How to Use Frame Fixings

August 27, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Frame fixings are a type of heavy duty fixing which fits between screws (with Rawl plugs) and Rawl bolts in terms of their fixing capacity. Typically they’re used for attaching wooden articles, such as timber window frames, posts for fencing, or bearers for pergolas and other structures to concrete, walls or other types of masonry.

This type of fixing can be mistaken for a very large screw with its own Rawl plug already attached. The principles behind the fixing are the same, in that the plastic sleeve (or plug) usually has ribbing that makes it very difficult to pull out of the hole once inserted, which is then made even harder once the screw is tightened and the sleeve forced against the sides of the hole. The key difference is that with frame fixings, the entire fixing including the plastic sleeve is inserted into BOTH the item to be attached, and the surface that it’s being attached to. By comparison, a Rawl plug would be inserted into the target hole, the item to be fixed placed over it, then the screw is finally pushed through the item and meets the Rawl plug in the target hole.

Tools

Frame fixings (these are available in varying sizes from 80mm to around 200mm)
Drill (Depending on the surface that you’re fixing to, an SDS drill may be appropriate here. You may also require a drill suitable for wood work, depending if your wooden article already has holes to accommodate the fixing itself)
Appropriate drill bits
Hammer
Tools to accurately mark drilling locations (e.g. chalk/pencil, tape measure, spirit level)
Variety of spacers for uneven surfaces

Instructions

  1. Assuming that the item to be fixed doesn’t already have holes drilled to accommodate the frame fixings, use an appropriate sized drill or auger bit to make holes for the fixings. The holes need to be of sufficient diameter to accommodate the diameter of the plastic sleeve snugly, as this will be pushed through the item, not removed like a screw and rawlplug.
  2. Use your spirit level to ensure that your item is upright when it is offered up in the correct place. When you are happy that the item is correctly located, you can push the drill through the holes in it to mark the location that you will drill in the surface that you’re fixing to.
  3. Remove the item to be fixed and drill holes to fully accommodate the frame fixings.
    TIPS: 
    • Calculate the depth that you need to drill to (consider the full length of the fixing, then subtract the depth of the item to be fixed), add a little, mark this on the drill bit and drill to the marked depth.
    • Make sure that the hole diameter fits the fixing snugly.
    • If you are drilling vertically down, make sure that you blow or brush the dust away from the hole before you remove the drill bit
  4. Without removing the plastic sleeve from the screw, push the entire frame fixing through the item to be fixed. You can use some gentle persuasion with the hammer, as it should be snug. However, if you’re really having to hit it, the hole is too snug and you’ll simply force the screw into the sleeve prematurely. STOP and adjust as appropriate.
    TIPS: 
    • Make certain that the plastic sleeve is as far into the item to be fixed as possible. This should be far enough that the lip on the plastic sleeve can be pushed no further.
  5. Once the fixing is secure in the item, locate it in place using the holes in the surface and push it fully home.
    TIPS: 
    • You can use solid spacers, such as plastic shims, slate, or wooden blocks to ensure that the item stays upright (or level) when tightened against an uneven surface. Whilst this might look ‘gappy’ in the photo below, bear in mind that the spacer in this example will not be seen as the gap will be finished and filled with mortar.
    • If you fill the gap with mortar, you can use tape on the wood to mask it and keep it looking crisp and neat.
  6. When you are 100% happy with the alignment of the item, or post in this example, fully tighten the screws and drive the fixings home. 
    TIPS: 
    • The nature of frame fixings means that you will not be able to drive these fixings home without a powered screwdriver. Our recommendation would be an impact driver if you have access to one.
    • Make CERTAIN that you are using the correct size PZ bit. The torque required to drive these fixings home means that they will round off easily, leaving you with a fixing which is half in/half out and is a nightmare to do anything further with!
  7. Finally check the alignment of the item, in case it has altered during the process of driving the fixings home. Make any adjustments before finishing with mortar or other sealants around the join between the surface and the item that you’ve fixed to it.

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How to Use a Screwdriver

July 19, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Mismatched screws, screws with the heads rounded out, or screws which have been forced in at peculiar angles are all tell-tale signs of rushed and sloppy workmanship, so have no place in a first-class DIY job. We’ve all done it though – lost concentration when using a screwdriver and paid for it later.

We’re not about to shock you in this post, as the screwdriver remains a simple tool to use, but by following the instructions and tips below you will find that your jobs simply look much better as they’re increasingly free of damaged and misaligned screws. The basics of this post apply to powered screwdrivers and drill-drivers too.

Tools

Screwdriver
Screws
Wood (for purposes of this post, we’ll work on the basis that you’ll most frequently be screwing into wood)

Instructions

  1. Choose the right screwdriver for the screw, and the right screw for the job. Both of these points warrant a section of their own, so as this post is about how to use the screwdriver, we’ll work on the assumption that you’ve chosen the correct screw for the job. At the very least, make sure that the screwdriver is the correct type for the screw, either flat head or cross head (aka Phillips, or Pozidriv), and the right size.
    TIPS: 
    • Don’t be tempted to use the wrong size or type screwdriver. A screwdriver tip should fit snugly into the head of the screw. If you choose a screwdriver that is too large, it will round the head of screw out because it’s only getting a fraction of the contact that it should. Similarly, a screwdriver which is too small for the screw head will do exactly the same.
    • If you are using screws with heads that will accept a flat head, or cross head screwdriver, always opt for the cross head option, especially if you are using a powered screwdriver.
    • NEVER be tempted to use a small flat head screwdriver in a large cross headed screw. It might just about work, but is one of the surest ways of damaging the screw head, and/or the screwdriver.
  2. If you need to make a pilot hole, this is the time to do it. Use a drill bit slightly smaller than the screw’s diameter to help ease it through. Pilot holes will help you put the screw in nice and straight, as well as preventing splits in wood because the screw is being forced in with no space having been made for it. A pilot hole will lessen the amount of turning force (torque) that you need to exert on the screw, which will in turn prevent you from slipping and rounding out the screw head.
    TIPS: 
    • You should always use a pilot hole when screwing into hardwood.
    • As a guide, the pilot hole should be approx 2mm smaller than the screw size, but this is just a guide as it may not be appropriate for the screw or surface that you’re working with. It’s a good idea to test (with an offcut if possible) first, as you must avoid a pilot holes which are too lose and therefore prevent the screw from gripping firmly.
    • Use a pilot hole when screwing close the edges of the wood, as the closer you are to the edge, the higher the chance of the screw splitting the wood.
    • When using brass screws, always drill a pilot hole. Brass screws are soft and the friction generated as the screw enters the wood can be sufficient to cause the head of the screw to shear off.
    • If in doubt, drill a pilot hole – it never hurts to do so.
  3. Some screws are designed to countersink themselves into softwoods. However, these are never as neat as if you take the time to use a countersink bit to create a proper countersink for your screwhead to be worked into. Don’t be tempted to use a large drill bit instead of a countersink, as it’s very easy to overdo it this way, ruining your work.
  4. Once you have the screw in position, you can begin to twist it in. Remember the old phrase ‘righty tighty, lefty loosey’ – as daft as it sounds, there’s hardly a better way to remember that a clockwise (right) turn will twist the screw in, or tighten it, and an anti-clockwise (left) turn will undo, or loosen it.
    TIPS: 
    • Make sure that you push the tip of the screwdriver firmly into the screwhead, and keep this pressure constant as you turn. You’re not trying to push the screw into the wood, but you are trying to prevent the natural tendency for the screwdriver to push in the opposite direction as the torque applied is resisted by the screwhead. Constant pressure will prevent round outs.
    • Take some time to mark out the position of screws. Neatly aligned screws can make a significant difference to the quality of finish that you achieve.
  5. Keep turning the screwdriver, or drill-driver evenly until you’ve fully twisted the screw in, or have reached the required depth. Maintain the pressure until the very last turn and if you’re using a powered screwdriver or drill-driver, slow right down so that you don’t damage the head of screw as the wood resists the screw, or damage the wood as the screw chews into the wood.
    TIPS: 
    • Many powered screwdrivers, drill-drivers and combi drills have speed and clutch settings. To protect the wood and screw you can alter the clutch setting so that as the torque exceeds a certain point, the drill will no longer turn the screw. It’s usually good practice to use the slowest speed setting available for screwing, as the higher speed settings are meant  for drilling.
    • Make sure you have the hammer setting turned off!

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How to Saw Straight

July 16, 2013 at 8:02 am

Another fundamental technique to master is making straight, square and accurate cuts when sawing. Neat, tidy and accurately measured cuts will not only improve the finish of your work, but will reduce the time, effort and cost of materials if work has to be redone due to sloppy, careless cuts. You’ll also avoid putting yourself in the tricky position of ‘compensating’ later in the project as things don’t quite fit or line up.

It is often tempting to turn to a jigsaw or circular saw in order to get a ruler straight finish, but with just a little practice and the correct technique(s), you will soon consider these power tools an inferior substitute to a well made cut with a handsaw.

Tools

A SHARP Handsaw (all the technique in the world won’t correct the wanderings of a blunt saw)
Wood

Instructions

  1. Measure twice, cut once. If you follow none of the other steps in this guide, do follow this one. It won’t matter how straight, square or neat a cut you make, if it’s in the wrong place because you haven’t measured it correctly, then the cut is as good as useless. If you cut too long then you’ll have to redo it, too short and you’ll probably have wasted the materials as well as having to redo it.
  2. Use a carpenter’s pencil if you have one, or if not, a sharp, dark pencil will suffice. Marks made in ink, or by scratching with a screw, nail or other sharp object aren’t ideal – they often aren’t straight (the scratching object will often follow the grain of the wood) and can’t be easily erased if you need to adjust your mark for any reason.
  3. Use an accurate tape measure and make your marks using something straight. A square is the best tool to use if your cut is intended to be at 90 degrees to the edge of the wood. You can then use the back of the saw blade, or a level of appropriate length to finish your mark.
    TIPS: 
    •  Avoid using other bits of wood as your straight edge. Although they will look straight to the eye, it’s very likely that they won’t be as straight as you imagine, which you may discover further down the line.
    • Don’t forget to mark the edges of the wood too, so that when you cut the wood, it’s square in all 3 dimensions too.
  4. Starting the cut neatly is crucial to a professional finish. If you’re using a crosscut saw, place the teeth nearest the handle slightly to the side of your pencil mark and make a few gentle backstrokes – be confident though and apply gentle and even pressure, as you don’t want to see the saw wandering around at this stage and making ragged marks on the wood. If you’re using a ripsaw, use the finer teeth at the far end of the blade instead.
    TIPS: 
    • Remember that you’re not trying to cut exactly on top of your pencil line. You should be aiming to just graze the line.
    • You can use the thumb of your other (non-sawing hand) to guide the blade and prevent it wandering, just keep it well away from the teeth of the saw.
    • Extend the forefinger of your sawing hand down the blade. This will help you aim the saw in the right direction.
  5. Once you’ve got an opening in the wood, stop and check that it’s following your pencil line. If not, this is your opportunity to restart the cut, ensuring that it’s correctly aligned. If you try and adjust mid-cut, you will not achieve a straight edge.
  6. As far as possible, use full, long strokes through out the cut. If you notice that you are straying from your pencil line, don’t try to correct the cut by twisting or bending the saw as your cut will not be straight. Stop, return to the point where you started to stray and start again.
    TIPS: 
    • Keep checking the position of the saw blade in comparison to the line, not forgetting that you must keep the saw straight in all 3 dimensions to achieve a perfectly square cut.
    • Use the full length of the saw blade. Anybody who took woodwork during their secondary education will have heard something akin to ‘The school has paid for the whole saw, so you may use all the teeth…’. It’s good advice though, as using as much of the blade as possible in one stroke is not just more efficient, but tends to keep things straighter than lots of very short strokes.
    • Keep your elbows close to your body, as this will help to keep a straight back and forth motion and stop the saw from twisting.
  7. The end of the cut is just as important as the finish. Slow your sawing action at this point, using gentle strokes. If you are sawing too enthusiastically as your saw blade approaches the edge of the wood, it’s very likely that you’ll tear the last few millimetres, rather than cut it, leading to a ragged edge. 
    TIPS: 
    • If possible, keep the ‘waste’ section of the wood supported, especially towards the end of the cut, as you do not want it to snap under its own weight and leave a ragged edge, as this will almost always damage the section that you wish to keep.
  8. You can lightly sand the edges to finish, but remember that a lot of sanding will compromise your straight edge. If you find that you need to do lots of sanding, your saw may need sharpening, or your measuring has not been accurate.

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How to Swing a Hammer

July 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Using a hammer is one of the most fundamental techniques used by the DIYer and tradesman alike. Knowing how to get the most out of your hammer can prevent a sore and tired arm, and can make the difference between a good finish and a really great one by preventing hammer marks where you’ve missed the target!

Understanding which hammer to choose for each job can also make a massive difference to the level of finish on your project. You can read more about the difference between each type of hammer here.

Tools

Hammer
Something to hit!

Instructions

  1. Before you start, try to give yourself plenty of room to work in. It’s not always possible if you’re working in a tight space, or the nail is in an inconvenient location, but you will find it easier if you can swing unimpeded and you won’t risk damaging things (or people) around you.
  2. If the surface that you’re hammering into isn’t secure, then place your work against something that is secure and will not move. It’s not only more efficient (if it can move, the energy that you transfer from the hammer will move your work, not drive a nail into it), but it’s less likely to cause you or anyone else injury by flying off when struck.
  3. Think about where you’re standing. Right handers will want to stand slightly to the left of the nail, and left handers vice versa, as this will help give your swinging arm freedom to move and mean that you’re less likely to hit yourself on the backswing.
  4. Grip the hammer towards the end of the handle. The power in your swing is loosely based on the lever principle, so the longer the placement of your grip can make the hammer handle, the more power and accuracy you’ll be able to deliver to the head of the nail. Plenty of power transferred to the head of the nail means fewer strokes, so that’s less effort for you, meaning that you can keep hammering much longer. Fewer strokes also means that you’ll have fewer opportunities to miss the head of the nail, protecting the surface that you’re hammering into. So don’t ‘choke’ the hammer by holding it close to the head.
  5. Don’t hold the nail near the surface that you’re driving it into. If you miss and hit a finger, you’ll crush it badly. Hold the nail higher up, so that if you do hit a finger there’s room for it to move away, lessening your injury considerably. 
    TIPS: 
    •  To prevent hitting your fingers, you can use a nail gripper to hold the nail for you. A cheap alternative is a section of cardboard. Simply push the nail through the cardboard and use that to hold the nail in place before you begin. Once the nail is secure, just tug the cardboard away from the nail.
  6. Drilling a pilot hole and lubricating the nail with beeswax or similar can help prevent wood from splitting. You should consider this if you are driving nails in near the edge of the wood. You may consider abandoning the hammer and nails altogether in some scenarios, opting for drill and screws instead.
  7. Let the weight of the hammer do the work for you. If you’re having to really work to drive the nail home, then you might need to examine your technique, as well as the surface that you’re driving nails into, as you should almost be just guiding the head of the hammer to the nail and letting the weight of the head do all the work.
  8. It’s ok to change your technique as you go! When you’re starting the nail, you’ll find it easiest to swing from the wrist as this will give control. Once the nail is secure, you can swing from the elbow to give the power to drive home the nail in just a few swings. 
    TIPS: 
    • Don’t make the mistake of holding the hammer close to the head and moving the position of your grip as the nail becomes secure, when you should be adjusting the swing from wrist to elbow. Gripping too close to the head compromises your accuracy, often resulting in hitting (and damaging) the surface instead of the nail.
  9. Keep your eye on the head of the nail. Look at the place that you’re aiming to hit, don’t watch the hammer for maximum accuracy. Just the same as watching the golf ball, not the golf club, or the ball not the racquet in virtually every racquet sport.

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How to Use a Laser Level

July 10, 2013 at 7:25 pm

There are various techniques that you can use to mark levels in scenarios where there are no other usable reference points, due to uneven ground or the distances involved in the job that you’re taking on. We’ve written a project guide on how to replace a gate post which makes excellent use of a laser level, but you may find it more commonly used to set out things like electrical sockets in a room.

A laser level is also useful at the planning stage of a project, as it gives you the means to calculate depths that need to be excavated (e.g. to site a retaining wall in your garden, or levelling ground in order to lay a patio or accommodate decking) so that before you start, you know much work you’re taking on as well as the volume of waste that you’ll generate and therefore need to get rid of, which can have significant implications both in terms of time and costs for your project.

Although it’s a more advanced piece of kit, a laser level can be very simple to use and especially over long distances, give a level of accuracy that even a long traditional manual spirit level cannot achieve.

Tools

Laser Level
A reasonably flat surface
Pencil (or appropriate item to mark levels, such as chalk on brickwork)

Instructions

  1. The precise operation of each laser level will vary slightly, but the basic principles are common. Begin by setting your level up on a reasonably level surface where it is unlikely to be disturbed. If you have a tripod available then this is ideal. Most levels have a tolerance of around 4 degrees, which they’ll be able to correct for as they self level. However, even the best levels will find it tricky to account for a moving surface. We frequently use the bed of the van, provided it’s not going to be moved by people working in or around it. 
    TIPS: 
    • Be aware that you are using a laser product, which can damage eyesight, so try to set your level up at a height which will not shine the beam inadvertently into somebody’s eyes.
  2. Turn the level on and allow it to self level. Many levels will emit a sound to confirm that they are ready for use, but it is worth spending a moment reading the instructions for your model, as you do not want to confuse an ‘error’ beep for a ‘ready’ beep.
    TIPS: 
    • A self levelling unit is the best in terms of speed and accuracy, but you may wish to calibrate your unit with a manual level at the outset of a job, in order to make sure that is displaying a true level line. This will be necessary once a year, or if the level is dropped or damaged.
  3. Depending on your scenario, you can now use the level to mark the ‘level line’ around your workspace. For example, if you’re working in a room, you may wish to mark an arbitrary line around the room that you can measure up or down from to put sockets, fixtures or fittings at a consistent height.
  4. Alternatively, you may wish to determine the level of a specific object. In our gate post replacement example, the level is used to determine the height of the existing gatepost using the level and a receiver which signals when it is correctly aligned. The height is determined and the receiver moved to the location of the new gate post. The receiver is then moved up or down until it is aligned at the correct height (a graduated beep is emitted until a constant sound is heard), which is then marked on the new gate post. This is to account for scenarios where there is no wall or other surface on which to mark the ‘level line’.

Product Recommendation

We’d happily recommend the Leica Rugby 50 Self-Levelling Laser Level, as it is incredibly accurate and easy to use. However, at a fraction under £600, it really is designed for professional use. A more affordable option if you require this type of level would be the Stanley FatMax AL24 Auto-Level Kit, which is on the market for around £250. With accuracy levels of around 0.035mm/m, this is more than adequate for even the most serious DIYer.

Yet more affordable still, and therefore perfect as an occasional tool is the Forge Steel Rotary Laser Level. At under £70 it’s great value as it comes with a protective case and tripod. You’ll hardly be setting out a construction site with an entry level piece of equipment like this, but it’s accurate enough for most DIYers and the tradesman using occasionally.

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