tired of the work piece flopping around as you attempt to keep it supported while cutting with a Jigsaw? Well, just place your work piece on a piece of Styrofoam to support it on both sides during the cut. Use a 1” or 2” foam board, depending on the thickness of your work piece.