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Workshop Tips

Workshop Tips

You asked for ’em, we’ve got ’em! Here are four terrific shop tips you can use this weekend to make your time in the workshop easier and more enjoyable. Don’t forget to send us your favorite tip!


Razor saws are handy for cutting various materials, but their teeth sometimes “snag” the material, especially during long cuts on hardwood. Here’s an old woodworking trick that works equally well for modeling. Rub a slightly damp bar of soap on both sides of the saw blade. The soap acts as a lubricant and helps the razor saw cut smoothly without catching its teeth on the cut edge.

Did you ever find it difficult to take inside measurements in confined areas, such as the inside of a fuselage or between wing ribs? You can make a simple measuring gauge using two pieces of telescoping brass or aluminum tubes. Cut suitable lengths of ¼- inch-o.d. and 9/32-inch-o.d. tubes, and insert the small-diameter tube inside the larger one and then collapse the mechanism. Place the gauge in the area to be measured, and pull the tubes apart until they touch both sides. Mark and withdraw the gauge, and measure its length. You now have the inside measurement that you need.

Your control over an airplane is only as secure as the plane’s servo-extension connections. Try this tip to make sure that yours don’t come loose during an aggressive aerobatic maneuver or a bumpy landing. Simply take the leads and cross them over into a half-knot, then plug them together. Any tension on the leads will draw the knot tighter and make it next to impossible for the connection to come undone. And if you ever need to disconnect them, you won’t have to mess with tape or glue joints.

Sometimes you need to drill a hole in a place that your drill bit can’t quite reach. A way to extend the bit’s length is to use a fiberglass arrow shaft or brass tubing as an extension. A couple of drops of thin CA will securely hold the drill bit in the shaft. Using different-size fiberglass and brass tubes will accommodate bits of different sizes. Just be sure to plug the open end of the tube with a dowel so that you don’t crush the tube when it’s chucked in the drill.


Updated: November 10, 2016 — 11:42 AM
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  1. Some very good tips here. I specially like the gauge for measuring inside confined areas.

    1. I usually use a measuring caliper. Less than $10 at Home Depot or Walmart, $3 at Harbor Freight. Most have inside measuring lades about .6″ long.

  2. When using soap as a lubricant, how will that effect how various glues will bond with the wood (especially CA)?

    1. If you need to apply glue directly to the cut, sand the joint before gluing. If that stil doesn’t work good enough, cut it 1/32-1/64 longer and then sand to length.
      As a woodworker I have used soap and also used car wax on all of my handsaws and never had a problem with pva based glues holding even without sanding.

  3. I like the drill extension idea. Now if someone can come up with a mini hole saw(1/2″ – 3/4″) that I can cleanly bore through balsa bulkheads for instance I would be happy. Been scratching my head over that one and just can’t crack that nut!

    1. Try getting some Forstner bits – Harbor Freight has a set from 1/2″ to 2″, as well as Home Depot, Lowes, etc.

    2. I took some ‘fired brass’ I picked up at the range and removed the primers. Then soldered a piece of music wire that fit the hole closely and sharpened the edge of the brass. It cuts balsa easily, but you do have to dig out the ‘plug’ from the ‘hole saw’. It works with a 12 Ga. shot shell also. If you need to cut lite-ply, you have to file teeth on the rim of the cutter. it’s slow, but works.

    3. how about some copper tubing with filed edge ro make hole saw

    4. Sharpen the end of a tube the size of the hole you need. Cut sone teeths if you need deeper cuts.

    5. Use a Forster bit, Harbor Freight has a set perfect size for modelung at a very good price. Even.cuts clean on balsa.

    6. Have you tried Forstner drill bits?

    7. I have used a piece of brass tube and roughed up the end with a small file, or at 1/2 you can roughly file some teeth.
      Put it in the drill and away you go, will even cut through ply firewalls

    8. try reversing the rotation of the hole saw

    9. I have a flexible extension that cane with a driver set. I have some step drill bits from Harbor Freight that work great with it.

  4. The workshop tips hand begun being repeats over and over. The pop up trying to get me to subscribe is annoying can be. I am already subscribed, that’s why I got the email in the first place.

  5. Vic,
    For your mini hole saw, go to the local DIY store (Menards, Lowes, Home depot, ect.) and go to the plumbing dept. and get a short piece of copper tubing. Chamfer the one end of the copper tubing, then with a dremel cutoff wheel, cut little teeth on the chamfered end. After that is done, bend one tooth in a little, skip one, bend the next one in as well, and so on, until you are back to the beginning. Don’t bend them out, or your hole will be bigger than you want!

    If I want it to fit into the drill press I get a dowel to fit inside the copper tubing(tightly) and the other end is small enough to fit into my drill press. I hold the dowel in the copper tubing by drilling a hole all the way through and installing a threaded rod (2/56) with nuts on both sides. This also helps to clean out the tubing when it needs to be done from cutting the balsa holes.

  6. For a clean cutting hole saw mini or otherwise, check out Forstner bits, available at Harbor Freight.

  7. Another gauge for inside measurements, are aluminum screw posts for binding report. Adjust the length by turning, and less likely than the tube in tube to shift as you withdraw the gauge.

  8. Have a decent digital inside and outside caliper from harbor freight that so far has easily and accurately measured anything I need.

  9. When using shrink tubing, a lot of times it is not quite large to go over especially making battery connectors. Or you can’t find a little larger size. You can expand it buy sticking a needle nose plier in it and pull out on it, expanding it. Works great.

  10. Back in the 1960’s I was “trained” to coat a wood screw with soap to make it easy to screw in….and it worked. On further visits to the job I found the screws to be heavily rusted. I later learned that this is due to some soaps containing caustic soda to cut grease, particularly true with laundry soaps. I’ve had to do a lot of unlearning over the years.
    Just be careful of your saw blade rusting…give it a good cleaning.

  11. Never use soap as a lube for screws or saw blades, instead use bees wax. Why, soap has water in it and absorbs water besides caustic soda which corrodes metal. I to had to unlearn what I was told 50 years ago.

  12. Beeswax solves several problems. If doing the tube in a tube inside mic trick, coat the inner tube with a bit of wax to make it “sticky” and it will hold the measurement better. Why use them? The tubes can be used to reach into a space too deep for my inside mic – its’ blades are too short. They also work for measuring at various taper points.
    I learned machine work in early 60’s – both wood & metal. Back then every shop had sticks of beeswax & bars of Ivory soap. Beeswax stays on better when tools heat up working metals, Ivory soap is acid free & non detergent. Ivory wasn’t a problem back then to clean off, as what small amount stayed on the wood dissolved into the glues of the time.

    As to how to drill small clean holes, I have been using my brad point bits for years. Just need to check they are properly sharp before use. They can be resharpened. You also can use “plug cutter” bits available from woodworker tool stores. These are designed to extract smooth clean plugs from wood and are available in small diameters. Just remember the size is ID of bit (for OD of cut plug), you may have to hunt for OD information. These are usually very sharp, but additionally can be re-sharpened.

  13. Rather than tying knots in the cables, I separate the the wires near the center of the group, slip a small cable tie through, and cinch it home.

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