Introduction: Glowing Tool Handles

A while back I saw the Night Bike Instructable by Adobi which showed how glow paint can make a bike frame glow. I picked up a glow paint sampler from Glow, Inc. and tested it out. What I found was the results were not as I had expected. The owner of Kosmic Kreations contacted me about that blog post (there was a bug in the CAPTCHA for commenting) and explained that all glow powder would be very bright for a short time and quickly dim to barely-visible for hours. I abandoned the glowing bike idea but had the paints sitting on my nightstand.

Eventually I found a use for a long, dim after-glow: tool handles. Occasionally I would be working outside at night (e.g. camping, or in an emergency) and I would misplace a wrench or something. Sometimes I'd have to wait until day to find it. I also like to let people borrow my tools, and it would be nice if they were readily identifiable. I tried using duct tape with a pattern of colored electrical tape, but [blasphemy alert] I hate duct tape because the adhesive gets all gummy and it's not really useful for anything.

My ideal solution, then, would be a painted tool handle with an identifiable pattern/colors, a label with my name and some method of contact that would be reliable for a long time, and a clear, durable glowing coating. A quick search revealed that Plasti Dip (the tool handle dip stuff) comes in a clear variety so I was on my way.

Step 1: Supplies

• Paint primer
• A white (or very light base color) paint
• Accent color paint (I had this "frosted glass" blue which looked cool, but requires the base coat to be 24-hours dry or else it'll crackle)
• Optional masking for painting only the bits you want
• Optional stencil for putting a design in the accent color
• Some kind of label (My penmanship is pretty bad, so I bought full-sheet clear laser shipping labels and printed a sheet of labels.
• Acrylic spray coating (I didn't use this and the toner tended to stay put under the Plasti Dip, but Plasti Dip will dissolve any ink, so you may need to stabilize it.)
• 1-2 oz. wt. (25-50 grams) glow powder (e.g. Kosmic Kreations Aqua Glow Powder) per 10 fl. oz. (0.25 litre) of Plasti Dip (I bought 2 ounces of powder for 22 ounces of Plasti Dip and the glow is speckled, but perfectly adequate for my needs.)
• Clear Plasti Dip dip-can (e.g. from Amazon; or same link without me getting an associates kickback or it's also available as part of the "Create Your Own Color" kit which has the same clear.)

Step 2: Prepare to Paint

The first step is to mask off the part of the tool you want to paint. Of course, you can just wing it — it's not like extra paint is going to hurt it. I wanted to make a clean line where the paint ended so I could apply the dip over the transition and prevent it from chipping off.

I started with the Vice Grip tool because I wanted to do something challenging. It has a threaded part and a spring underneath that can't be coated. I just stuffed paper into the groove (figuring the Plasti Dip is pretty thick) and put masking tape onto the threads. I also bagged the other part of the pivot and masked it off so it wouldn't get any paint.

Step 3: Paint

Now's the time to actually paint it. I put down a layer of primer and let it dry, then a layer of white and let it dry, and then used a stencil to make a shape in blue.

Step 4: Add the Label

I had printed a sheet of clear labels. I decided that I'd put my name and nickname (pronounced "just" by the way, and yeah, it's actually a Playa name for Burning Man, but who's counting ...) I also have a domain for my website and decided I'd make a unique e-mail address for my tools. This seemed like the most permanent thing that offered some flexibility (my address probably would stay the same, but my phone number might change ... heck, I have the same phone number but the friggin' area code changed a few years ago!) I can set up an auto-responder, particularly when I'm camping or on vacation that will help people find me wherever I am.

Step 5: Mixing the Glow Dip

Next it was time to get the Plasti Dip ready. I thought it would look cool so I put the powder in the sun for a while first. Then I mixed it in and stirred it thoroughly. The Plasti Dip is thicker than honey by a bit and it seems to keep the glow powder particles suspended just fine.

Step 6: Dipping Time

With the paint dry I removed the masking around the top (but kept the threads masked and the paper in place in the groove) and got ready to dip the handle. The instructions on Plasti Dip say to dip one inch every 5 seconds and pull it out that slowly too. I found it easier to count off quarter-inches each second (centimeters would do just as well). I don't know if you need to go that slow, but it worked.

Step 7: Removing the Masking

I used a sharp blade to cut away the Plasti Dip on the groove and cut around the masking on the threads and removed it all.

Step 8: Results and Comments

Here's what the resulting tool looks like. The first picture is just after bringing it in from bright sunlight. It's very bright at first (easy to see if you were to bring it indoors) but fades to invisible in normal light after just a few minutes. However, it does stay glowing for hours although it requires pitch blackness (or nearly so) to see it.

In normal light, the tag (10 point font; 8 point is probably a practical minimum) is easy to read through the Plasti Dip. Although the glow powder is not transparent, it is sparse and small and does not obstruct the view.

The Plasti Dip makes a nice handle. The manufacturer says it's about 10 mils thick. It has a texture (possibly from the glow powder) that forms a nice grip. It seems to stick to the tool very well and I expect it to last a long time.

In doing this, I noted the Plasti Dip flowed into the groove despite the paper. It held tenaciously but was not too hard to peel out once it dried. If I were to do this again, I might have plugged the threaded hole with masking and dip the knurled end of the threaded rod separately — the masked threads tended to collect a lot of Plasti Dip.

I also did a bunch more tools. I did about 10 averaging similar size to the Vice Grip and used about 1/3 to 1/2 of the dip so the 22 ounce size will do about 20-30 handles. The last one I dipped, I dropped and it got crud in it. I had to wipe it off which stripped the toner from the label and all but the layer of primer. As luck would have it, that was my 3/8" ratchet and I had an identical one that I quickly redid instead of trying to clean up the one I dropped.

I also tried using a brush to dab onto my Leatherman tool and a screwdriver handle. I didn't thin the Plasti Dip as recommended because I didn't have any naphtha. It sort of worked, but went on so unevenly that the glow is blotchy. Dipping is definitely the way to go.

Fix & Improve It Contest

Participated in the
Fix & Improve It Contest

Hurricane Lasers Contest

Participated in the
Hurricane Lasers Contest