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    September 2018

    PM’s 110 best tips that stand the test of time

    • PM's 110 best tips that stand the test of time
    • Vintage Popular Mechanics cover
    • Vintage Popular Mechanics cover
    • Popular Mechanics April 1947 cover
    • Popular Mechanics July 1951 cover
    • Popular Mechanics September 1958 cover
    • Popular Mechanics February 1970 cover
    • Popular Mechanics February 1971 cover
    • Popular Mechanics November 1985 cover
    • Popular Mechanics April 1993 cover
    • Popular Mechanics JSpecial DIY issue
    Date:1 April 2012 Tags:, ,

    Over the past 110 years, Popular Mechanics in the US has published more than 1 300 issues filled with inspiring and sometimes quirky tips (rat-trap door hinge, anyone?) for saving time, money and effort. Here’s a compendium of our best advice ever, metricated where appropriate.

    In one of our very first issues, back in 1902, we told the story of a schoolboy named Mark Richards, who built a car for himself. By saving money from his after-school job blacking stoves, Richards cobbled together enough parts to assemble a runabout that rolled on four skinny tyres and was powered by a single-cylinder engine.

    “I had no knowledge of the principles and practice of gasoline (petrol) engine construction,” Richards said, “yet I not only managed to make it but to build the transmission mechanism, friction clutch, spark-timing mechanism, body running gear, etc, even doing the necessary blacksmithing”¦ I stuck to the job and am gratified with the result.”

    If Mark Richards were alive today, he would love the story of Bob Dullam, a sculptor in Kalamazoo, Michigan, who received one of our 2009 Backyard Genius Awards for building a replica of the Tumbler Batmobile. Dullam fabricated a steel chassis and laid on body plates made of epoxy reinforced with glass fibre matte, then dropped in a 350 Chevy V8 and slapped on 44 inch-wide Super Swamper tyres. Why did Dullam spend R400 000 on his beast? “I like Batman,” he explains, “and the only way to get this car was to build it myself.”

    The impulse to tinker, to putter, to do it yourself instead of buying it or paying someone to do it for you”¦ Richards and Dullam share that mindset with millions of do-it-yourselfers. Sometimes, economic necessity drives this impulse, and other times the motivation has no price tag ““ it’s the pride and freedom that come with self-reliance.

    In 2012, as the US edition of Popular Mechanics celebrates 110 years in publication, self-reliance remains a guiding principle of the magazine. Although PM’s long-standing slogan, “Written So You Can Understand It”, no longer appears on the cover, the magazine’s mission remains the same: use plain language to present stories about how things work ““ whether those things are internal combustion engines, supercomputers or spacecraft ““ as well as how to make and fix things yourself. Indeed, Popular Mechanics has depicted and fostered DIY for more than a century in the US (and going on 10 years in South Africa), which is why we thought it entirely appropriate to write a feature on the topic.

    To guide the masses, the early issues of Popular Mechanics were aimed at the initiated. Many readers were part of the rising class of mechanical professionals, people who knew how to fashion a mitre joint, operate a lathe, and handle a drill press. The magazine’s Shop Notes offered advice on “How to Temper Springs” and “Punching Structural Steel for Locomotive Tenders”, while Amateur Mechanics taught younger readers how to make such things as a dovetail-joint puzzle.

    After a lull during World War II, DIY exploded along with the postwar economic boom, and while Detroit kept cranking out ever more exotic cars, gearheads were out in the garage using yesteryear’s models to concoct their very own one-of-a-kind kandy-kolored tangerineflake streamline babies. PM responded in 1962 by introducing one of our longest-running and most avidly read sections of the magazine, Saturday Mechanic.

    Beginning in 1971, Appliance Clinic helped readers deal with a deluge of electronic devices and household appliances; a decade later, computers were added to the mix with the advent of Software Monitor. A California kid named Steve Jobs, who grew up building Heathkit electronics projects, would later say that his boyhood forays into DIY “gave a tremendous level of self-confidence, that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things”. After dropping out of college, Jobs retreated to his parents’ garage with a buddy named Steve Wozniak to modify the first personal computer, the Altair 8800. You know the rest of that story.

    Jobs would later say that one of the “bibles” of his generation was The Whole Earth Catalog, a DIY project begun in 1968 by Stewart Brand, who put issues together with a couple of friends using an IBM Selectric typewriter and a Polaroid MP-3 camera. While the catalogue appealed primarily to the counterculture, and PM stuck to the mainstream, both publications celebrated self-reliance. “It was all about empowering individuals,” Brand says. “The people who read it were interested in starting over from scratch.”

    Although the DIY mindset seemed to fade in the 1980s and ’90s with the rise of the digital era, it returned in a new form at the start of the 21st century. While computer modding has roots in the late 1970s, its analogue cousin – the maker movement – sprang to life in the early 2000s. Happily for PM, we are now in the midst of a hands-on creative resurgence. “What’s going on today is fantastic,” Brand says. “… what you’ve got now is a tech-friendly generation of young people who are aware they can mess with the hardware as much as the software.”

    In fact, it’s a safe bet that someone is out in the garage right now, working on the next big thing. Tinkering, puttering, hacking. Doing it himself.
    – By Bill Morris

    1902–1925: Industrial roots
    PM founding editor HH Windsor writes for an audience of tradesmen and farmers already familiar with machining, wiring and woodworking. Doing it yourself is essential to making a living. Shop Notes and Amateur Mechanics sections show how to hone these skills in stories such as May 1908’s tutorial on ­ fixing a machine’s broken flywheel, or a December 1917 project, “Electric bolt lock made from bell ringer”.

    1925–1940: The workshop comes home
    Popular Mechanics covers promise bold breakthroughs, but the magazine’s how-to pages grapple with the hard realities of the Great Depression. Tips emphasise reuse of items such as inner tubes and crankcases. Workers apply trade skills to tasks at home, as projects explain how to vermin-proof an icebox drain, in May 1927, or how to hook a tray on to a beach umbrella, in September 1936.

    1940–1965: Rise of the novice
    The postwar surge in new housing makes DIY a fundamental part of owning a home and living the dream. Popular Mechanics’ Solving Home Problems section tackles leaky taps, broken clocks and sticky drawers. Projects retain a sense of thrift – empty 35 mm film canisters become picnic saltshakers in May 1947. The homeowner steadily rises to prosperity. By July 1958, a typical story shows how to entertain guests with a new backyard smoker (made from a cleanedout oil drum).

    1965–1985: The weekend-project era
    People continue to put down roots in new suburbs. As tastes and housing technology evolve, problem-solving changes from homespun to sophisticated. The magazine turns its DIY advice to maintaining new machines with the September 1971 debut of the Appliance Clinic. DIY becomes an outlet for fun and creative expression in the Weekend Workshop section, where detailed home-build stories such as March 1972’s “A Backyard Storage Building That Isn’t an Eyesore” define the times.

    1985–2005: The age of sweat equity
    DIY remains satisfying as a creative enterprise, but it gains allure as a way to maximise an investment. An April 1987 feature titled “Doing It Yourself” demonstrates how a weekend upgrade can translate into money saved. Hardware stores grow larger, and the range of options they offer a homeowner expands. Popular Mechanics begins running regular tool tests to explain how to choose a hammer – not just any hammer, but the best hammer money can buy.

    2005–present: The maker revolution
    As some sectors of domestic manufacturing erode, the DIY zeitgeist shifts again. The act of making anything – plywood shelves, plumbing-pipe lamps, backyard rollercoasters – is respected and celebrated in stories such as Popular Mechanics’ annual Backyard Genius franchise and September 2009’s “Ruggedise Your Own Tech”. Technology and communication offer new ways to share creations with like-minded communities such as those featured in May 2011’s “DIY Underground”. But the abstract nature of the digital age also stokes an enduring need to create an object that can be held, used, taken apart, and put back together.

    Popular Mechanics best tips ever
    Brace for boards
    Our September 1948 issue showed how to store an ironing board upright in a cupboard by mounting a towel rack to a wall. The board’s tip slips up under the chest-high rack. It’s still a good idea. At the right height, a rack (or a rig made of steel pipe fittings) could support brooms or timber.

    Find a key, fast
    File a notch in a frequently used key’s top to locate it without having to look through the whole set. – April 1984

    Copper wire torch stand
    To set up a simple work light, coil 12-gauge copper wire around a torch’s barrel and twist the rest into a base. – March 2011

    Got that spanner?
    On band saws, router tables or other workshop equipment that requires a spanner to make routine adjustments, we advised in July 1952: press the spanner into a lump of weather-stripping putty and stick the putty on the side of the tool. The spanner will be easy to locate for quick changes of bits and blades.

    Pinhole lens
    The August 1955 issue told a farsighted person to punch a pinhole in cardboard and peer through it to read small type. It still does the trick!

    Jar pumps up radio tunes
    “Transistor radios produce a deeper, more melodious tone when placed speaker-down on top of an open fruit jar.” This worked in February 1961. And it works today for an iPhone.

    Fortify studs
    Nail 5 x 10 cm blocking between studs when framing drywalls, we suggested in November 1948. The boards provide sturdy mounting bases for heavy pictures or recessed medicine cabinets. Record the positions upon installation.

    Fit bottle caps on to C-clamp pads to make a mark-free clamp. – January 1963

    Hole in One
    Enlarged screw holes can be quickly repaired, we said in March 1972, by filling the hole with a wooden golf tee. Use a hacksaw to cut the tee flush with the wood’s surface, then sand and finish.

    Add sand to floor paint, about 100g/litre, for a skid-free coat. – February 2010

    Mist water at a spark plug as a vehicle idles. Visible arcs show voltage leaks. – February 1995

    Fill empty shotgun shells with melted wax and a wick to make campsite candles. – February 1961

    Dry up paint drool
    Punch holes in a paint-can rim with a 4d finish nail. This helps paint along the rim drain into the can. – January 1991

    Get a handle on a broken tool
    “Replacing a shovel handle is one of those disappearing rural skills that shows basic mechanical competence – just as wrapping duct tape around a broken handle denotes the opposite,” the May 2007 issue said. Getting a wood handle’s grain direction right ensures the strength of a replacement handle. Mount the new handle so that the oval rings of wood grain run up and down the sides of the handle relative to the blade. Handles break when the tool is strained along those ovals. A look down the blade toward the face of the handle should reveal only straight, parallel lines of wood grain.

    Slow-leak test
    A tyre tip from December 1935: to locate a pinhole leak in a bike tyre’s inner tube, hold it under water and watch for bubbles.

    Floating frames
    Our August 1965 issue recommended taping small blocks of Styrofoam to eyeglasses’ bows, or legs, while fi shing or boating. If the glasses go overboard, they’ll float.

    Box prevents milk theft
    Depression-era milk thieves met their match with the bandit-proof box we showed bolted to a porch in August 1934. A hole in the top permits the bottle to be set inside, and four strips of spring brass prevent its removal.  e owner unlocks a panel to access the milk. Home-security technology evolved in PM’s pages, from safes made of spare tyres to whole-house diagrams on burglar deterrence.

    Improvised slides for heavy drawers
    The January 1970 issue showed how to re-use a bleach bottle to ease action on a heavily laden drawer. Cut 2 x 5 cm strips from a clean, empty bottle. Heat the plastic and fold its long side into a 5 mm lip. Mount the strips at the bottom front corners of the drawer frame. The drawer slides on the strips, reducing friction.

    Keyhole guide
    “A particularly useful device for people who are forced to stay out late at night” appeared in the September 1914 issue: the key guide. A V-shaped strip of metal affixed to the door tapers to a point just above the keyhole. The key’s tip slides along the metal to find the keyhole opening. “This simple device should prove very useful in places where it is impossible to illuminate the keyhole.”

    Sandbag clamps
    Use sandbags to help glue down irregular shapes, such as veneer, on uneven surfaces. – March 1983

    Block that door
    To stop a door from swinging while working on its lock or knob hardware, our November 1948 issue suggested this: notch a block of wood to fit the edge of the door. Set the block on the floor, wedge the notch on to the door’s edge, and step on the block.

    Cupboard-rod stop
    “The last suit or garment generally takes a beating in a crowded closet (cupboard).” To prevent this, wrap rubber bands around the rod a few centimetres from each end to form ridged stops for wire hangers. – January 1959

    Roof-rack mount
    “Transporting a sheet of thin building material can be tricky, as the sheets fl utter and flap when carried fl at on a car’s roof rack,” we said in July 1982. The solution: set a thick plank on the roof rack, running the length of the car. Secure the sheets to the rack’s side rails. Twist the plank so that it stands on its narrower edge. The plank will bow the sheets so they’re rigid enough to withstand the wind.

    Gloveful o’ tools
    An old glove can become a miniature tool belt with a few modifications, according to our January 1949 issue. Cut a slit in the cuff of the glove so a belt can pass through it.  en snip off the fingertips and thumb tip. Worn on a hip, the open fingertips can conveniently carry pliers and large screwdrivers.

    Pick up slivers of broken glass with moist cotton wool. – March1949

    Use an ice-cream-bar stick yo smooth caulk in corners. – February 1963

    Nest a brick chisel in broom bristles to contain dust from a strike. – April 1984

    C-clamp bonanza
    Tighten a C-clamp on to a ladder rail, our February 1957 issue said, to keep a hammer “safely at hand” when working up high.

    • To make a clip-anywhere camera tripod, braze bolts on to the clamp body and fit tripod heads on to the bolts. – May 1951
    • Use a C-clamp as a handle for a heavy bucket or drum. – March 1961
    • To move large furniture, weld casters on to C-clamps and clip the clamps to the furniture legs. – March 1949
    • When removing a brake calliper, first use a C-clamp to pinch off the brake hose to minimise fluid loss. – June 2001


    Chuck-key clip
    To avoid losing track of a drill-press chuck key, mount a clothespeg to the press and clip the key in the peg’s jaws. – December 1955

    Two-step push stick
    “When you make a table saw’s push stick – and there should always be one handy – cut two notches instead of one in the end.” The stepped stick end has one notch cut at 10 mm depth and a second notch cut to 5 mm. Flipping the stick allows either thickness of stock to be pushed safely and securely toward the blade. – March 1962

    Doorknobs access rubbish bins
    Rubbish-bin lids still pose a problem that PM tried to solve in December 1946, when we suggested mounting two discarded doorknobs on each face of the bin’s lid. The knobs act both as a handle and a hanger. Grab the knob on top to remove the lid, and use the knob on the underside to hook it over the bin’s edge. This leaves both hands free to deal with rubbish.

    Soap speeds screws
    Wood screws turn more easily in tight-fitting holes when threads are rubbed with a slightly wet bar of soap. – September 1957

    Erudite craftsmen re-use old binders
    Fasten the metal portion of a three-ring binder to the top of a stepladder, we said in August 1972. Mount the binder so the rings face downward. Tools with holes drilled in their handles can be stored and replaced. When the ladder is to be moved, snap shut the rings, and tools will be securely held. The rings can also be used to hang cleaned brushes to dry.

    Stop suffering from plywood blowout
    To prevent splintered edges as a saw blade exits plywood, press masking tape on to the back side of the cut, we said in May 1982. “The cut won’t be absolutely clean, but it will be better than without tape.”

    Lick envelopes with potatoes
    For readers burdened by correspondence, our November 1948 issue offered “one way to avoid the unpleasant task of licking postage stamps”. The trick: moisten the stamps using a potato cut in half. The water in the potato activates the adhesive. Stamps today often adhere like stickers, but a spare spud can still be used to moisten a pile of envelope flaps.

    Gloves pad ladders
    Fit cotton gloves atop ladder rails to prevent scratches where the ladder rests against paint or masonry. – March 1959

    Tyre sled slides heavy stone
    Haul a heavy boulder out of a yard, our June 1951 issue suggested, by using an old tyre to make a sled. Use a bolt and nut to fasten two thick planks in a cross shape and wedge them inside the tyre. Drill a hole in one plank near the end. Loop and fasten a chain through the plank and around the tyre. Roll the stone on to the planks; hook the chain to a tractor or bakkie to tow away the sled. The stone rides above grade in the tyre opening while the tyre edge drags on the ground.

    Thirst: the other Mother of Invention
    To quickly make a bottle opener, drive a nail into a board so the head stands proud by 10 cm. Bend the shank and grab the bottle by the nailhead. – March 1966

    Groove an axe head to aid chopping. – August 1924

    Polish metal wit h a cloth dusted in chalk. – April 1957

    Slit a radiator hose end to ease removal. – May 1990

    Stout-strap stopper
    On an incline, a hand trolley can roll backwards and cause an injury, our February 1938 issue cautioned. Reduce the risk by mounting stout fabric straps on the trolley’s frame above the wheels. Move forward and the straps flap out of the way. Go backwards and the straps tuck under the wheels to arrest motion.

    Use a sink plunger to pull out a stuck drawer with a missing knob. – February 1966

    Stack bricks in a cylindrical shape to make a vented leaf-burning bin. – April 1947

    Stroke a pencil over a sticky key’s surface to lubricate it (and the lock). – July 1926

    Rattrap reuse
    “We had a door that we wanted to keep closed, and not having any suitable ready-made device at hand, we made one from a spring rat trap,” we said in our May 1927 issue. Saw off the bait end of the trap and screw the remaining part to the door casing. Protect the adjacent surface with a piece of tin. “­ is door closer works perfectly, and is cheap.”

    • Screw a trap to a trailer to hold a warning flag when towing large objects. – August 1932
    • Mount several traps to a workshop wall to make a handy rack for gloves, notes and receipts. – May 1954
    • Anchor one end of a long tape measure by clipping the tape in a nailed-down trap. – January 1938
    • Retrieve dropped, unreachable tools with a trap dangling on a string. Hit the tool with the bait pan. – July 1961


    Cut discs from wine corks to make sliding feet for chairs. — March 1963

    Drill guide holes in a block to stop screwdriver slips. – April 1957

    Swap fat safety pins for machines’ missing pins. – September 1917

    Interior orientation
    To locate identical positions on opposite sides of a wall, we showed a method using a bar magnet and pocket compass in October 1943. The magnet, attached to a suction cup, holds the position on one side of the wall. On the other side, a compass points to the magnet so the spot can be marked.

    How to haul a saw
    It’s tricky to protect a large push-style handsaw when transporting it along with sawhorses. Our November 1983 issue solved the problem. Cut a saw slot in each end of the sawhorse crosspiece. When finished using the saw, drop it in the slot.

    Bucket stabiliser
    To prevent a bucket or other round container from sliding around on top of a bench while scouring the inside, our March 1934 issue said, lay the bucket on its side and wedge car tyre tubes beneath the curved exterior. (To update the tip, use bicycle inner tubes.)

    New life for a broken broom
    A broken broomstick is just another new tool. In March 1981, we showed how to shape a broken handle into a spike for digging holes for bulbs and seeds. A broken spade with a D-handle also works well. In July 1946, the broomstick entered the game room as a dart rack: plane a 20 cm length of broomstick so that it can be fastened to a backboard. Drill holes for the darts at a 45-degree angle; 3 mm in diameter, 13 mm deep, spaced 25 mm apart on centre.

    A chisel manicure
    Because a dull wood chisel produces slipshod work, use a method we suggested in June 1948 to test the tool for adequate sharpness. Push the chisel cutting edge gently over the top of a thumbnail. If it slides without catching, the chisel needs to be sharpened.

    Crescent as calliper
    To measure a drill bit to bore a pilot hole for a nut and bolt assembly, our August 1965 issue recommended using a shifting spanner as a crude calliper to determine the bolt’s diameter. Then match the spanner jaw’s reading with a corresponding drill-bit diameter.

    Baste the brakes
    When replacing brake fluid, it’s necessary to flush out the system. Don’t do that by re-using the old muddy brown fluid in the reservoir, we said in November 1992. Rather use a turkey baster to siphon the excess fluid from the reservoir, then add a little clean fluid to flush out the reservoir. And don’t use that baster on poultry ever again.

    Sandpaper saver
    To unclog sandpaper, rinse it in lacquer thinners, then buff the paper with a wire brush. – September 1954

    Better paper cuts
    We shared the secret to making neat cuts in large spools of paper in our March 1969 issue. With the spool standing vertically, unfurl the length of paper planned for use. Begin the cut a few centimetres from the top, slicing downward. The uncut section supports the sheet so it doesn’t droop and tear. Snip off the top portion to finish the cut.

    Fuel-spray stifler
    Servicing a fuel-injection system opens up lines with pressures that can top 4 bar, we warned in August 2002. “That’s enough to spray atomised gasoline (petrol) across the shop.” Here’s how to protect your eyes: wrap a screwdriver shank in a shop towel and use the tip to depress the Schrader valve stem in the fuel rail’s diagnostic fitting.

    How to silence a clanking chain
    To prevent a chain from rattling, weave a rope in between the links, we said in June 1916. Arrange the rope so that it threads only in spaces between the links.

    Defend the home with a putty knife
    To protect painted walls and other delicate surfaces when using a hammer to pull nails, wedge a putty knife beneath the tool’s claw, our August 1954 issue recommended.

    Bolts+nuts= wrench
    “If in need of a wrench and one is not at hand, take a large bolt and run on two nuts, allowing a space between them to fit over the nut to be turned,” we said in March 1910. “This will make a serviceable wrench, a substitute that will prove very beneficial in case of an emergency.”

    Hang a funnel on the wall to easily dispense a spool of twine. – August 1939

    Line garden cold frames with aluminium foil to concentrate heat. – April 1964

    Store a wet paintbrush overnight in tightly wrapped wax paper. – April 1957

    5 Uses for hose

    Scraps of garden hose just 15 cm long can hold hand tools, we noted in November 1948. Cut the hose to length with a small tab at the top to take a wall-mounting screw. “Using garden hose for this purpose is especially convenient for the man who does not want to build a cabinet.” – November 1948

    • Use hose lengths to protect a child’s hands from swing-set chains. – May 1933
    • Wrap a hose length in sandpaper to abrade concave and convex profiles. – February 1972
    • Cut a hose strip to cushion the back of a hand saw. Press the blade into the work. – January 1954
    • Wrap a cold chisel or a star drill in a hose length to make a shock-absorbing grip. – March 1937


    Use a punctured coffee can to shield a bare basement bulb. – January 1950

    Pull headless finish nails tip-first to avoid splitting timber. – April 1963

    Sand a squeegee’s rubber to restore its worn edge. – April 1957

    To level a billiard table or a piece of machinery in all directions at once, we advised in November 1937, use a slab of fl at glass and a ball bearing. “You can note the low spot by observing in which direction the ball moves.” Shim the legs to level the surface in all directions. – November 1937

    Stop dropping those drawers
    “No doubt you have pulled a drawer all the way out and – c-r-r-a-a-s-h!” Our December 1961 issue had a solution for drawers prone to pulling free of dressers: pull the drawer out as far as safely possible and paint a red stripe on each rail next to the cabinet face. Paint a black stripe 5 cm closer to the front of the drawer. Pull the drawer out no further than the black mark and you’ll avoid spilling its load.

    Old bleach jug helps green thumb
    Punch holes in the cap of a clean, empty bleach jug to make a garden watering can. – December 1962

    Glove pads make polishing easy
    A pair of homemade mitts simplify and speed up the job of polishing a car, we said in July 1952. Stitch several thicknesses of terrycloth towelling or cheesecloth to a pair of cloth work gloves. Use one glove to apply the polish and the other to remove the excess. Wash them in soapy hot water.

    Ladder scraper for muddy boots
    Our July 1958 issue had a tip for working safely on round ladder rungs in a muddy yard: mount a length of bar stock low on the ladder, then scrape mud off boot soles before climbing. Mount another rigid bar near the top of the ladder and you can use it to scrape goop off putty knives and trowels.

    Campsite Cabinet
    “The camp hanger shown is easily made by attaching hooks to an old leather belt,” we recommended in April 1921. For hardware, hang S-hooks or bend stout wire through holes punched in the leather. “The hanger will be found quite a convenience for clothing and utensils used around the camp.” – April 1921

    To hide a scratch in walnut finish, rub it with a sliced walnut. – October 1954

    Give a hammer claw a fresh bite with a hacksaw cut. – November 1957

    Bottle caps drain potted plants
    “When pebbles or ceramic fragments are not available for use as drainage material in the bottom of a flowerpot,” we said in November 1956, “metal bottle caps make a good substitute.” Place them with the crimped edge down to cover the entire bottom of the container.

    News on windows
    Our April 2003 issue offered a glass-cleaning classic: use old newspapers to clean dirty windows. Save paper towels.

    Padlock hardware
    A strap hinge taken from a barn door makes a hasp for a padlock. Remove the hinge pin and separate the halves. Fasten one hinge half to a doorframe, with the wide end of the strap mounted through to the frame, and the narrow end projecting outward. Fasten the other hinge half to the door itself, in the same orientation, so the holes align on the narrow, projecting ends. Insert the lock so its bar spans the holes. – November 1938

    Milk carton ignites charcoal
    Use a cardboard milk carton to start charcoal for a grill, we said in May 1960. Cut off the top and stack the coals inside. The wax-coated carton will produce a hot flame around them.

    Training wheels for the shop
    Don’t toss out training wheels when a child moves on to a bigger bike. Instead, mount the wheels to bench saws and other heavy workshop machinery. Attach the wheels above the floor and tilt the machines to move them around. – April 1972

    Mason’s helper
    “A matchbook held by a brick takes the sag out of a mason’s line.” The matchbook suspends the line, keeping it the right distance from the top course so it doesn’t interfere with striking the mortared joint. – July 1962

    Keep matches dry
    To waterproof matches, dip them
    in melted paraffin wax. – April 1916

    Rack for heels January 1961
    “Looking for a simple rack for your wife’s shoes? You won’t find a more practical one,” we said in January 1961. Drill holes to fit the heels, and mount the panel so it stands proud of the closet wall.

    Five car fixes
    The October 2009 issue gave “Get-Home-at-Any-Cost” tips for roadside catastrophes, beginning with a leak in the radiator. Crack a raw egg into the radiator filler cap (not the overflow tank). The egg white will plug the hole – for a while. To fill the radiator back up: top it off with water, diet cola, tea or any other sugarfree liquid.

    To fix a punctured fuel tank: stuff a wedge from a bar of soap into the hole. It’ll last long enough to get you into town. Oil sump punctured by a stone? Whittle a plug from a twig and hammer it into the hole. But now you’re low on oil. To fill the crankcase, add a litre of water. Seriously. The oil-pump pickup is not on the exact bottom, and the remaining oil will float on top of the water.

    Shoehorn weeder
    For weeding in the cracks of concrete, our June 1938 issue said, “a shoehorn is handy… it enables you to do the work quickly and prevents sore fingers”. Good luck finding a spare shoehorn today. Those weeds can now be uprooted from tight cracks with an old putty knife or a painter’s five-in-one tool.

    Fixing a hole
    In the January 1963 issue, we recommended using a sliver snipped from a toothpaste tube to fill a stripped-out screw hole. Screw threads bite into the metal. With today’s plastic tubes, a toothpick works better. But the essence of the tip remains: implements of oral hygiene can fill cavities.

    Start bonfires with an oil-soaked corn cob wedged in a pipe. – June 1949

    Mark a garden trowel handle to make s soil-depth gauge. – June 1954

    Use olive oil to loosen paper adhered to wood varnish. – January 1950

    Regrets…we’ve had a few
    Shirt-shredding washing machine
    “Facing an accumulation of soiled clothing that would have cost at least $10 if done at the laundry,” a reader reasoned that his outboard motor could agitate suds. Mounted on a barrel divided by a screen, the rig worked, he claimed – for 10 cents.  e clothing’s condition afterward was not mentioned. – September 1926

    Filthy playpen
    “When a playpen is needed and none is at hand, just take a kitchen or other small table, turn it upside down, and stretch cloth around the outside of the legs.” The tip suggests padding the table’s underside with an old comforter, but doesn’t mention clearing out the cobwebs and chewing gum first. – February 1938

    Rat traps murder turtles
    “Spring-type rat traps are an effective means of disposing of turtles which menace game fish in a pond or lake.” An illustration shows a turtle about to bite a chicken head in a trap mounted to a post set in shallow water. Sorry, turtles. Our apologies to the chickens, too. – June 1948

    Boot lid makes useful awning
    “One home craftsman used the trunk (boot) lid of an old sedan to make a serviceable and inexpensive canopy for the back door of his home.” The boot was dressed up, at least, with wrought-iron supports. – June 1954

    Visit www.popularnechanics.co.za for more DIY-, tech- and car-related tips.

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