For Seniorhelpline' 110th anniversary, we decided to do something special: We dived into our archives to find the 110 best, handiest, and most helpful tips ever printed in PM. It's more than a century of DIY wisdom. (You can read the introduction to the project here.)
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Enlarged screw holes can be quickly repaired, we said in March 1972, by filling the hole with a wooden golf tee. Use a hacksaw to saw the tee flush with the wood's surface, then sand and finish.
Our September 1948 issue showed how to store an ironing board upright in a closet by mounting a towel rack to a wall. The board's tip slips up under the chest-high rack. It's still a good idea. At the right height, a rack (or a rig made of steel pipe fittings) could support brooms or lumber.
File a notch in a frequently used key's top to locate it without looking through the whole set. — April 1984
To set up a simple worklight, coil 12-gauge copper wire around a flashlight's barrel and twist the rest into a base. — March 2011
On band saws, router tables, or other shop equipment that requires a wrench to make routine adjustments, we advised in July 1952: Press the wrench into a lump of weatherstripping putty and stick the putty on the side of the shop tool. The wrench will be easy to locate for quick changes of bits and blades.
The August 1955 issue told a farsighted person to punch a pinhole in cardboard and peer through it to read small type. It still does the trick!
"Transistor radios produce a deeper, more melodious tone when placed speaker-down on top of an open fruit jar." This worked in February 1961. And it works today for an iPhone.
Nail 2 x 4 blocking between studs when framing walls, we suggested in November 1948. The boards provide sturdy mounting bases for heavy pictures or recessed medicine cabinets. Record the positions upon installation.
Depression-era milk thieves met their match with the bandit-proof box we showed bolted to a porch in August 1934. A hole in the top permits the bottle to be set inside, and four strips of spring brass prevent its removal. The owner unlocks a panel to access the milk. Home-security technology evolved in PM's pages, from safes made of spare tires to whole-house diagrams on burglar deterrence.
Punch holes in a paint-can rim with a 4d finish nail. This helps paint along the rim drain into the can. — January 1991
"Replacing a shovel handle is one of those disappearing rural skills that shows basic mechanical competence—just as wrapping duct tape around a broken handle denotes the opposite," the May 2007 issue said. Getting a wood handle's grain direction right ensures the strength of a replacement handle. Mount the new handle so that the oval rings of wood grain run up and down the sides of the handle relative to the blade. Handles break when the tool is strained along those ovals. A look down the blade toward the face of the handle should reveal only straight, parallel lines of wood grain.
A tire tip from December 1935: To locate a pinhole leak in a bike tire's inner tube, hold it under water and watch for bubbles.
Our August 1965 issue recommended taping small blocks of Styrofoam to eyeglasses' bows, or legs, while fishing or boating. If the glasses go overboard, they'll float.
An old glove can become a miniature tool belt with a few modifications, according to our January 1949 issue. Cut a slit in the cuff of the glove so a belt can pass through it. Then snip off the fingertips and thumb tip. Worn on a hip, the open fingertips can conveniently carry pliers and large screwdrivers.
The January 1970 issue showed how to reuse a bleach bottle to ease action on a heavily laden drawer. Cut ¾ x 2—inch strips from a clean, empty bottle. Heat the plastic and fold its long side into a ¼-inch lip. Mount the strips at the bottom front corners of the drawer frame. The drawer slides on the strips, reducing friction.
"A particularly useful device for people who are forced to stay out late at night" appeared in the September 1914 issue: the key guide. A V-shaped strip of metal affixed to the door tapers to a point just above the keyhole. The key's tip slides along the metal to find the keyhole opening. "This simple device should prove very useful in places where it is impossible to illuminate the keyhole."
Use sandbags to help glue down irregular shapes, such as veneers on uneven surfaces. — March 1983
To stop a door from swinging while working on its lock or knob hardware, our November 1948 issue suggested this: Notch a block of wood to fit the edge of the door. Set the block on the floor, wedge the notch onto the door's edge, and step on the block.
"The last suit or garment generally takes a beating in a crowded closet." To prevent this, wrap rubber bands around the rod a few inches from each end to form ridged stops for the wire hangers. — January 1959
"Transporting a sheet of thin building material can be tricky, as the sheets flutter and flap when carried flat on a car's roof rack," we said in July 1982. The solution: Set a 2 x 4 on the roof rack, running the length of the car. Secure the sheets to the rack's side rails. Twist the 2 x 4 so that it stands on its narrower edge. The 2 x 4 will bow the sheets so they're rigid enough to withstand the wind.
"Jars of bolts and screws that are placed on shelves near power tools often are shaken off the shelf because of vibration from the machinery," according to our July 1946 issue. Clapboard siding, then and now, is beveled. The end that would face downward on a home's exterior is wider than the end facing upward. Nail the siding to the shelf with the flat face down and the wide end at the shelf's edge. This tilts the shelf toward the wall.
Tighten a C-clamp onto a ladder rail, our February 1957 issue said, to keep a hammer "safely at hand" when working up high.
To make a clip-anywhere camera tripod, braze bolts onto the clamp body and fit tripod heads onto the bolts. — May 1951
Use a C-clamp as a handle for a heavy bucket or drum. — March 1961
To move large furniture, weld casters onto C-clamps and clip the clamps to the furniture legs. — March 1949
When removing a brake caliper, first use a c-clamp to pinch off the brake hose to minimize fluid loss. — June 2001
To keep from losing track of a drill-press chuck key, mount a clothespin to the press and clip the key in the pin's jaws. — December 1955
"When you make a table saw's pushstick—and there should always be one handy—cut two notches instead of one in the end." The stepped stick end has one notch cut at ½-inch depth and a second notch cut to ¼ inch. Flipping the stick allows either thickness of stock to be pushed safely and securely toward the blade. — March 1962
Trash-can lids still pose a problem that PM tried to solve in December 1946, when we suggested mounting two discarded doorknobs on each face of the garbage-can lid. The knobs act both as a handle and a hanger. Grab the knob on top to remove the lid, and use the knob on the underside to hook it over the can's edge. This leaves both hands free to deal with trash.
Wood screws turn more easily in tight-fitting holes when threads are rubbed with a slightly wet bar of soap. — September 1957
Fasten the metal portion of a three-ring binder to the top of a stepladder, we said in August 1972. Mount the binder so the rings face downward. Tools with holes drilled in their handles can be stored and replaced. When the ladder is to be moved, snap shut the rings and tools will be securely held. The rings can also be used to hang cleaned brushes to dry.
To prevent splintered edges as a saw blade exits plywood, press masking tape onto the back side of the cut, we said in May 1982. "The cut won't be absolutely clean, but it will be better than without tape."
On an incline, a hand truck can roll backward and cause an injury, our February 1938 issue cautioned. Reduce the risk by mounting stout fabric straps on the truck's frame above the wheels. Move forward and the straps flap out of the way. Go backward and the straps tuck under the wheels to arrest motion.
For readers burdened by correspondence, our November 1948 issue offered "one way to avoid the unpleasant task of licking postage stamps." The trick: Moisten the stamps using a potato cut in half. The water in the potato activates the adhesive. Stamps today often adhere like stickers, but a spare spud can still be used to moisten a pile of envelope flaps.
Fit cotton gloves atop ladder rails to prevent scratches where the ladder rests against paint or masonry. — March 1959
Haul a heavy boulder out of a yard, our June 1951 issue suggested, by using an old tire to make a sled. Use a bolt and nut to fasten two thick lumber planks in a cross shape and wedge them inside the tire. Drill a hole in one plank near the end. Loop and fasten a chain through the plank and around the tire. Roll the stone onto the planks; hook the chain to a tractor or a truck to tow away the sled. The stone rides above grade in the tire opening while the tire edge drags on the ground.
To quickly make a bottle opener, drive a nail into a board so the head stands proud ½ inch. Bend the shank and grab the bottle by the nailhead. — March 1966
"We had a door that we wanted to keep closed, and not having any suitable ready-made device at hand, we made one from a spring rattrap," we said in our May 1927 issue. Saw off the bait end of the trap and screw the remaining part to the door casing. Protect the adjacent surface with a piece of tin. "This door closer works perfectly, and is cheap."
Screw a trap to a trailer to hold a warning flag when towing large objects. — August 1932
Mount several traps to a workshop wall to make a handy rack for gloves, notes, and receipts. — May 1954
Anchor one end of a long tape measure by clipping the tape in a nailed-down trap. — January 1938
Retrieve dropped, unreachable tools with a trap dangling on a string. Hit the tool with the bait pan. — JULY 1961
To locate identical positions on opposite sides of a wall, we showed a method using a bar magnet and pocket compass in October 1943. The magnet, attached to a suction cup, holds the position on one side of the wall. On the other side, a compass points to the magnet so the spot can be marked.
It's tricky to protect a large push-style handsaw when transporting it along with sawhorses. Our November 1983 issue solved the problem. Cut a saw slot in each end of the sawhorse crosspiece. When finished using the saw, drop it in the slot.
To prevent a bucket or other round container from sliding around on top of a bench while scouring the inside, our March 1934 issue said, lay the bucket on its side and wedge auto tire tubes beneath the curved exterior. To update the tip, use bicycle inner tubes.
A broken broomstick is just another new tool. In March 1981, we showed how to shape a broken handle into a spike to make a dibble for digging holes for bulbs and seeds. A broken shovel with a D-handle also works well. In July 1946, the broomstick entered the game room as a dart rack: Plane an 8-inch length of broomstick so that it can be fastened to a backboard. Drill holes for the darts at a 45-degree angle ⅛ inch in diameter, ½ inch deep, spaced 1 inch apart on center.
Because a dull wood chisel produces slipshod work, use a method we suggested in June 1948 to test the tool for adequate sharpness. Push the chisel cutting edge gently over the top of a thumbnail. If it slides without catching, the chisel needs to be sharpened.
To measure a drill bit to bore a pilot hole for a nut and bolt assembly, our August 1965 issue recommended using an adjustable wrench as a crude caliper to determine the bolt's diameter. Then match the wrench jaw's reading with a corresponding drill-bit diameter.
When replacing brake fluid, it's necessary to flush out the system. Don't do that by reusing the old muddy brown fluid in the reservoir, we said in November 1992. Use a turkey baster to siphon the excess fluid from the reservoir, then add a little clean fluid to flush out the reservoir. And don't use that baster on poultry ever again.
To unclog sandpaper, rinse it in lacquer thinner, then buff the paper with a wire brush. — September 1954
"If in need of a wrench and one is not at hand, take a large bolt and run on two nuts, allowing a space between them to fit over the nut to be turned," we said in March 1910. "This will make a serviceable wrench, a substitute that will prove very beneficial in case of an emergency."
We shared the secret to making neat cuts in large spools of paper in our March 1969 issue. With the spool standing vertically, unfurl the length of paper planned for use. Begin the cut a few inches from the top, slicing downward. The uncut section supports the sheet so it doesn't droop and tear. Snip off the top portion to finish the cut.
Servicing a fuel-injection system opens up lines with pressures that can top 60 psi, we warned in August 2002. "That's enough to spray atomized gasoline across the shop." Here's how to protect your eyes: Wrap a screwdriver shank in a shop towel and use the tip to depress the Schrader valve stem in the fuel rail's diagnostic fitting.
To prevent a chain from rattling, weave a rope in between the links, we said in June 1916. Arrange the rope so that it threads only in spaces between the links.
To protect painted walls and other delicate surfaces when using a hammer to pull nails, wedge a putty knife beneath the tool's claw, our August 1954 issue recommended.
Six-inch garden-hose scraps can hold hand tools, we noted in November 1948. Cut the hose to length with a small tab at the top to take a wall-mounting screw. "Using garden hose for this purpose is especially convenient for the man who does not want to build a cabinet."
Use hose lengths to protect a child's hands from swing-set chains. — May 1933
Wrap a hose length in sandpaper to abrade concave and convex profiles. — February 1972
Cut a hose strip to cushion the back of a push saw. Press the blade into the work. — January 1954
Wrap a cold chisel or a star drill in a hose length to make a shock-absorbing grip. — March 1937
To level a billiard table or a piece of machinery in all directions at once, we advised in November 1937, use a slab of flat glass and a ball bearing. "You can note the low spot by observing in which direction the ball moves." Shim the legs to level the surface in all directions.
"No doubt you have pulled a drawer all the way out and—c-r-r-a-a-s-h!" Our December 1961 issue had a solution for drawers prone to pulling free of dressers: Pull the drawer out as far as safely possible and paint a red stripe on each rail next to the cabinet face. Paint a black stripe 2 inches closer to the front of the drawer. Pull the drawer out no farther than the black mark and you'll avoid spilling its load.
Punch holes in the cap of a clean, empty bleach jug to make a garden watering can. — December 1962
A pair of homemade mitts simplify and speed up the job of polishing a car, we said in July 1952. Stitch several thicknesses of terry-cloth toweling or cheesecloth to a pair of cloth work gloves. Use one glove to apply the polish and the other to remove the excess. Wash the mitts in soapy hot water.
Our July 1958 issue had a tip for working safely on round ladder rungs in a muddy yard: Mount a length of bar stock low on the ladder, then scrape mud off boot soles before climbing. Mount another rigid bar near the top of the ladder and you can scrape goop off putty knives and trowels.
"The camp hanger shown is easily made by attaching hooks to an old leather belt," we recommended in April 1921. For hardware, hang S-hooks or bend stout wire through holes punched in the leather. "The hanger will be found quite a convenience for clothing and utensils used around the camp."
"When pebbles or ceramic fragments are not available for use as drainage material in the bottom of a flowerpot," we said in November 1956, "metal bottle caps make a good substitute." Place them with the crimped edge down to cover the entire bottom of the container.
Our April 2003 issue offered a glass-cleaning classic: Use old newspapers to clean dirty windows. Save paper towels.
A strap hinge taken from a barn door makes a hasp for a padlock. Remove the hinge pin and separate the halves. Fasten one hinge half to a doorframe, with the wide end of the strap mounted through to the frame, and the narrow end projecting outward. Fasten the other hinge half to the door itself, in the same orientation, so the holes align on the narrow, projecting ends. Insert the lock so its bar spans the holes. — November 1938
Use a cardboard milk carton to start charcoal for a grill, we said in May 1960. Cut off the top and stack the coals inside. The wax-coated carton will produce a hot flame around them.
Don't toss out training wheels when a child moves on to a bigger bike. Mount the wheels to bench saws and other heavy shop machinery. Attach the wheels above the floor and tilt the machines to move them around. — April 1972
"Looking for a simple rack for your wife's shoes? You won't find a more practical one," we said in January 1961. Drill holes to fit the heels, and mount the panel so it stands proud of the closet wall.
"A matchbook held by a brick takes the sag out of a mason's line." The matchbook suspends the line, keeping it the right distance from the top course so it doesn't interfere with striking the mortared joint. — July 1962
To waterproof matches, dip them in melted paraffin wax. — April 1916
The October 2009 issue gave "Get-Home-at-Any-Cost" tips for roadside catastrophes, beginning with a leak in the radiator. Crack a raw egg into the radiator filler cap (not the overflow tank). The egg white will plug the hole—for a while. To fill the radiator back up: Top it off with water, diet soda, tea, or any other sugar-free liquid. To fix a punctured gas tank: Stuff a wedge from a bar of soap into the hole. It'll last long enough to get you into town. Oil pan punctured by a stone? Whittle a plug from a twig and hammer it into the hole. But now you're low on oil. To fill the crankcase, add a quart of water. Really. The oil-pump pickup is not on the exact bottom—the remaining oil will float on top of the water.
For weeding in the cracks of concrete, our June 1938 issue said, "a shoehorn is handy... it enables you to do the work quickly and prevents sore fingers." Good luck finding a spare shoehorn today. Those weeds can now be uprooted from tight cracks with an old putty knife or a painter's five-in-one tool.
In the January 1963 issue, we recommended using a sliver snipped from a toothpaste tube to fill a stripped-out screw hole. Screw threads bite into the metal. With today's plastic tubes, a toothpick works better. But the essence of the tip remains: Implements of oral hygiene can fill cavities.
Use a sink plunger to pull out a stuck drawer with a missing knob — February 1966
Fit bottle caps onto c-clamp pads to make a mark-free clamp. — January 1963
Add sand to floor paint, a pound per gallon, for a skid-free coat. — February 2010
Mist water at a spark plug as a vehicle idles. Visible arcs show voltage leaks. — February 1995
Fill empty shotgun shells with melted was and a wick to make campsite candles. — February 1961
Pick up slivers of broken glass with wads of moist cotton. — March 1949
Use an ice-cream-bar stick to smooth caulk in corners. — February 1963
Nest a brick chisel in broom bristles to contain dust from a strike. — April 1984
Groove an ax head to aid chopping. — August 1924
Polish metal with a cloth dusted in chalk. — April 1957
Slit a radiator hose end to ease removal. — May 1990
Stack bricks in a cylindrical shape to make a vented leaf-burning bin.— April 1947
Stroke a pencil over a sticky key's surface to lubricate it and the lock. — July 1926
Cut discs from wine corks to make sliding feet for chairs. — March 1963
Drill guide holes in a block to stop screwdriver slips. — April 1957
Swap fat safety pins for machines' missing cotter pins. — September 1917
Hang a funnel on the wall to easily dispense a spool of twine. — August 1939
Line garden cold frames with aluminum foil to concentrate heat. — April 1964
Store a wet paintbrush overnight in tightly wrapped wax paper. — April 1957
Use a punctured coffee can to shield a bare basement bulb. — January 1950
Pull headless finish nails tip-first to avoid splitting lumber. — April 1963
Sand a squeegee's rubber to restore its worn edge. — April 1957
To hide a scratch in walnut finish, rub it with a sliced walnut. — October 1954
Give a hammer claw a fresh bite with a hacksaw cut. — November 1957
Roll tire chains in burlap to stop tangles and noise. — November 1948
Start bonfires with an oil-soaked corncob wedged in a pipe. — June 1949
Mark a garden trowel handle to make a soil-depth gauge. — June 1954
Use olive oil to loosen paper adhered to wood varnish. — January 1950
Shirt-Shredding Washing Machine
"Facing an accumulation of soiled clothing that would have cost at least $10 if done at the laundry," a reader reasoned that his outboard motor could agitate suds. Mounted on a barrel divided by a screen, the rig worked, he claimed—for 10 cents. The clothing's condition afterward was never mentioned. — September 1926
"When a playpen is needed and none is at hand, just take a kitchen or other small table, turn it upside down, and stretch cloth around the outside of the legs." The tip suggests padding the table's underside with an old comforter, but doesn't mention clearing out the cobwebs and chewing gum first. — February 1938
Rattraps Murder Turtles
"Spring-type rattraps are an effective means of disposing of turtles which menace game fish in a pond or lake." An illustration shows a turtle about to bite a chicken head in a trap mounted to a post set in shallow water. Sorry, turtles. Our apologies to the chickens too. — June 1948
Trunk Lid Makes Boss Awning
"One home craftsman used the trunk lid of an old sedan to make a serviceable and inexpensive canopy for the back door of his home." The trunk was dressed up, at least, with wrought-steel supports.— June 1954