Pro Tips

The Right Tool for the Job


To do a job well and efficiently you've gotta have the right tools. Before you begin a project in your home, be sure to determine the best tools to complete the job well. You may find that it's worth the expense to buy some tools, especially if you plan to do similar projects in the future and will use them again. If you don't want to spend that money, most home centers have tool rental departments and there are tool rental companies in many places as well. Most will rent by the day or half-day. It's worth the expense of renting or buying the right tools for the job - it will make your life much easier in the end!

Crown Moulding

crown moulding pic

Cutting crown moulding can be tricky, even for experienced carpenters. First and foremeost, you need to make sure you have a good miter saw. If you have a compound miter saw (will cut bevel and miter cuts simultaneously), there are standard stops and angles on the saw to use for crown. Even then, it can be tricky. The easiest way to make good cuts fairly easily is with a jig. You can make one yourself, or you can buy a crown moulding jig at most home centers for about $20. The jig should hold the crown at its springing angle on the saw so all you need to do is make the miter cut. For outside corners, miter cuts are perfect. For strong, clean, inside corner joints, you should use a coping saw.

No Pressure, Just Roll With It

One big mistake many folks make when painting is to put too much pressure on the roller. Make sure you have a thick enough nap roller cover and get plenty of paint on the roller. You want to be able to just lightly roll the paint on without pressing too hard on the surface. When you have to press on the surface with the roller, that's when you'll create edges and obvious stop/start marks on the surface you're painting. Just get plenty of paint on the roller and let it do the work. Smooth out and blend the edges for sure, but don't press down on them much if you want to smoothly blend the paint.

 Keep on Rolling

If you're using paint rollers and will be rolling the same paint over multiple days, it's easier to just keep the roller moist in the paint than it is to clean them each day. One way to do this is to leave the roller cover on the frame, wrap the cover with a small plastic bag and tie it off. Another great way, that seals it even better, is to place the cover in a Pringles can, slide the frame off the cover, then put the lid on the can. That seals it very well and it will stay moist and be ready to use the next day!

Straight Circular Saw Cuts

When you just need to make a couple quick crosscuts and don't have a chop saw or don't feel like setting it up, you can make nice straight cuts with a circular saw easily. Just take a speed square and use it as a guide for the circular saw. Place the lip of the speed square flush on the far edge of the piece you're cutting so the 90 degree edge comes over the lumber parallel to your cut line. Put the left edge of your saw tight against the square and adjust left or right so the blade is on your cut mark. You can either clamp the square on the cut piece or hold it tightly in place while sliding the saw along the edge of the square to keep it straight and steady on the cut line.


Wall Tile Inlay

If you're re-tiling a wall around your shower or anywhere else in your home, you may want to add a row of accent tile. Many of those inlay accents are small glass mosaic tiles. When you're installing the tile, it's best not to set a row of tile on top of the accent row while the mortar (thin set) is still wet. The small mosaic tiles on the mesh backing tend to sag when the mortar is still wet and additional weight is added on top. In order to keep your tile job moving and not wait for the accent row to fully cure, you can use a board of the same height as a place holder to continue with the main tile, then come back the next day, remove the board and just install the accent row, as shown in the pics.

tile-inlay-tip-pic tile-inlay-tip-pic-2

Easy Nail Removal

Many times when you do some demolition, or remove trim moulding, you'll need to pull nails out of the wall or lumber before installing new material or if you plan to re-use some materials. If you can't get a hammer's claw to grab the nail head, you can use channel locks to remove most standard and light-gauge nails, especially finish nails. Just grab the nail with the channel locks while placing the rounded heel of the pliers against the surface from which you are removing the nail. Then use the rounded side of the channel locks to roll back against the surface providing leverage to pull the nail out easily.


Keep it Clean

Keeping a neat and clean work area during a project helps keep you organized during the job and minimizes the cleanup you need to do in your home after you've finished the work. Many home projects, even small ones, create a lot of dust and debris. Buy some rolls of plastic at your local home store and tape it to the walls and doorways around your work area to contain dust. Put drop cloths down on the floor. If you're sanding or using saws indoors, it's good to connect a shop vac hose to the dust port on those tools to collect as much as possible. It's also a good idea to turn off your HVAC system temporarily and cover any return grills so they don't pull dust into the system and distribute it into other areas of your home.  Just be sure to turn off the system before covering the returns so you don't damage the unit.


Clean Saw Cuts 

When cutting certain materials (e.g., laminate or plywood) with any kind of power saw, there are a couple of things you can do to help keep the surface of the material from chipping along the cut line. First, be sure to use a fine-tooth saw blade. Use a blade meant for cutting trim or finish materials, not one meant for framing. Second, place a piece of painter's tape along the cut line to protect the surface. The tape will help keep the material's surface from chipping as you cut it. Be sure to put the tape on the surface first, then draw your line for the cut on top of the tape.

Mixing "Mud" 

mixing paddle pic

If you need to mix drywall compound, thinset for tile, grout, or mortar, it's worth buying a mixing paddle for your drill. They cost about $15-20 at most home centers. They will result in a much more consistent mix and make the job of mixing much faster and easier than mixing by hand. Be aware that many battery-powered drills will wear down very quickly when using them for this purpose. If you have a corded drill, that's the best tool for this job. If not, make sure you have always have a backup battery in the charger.

Tidy Caulk Joints

caulk pic

Caulking joints around moulding, tile, tubs, sinks, windows, and doors is important...but it can be a messy job if not done right. Be sure to cut the tip of the caulk tube as small as you can for the job to prevent too much from flowing out. Once you have run the bead of caulk, use a small plastic piece with a rounded edge to run over the new caulk to smooth it out and remove excess. There are small plastic tools available with different edges for this purpose. Have some towels on hand to keep things clean. You can use a damp sponge with rounded corners to go over the joint lightly for a final finish and clean-up.

Don't Sweat the Plumbing Stuff

If you need to repair your plumbing supply lines, it's never been easier than with today's options. You can still use copper (and should in certain applications), or you can use Pex or CPVC. Regardless of the pipe material you use, you can do most of your fittings without ever having to solder any joints. There are several brands of push-fit connections that can be used in almost all plumbing applications with copper, Pex, and CPVC supply lines. You'll still need to make sure the pipes are clean and free of burrs, but the push-fit connections virtually eliminate the need to ever "sweat" pipe by soldering and make repairs much simpler for most homeowners.

Don't Let Your Screws Loose

We've all experienced the box of screws or nails that inevitably falls apart and your screws and nails wind up everywhere. The boxes they come in don't hold up very long, so it's a good idea to transfer them to another container right after opening them. Old coffee cans, old Tupperware containers, and similar household containers with lids work great for that purpose. Be sure to label the type and size of hardware in the container and you'll have a tidy, easy-to-locate way to store your small hardware.

Easy Toe Nailing

If you need to toe nail (or screw) a piece of wood to another, there's an easy way to get it started and driven into the wood solidly. When you first start to drive your nail or screw, drive it straight into the wood briefly, just to get it to grab. Then angle the nail or screw toward the connecting piece and finish driving it. If you try to start on the angle right away, you'll likely fight to get it started and may be more likely to split the wood.


Making Tile Cut-Outs


When Tiling walls and floors, especially in bathrooms and kitchens, you will often need to cut holes or odd shapes into some tiles so they fit around pipes, outlets, toilets, etc. There are a couple easy ways to make most of these cuts. If you need to make a hole in a single tile, there are hole saw bits available at any home center that are made for tile. They have a diamond blade and usually a way to hold to the tile and a receptacle to keep water on the tile while drilling. This can be done with any good household drill. One of the tougher cuts to make is a u-shape cut. The best way to achieve this is to use a wet saw to make several straight cuts next to each other in the tile (cut "fingers") in the area of the u-shape cutout, as illustrated below.

tile-cutout-tip-pic-1 tile-cutout-tip-pic-2

Once those have been made, gently tap them to break them off and use a grinder with a tile cutting wheel attached to carefully cut and grind along the outer edge, shaping it. The same method can be used for half-circle cuts (e.g. around a toilet flange). The grinder is also a necessary tool for cutting L-shapes and other similar cuts.  

Keep it Smooth

Have you ever started to paint with a new roller cover and you notice material or fuzz balls from the roller get left behind on the wall with the paint? Here's a tip to remove that fuzz from a new roller cover before you load it with paint - Take some painter's tape and tape it to the roller cover, then rip it off to remove the excess fuzz. Repeat that as many times as needed around the roller to get it all removed. That will help ensure smooth paint on the walls right from the start.

Protect Your Floors

Whether you're completing a small paint job or doing demo work, be sure to protect your floors before starting any project that may create some mess or damage your floors. There are a variety of products available to protect different types of flooring and it is well worth the investment of time and money before starting the work. Excessive cleaning and/or repairs to your floors will just add even more time, money and frustration to the job. If you're undertaking a longer-term renovation, you may need to change the floor covering every several days to keep your floors fully protected throughout the project. 


Get an Oscillating Tool

An oscillating tool is an extremely valuable tool to have for a small amount of money. They are very versatile and can be used for many jobs around the house. From cutting trim or flooring in hard-to-reach areas, to removing grout from tile, they are a must for any DIYer. The tools generally cost around $100 and blades run around $15-$30 each, depending on their purpose. If you need to make small cuts in tight spaces, these will make the job much easier. They also have a variety of attachments for a wide array of applications. Making small cuts in drywall is a breeze with these tools too. If you like to tackle small jobs around the house, spend the $100 or so on one of these tools; it's well worth the investment.

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