Simple Tool Tips, Hints and Tricks

You’ll never know if you need these tips until you do. These hints are the ones we use every day – they’re difference between a fun time in the shop and a frustrating one.

A 1-in. Belt Sander is a Versatile Sharpening Tool
Most carpenters know that a belt sander can produce a reasonably acceptable edge on a dull chisel. And knife-makers and professional sharpeners often use special belt grinders to shape and sharpen blades. You can get many of the benefits of a professional belt grinder for a fraction of the cost with a 1 x 30-in. benchtop belt sander. The one shown is the Grizzly 1-Inch Belt Sander, available from for less than $100. Buy 180- and 240-grit belts and you’ll be set for serious knife sharpening. Plus, you can use the belt sander to grind other tools like axes and chisels, and to sand small woodworking projects.

For really dull knives, start with a 180-grit belt and finish with a 240-grit belt. Practice on an inexpensive knife until you get the feel of holding the knife at the correct angle as you move it across the belt. Try to maintain the angle that’s on your knife. This is usually about 20 degrees. For a razor-sharp edge, buy a leather belt along with honing compound and mount it on your sander for the final sharpening step.

Bit Gripper
Magnetic screwdriver bit holders sometimes leave the bit behind after you drive a screw. To make the bit stay put, wedge it tighter with a small scrap from a plastic bag.

Instant Tool Holder
Store chisels, files, large drill bits, screwdrivers and other long tools so they’re both visible and close at hand. Simply cut off the top from a clear 2-liter plastic soft drink bottle, leaving a flap for hanging. Use smaller bottles for smaller tools.

New Uses for Old Glove Fingers
Don’t throw out your old work gloves. Cut the fingers off and you’ll find lots of uses for them. Use them to protect the tips of chisels when you need to carry them. They’re also good for softening the grip of pliers and many other applications.

Lighted Screwdriver Hack
No need for fancy hand tools with built-in LED lights, opt for this lighted screwdriver hack instead. When working in a dark space such as inside a cabinet, make your own lighted screwdriver by taping a keychain-size flashlight to the shaft. It’ll shine the light right where you need it.

New Angles on Tool Sharpening
Here’s a better way to hold tools securely while you’re grinding them—and take the guesswork out of creating the right bevel angle. It’s a short piece of 2×4 with an angled end and a 1-1/4-in. hole for a clamp. Make one for chisels and plane blades, and a few more with different angles for wood-turning tools. Large labels with the tool’s name tell you which blocks are for which tools.

For a Delta grinder with a 6-in.-diameter wheel, a 5-1/2-in.-long piece of 2×4 aligns the tool to the wheel just right. For other grinders you may need to adjust this length. Note: The angle you cut on the block is not the same as the tool’s bevel angle. But let’s skip the math. To determine the block angle, turn off the grinder and hold the tool’s bevel flush against the wheel. The angle of the tool shaft to the workbench is the angle to cut on the 2×4.

Easy-Grip Tool Handles
Improve your grip and comfort when using hand tools by wrapping the handles of hammers, chisels, turning tools, clamps— just about anything with a handle— with the self-clinging tape used on hockey sticks (sold at sporting goods stores). The absorbent, textured surface keeps the handle from slipping around in your hand as you work, and you won’t have to grip it as firmly. It goes great on wheelbarrow handles as well.

Best All-Purpose Hammer
Whether you’re doing rough construction or fine finish work, the best all-around hammer is a smooth-faced 20-ounce with a straight claw. I use the claw to drive it under walls for lifting, to embed it in framing and even to do extremely crude chiseling. But best of all, it’s a better shape for pulling nails than the curved claw style.

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