Hints and Tips

If you have a hint or a tip that you’d like to share, or if you’d like to request any hints or tips on a specific subject, please do so here.

  • Plan your work, don’t trip yourself up by rushing straight in.
  • Time spent properly preparing surfaces before you paint, hang paper or lay flooring is never wasted and is often the difference between a good job and a great one.
  • Keep your tools tidy and close to hand whilst you work – time spent searching for tools adds up.
  • When decorating, clear the room as completely as possible.
  • Keep a first aid kit somewhere obvious when you’re working – just in case you’re the recipient, not the giver of first aid!
  • Never work alone with machinery.
  • By all means use, but never trust your life to multimeters or pipe/cable detectors.
  • If using a ladder, a platform will save the arches of your feet.
  • An extendable magnetic probe is invaluable for recovering dropped screws, nuts, or anything else metal that you’ve dropped in an inaccessible place (every mechanic will know the feeling as a bolt falls into an engine bay). It’s also a good idea to keep a bigger magnet handy too, for recovering things like small screws dropped onto patterned carpets!
  • Heating a screw or a bolt can sometimes help to loosen it. Apply an appropriate amount of heat; so that might mean a blowtorch to warm a large bolt in a non-flammable environment, to a soldering iron applied to a screwhead at the other end of the scale.
  • Set up a tool bench/hop-up platform when you’re working outside. It’s a handy place to put tools to ensure that they don’t get lost, and to keep your working area tidy and organised.
  • Protect your thumbs when starting a nail in an awkward spot by pushing it through a piece of cardboard, then hold the cardboard and simply tug it away once the nail is secure.
  • when using a mixer to mix cement, add the cement to water to prevent lumps.
  • Measure twice, cut once…
  • When filling a gap with mortar, use duct tape (or masking tape depending on the surface) to protect the surfaces from mortar. It’ll give a clean, crisp finish and you won’t risk spoiling your work as you wipe away excess – it’ll come straight off on the tape!
  • Before attempting any significant work with trees, check that they are not covered by a Tree Preservation Order. These are legally enforceable orders designed to protect individual or groups of trees against damage or removal. Trees may also be subject to a Conservation Order, which requires an application to filed for ANY work to be carried out. It doesn’t matter if you planted the tree and anything over 75mm diameter is a tree, so beware, you could find yourself inadvertently breaking the law.
  • Similarly, check if your work will require planning permission, as you certainly don’t want to pull down your hard work!
  • When buying materials, check the returns policy of the vendor. If they’re happy to accept returns, then don’t be afraid to over-order and return your unopened and undamaged products. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to leave a job half-finished to dash back to the builder’s merchant because your estimate was just a little short.
  • If you need light on a job and there’s nowhere to rest the torch, you can use flexible copper wire to twist around the torch, then fashion into a stand to illuminate exactly where you need.
  • Use a blob of putty stuck to the side of stationary tools to keep hold of small spanners and allen keys that are frequently required for adjustment.
  • If you’re planning to hang pictures, mirrors or shelving on a stud wall that you’re constructing, you can add in some horizontal blocks of wood at the right height to simplify and strengthen the mounting. Just make sure you note where the mounting blocks are!
  • Use an old glove as a mini tool belt – cut slits in the cuff and pass your belt through, then snip off the fingertips and drop your tools through. You might want to leave a couple of fingers unsnipped though, for tools that would otherwise slip right through.
  • To stop doors swinging whilst you’re working on the hardware, cut a notch in a piece of wood to fit the edge of the door, place it around the door and then step on the block of wood while working.
  • Use your pencil – mark lines, notes, dimensions on unexposed parts of your work – you’ll be thankful on a number of occasions where the mark that you made an hour ago is relevant and useful!
  • Always use a ‘pushstick’ when working with exposed blades on a table saw.
  • Use wax, or soap, rubbed onto tight fitting woodscrews to help ease them in.
  • Use old gloves fitted to the ends of a ladder to prevent scratches where the ladder is resting against paint or masonry.
  • When cutting plasterboard to fit, don’t attempt to saw it – use a Stanley knife to score it, then bend until it splits along the line.
  • Protect surfaces when pulling nails by placing a flat object (such as a putty knife) between the hammer head and the surface to be protected.
  • You can add sand to floor paint if you require a non-slip finish.