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Mastering the tools of home improvement.

One of the best ways to pick up tool tips is to watch the pros. Guys who use their tools all day every day are constantly improvising, inventing and finding ways to make their tools do more. So here are a few tricks we've recently spotted on job sites.


When you want to cut a board into equal widths, you can do some tricky math--or do a simple trick. Let's say you want four strips: Pick a number that's easy to divide by four (12, for example) and measure that distance diagonally across the board. Then mark the board at 3-in. increments (3,6 and 9 in.) and your marks will divide the board into equal widths.


If your miter saw can't quite cut the full width of a board, lay the board on a stack of scraps. That will give you an extra inch or so of crosscut capacity. If that's not enough, try this: Cut the board as far as possible, then flip it over to complete the cut. But don't expect a perfect cut. Aligning the two cuts precisely is surprisingly difficult.


When a reciprocating saw blade bends, the obvious fix is to straighten it with pliers or your hammer claw. But that's not the best way; it kinks the blade and never gets it quite straight. Better to think like a blacksmith and hammer it flat. Lay the blade on any nearby wood scrap with the hump facing up. Then pound until it flattens out.


After a few centuries of evolution, you'd think the standard pry bar design couldn't get any better. You'd be wrong. Crescent's Code Red pry bar has adjustable jaws that allow it to do things other pry bars can't. Those jaws can grab lumber, so you can remove studs with a good, hard twist. Or you can twist a stubborn stud or joist into position (without putting your hands in the path of stray nails).

Adjustable jaws also let you yank out long nails in one pull: no need to pull halfway, then slip a block under the bar and pull some more. The nailgrabbing claw even does the job of a cat's-paw. Aside from all that, this tool is a sturdy, all-around home wrecker that pries, pounds and rips as well as any bar. The 16-in. version costs about $30: the 24-in., about $35. It's available online or at home centers. To learn more, go to


Most compressor manufacturers recommend draining the tank after every use. And most compressor owners ignore that advice without serious consequences. Still, draining the tank is important, and the more often you do it, the better. As a compressor runs, water condenses inside the tank. That means rust. In extreme cases, you can even lose tank capacity. We've heard stories of tanks that held only half as much air because they were half full of water.

The twist-open drains on most compressors are pretty lousy. They're hard to turn and easily plug up with rusty gunk until they can't open or close properly. But for about $10, you can install a drain that's fast, easy and reliable. Go to the compressor aisle at a home center and look for a ball-valve drain kit. If you don't find one, go to the plumbing aisle to pick up a 1/4-in, ball valve, plus any 1/4-in, nipples and elbows you'll need.


If you're cutting or drilling drywall. you'll have to drag out the vacuum sooner or tater anyway. So do it now and suck up the dust before it spreads. If your plans include tots of drywall dust, consider buying a NEPA filter ($20 to $50), which wilt catch even the smallest particles. Standard paper filters trap only the larger particles while your vacuum blasts the rest throughout your house.


We've been using a new Lufkin "Control Series" 25-ft. tape measure in our projects for a while now, and it looks like a winner. The all-important hook is excellent: a little wider than traditional ones. which means you can hook sideways and twist the tape without the hook coming off. At the same time, the hook isn't so enormous that it's hard to get the tape in a pouch. It's also riveted on Like there's no tomorrow, so we expect it to hold up for a long time.

We also like the blaze orange so the tape is harder to lose, and the rubber grip on the outside, which makes it both slip-proof and more drop-resistant. The "control" in the name refers to a little window in the bottom, which allows you to control the rate of retraction with your finger. Some of us like that feature, some of us just shrug, but the tape overall seems like a tough and handy tool. Buy one for about 20 bucks, either online or at Home Depot.

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Publication:The Family Handyman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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