Introduction: 40 More Handy Tricks

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…

Continues the saga begun at Fifty Handy Tricks.

To see even more of them check out Handy Tricks 8: Island Handy Tricks
and Yet More Handy Tricks
and Australian Handy Tricks
and Guatemalan Handy Tricks
and Handy Tricks Volume Six!

For a bunch of things that didn't work, check out How Not To.

First Trick: "Instant Hummingbird Food

My mom makes her own hummingbird food. It's really easy. She pours white sugar into the feeder bottle til it's 1/3 full, then fills it the rest of the way with warm water. Then she shakes it up and hangs it outside. Pretty simple and the hummingbirds love it.. I'd worry about where they get their vitamins, except they're always rushing off somewhere, and don't seem to try to get all they're day's food from the feeder.

You could make your own hummingbird feeder without any trouble. It's just an inverted bottle stuck into a covered dish with some holes in it. The "flowers" don't have to be there, a red dish cover works fine. My mom's other feeder lost its flowers and the birds don't seem to care. That's the unit in the third picture.

Step 1: Instant Bicycle Rear Cargo Rack

My pal Corwin Hardham made this really apt bike rack by cutting the rear part off of one bike frame and welding it onto another. Very slick. Once you see it it seems obvious.

I don't usually do instructables that involve welding because someone might not have a welder.
But this rack is so cute I couldn't resist.
If you don't have a welder, flatten the ends of the tubes with a hammer, drill holes in them, and bolt them to your bike frame.

Step 2: Instant Electric Go-Cart Conversion

James Burgett of computer recycling fame showed me this nifty electric go-cart at ACCRC.

The chassis and clutch came from a dead gas-powered go-cart.
The motor is a big DC motor from an old computer tape drive.
The batteries are discarded 12 volt gel-cells from an emergency lighting system or UPS.
The wiring is "Monster Cable" from a dead stereo system.
The batteries are series/parallel wired to provide 36 volts to the motor.
There's no speed control, so when it goes, it just GOES.

Step 3: Cop Repellant - Taillight Repair Tape

I believe in minimum consumption.
So my vehicle is old and rusty. That's not as common as it used to be. In fact I can cross the country and not see a car as decrepit as my own. That makes me Catnip for cops. Or Copnip or something.

Now that they've got the BIG LIST, cops everywhere are looking for excuses to pull people over.
Maybe they can catch an actual criminal just by checking your name against the list.

Immigrants named "Andrew's Son" flooded through Ellis Island at one time.
We Tim Andersons all look the same although we aren't related.
At any time there are lots of arrest warrants out for one of us. So whenever I get pulled over it takes forever. And then the cop is really disappointed that I'm not the bail jumping sex offender from Ohio or the deadbeat dad from Indiana. The good thing is after poring through the catalog of Tims gone berserk, they often feel less excited about the fixit ticket they would otherwise write me, and they sometimes let me go with a warning and a disappointed look.

The last time I got pulled over for cracked taillight lenses, I put patches of red "taillight repair tape" on them. Ever since I put the red tape on, No more random stops.
It sends a secret message to the police: "this guy got pulled over recently and they couldn't bust him for anything real."

Yes it's true. Just like you learned from watching "action movies",



Step 4: Easy Plywood Bench

Here's a slick bench that was already at squidlabs when we moved in at Emeryville.

The pictures tell it all.

You could hinge the seat and use the area inside it for storage.
You could also turn it on its side and use the ribs for shelves.

See more instant furniture here.

Step 5: Stuffed Animal Vs Bungie Scars

This stuffed animal has been stuffed under a bungie cord to keep it from marking the hood.
Seen on Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA.

Step 6: Asphalt Shoes

Rick Tardy stomps tar in an MIT parking lot with his traditional wooden asphalt shoes.

How to work it:

Dump it.
Rake it flat.
Stomp it with the asphalt shoes.
Flatten it with the power vibrator "jogger".

Step 7: Tennis Ball Bilge Plugs

Seen at MIT sailing pavilion.
These boats have self-bailing cockpits, but these tennis balls keep waves from sloshing water into the cockpit.

Step 8: Plastic Funnel Bilge Plugs

These have the same intention as the tennis balls in the previous trick. Australian Maritime Museum 2004. Notice the automatic bailer vents in the second picture. When they're opened they suck water out the bottom.

The tennis balls in the previous trick probably do both jobs as vents and plugs.
Does anyone know?

Step 9: Airline Personal Environmental Control

Here I am flying on American Airlines.
You ask "Why are you wearing a gasmask and underwear on your head?"

I was allergic to something and was sneezing a lot, so I put on my "comfo" brand filter mask.
I've got an "organic vapor" cartridge with an asbestos-proof pad snapped on top of that.
So it takes out any pollen and even the smell of air fresheners or paint fumes. I immediately stopped sneezing. A filter mask is also good if someone is coughing on the airplane and you suspect they have tuberculosis. A former flight attendant acquaintance got TB at work and told me it was very common.
I really wished I'd had my mask on Brunei airlines once. The flight attendants sprayed us with insecticides and wouldn't let us off the plane until it had soaked in for a while. They wouldn't tell us what the chemicals were. Don't fly Brunei.

Anyway, back to AA. It was too hot on the plane. Fortunately I had some wet laundry with me that I didn't have time to dry before leaving for the plane. I put the damp shirt around my neck and the damp boxer shorts on my head. Ahh. Cool.

The plane's PA system was playing horrible music. I think lots of people have angry voices in their heads and can't stand to be in a quiet place. So they have to play "music" all the time.
So I put in my earplugs. If that hadn't worked, I would have put my jackhammer headphones over them.

So there I was, totally comfortable, looking like a total freak I suppose. I went to sleep. No one bothered me. For all I know half the passengers were wearing even crazier outfits, but I returned the favor and didn't go around asking them why.

Step 10: Water Bottle Microphone Stand

I couldn't find my mike stand and needed to type while talking, so I tied my mike to a water bottle with a jumper cable.
It works so well I'm still using it that way.

Step 11: Improve Electrical Contact With a Hammer

This extension cord wasn't making good contact when I plugged things into it.
So I hit it on the side with a hammer to bend the contacts together a little bit.
Now it works fine. I can feel it gripping when I plug something into it.

This method works with sockets made of plastic that's not too hard.
I would have said "works on chewy ones" but then I'd also have to say:

Don't put extension cords in your mouth and chew on them and put your tongue in them and slobber in them. Eye sockets are incompatible with electrical sockets. So don't plug things into your eye sockets. Don't have sex with electrical connectors. They're male and female but they'll give you a bad case of "electrocute your genitals". If civilian contractors want to try this on you just tell them the only information you'll be able to give them is whether the sex was any good and it'll probably be really bad.

Step 12: Acrylic Paint Is "Leather Finish"

A leatherworking friend once gave me some "acrylic leather finish" to change the color of shoes, jackets, etc. It smelled just like acrylic paint but was runnier.
So the next time I wanted to change the color of a leather item, I just thinned out some acrylic artists paint and it worked great!

Here's a leather coat Star and I restyled.
We scavenged it from Mars when he was moving.
We cut the arms off it to make it into a vest and to make leggings. Then we thinned out some "Mars Black" acrylic paint til it was watery and painted one of Star's op-amp cartoon characters on it. The paint for the golden radiance was already thin enough to use straight.

The reason for thinning the paint is if the coating is too thick it'll crack. The acrylic is very compatible with leather because it bonds well with leather, and after it dries it's porous enough to let the garment breathe.

A jacket that's too small for you might fit perfectly as a vest.
All you have to do is cut the arms off it.

Step 13: Peruvian Backpack Scarf

When Andrea Dunlap needs to carry a bunch of extra stuff, she just folds her wide scarf over and ties it in front like this, and uses it like a backpack.
She learned how to do this in Peru while filming indigenous agricultural practices.

Andrea says "In Peru they use their mantas to carry everything from babies to
their lunch to their tools. Their mantas are woven from wool (sometimes sheep,
sometimes alpaca) and the pattern that they have woven into them is usually a
local one, so people can recognize what area you are from by what your manta
looks like. And theirs are square and they put their stuff in the center, then
fold up the bottom and top corner and then tie the other corners around their
shoulders like I did with my long scarf. The square cloth actually works a little
better because of that bottom fold. I could show with a photo of a piece of paper
or something?"

Step 14: Light Dimmer Speed Control for Dremel Tool

Mike O'hara of Potenco, Inc. modified his fixed-speed dremel tool.
He bought a Litton in-line light dimmer control and spliced it into the exension cord of his dremel tool.
ta-da! speed control.

When shopping for dimmers for this sort of thing, look for the ones that say they can handle inductive loads, such as motors.

Step 15: Nail Board Lets You Paint All Sides

Just what the name implies, it's a board with some nails pounded in it.

You can paint or varnish something and rest it on the nails, and the marks are barely noticeable.
Otherwise you'd need to let it dry before turning it over to paint the other side.

If you rested it on sticks without nails, it'll get stuck or make big garish marks in the finish.

Use nails with small heads, or pound nails all the way through and rest your piece on the points.
Don't leave it where someone can step on it.

Step 16: Rubberband - Pencil Capo

Here's a simple Capo you can make anywhere.
Add more rubberbands or get thicker ones if it doesn't press hard enough.
If your neck has no crown (totally flat) and the thick strings keep it off the thin ones, rub it lengthwise on the strings. The wound thick strings will wear into it and it'll hold all the strings down.

If your neck has some crown (transverse curve) just whittle on the pencil til it has the shape you need.

Earl Scruggs originally used this type of capo. source: "Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo"

It goes well with the railroad-spike capos for individual strings.

Step 17: Catch a Mouse With a Jar and a Nickel

Put a dab of peanutbutter in the bottom of a jar or drinking glass.
Turn the jar upside down and prop it up on a nickel.
A penny isn't big enough and the mouse will knock the glass over before getting under it.
A nickel is the right coin to use.
Do this somewhere mice can get to.

A mouse will crawl into the glass and knock it down while jumping at the peanut butter. I've caught many mice this way].

Step 18: Cane Handle Broom

I wanted to sweep the room without walking around so much.
I've always thought a cane handle would be good on on a broom.

I found a cane that was about the same color as the broom handle.
I cut them both off at the same angle and epoxied them together with some wood dust mixed in.
That type of joint is called a "scarf joint".
As you can see from the third picture, you can barely see it if you know it's there.

It works great and is fun to use. The hook is handy for hanging it from pipes.
The handle is ash wood, which is very strong.
It's taken abuse from hundreds of people for a decade and is still going strong.

Step 19: Inflate a Tubeless Tire That's Off the Bead

There are several tricks going on here.

I've jacked up the vehicle so the tire can assume its normal shape.

I've wrapped a rope around the tread and tightened it by twisting a crowbar through it. That compresses the tread and forces the sides of the tire out, making it wide enough to engage with the rim.

A ratcheting tiedown strap is good for that also, but I didn't have one handy.

It would also be good to smear thick soap all over the bead and rim like they do at a tire shop.

I'm blowing air under the lip of the tire with an airgun. You can get a lot more air into the tire in a hurry that way to make it jump onto the rim.

Step 20: Rollerblade Wheels on Skateboard

Here's my favorite skateboard.
I bought it at "Youth Shelter Supply" in St. Cloud Minnesota.

I drilled a hole in the end of the deck so I could lock it up with my bike lock.
I tried different truck "donut" rubber bushings until it turned just the way I wanted.

I wanted the smoothest possible ride, so I put nice rollerblade wheels with ABEC 7 bearings on it.
Rollerblades are cheap/free at thrift stores in the U.S. and are a good source of nice wheels and bearings. When you do this make sure you put the bearing spacers and thrust bearings on also,
and don't over-torque the nuts, just like with regular skateboard wheels.

One problem: when I turned hard the deck bound the inside wheel and I wiped out.
I didn't want to raise the deck with spacers, so I carved divots out of the wood with a chisel.

Man it's smooth. Maybe a little too smooth. It's really fast and can squirt out from under you.

Step 21: Rollerblade Wheels on Office Chair

In the movie "The Falcon and the Snowman" there's a scene where they're rolling around an office really fast. Try to do that right now. Pretty frustrating, huh?
If you're on a hardwood floor, take a close look at it and at the dumb wheels on your chair. The plastic wheels get grains of sand embedded in them, and that chews up the floor.

We live in a degenerate age where office chairs look pretty nice, but they've got cheap hard plastic wheels that wreck floors and don't roll very well.

So I decided to put the best possible wheels on my office chair.
Good low-durometer rollerblade wheels from the thrift store with abec-7 bearings.
It was hard to find some casters tall enough to take the wheels and also fit on the chair.
Man, it's nice. It just feels all rich and buttery. What a smooth ride.

Step 22: Marbles From Spraycans

You know the sound when you shake a paint can?

That's a marble! Why wasn't I told?
They come in all different colors, and the color of the marble has nothing to do with the color of the paint.

There was something wrong with the cans and they wouldn't spray. I opened them with a chisel and sprayed the paint with my spray gun.

Imagine my delight when I won four marbles!!!

Step 23: Stirring Stick From Rod and Wire Ties

Vincent Bachet uses this trick to mix his epoxy.

A few wire ties on a thick piece of wire.
Spin it with a drill. Works like a charm.
When it gets gunked up, just hit it with a hammer to break off the old stuff and the wire ties with it, and add some new wire ties.

Step 24: Your Finger Is a Red Gel

To light your subject in red, just put your finger over the flash.
The blood in your finger will tint the light red.
Star showed me this trick.
Her finger-light is a lot redder than mine. I must be anemic.

Step 25: Temporary Nails Clamp Wood Together

My plywood outrigger canoe's forward watertight compartment rotted out.
I used my electric planer to hog it all down so the patch would lie flush.
I hit a nail and chipped the planer knives in the process.
Then I goobered up the edges of the hole with epoxy thickened with wood dust from my beltsander's dustcatcher.
Then I nailed the patch in place, but I didn't pound the nails all the way. They're just there to fixture it. After the epoxy set I pulled the nails, used the planer to carve down the edges, and belt-sanded it to match with the rest of the bottom. The next time I epoxied something I squeegeed the left-over epoxy dough into the nail holes.

Step 26: Reload a Wirefeed Spool

One of our wirefeed welders ran out of wire. All we had were some spools that wouldn't fit it.

So clamped a pipe in the vice and slid the big spool over it.
I bolted the small spool onto a chunk of threaded rod with two nuts and two washers.
Then I hooked the end of the wire through the hole on the inside of the little spool just like the wire it came with had been.
I spun the little spool with the drill, guiding the wire on and maintaining tension with my other hand.
Try to make the layers of wire as level as possible. The wire has some memory so it will try to jump off if you let go. When it was full enough I cut the wire. I hooked the end through the hole in the spool that's there for that purpose, so the wire is held on under tension and won't start jumping off or getting loose.

Step 27: Elevate Your Folding Table

Cut four pieces of pipe and slide them over the legs of your folding table - Tadaa! High table!

Invented by Skyler Palmer and Nicholas Sicko (a German name) for their voter registration booth.

Step 28: Instant Double Clip-Board

Invented by Skyler Palmer and Nicholas Sicko for their voter registration booth.

They ran out of clipboards so they made some on the spot from cardboard.
The top clip holds the blank forms.
The bottom clip holds the completed forms at the bottom of the stack.

The extra strap of cardboard on the back makes it stiffer.

Step 29: Beer Flashlight

Dav Clark attached an LED flashlight to his beer for an evening cruise on the free yacht.
That leaves one hand free for moustache-twirling.

Notice the throng of lovely ladies admiring his technology.

Step 30: Grass That Never Needs Cutting!

Lorraine Palmer selected native California grasses that don't ever get tall.
She selected three varieties that stay short, medium, and one foot tall.
She planted them in artistic patterns.

Tired of mowing your lawn? Plant grass that thrives, but always stays short!

Step 31: Pressurize and Cap an Empty Soda Bottle

Empty soda bottles make good buoyancy chambers in a boat.
But when they cool off they contract and make crinkling sounds, besides losing volume.

Here's the gizmo I use to pressurize them while screwing the cap on. It's a chunk of bicycle innertube attached to a blowgun. The short part that goes over the bottleneck has an extra layer of innertube slid over it to handle the pressure. The long tail has three layers of innertube and is sealed with a knot at the end.

I loosen the bottlecap a turn or so.
Then I slide the short rubber tube over the neck of the bottle.
I grip the tube over the neck ridge and lean the airgun's lever against the table to pressurize the tube.
It puffs up from the pressure and the bottle gets hard.
Then I turn the bottle with my left hand while gripping the neck with my right, screwing the cap tight.

Another method is to put a small chip of dry ice in the bottle and then screw the cap on.
A reader suggests another method, which is put the bottle in the freezer for a while and then cap it when it's cold. When it warms up the air will expand and puff up the bottle.

Step 32: Oilcloth

Ever wonder what raincoats were made of before Mr. Macintosh coated one with "india rubber"?
Ever wonder if anyone stayed dry in the rain before plastic was invented?
Ever wonder what this "oilcloth" stuff mentioned in old books is?

Take a piece of the tightest weave fabric you can find, or a garment you wish to be waterproof. Soak it with linseed oil and leave it someplace warm. Before too long it'll turn into some kind of high tech waterproof material very much like rubberized cloth.

Here's a rag made into a piece of oilcloth made by Saul Griffith while finishing some furniture with linseed oil. It's rubbery and not oily, and after a year it hasn't gotten brittle.

As you can see it's waterproof. Actually it's a very loose weave and water is leaking out through little pinholes. That's why you should use tighter weave fabric.

Linseed oil gets hot when it cures. It can burst into flames. Act accordingly.

Step 33: Bailer From Plastic Jug

A bailer like this is just the thing for throwing water out of your boat.
This jug is so perfect for the purpose I suspect it was designed to be made into a bailer.
A nearly identical design was used all over the pacific.

Here's a drawing of one from Malekula in the New Hebrides Islands, as seen in "Canoes of Oceania" volume 2, by Haddon and Hornell

Step 34: Turn AA Batteries Into C Cells and D Cells

An AA battery is the same height as a C cell or D cell.
Just wrap some cardboard around the AA battery so it's the right diameter. Here I use cardboard strips cut from milk cartons. I fasten them with tape or rubber bands.

New rechargeable AA batteries have plenty of power to run devices that used to require the bigger batteries.

I've seen commercial C and D cell batteries that are merely AA batteries with a plastic tube around them to bulk them up.

The green rechargeable on the right is a NIMH bulk cell removed from a laptop battery. It didn't have a nipple on the positive post. So I punched a disk from a penny and soldered it on the positive post.
Now it's the right height and works fine.

Step 35: Skateboard As Kiteboard Trainer

Eric Wilhelm of Instructables fame tries out my kiteboard trainer.

The lines are about 20 feet long and are tied to something solid.
To use it you point the board a bit toward the anchor point and pull on the bar to start moving.
Then turn away from the anchor to coast away til you get to the end of the lines.
Then repeat in the other direction. You end up riding back and forth in an arc shaped path with the apex toward the anchor point.

It's kind of like trying to kite in not enough wind.
More like it than sitting in a chair anyway.

To make it even more unstable like standing on water, Eric is using a double-decker skateboard technique.

Step 36: Fancy Van Ramp

This mini van is customized for wheelchairs.
The ramp has the middle part of the bumper and part of the body stuck to the bottom.
When it's closed you can't tell there's anything strange about the van.

Step 37: Pre Measure 2-Stroke Oil

That bottle has the right amount of 2-stroke oil to mix with one gallon of gasoline.
Mix it in a gas can and shake it well, don't just pour it into your motor's tank.
Don't mix the gas until you need it.
The mixture starts spoiling and turning to varnish as soon as it's mixed.

Companies that sell gasoline preservatives claim it's measurably worse after just a few weeks.
It definitely gets nasty a lot quicker than it should.
Don't mix more than you'll use, and don't leave it in the motor, or next year your carburetor won't verb.

Step 38: Scaregeese

When I first saw these cardboard coyotes there were no geese in the field and lots of geese in the rest of the fields. The groundskeeper told me they'd put them up after re-doing the field and it had worked like a charm.

I came back a few days later to take these pictures after a big storm and here's what I found.
After they blew down in the storm they didn't scare the geese anymore.

So make sure yours are solid enough to impress the geese with how they stand up to storms.

Step 39: Apply Decals Without Wrinkles or Bubbles

Some very large decals are going onto the side of a racing boat.
The skilled craftsmen putting them on spray the surface with soapy water first.
That way the decal doesn't stick in place immediately. They can reposition it if necessary.
They squeegee out any wrinkles or bubbles.
The soap and water dries in a few minutes and the decal is firmly affixed.

Vincent Bachet says: "use 5 or 10% max liquid dish soap mixed with water, it doesn't really matter what kind of soap it is."

These methods would also work with window tint gels.

Look here for more details on decal application.

Step 40: Jump Start an Electric Car

Be very careful with electric vehicle wiring. It can deliver enough high voltage DC through your body to cook you crisp. Don't charge anything without a current limit. Batteries can make an explosive mix of oxygen and hydrogen. Put a spark next to that and detonate battery acid straight through all your gristly shreds.

We bought this Gem Electric Car for very cheap because it wouldn't drive and wouldn't charge.
Its six 12 volt batteries were all sitting at less than a volt, and were probably shot.
The price of the vehicle reflected these factors.

When we got it back I jumped it to an external 72 volt vehicle pack to see if it would move.
Sure enough, it moved fine. Not only that, when I plugged the AC charger in, a green light started flashing on the dashboard; it was charging!
Apparently the charger has a safety feature where it doesn't even try to charge if the pack voltage is too low.

A few months later (today) after a flat tire and some sitting, the gem car wouldn't charge again and the batteries were flat dead. This time I woke it up in a safer way. I jumped it to my 36 volt golf cart charger. After a few minutes I disconnected that and plugged in the Gem car. Abracadabra! It's Charging!

And what about those "shot" batteries it came with?
They weren't bulged, which means not badly sulfated. On the first charge it was barely able to drive a mile. Then each time we charged and drove it it got more range. I asked Otmar Ebenhoech (EV guru) about this and he said that the high charge and discharge currents of electric vehicles desulfate them. Batteries in an EV that is actually used do not die from sulfate, they die from overuse.

Step 41: Lots and Lots of Free Leather

Leather couches are starting to appear at the curb.
Not just vinyl naugahyde, but real leather ones.

These were very expensive when they were new, but people who buy such things don't want an old one. So there they are at the curb. Some of them are made of very nice leather indeed, better than many leather jackets. Grab a couple of these and make those leather sheets you've always wanted.
They might even come with leather pillows already made.

If the leather is weathered like this one you can make it soft again with saddle soap and other cowboy methods. You can also spiff it back to cosmetic new with acrylic leather finish.

Want more handy tricks?
This saga began at Fifty Handy Tricks.
It continues with Australian Handy Tricks
and Guatemalan Handy Tricks

For a bunch of things that didn't work, check out How Not To.