DIY Frequently Asked Questions

Building Materials FAQ's (273)

What type of joinery method is best for mitered corners?

When gluing miters using biscuits, you need a way to clamp the joint until the glue dries. While there are a variety of miter clamps available, the pocket hole joinery method doesn’t require screws, and it’s a very solid joint.

What is the benefit of a storm door?

Storm doors provide extra security and provide another layer of protection against weather. They also can stop drafts through door openings.

Is it better to glue or nail paneling?

Either way is effective. For the best installation, I recommend a combination of both glue and nails.

Can I leave my window partially open and still have it locked?

Yes, window locks can be mounted on a track which permits windows to be opened a desired distance.

I’m going to add a wall in one of the rooms of my house, what grade of board should I use.

If the wall won’t be carrying any weight above it, you can use a light framing 2×4. The other option is a stud, which can be used for load bearing walls.

Why is there so much color variation among different pieces of hardwood?

Hardwood trees take many years to mature and each one develops its own character markings. Sapwood (wood taken from the outer edge of the tree) and heartwood (wood taken closer to the core of the tree) often have color variations. The color of the wood also shows the effects of various minerals the tree may have absorbed as it grew.

I’m installing subfloor and want to be sure the joists and subfloor are protected against moisture.

Besides making sure you take care of any drainage problems, provide adequate ventilation to the basement and use a ground cover vapor retarder in the crawl space.

Won’t stone or ceramic floors always be cold in the winter?

Stone tends to hold the room temperature, but you can buy floor-warming systems. These install underneath the tile and keep the floor warm.

How long before I can walk on my new vinyl floor?

Wait at least 24 hours before heavy traffic.

Can I paint acoustical tiles?

You can paint the tiles, but you may void the manufacturer’s warranty and loose some of the sound absorption properties. To correctly paint acoustical tiles, you must be sure not to get the tiny holes on the surface of the tile clogged with paint.

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Building Materials Terms (161)

Solar Screen

  • Used in place of regular insect screening and blocks out most of the sun’s heat while serving as an insect barrier.
  • Available in aluminum material or as fiberglass ribbed-weave mesh.
  • Helps save energy; aluminum screens can reduce incoming heat by as much as 87 percent and fiberglass solar screen can reduce incoming heat by 70 percent.
  • Available in the same widths and colors as regular screen.

Gypsum Wallboard

  • Consists of a core of gypsum plaster covered with two sheets of heavy paper.
  • Panels are 4’ wide and range in length from 6’ to 16’.
  • Boards 1/4” thick are normally used for recovering old walls and ceilings.
  • Boards 3/8” thick are used in two-ply construction.
  • Boards 1/2” and 5/8” are used in single-ply new work. 5/6” boards provide better fire resistance and sound control.
  • Benefits include low cost and ease of installation. The plain-papered face provides an excellent surface for paint or wallpaper.
  • The edges are typically made with a slight taper, which allows for a filled and tapered joint.
  • Greenboard is a type of gypsum wallboard that has a water-resistant (not waterproof) facing and is used in bathrooms and areas that will be exposed to water or steam.

Ceramic Tile

  • More durable and easier to maintain than vinyl or wood flooring.
  • Glazed tile is made of clay that has been single fired at a high temperature, a process that makes color and shape permanent and a surface that is resistant to stains, burns and scratches.
  • Comes with a durability rating from 1 to 4+. Class 1 is the least durable, while 4+ is intended for commercial applications with heavy traffic.
  • Available in a variety of colors and patterns.
  • Comes in sizes 12” x 12”, and accent pieces can be 2”x 2”, 4” x 4” or 6” x 6”.


  • Most redwood sold is heartwood and sapwood grade. Each type comes in several grades, from a fine finish appearance to a rougher, less attractive finish.
  • Heartwood contains natural barriers to termites and decay and is suited for applications that come into contact with the ground.
  • Sapwood contains cream-colored streaks. It should not be used in contact with the ground.
  • Architectural redwood is the strongest redwood. It is normally kiln-dried and used for structural and finish applications.
  • Garden redwood comprises lower grades that are not kiln-dried and are commonly used for decks, fences and other outdoor garden uses.

Foam Insulation

  • Comes in a liquid spray form that quickly foams and hardens.
  • May have a higher insulating value than blown-in materials, but is more expensive and still subject to shrinking.
  • For use only on closed, properly vented exterior wall cavities. It should be sealed from exposure to the interior with vapor- and fume-resistant paints.
  • Also suited for sealing cracks around windows, doors and constructions seams.
  • Best for professional installation.


  • A three-part fitting that connects any standard size pipe where it may be necessary to disconnectt later, such as on a water heater.
  • Connects to male threaded ends.
  • Also known as a ground joint union.
  • A Transition Union joins different types of tubing, such as CPVC to brass.

Roll Roofing

  • Less expensive than shingles.
  • Used on lower-slope roofs or as a supplement to shingles.
  • Comes with either a smooth or mineral-covered surface on a heavy felt base that has been saturated with asphalt and then coated on both sides with more asphalt.
  • Easy to install.
  • A typical roll roofing, known as 90-lb. granule-coated, will cover 100 square feet.
  • A 45-lb. smooth roofing, without granules, will also cover 100 square feet.
  • A properly applied roll roofing should last from 10 to 20 years.

Dryer Vent

  • Provides an exhaust for the dryer.
  • Most models feature flaps or louvers that remain closed when not in use.
  • Available in a kit that includes the vent, ductwork and dryer attachment.

Bifold Door

  • A door that comes in two sections.
  • Each section is hinged to its side of the doorway with a single fold down the center of each. When closed, they meet in the middle of the doorway.
  • Usually designed for an extra-wide doorway between rooms and on closets.
  • Constructed of metal, wood or composite wood. It can also feature decorative glass or mirrored glass for decorative effect.
  • Louvered bifold doors are an assembly of slats—or sometimes a combination of panels and slats—that slope downward to permit ventilation while preserving privacy.

Contact Cement

  • Can be used on many surfaces, but the joints it makes may come apart under a heavy load.
  • Good to bond laminates to countertops and cabinets, or to glue plastic foam, hardboard or metal to wood.
  • Instant adhesion makes contact cement difficult to use. It bonds immediately without clamping and resists water, temperature extremes and fungi.
  • Contact cement is most effective when one or both surfaces are porous or semi-porous.
  • Contains solvents that should be allowed to flash off before assembly. Non-flammable versions are available.
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Electrical & Lighting Terms (80)

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

  • CFL BulbCompact fluorescent bulbs offer different style and performance from standard fluorescent bulbs. Their color nearly equals that of Soft White incandescents, and they offer superior energy efficiency and long life.
  • Can be as small as 4.5″ long, and some are the same size as their incandescent counterparts. Not all fixtures designed for incandescents may have enough room inside the shade or glass for the bulb.
  • Cannot be dimmed. Their life will be maximized if they are used in locations where a light stays on for hours at a time.
  • Reflector-shaped compact fluorescents can replace standard R30 and R40 shaped incandescent reflector bulbs.
  • Globe-shaped compact fluorescents can replace standard G25 bath and vanity globes or G30 decorative globes that are used in pendants.
  • Decorator or flame-shaped bulbs can replace similar incandescent bulbs in chandeliers, sconces and outdoor fixtures.
  • Stick-shaped compact fluorescents can replace standard Type “A” bulbs in portable lamps.
  • Twist-shaped compact fluorescents can replace standard Type “A” bulbs in virtually any application.
  • When choosing a compact fluorescent bulb to replace an incandescent bulb, compare the lumen output of the two bulbs. For maximum energy efficiency, select a bulb with the highest lumens and lowest wattage combination. For example, replace a 100-watt incandescent household lamp that produces 1600 lumens with a 25-watt compact fluorescent lamp that also produces 1600 lumens.


  • Refers to a collection of two or more strands of wire or conductors.
  • Basically, cable has a “hot” line to carry the current and a “neutral” line to complete the loop. They often have a third wire as that acts as a grounding wire.
  • Classified according to the number of wires it contains and their size or gauge.
  • All cables are marked with a series of letters followed by a number, a dash and another number. The letters indicate the type of insulation (cord, wire and insulation). The first number indicates the resistance of the wires in the cable, and the number following the dash indicates the number of individual conductors in the cable.
  • If the designator “G” follows the series it means that the cable is also equipped with a non-current-carrying ground wire. Hence, the designator USE 12-3/G indicates an underground cable containing three separately insulated wires capable of carrying 20 amps of current plus a grounding wire.
  • The most common jackets are NM-B (Non-Metallic Building Indoor), UF-B (Underground Feed) and BX, which is flexible metallic cable.
  • Two-conductor cable contains one black wire and one white wire. The black wire is always the “hot” wire and must be fused. The white is always neutral and must never be fused. When current bridges the gap from the 110V hot wire to the neutral, it results in a 110V input to the appliance.
  • Three-conductor cable contains a red wire in addition to black and white. The black and red wires are “hot,” carrying 110V each, and both must be fused. The white remains neutral. This three-wire circuit is increasingly common in home wiring; it accommodates major 220V appliances, such as ranges and air conditioners.
  • BX cable is armored metallic cable. It consists of two or three insulated wires individually wrapped in spiral layers of paper. The steel casing acts as a ground wire. There is also a bond wire included in the casing that acts as a ground if the casing breaks.
  • Romex® cable is a flat, beige thermoplastic jacket surrounding two or three wires. Each wire is wrapped in insulation and a spiral paper tape. Type NM means it can be used indoors. Type NMC means it can be used indoors or outdoors. Type UF means it is suitable for use underground outdoors.

Type S Fuse

  • Also known as Fustats® or Nontamperable
  • Similar in design and use to a plug fuse. However, it prevents anyone from replacing a lower-rated fuse with a higher one.
  • Has two parts: the fuse and the adapter. The adapter has a different diameter for each fuse ampere rating. Once the adapter of a particular size fuse has been inserted into the fuse socket, it cannot be removed. Only fuses with the same rating can be used in that socket.


  • Connects to the power supply through the receptacle.
  • Technically, it is a male receptacle.
  • Available in polarized and non-polarized versions. In the polarized version, one blade is larger than the other to help reduce the potential for shock.
  • Three conductor plugs have three blades, one of which is a grounding pin.
  • Large appliances have plugs with specific configurations.
  • Can use to build extension cords or to replace plugs on appliances or power tools or other devices requiring a plug.

Rechargeable Battery

  • A commonly used type is the nickel-cadmium (NiCd) battery.
  • Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries are another alternative, and they outlast NiCd batteries by up to 40 percent.
  • Rechargeable batteries will lose their charge if not used for an extended period of time (30 to 60 days).

High Intensity Discharge Bulb

  • HID BulbProduces light when current flows through a conducting gas. Uses ballasts to start the bulb and to control its operation. Unlike fluorescent, most of the light comes from the arc itself rather than through the work of the phosphor.
  • Used primarily for area and security lighting. They feature a lifespan of 20,000 to 24,000 hours. They come in a variety of shapes and in medium and mogul bases.
  • One type is the mercury vapor lamp. These are used for exterior area and security lighting, such as dusk-to-dawn residential lighting. Mercury vapor lamps provide twice the light output per watt as incandescent lamps. Along with the higher output, they also have a longer lamp life, in some cases up to 30 times as long. They are also more expensive than incandescent or fluorescent. Mercury vapor bulbs produce a bluish white color. Self-ballasted mercury lamps can be used with a ballast in incandescent fixtures and are available for 120V systems in the lower wattages (up to 250 watts) and for 240V systems in both lower and higher wattages. These lamps deliver slightly more light output per watt as the incandescent lamps but have the long life of mercury lamps.
  • Metal halide lamps feature medium efficiency, with 50 to 110 lumens per watt. They provide good color characteristics (similar to cool white fluorescent lamps) along with higher light output.
  • High–pressure sodium lamps provide even higher light output per watt than metal halide (50 to 150 lumens per watt), with a golden yellow light. Residential applications include security and landscape lighting.
  • Low–pressure sodium bulbs feature the highest efficiency, with 100 to 180 lumens per watt. They produce an orange light.
  • When replacing HID bulbs, you must replace it with exactly the same type of bulb.


Thermostat Cable

  • Used in low-voltage control, alarm and communication systems. Most common types are braided, twisted and plastic-jacketed types. All three use solid copper conductors and are twisted and insulated with plastic.
  • Although thermostat cable is low voltage, it carries an UL-listing for being flame-retardant, since it is installed in the wall. Wiring used in security alarm and smoke detection systems must be UL-listed.
  • Twisted cable, which has no outer braid, is used in doorbells, burglar alarms, intercom telephones and public address systems.
  • Braided cable is covered with cotton braid and is used primarily in thermostat controls and other low-voltage, remote control circuits.
  • Plastic-jacketed cable is also used in similar low-voltage applications.

Cartridge Fuse

  • Cartridges fuses for circuits above 60 amps are also known as knife-blade cartridges. They look like rifle cartridges with metal caps and blades sticking out of each end.
  • Cartridges fuses for circuits 60 amps or less are also known as ferrule contact or round cartridge fuses. They look like rifle cartridges with plain, capped ends.
  • Used in high-current applications, such as in the main service box and in clamp- or bar-type fuse boxes that serve electric ranges, water heaters, clothes dryers and air conditioners.
  • Unlike plug fuses, you cannot tell if the fuse is blown by merely looking at it.
  • Use a special pair of pliers known as fuse pullers to remove these fuses.


  • The opposite of a plug. It has slots or openings on the inside designed to receive male receptacles or plugs.
  • Technically known as a female receptacle.
  • Larger appliances have special configurations (often called NEMA configurations). The configuration of the slots must match the configuration of the prongs on the plug.


  • Some models are battery operated and are wireless. They are easiest to install.
  • If not battery operated, they require AC step-down transformers to reduce household voltage to the proper operating voltage.
  • Standard doorbells operate at 10V or 16V.
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Electrical FAQ's (92)

Should I use the screw terminal or the holds in the back of the electrical outlet to attach the wires?

Technically, you can use either one. But wires “backstabbed” into these holes (as it is called) are more likely to fall out, which could start a fire. Most electricians recommend attaching the wires to the screw terminals, with the wire wrapped around the screw clockwise, to ensure a solid wired connection when the screw is tightened.

Why are electric heaters limited to 1500 watts?

Because anything over that would exceed the safe amp rating of most wiring and would present a fire hazard.

How do I know the size ballast I need for a fluorescent fixture?

You need to know how many bulbs there are and how long they are. However, make sure you check the starter before you change the ballast. In fact, you may want to replace the whole fixture.

Do you have a light switch that I can use to replace one in my house?

Yes, but is it a single pole or is it a three-way switch. A three-way switch is one that is used when a light is controlled by more than one switch.

Do you have something I can use to insulate and repair cords and wire with?

You can use heat-shrink tubing. It’s designed to fit something half its size in diameter.

How does a voltage tester work?

A non-contact voltage tester measures the difference in electrostatic charge between the person holding the tester and the tip. If you hold it near an energized cable it will sound or flash (or both). These devices, however, do have limitations, including detecting ghost voltage (or phantom voltage), which has bled over from a nearby energized cable or device. Contact testers (or continuity testers, as they are called) have probes that are inserted into the slots in a receptacle. They can also test for correct grounding to make sure the receptacle is wired correctly. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before using these products.

I have some slots left on my circuit breaker box that do not have breakers in them. Can I add more circuits?

You need to see how many amps your box is rated for and then look at the existing circuits to see how many total amps are already being used. If you have not reached the maximum, it’s possible to add more, but its best to have a professional do the work inside the box unless you have the specific knowledge.

How do I check the starter in the fluorescent fixture?

Older, delayed-start fluorescent lights flicker when they first light up. If this last more than a couple of seconds, make sure the starter is seated by pushing it in and turning clockwise. If the ends of the tube light up and the middle does not, the starter is bad. Remove it by turning counterclockwise.

What type of switches will I need to turn a light on from two different locations?

You will need a three-way switch at each location. A three-way switch will have three terminal screws on it–two brass colored screws and one that is black (or dark in color).

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Encyclopedia-Terms (0)

Swinging Door

  • Café DoorAlso known as a café door.
  • Hinged to attach to each side of the doorway and swing freely without a latch.
  • Features two or three panels and is available in wood, PVC vinyl or insulated steel or fiberglass.
  • Tends to be more secure and energy efficient than a sliding door and can be easily installed by the homeowner.

Latex Patching Cement

  • Used to patch cracks in concrete.
  • Can also be applied in layers as thin as 1/16” to make it useful for smoothing rough surfaces.
  • Comes as a powdered cement and latex liquid, which is mixed.

Slate Tile

  • Made of shale with a natural cleft finish.
  • Must be sealed after installation.

Treated Lumber

  • Lumber treated to resist weather, termites and fungus.
  • Treatment involves chemical preservatives forced deep into the cells in the wood under pressure.
  • Wood used for decks and other outdoor consumer use is generally treated with an inorganic chemical. In 2004, the EPA outlawed the use of arsenic as a method of treating wood. ACQ and copper azole are the current popular chemicals used.
  • Treated wood still absorbs water, and the treatment is not considered waterproof, but rather decay-proof.
  • Wood species typically used include Ponderosa pine, Lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, Hem-fir and Southern yellow pine.
  • Always wear respiratory protection when cutting treated lumber.

Pipe Insulation

  • For insulating water pipes from freezing in the winter. It also helps control heat loss when pipes carry hot water and controls condensation and dripping.
  • Available in preformed insulating tubes that fit over the pipe.
  • Another type comes in batt form, which can be wrapped around the pipe.

Drop Ear Elbow

  • Provides a rigid installation for mounting an elbow to a wall.
  • Usually used for installing a shower arm or washer hose valve.
  • Some variations include fittings that can transition from plastic to brass or copper.
  • Also known as a wing elbow.

Wood Shingle

  • Typically made of cedar, although composite wood shingles are available.
  • Flat shape and a smooth texture.
  • Usually 1/2” thick.
  • Wood shakes are similar, but have a rougher texture. They are usually 1/2” or 3/4” thick.
  • More difficult to install than asphalt shingles.
  • Features may include a fire-retardant coating, which only reduces, not eliminates, its flammability.

End Cap

  • Used to stop a run of gutter.

Patching Plaster

  • Is a fast-setting powder ready to use by adding water.
  • It dries hard to uniform, white color.
  • It repairs and covers large holes and deep cracks in plaster walls and ceilings.
  • Patching plaster may be drilled, sanded and painted and can be textured to match existing surface.

Plastic Resin Glue

  • Is powdered urea formaldehyde glue.
  • When mixed with water, it makes highly water-resistant bonds.
  • Frequently used for furniture repair, it is applied to clean, close-fitting surfaces and cured under pressure for at least 10 hours at 70° F.
  • The finished glue is non-toxic and impervious to most materials.
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FAQs (0)

I don’t have a router and router table. Can I fasten the mirror directly to the back of the frame without recessing it into a rabbit?

Yes, you can use mirror clips fasted to the back of the frame. Just be sure to select the right size clips for the thickness of your mirror.

How do I measure for my replacement window?

Remember that windows that are custom built can’t be returned, so measure carefully. To measure the width, raise the lower sash and measure the jamb-to-jamb width in three places: near the top of the window, at the middle and close to the bottom. To measure the height, measure from the head jamb to the sloped sill to just past where it meets the inside window stool. Don’t assume all windows are the same size. Draw a sketch of your house and measure each window separately.

Should I use fiberglass or aluminum screening?

Aluminum screening is more durable. It’s also fireproof. However, fiberglass doesn’t dent. Fiberglass is also easier to work with, but it may need to be restretched after it has been installed.

Are long pieces of lumber that are made by gluing boards together as strong as solid pieces of timer?

Lumber that is glued or laminated together is tested by the manufacturer to ensure it will withstand a certain load. If you know what your load requirements are and buy a piece rated to withstand that load, then you can be sure the laminated lumber you buy is as strong as a single piece of timber. In fact, a laminated piece, especially in longer lengths, may be easier to find. Also, thick timbers are more difficult to dry properly, while laminated pieces are made from all kiln-dried material.

What is CDX plywood?

CDX is one of the less expensive plywood you can buy. C and D refer to the grading of the front and back sides. They are rough and not meant for places where appearance matters. The X means it is rated for exterior use. However, it is only meant for limited exterior use. For permanent exterior use, use a panel with an exterior rating.

If the wallboard in my basement was damaged during a flood, can I simply dry it out and keep it?

No. It needs to be replaced. Wallboard damaged by floodwater is a health hazard because there may be mud and contaminants dried up inside the board.

What’s the advantage of ceramic tile over vinyl in my kitchen?

Ceramic tile is easy to maintain and more durable than vinyl. It will also last longer, which means it is more cost effective over the long run. Also, it is more likely to increase the value of your home.

Can I install linoleum over a concrete slab or in the basement?

Linoleum must be protected from moisture in the subfloor. It is generally not recommended for concrete slabs or basement applications.

Can I install my ceiling tile the same day I purchase it?

Most manufacturers recommend you take the tile out of the package and let sit in the room where they will be installed for at least 24 hours so they can acclimate to the room’s temperature and humidity.

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Hand & Power Tools FAQ's (185)

I need to drill a 1-inch hole in a piece of wood. What bit do I need?

For drilling medium sized holes in wood, a spade bit is a good choice. Common sizes range from ¼ inch to 1½-inch. They can also be used on chipboards and floorboards.

What is a good tool to begin building my collection of tools for a woodshop?

A table saw or a bandsaw might be the most useful tool you can have in your woodshop and should be your first major purchase. We recommend a drill press as the second major purchase.

I need a tool to trim my evergreens.

Anvil pruning shears work well on light foliage. For heavier cutting, a lopping shear with more leverage will be needed. For other trees, a bypass shear provides a cleaner cut that those trees prefer.

How do I take care of my pruning tools?

Simply keep them clean and wipe them down with light oil. Oil their pivot points and blades and keep them sharp.

I need to buy chisel for a woodworking job. What size do you recommend?

You can handle most of your needs with a ¼ inch model and one larger one—either a ¾ inch or inch.

I want to hide the nail head in some molding that I am installing.

Use a nail set to sink the nail head into the molding. Then you can fill the hole with a spackling compound, sand it smooth and paint it.

I need a tool box that will hold a basic set of tools… nothing too fancy. What type should I buy?

Tool boxes come in a variety of sizes and configurations. However, it sounds like you just need a basic plastic tool box to store a few tools and some fasteners. I would recommend a 19” model with one lift-out tray.

I need to drill a 1-inch hole in a piece of wood. What bit do I need?

For drilling medium sized holes in wood, a spade bit is a good choice. Common sizes range from ¼ inch to 1 ½ inch. They can also be used on chipboards and floorboards.

What are other features that I should look for on a circular saw?

How easy it is to see where the blade is cutting, is it easy to change the blade, will it cut bevels, can you use a vacuum attachment and can you attach a rib fence guide.

Is there an easy way to move my refrigerator so I can clean behind it?

Yes, an appliance roller can be slipped under it. You can even leave it there.

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Hand Tools Terms (241)

Shrub Rake

  • Used to rake around small plants and shrubs.
  • The flexible tines may have a straight or rounded edge.

Cutting Pliers

• Can be side, end or diagonal types.

• Side cutters have a cutting blade on one side only and are available in long-, curved- and short-nose types.

• End cutting nippers have cutting blades on the end and are used to make sharp, clean cuts close to the surface on wires, bolts and rivets.

• Diagonal cutters have two cutting blades set diagonally to the handle. They offer leverage when pulling cotter pins and are used by mechanics and electricians for general cutting.

• Some cutting pliers are made with a spring in the handle to open automatically after each cut.


Hex Nut Driver

  • Similar to a screwdriver, but has a tip like a wrench socket.
  • Used mainly on small hex nuts and in confined areas such as electronic equipment, car ignitions and plumbing jobs.
  • Available in several sizes and styles, with a fixed-size or variable-size “socket” at the end to adjust to various nut sizes.


Socket (Hinge Handle) Wrench

  • Combines an offset handle with a male drive piece that has a spring-loaded bearing to lock on various size sockets. They can be used at almost any angle since handles may be attached to the head by a jointed hinge device.
  • The most common type is the detachable socket wrench, with square drive for hand use. Common square drive sizes are 1/4″, 3/8″ and 1/2″, and these are normally used in conjunction with a ratchet wrench.
  • Sockets are available with 6-, 8- and 12-point gripping ends, in a full range of inch and metric sizes.


Bricklayer’s Hammer

  • Used for setting or splitting bricks, and chipping mortar from bricks.
  • Features a curved, chisel-like pick and a small, square striking surface.


Propane Torch

  • Used to heat joints in copper pipe so solder can melt.
  • Also use to heat corroded fittings to loosen them.
  • Attaches to a cylinder containing the gas.

Surface Forming Plane

  • Also called a pocket plane, the blade files away material like a cheese grater.
  • Blade design makes them much safer than most cutting tools and easier to use than a conventional plane.
  • Used for quick, single-handed trimming and cutting, particularly on drywall and PVC.
  • Leaves a rough surface on wood.
  • Available in regular, round and half-round patterns.

Measuring Wheel

  • Consists of a wheel, handle and odometer designed for lengthy exterior measurements—up to 10,000 feet.
  • Features include collapsible or telescoping handles, gear-driven counters, a variety of wheel sizes, different types of tread materials and optional carrying cases.
  • A push button reset returns the counter to zero.
  • Wheel diameters range from 4” to 25”, with professionals generally opting for the large-wheeled units that are suitable for rough terrain.

Laser Plumb Line

  • A self-leveling device that projects a vertical laser line onto any surface
  • The laser line is always visible because it is not covered up with a pencil mark and it is not affected by wind like a plumb bob.

Plywood Saw

  • Is specially designed for sawing plywood, veneers, laminates and moldings.
  • The blade, which cuts on the push stroke, is curved downward at the end to allow user to start cuts in the center of a board.
  • Not designed for cutting solid wood.
  • Standard saw lengths are 12″-13″, generally with 14 teeth per inch.
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Hardware & Fasteners Terms (109)

Continuous Hinge

  • Also called piano hinges.
  • Comes in sizes up to 72” long.
  • Fits along the entire length of the door.
  • Provides protection against warping.
  • Frequently used on chest lids and cabinets.

Elbow Catch

  • Helps the cabinet door stay shut.
  • Mounts on the door with the strike installed on the frame or on a shelf.
  • Can only be released from the inside of the cabinet and thus is used on one side of a pair of doors.

Shelf Standard

  • Pre-slotted metal strips attached to the wall, preferably into wall studs.
  • Can be attached with toggle bolts or similar fasteners approximately 16” apart.
  • If the standards are further than 16” apart, the shelves may not support heavy loads.
  • A newer variation includes a mounting rail that is fastened across the studs. The standard then clips directly into the rail or may require an adapter. Usually requires a fastener at the bottom for stability.

Weldless Flat Chain

  • Commonly called sash chain.
  • Made by stamping or shaping a flat strip from metal. Strips are then formed into links and attached to each other.
  • Especially suited for use over pulleys or where chain must lie flat.
  • Weldless chain is generally recommended for light work only.

Power Driver Fastener

  • Designed specifically for use with power equipment.
  • Several types are available. One type is a pneumatic fastener where nails, screws or staples are collated in strips or coils that are loaded into a pneumatic gun that drives them into the material.
  • Another type is the powder-actuated fastener, where the fastener is driven into the material, usually metal or concrete, by a small explosion, similar to the way a firearm works.


Plastic Screw Anchor

  • Use with wood or sheet metal screws.
  • Insert into a pre-drilled hole. User drives the screw through the anchor into the wall.
  • Sizes range from 3/4” to 1-3/8” long.
  • Another type of plastic anchor functions like a toggle fastener with sizes from 3/4” to 3-1/2”.
  • Another type pops open and locks into place before the screw is inserted.

Finish Nail

  • Used around windows, finishing areas, trim and paneling where nails cannot show.
  • Small head size allows the nail to be driven beneath the wood surface so the hole can be filled and finished.
  • Similar to a casing nail, but the casing nail is heavier.

Door Closer

  • Closes the door at a controlled speed. Usually used on storm and screen doors.
  • Operates with a spring and piston. When the door is pulled open, the spring inside the cylinder is depressed, thus exerting pressure to pull the door closed automatically. The piston controls the speed. An adjusting screw allows the user to change the speed of the closing.
  • A closer made for the disabled has an automatic hold-open feature that engages when the door is opened about 90º. A wheelchair occupant can tap the door again in the opening direction to close it automatically.
  • Interior door closers have a canister-like apparatus mounted on the door and a knuckle-joint arm to push the door closed. A spring-loaded closer is another type that can be installed on existing door hinges.
  • Use closer reinforcements to attach to the frame to provide a stronger anchor.

Bullet Catch

  • Helps the cabinet door stay shut.
  • Used primarily on furniture and smaller cabinet doors where it is desirable to hide the catch as much as possible.

Shelf Bracket

  • Fits into the slots on shelf standards and supports shelves. Some types mount directly onto the wall.
  • A flexible storage system can be built with standards and brackets that are easily removed and repositioned by pushing up and lifting out.
  • Can be mounted in cabinets, closets or bookcases.
  • One type is used with invisible shelving systems, which offers ways to put shelving into living areas. These systems mount brackets directly on the walls to support wood or glass shelving. They are not suggested for heavy support jobs.
  • Another form of standard is the Z bracket. It is frequently used for utility shelving in basements or garages. It offers more support than other types and is less expensive.
  • Floor-to-ceiling standards can be used to create room dividers.
  • These pieces are usually double-slotted and come in lengths ranging from 7’6” to 12’.
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Hardware FAQ's (78)

I’m installing some wire closet shelving as storage. Do I need to secure the brackets into wall studs?

Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but it probably depends on the total weight that you’ll be placing on the shelves. See our video Wall Hanging Basics for more information.

How do I install a toggle bolt?

Drill proper size hole and insert bolt. Don’t forget that you have to insert bolt through the item you are fastening to the wall. Collapse the toggle and push bolt through the hole until the toggle springs open. Now, tighten the bolt to complete the anchoring.

I’m going to nail a small piece of wood to something. What should I use?

You can use small nails—called brads—but to help prevent the wood from splitting, you should pre-drill the holes.

I need to replace this bolt on my car engine, what bolt do I use?

Automotive bolts are usually a fine thread.

What does open time mean?

Open time is the time it takes the glue or adhesive to start to set after it has been applied to the surface of the material.

Is a toggle bolt a good choice for anchoring something to my wall?

No. Toggle bolts are designed for hanging things from a ceiling, where weight is distributed across the toggle. For a wall, it’s best to use one of the newer kinds of plastic anchors. One has a self-drilling head that can be driven either with a screwdriver or a power tool.

Should I use a sheet metal screw or a wood screw?

The main difference is that a sheet metal screw has threads along its entire length. A wood screw has threads along about two-thirds of its length and costs a little less.

What type of rope should I buy?

Working strength is the most important factor.

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Heating & Cooling FAQ's (61)

Can I burn coal in my wood stove?

Stoves designed for wood should be used for wood only. Coal burning requires a special grate designed for that purpose. Some kinds of coal produce heat much more intense than wood and can damage a standard grate and even the inside of the firebox.

What is the benefit of a humidifier?

A humidifier can make a house more comfortable during the winter months. Cold air holds little moisture. When it enters the house and is warmed, the air in the house becomes dry. Humidifiers restore moisture to the air and can make the house feel warmer, allowing you to use less heat and thus save energy.

How should I clean my washable filter?

Spray gently with warm water in the opposite direction of the airflow. Do not use the full stream of a garden hose. Too much pressure can push holes in the filter and void the warranty. Some manufacturers suggest using a household detergent; refer to the package to verify. Do not use ammonia-based products. Make sure the filter is completely dry before reinstalling.

Why do I need vents in my attic?

Venting protects against moisture buildup in the attic and framing materials and helps keep the home cooler. In the summer, a tremendous amount of heat can build up in the attic, which can make the air conditioning system work much harder than it needs to. Venting keeps the attic cooler because it allows that hot air a place to escape. In the winter, vapor occurs when the warm air inside the house meets the cool air outside and condenses into water droplets. Ventilation keeps this moisture from rotting insulation and framing materials.

How can I improve the heat efficiency of my wood stove?

There are a variety of accessories available, such as heat extractors, heat exchangers and glass enclosures.

How large of a humidifier should I buy?

There are three main sizes of humidifiers. The portable type, or tabletop style, is intended to service a single room. The console humidifiers can output from six to 13 gallons of water per day, enough for several rooms. An in-duct humidifier can be installed in a forced-air heating system.

How do I clean my air cleaner?

Remove the intake grill and wash with warm, soapy water. Do not place in a dishwasher. Make sure it is dry before returning it to the unit. Dust the outlet grille; do not clean it with water.

Why do I need both soffit vents and a ridge vent?

A properly balanced vent system consists of two types of vents. Intake vents are placed along the soffit to allow fresh air into the attic. Exhaust vents are installed in the upper third of the roof to allow attic air to escape. With a properly vented system, the air in the attic should completely change every six minutes.

How big of a stove do I need?

Bigger is not always better. Check the tag for the BTU rating. Do you need a stove for the whole house or just one room?

Why should I use distilled water with my humidifier?

Certain types of humidifiers such as the ultrasonic humidifier should be used with distilled water. If not, the humidifier could leave a sticky, white dust around the house. It could also contribute to elevated levels of bacteria residue and mold particles in the air.

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Heating & Cooling Terms (56)

Outdoor Fireplace

  • Portable, wood or wood-pellet burning heat source that can be used at home, on the patio or on the camping trip.
  • Some can also be used as a grill.
  • Some styles are enclosed and vent through the sides while others may include a chimney.
  • Another variation is the firepit, which is bowl-shaped.

Ceramic Heater

  • A convection-type heater.
  • Uses a ceramic disk heating element.
  • Ideal for spot heating.
  • Lightweight and easy to carry.
  • Safe alternative to other heating sources as they operate at temperatures below the combustion point of paper.
  • Includes a washable filter to reduce air pollutants.

Window-Mounted Air Conditioner

  • Cools, circulates, filters and dehumidifies the air.
  • Ranges in size from small units with a cooling capacity of 5,000 BTUs (enough to cool a small room) to capacities as high as 12,500 BTUs.
  • It is important that you choose the right size of air conditioner. An oversize unit will cool but leave a damp and clammy feeling because of high relative humidity. An undersized unit will not operate effectively on very hot days.
  • Select by BTU rating, not horsepower. BTU is the actual cooling capacity of the unit.
  • Determine the efficiency of the unit by dividing the watt rating into the BTU output. The unit must have an energy efficiency rating (EER) of at least 9.7 for models under 8,000 BTU/hr and 9.8 for larger models. The most efficient models have an EER of 11 and higher. Each model should have its EER clearly marked.
  • Most models should include window-mounting kits. Kits include sill brackets for extra support of the unit and side vents to ensure an airtight fit in the window.
  • Make sure the unit is designed for the type of window you have. Most are designed for double-hung windows, but some are made or casement windows or for in-wall installation.

Permanent Washable Filter

  • Consists of a flat panel of various woven synthetics.
  • Considered permanent because homeowners can rinse it free of particles and reuse it.
  • Should be rinsed every 30 days. Filter usually lasts 5-6 years.
  • Some brands have an anti-microbial agent that inhibits growth of mold, mildew, bacteria and fungi in the filter.
  • An electrostatic charge develops as air passes through the filter. The charge, however, varies with humidity and the furnace or A/C blowing cycles. This means some particles may fall off the filter, pass through it and re-enter the air stream.


  • Used to connect the stove with the chimney. Never use in place of a chimney.
  • Should be 24-gauge metal or thicker (the smaller the number, the thicker the metal).
  • Should be as short as possible and turns kept to a minimum.
  • Inspect stovepipe regularly and replace every two or three years.

Fan-Forced Heater

  • A convection-type heater.
  • Uses fuel and electricity to circulate hot air around the area to be heated.
  • Fans blow a gust of warm air that is able to heat an area that would normally be too open or drafty to heat with another type of heater.
  • Available in models that operate on fuel oil, kerosene or propane gas.
  • Can supply from 35,000 to 60,000 BTUs.
  • Use in work areas such as garages and barns and open areas such as construction sites.
  • Usually equipped with air and fuel filters to block contaminants.

Portable Air Conditioner

  • Used to cool a small space, usually 400 to 450 square feet.
  • Mounted on wheels for easy movement from room to room.
  • Contains both the hot and cold side of the air conditioner in one unit. Is not permanently installed, but must be connected to some place like a window where the hot air can be vented. Most models contain window-venting kits that are easy to install and easily moved from one window to another.
  • May be either single or dual vent. Dual vent models circulate clean air back into the room and generally cool more quickly than single vent models.
  • Drip models have a tray that will need to be emptied every 24-48 hours. No-drip models may cost more but do not produce any excess moisture.

Dial Thermostat

  • Controls the temperature in a room turning on or off the furnace or air-conditioner.
  • Temperature is set manually by a dial.
  • One type is low-voltage. It uses power from a transformer that converts 120-volt power into 24 volts.
  • Line-voltage thermostats are another type, and use the same power source as the units they control.

Stove Paint

  • Uses to touch up or completely refinish a stove.
  • Specifically designed for wood- or coal-burning stoves and can withstand temperatures up to 1,200°F.
  • Common colors include green, brown, blue, maroon and black, in gegular and metallic finishes.
  • To maximize radiant heat from the stove, use a flat black paint. It will radiate 90-98 percent of radiant heat. Shiny metallic finishes are less efficient.

Oil-Filled Heater

  • A convection-type heater that contains a factory sealed oil reservoir that never needs changing or replenishing.
  • A tubular heating element heats oil, which in turn heats the exterior of the heater.
  • Slow heating, but ale to provide uniform temperatures through out the space being heated.
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Home Security FAQ's (38)

Do I need a deadbolt?

These locks provide more security as the deadbolt latch is larger and protrudes farther into the door frame. It can also be keyed on both sides for additional security.

Is there a product that makes installing a strikeplate easier?

Yes, there is an adjustable strikeplate.

Where should I install carbon monoxide detectors in the home?

The safest recommendation is to put one in every room, but most people are not willing to do this. The simplest rule is to mount one between the bedrooms and the rest of the house, but closer to the bedrooms. If there is more than one sleeping area, each should have its own alarm. In multi-level homes, install one on each level, and if possible have them interconnected so any one unit will sound the alarm throughout the house. The basement ceiling, near the steps, is a good location for extra protection.

Do you have multiple door locks that require only one key?

Some locks come in pairs that use the same key.

Do you have a hinge that will fit my door?

The best option is to bring the old hinge in. But as a standard, an exterior door uses a hinge that is 4 inches long with four holes on each side. An interior door usually has a hinge that is 3-1/2 inches long and has three holes on each side.

Can locks be rekeyed so that more than one uses the same key?

Locksmiths can also re-key existing or new locks to the same key. However, they have to be the same brand and use the same key blank.

Will this casement window operator work on my window?

There are both left-opening and right-opening ones, and you need to make sure you get the correct one.

There is a wide range of prices of padlocks. What is the advantage of the more expensive ones?

They are heavier, more durable, and will provide greater security.

My smoke detector beeped last night, but there was no smoke. What is wrong with it?

This is a warning signal that the batteries are low. If your alarm is more than 10 years old, you should consider replacing it, just to make sure that you have one that is in good working order.

What type of padlock holds up best in the weather?

While brass padlocks will hold up better in the weather than standard ones, most people are happier with the plastic weatherproof casing. Obviously, the brass ones provide a decorative option.

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Home Security Terms (35)


  • Consists of a metal hinge and an anchoring bolt so locks can be secured to gates, sheds and garages.
  • Conceals the mounting screws when the lock is in place.
  • Insert a padlock through the ring and lock to secure the hasp.
  • Another type is the hasplock, which has a padlock attached to it, which makes it impossible to lose the padlock when the hasp is open.

Thermal Fire Detector

  • Used primarily by large commercial firms.
  • The alarm sounds when the temperature rises to a certain level.
  • Most are also triggered by a quick rise in temperature even if an extreme temperature is not reached.
  • Not as safe as other types of fire detectors as fire usually must be intense before the thermal unit will sound.

Barrel Bolt

  • A sliding lock mechanism used to provide security for average weight doors and windows.
  • Is surface mounted where the bolt slides into a catch on the other side of the door.
  • Available in decorative finishes and with surface or universal strikes.
  • Some have spring action to hold the bolt in place, and some are lockable.

Carbon Monoxide Detector

  • Detects carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, deadly gas that poses a potentially deadly health risk to people.
  • Measures the amount of carbon monoxide over time and sounds an alarm before people would experience symptoms.
  • Operates on batteries or can be plugged in.
  • Some models provide a running digital readout of CO levels.
  • Hard-wired or plug-in models typically use some type of solid-state sensor, which purges itself and resamples the air periodically. That cycle increases the power demand.
  • Battery-powered detectors typically use a passive sensor. They will operate even in case of a power failure.
  • Available in combination units that have CO and smoke detectors in the same unit.


  • The metal plate the latch slides into on the doorjamb or frame.
  • All new locksets come with strikes, but some homeowners may want to replace them with high-security strikes or replace damaged ones.
  • Adjustable strikes are available that provide 1/4” adjustment to allow for door and frame warpage.

Alpha-Track Radon Detector

  • Detects radon, a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas formed wherever there is uranium, an element present throughout the crust of the earth. It poses little risk if it makes its way to open air, but if it seeps into a house, it can collect in hazardous concentrations.
  • This detector consists of a small sheet of plastic. Alpha particles that strike the plastic cause microscopic pockmarks.
  • After an exposure period, users mail the detector to a lab. The lab’s count of the pockmarks gives a direct measure of the mean radon concentration.
  • Another type uses activated-charcoal granules, which trap radon gas. After an exposure time, the container is resealed and shipped back to a lab for analysis.

Latch Guard

  • Used on in-opening doors.
  • Reinforces the door and prevents spreading of the frame.
  • The standard 7” latch guard fits all backsets, deadbolts and key-in-knob locks.
  • The 12” latch guard also fits all double locks, mortise locks and access control locks.
  • Latch guards for out-opening doors protect the latch or bolt. Several sizes and types are available, ranging from 6” to 12”.

Continuous Monitor Radon Detector

  • Plugs into a standard outlet.
  • Samples air continuously for radon and provides updated reading on the display.
  • Alarm sounds when the long-term average of radon level passes an acceptable level.
  • Alarm will be repeated until the radon level drops back to the accepted level.

Combination Lock

  • User must dial a combination to open the lock.
  • Hardened solid steel alloys make better locks and shackles.

Carbon Dioxide Extinguisher

  • Extinguishes Class B and C fires.
  • Class B fires involve flammable liquids, gases and greases.
  • Class C fires involve electrical equipment or wiring where the electric non-conductivity of the extinguishing agent is important.
  • Has a limited range and is affected by draft and wind.
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Lawn & Garden FAQ's (154)

How often should I turn my compost pile?

Once a week. This will continue to mix everything together and help aerate the pile. If the microbes deep within the pile don’t get enough oxygen, they’ll create hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs. That’s a telltale sign that it’s time to turn the pile.

How long does it take before my plants are ready to be transplanted outdoors?

It depends on when you started your seeds. It’s usually takes about 6 to 8 weeks before plants are hearty enough to be transplanted outside. Just make sure it’s late enough in the spring that there isn’t any chance of frost.

Is one thick coat of blacktop sealer just as good if not better than two thin coats?

No. In fact, two thin coats are always better. Thick coats lead to problems such as tracking, cracking and discoloration.

Do you have a grass and weed killer that can be safely used around a flowerbed?

There are many brands, but they will all harm flowers. You can try to shield the plants from overspray, but the best way is to simply pull the weeds.

When do I apply insect controls?

These can be applied anytime there is a problem. However, a preventative application for surface insects should be made in late spring. The best time to attack insects below the surface are in late July and early August. This application should include watering the lawn before and after the application to ensure the insecticide gets down to the root zones where the grubs are active.

How do I plant a tree?

For best results, choose at least a five-foot-tall tree. Select a site with enough room for roots and branches to reach full size, and don’t forget to avoid overhead and underground utilities. Prepare the area by loosening the soil three to five times the diameter of the root ball. Dig a hole in the middle and set the root ball even with the ground level. Then, water the soil. If the tree will not stand up in the wind, stake it down. Spread a 2” or 3” layer of mulch on prepared area, but do not put any mulch within 6” of the tree trunk.

Click here for our detailed video on how to plant a tree.

how do i plant a tree

What’s a better choice in edgers: electric or gas?

Since all gas-powered equipment is noisy, some people prefer the electric models. The cordless models have run times of about one hour, which is generally sufficient for homeowners.

I have a large area to water, but I don’t want to be bothered with moving the sprinkler

. Use a traveling sprinkler, it moves under its own power along a track of hose and has an automatic shutoff feature.

Do I need to turn the water off to my outdoor spigots during the winter?

It’s a good idea to keep them from freezing, especially if you don’t have a frost-free sillcock supplying water to your outdoor spigots.

What time of year should I plant grass seed?

As long as the soil temperature is 50 degrees for higher, you can plant seed. However, the best two times are in the spring, when the soil is moist, and in the early fall, when temperatures are still warm enough for the seed to germinate, and there is still enough time for the grass to get established before the first frost. Fall has an advantage because the new grass seedlings won’t be competing with common lawn weeds which are starting to go dormant at this time.

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Lawn and Garden Terms (144)

Diamond Weave Fencing

  • Extra-strong fencing with close mesh spacing.
  • Used often in public areas because it is more expensive than ordinary fencing but lasts longer.
  • Similar in appearance to chain link fence.
  • Can be vinyl-coated or galvanized.
  • Typically available in 50’ rolls 36” or 48” high.

Long Handle Square Shovel

  • Square blade is made of steel and is forged or hot-formed to the front strap as a single unit.
  • Best used for scooping and removing materials.
  • Broader blade has a higher holding capacity.
  • The top of the blade may have a turned lip called the foot pedal.

Landscape Rake

  • Has a wide head braced with brackets attached to the handle.
  • Used for spreading dirt, gravel and sand.

Rubber Hose

  • Reinforced with tire cord fiber.
  • Resists weathering, cracking and kinks.
  • Heaviest and most durable of hoses.
  • Use with full-flow couplings.
  • Can be used with hot water.

Rotary Sprinkler

  • Delivers water from the tips of two or three spray arms that spin like a pinwheel.
  • Spray arms may have fixed or adjustable tips.
  • For watering small- to medium-sized areas.

Draw-Cut Trimmer

  • Good for a variety of cutting applications.
  • Has one stationary lower blade and one moving upper blade.
  • Operates by an up and down squeeze of the handle.
  • Blades are typically tempered steel.


Plant Pot

  • Also called planters.
  • Comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, such as rectangular and round.
  • Contains plants for hanging or displaying inside or outside the house.
  • Clay pots are porous, allowing air and moisture to pass through.
  • Plastic pots are lighter and more colorful, but depend on drainage holes to relieve excess moisture.
  • Factors to consider when selecting a pot are size, drainage and construction.
  • Pots often include a saucer to catch water from the drain holes.

All-Purpose Potting Soil

  • Designed for gardeners who want to add ingredients to customize their mix with plant food.

St. Augustine Grass

  • Recommended for Florida and Gulf Coast areas.
  • A coarse, tough grass that requires a power mower but little other maintenance.

Vinyl Fencing

  • Easy to install.
  • Sturdy enough to withstand the elements and requires little maintenance.
  • Fence posts can be made to slip over existing 4”x 4” posts. Boards and rails allow standard size limber to be inserted into them for added strength.
  • Available in a variety of post and rail, picket and privacy design styles.
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Paint & Decorating FAQ's (80)

What type of masking tape should I use before painting?

Use tape that is designated as painters tape. This tape is usually blue or green in color. It is designed to provide excellent masking capabilities, yet it won’t mar the surface when peeled off, even after several weeks.

What do I use if I want to stain something that has already been stained before?

Because of their excellent adhesion properties, latex stains are often recommended for surfaces that were previously stained or painted with oil-based products.

Where should I use a flat paint?

These are also called matte finishes and they are good for walls and ceilings in lower-traffic areas.

What are the quality features in a good roller?

Good roller frames have a compression-type cage, which is also convenient, because their covers can be removed quickly and easily. Also, look for a handle that has a threaded end so you can use an extension pole for painting floors and ceilings.

How often do I need to stain my deck?

It’s a good idea to reapply stain once a year on wooden decks, especially if the deck is located in full sun most of the time. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are one of the most harmful environmental factors for wooden decks. UV rays destroy the lignin in wood that holds cellulose fibers together. This causes the fibers to eventually wear away. Better quality deck stains have UV inhibitors that either reflect or absorb the sun’s damaging rays.

Water is the other environmental factor that destroys wooden decks over time. When not protected properly, wooden deck boards absorb water and expand and shrink across the width of the deck boards, especially at the ends of the boards. Quality deck stains contain penetrating finishes to slow the water absorption process.

How do I caulk baseboard and trim around window and doors before painting?

First, cut a small hole 1/8th of an inch from the tip of the spout at an angle. Don’t cut off too much of the tip. Then, most caulk guns come with a swiveling pin used to puncture the tube. Engage the ratcheting plunger and squeeze the handle. When finished, disengage the ratcheting plunger, and have a rag handy, as caulk will probably continue to ooze out of the tip.

My house has plaster walls. Is there something specifically designed to patch cracks in plaster walls as opposed to drywall?

Yes. Patching plaster is designed specifically for patching plaster walls. Like spackling, it may be sanded and painted and can be textured to match the existing surface.

What is an eggshell finish?

It’s a paint that has a little more sheen than a flat paint, which makes it easier to clean and gives it a more lustrous appearance. It can be used in place of semi-gloss to provide a less shiny finish. Some manufacturers market a satin or silk finish, which is usually a little shinier than an eggshell but less shiny than a semi-gloss.

Do I need to apply anything to the wall before papering?

You should apply wall sizing to all old or new walls. It prepares the surface and acts as a first coat. It makes a smooth surface and prevents paste from soaking into the wall.

What’s the difference between transparent, semi-transparent and solid stains?

The difference lies in the amount of pigment in each. Transparent stains, although they appear clear, have some pigment in them for UV protection. Semi-transparent stains have more pigment, but still allow some of the wood grain to show through. Solid stains are basically like paint. They hide most of the wood’s character, but they offer the best protection from moisture and UV rays. The general rule is that the more pigment in the stain, the better protection it will provide.

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Paint & Decorating Terms (82)

Enamel Paint

  • Is a type of oil-based or water-based paint with superior adhesion qualities.
  • Used in both exterior and interior applications.
  • Provides a resilient durable finish that can last for years.


Roller Cover

  • Available in natural or synthetic fibers.
  • The density of the fiber determines the roller’s ability to hold paint and spread it evenly. Inexpensive rollers that become matted or fail to spread the paint will produce a mottled finish, regardless of the quality of paint used. They may also leave lint on the painted surface.
  • Mohair covers are especially good for applying enamel, while lambs wool covers are excellent for alkyd paints, but not latex.
  • Synthetic fibers make good all-purpose covers. In fact, about 95 percent of all roller covers are synthetic.
  • Smooth roller covers (with a 3/16″ or 1/4″ nap) are used for painting walls, floors and fine finishing.
  • Medium rollers covers (with a 3/8″ or 1/2″ nap) are used for for sand-textured walls.
  • Rough rollers covers (with a 3/4″ or 1″ nap) are used for light stucco walls and masonry floors.
  • Extra rough covers (with a 1-1/4″ nap) are used to paint brick, block, masonry and stucco.
  • Texture roller covers are designed specifically for the applying texture paints. Some are foam with patterns etched into the surface. Others have deep, looped material. Texture roller covers have large diameters to accommodate the heavier consistency of texture paints.

Putty Knife

  • Putty knives range in size from 1″ to 3″. Generally, the greatest demand is for 1-1/4″ and 1-1/2″. Models with wider blades are joint taping knives.
  • Blades range from stiff to flexible for different tasks.
  • The finest quality putty knife blades are made from mirror-finished, high-carbon steel and are hardened, tempered and individually ground.
  • Used for applying putty and spackling as well as scraping paint, chipping out old putty, scraping off accumulated grease and scraping old finishes off furniture.

Ladder Stabilizer

  • Attaches near the top of extension ladders to help stabilize the ladder and make it safer to use.
  • Most models provide a wider or more stable base and protective rubber end cap to protect the work surface.
  • Can be used on both aluminum and fiberglass extension ladders and even articulated ladders to hold ladder 10” away from the wall.
  • Some models include spring loaded locking latch for quick installation and removal.
  • Commonly used to span second story windows to center ladder when working on windows. Some models span double windows.
  • Some models also designed for use on corners.

Paint Bucket

  • Rectangular plastic bucket used for painting.
  • Common sizes range from 1 to 5 gallons.
  • Can be equipped with accessories such as a bucket grid or screen to help clean paint from brushes and rollers when in use.
  • Generally has a handle for easy carrying.
  • Some buckets feature a lid that closes and seals paint, roller or brush inside the tray.

Epoxy Paint

  • Is primarily for bare or previously finished wood and concrete floors. It penetrates rapidly and can be applied with a brush or mop.
  • Adheres to most surfaces and is especially good for doors, cabinets, trim and furniture—any interior wood surface where a clear-gloss, easy-to-clean finish is desired.
  • Resists detergent, oil and alkali, but may lose gloss and chalk under exposure to sun and weather.
  • Epoxy finishes are formulated in one- or two-part systems.
  • Two-part epoxies come in kits containing equal size cans and contents are mixed; they are more chemical- and abrasion- resistant than one-component epoxies.


Extension Pole

  • Makes roller painting both faster and easier for hard-to-reach areas.
  • Generally range from 1′ to 16′ in length.
  • Some poles are adjustable, or telescoping, to handle a multitude of painting situations.
  • They also enable the user to stand on the floor instead of a ladder when painting high walls or ceilings.
  • Generally made of fiberglass or aluminum
  • Some include quick-release adaptors for easy tool changes.
  • Usually extends in 6” increments.

Painter’s Tool

  • Also called 5-in-1, 6-in-1 or 8-in-1 Tool or a Glazier’s Tool.
  • Can be used for a variety of tasks, as a scraper, spreader, crack cleaner, roller squeegee and even a can opener.
  • Half-round cutout helps remove paint from rollers during cleaning.
  • Blade is fixed to handle.
  • Many models have ergonomic handles for enhanced comfort.

Paint Can Bucket Hanger

  • Provides a convenient place for paint or tools.
  • Can secure one gallon paint can to ladder for ease of painting.
  • Some models include swivel hooks that snap to the can to keep it level.
  • Other models specifically designed to attach to the frame of extension and step ladders.

Bucket Grid

  • Placed in bucket to remove excess paint from applicators before applying to surface.
  • Generally used with smaller rollers.
  • Similar to a wire screen or grid in construction.
  • Has a flexible hanger that fastens over bucket rim.
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Plumbing FAQ's (121)

Can I use a cup plunger to unclog my toilet?

It may work, but a forced ball plunger is designed to make more of a seal around the bottom of the toilet to remove the clog.

I need to install a new water heater. What type of fitting will I need to connect the unit to my plumbing?

You need a union that is a compression fitting that can be tightened or disconnected later.

Why can’t I just get a regular showerhead instead of one of those water saver types?

Federal law has set a standard on the flow rate of water from showerheads. However, many of the new showerheads mix air with water. The resulting shower is as satisfying as any shower, and youíll likely never know you were using a low-flow showerhead.

Are all faucet seats the same?

No, you will need to bring in your old seat to match up with the new one when you visit your local hardware store. Each brand has its own design and thread.

What is the difference between soft copper tubing and hard copper tubing?

Hard copper is rigid line used throughout the house. Soft copper is used where flexibility is needed, such as faucet supply lines.

Can I hook a 1-¼ inch drainpipe to a 1 ½ J-bend trap?

Yes, use a reducing slip joint rubber or plastic washer.

Which is better for sealing pipe threads, teflon tape or pipe paste?

They both do a similar job, but the teflon tape is a bit easier to use. Be sure to wrap in a clockwise direction when using teflon tape.

Pipe paste will remain gooey and flexible.

The pull-out spray nozzle in my new faucet won’t retract back into the faucet, what’s causing this?

Perhaps the weight that retracts the spray hose fell off or is caught on something underneath the sink.

I want to transition from 3/4″ copper pipe to 1/2″ copper pipe. How do I do that?

You need a reducer coupling or elbow (if there is a change in direction) to join the two pieces together.

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Plumbing Terms (100)

Black Poly Pipe

  • Used for carrying low-pressure cold water. Common applications include golf course sprinklers, underground conduits or to carry corrosive liquids and gases.
  • Good chemical and crush resistance.
  • Lightweight enough to cut with an ordinary knife or a fine-toothed hacksaw blade.


  • Connects two lengths of pipe.
  • Has female thread on both ends (for galvanized pipe) or no threads (for copper, PVC and other solvent-welded pipe).
  • A Reducer Coupling joins two different sizes of pipe.
  • An Adapter Coupling joins two different types of connection types, such as threaded and solvent weld.
  • A Repair Coupling, or mender coupling, has no center stop so two lengths of pipe can be fastened together. Use on unthreaded lengths of pipe.
  • A Fitting Trap Adapter adapts PVC to tubular traps used for sinks.

Handle Puller

  • Also known as a faucet handle puller.
  • Used to remove corroded or frozen handles without scarring the chrome.
  • Has two hook-like jaws with a center rod that turns.
  • Use penetrating oil to help loosen the handle before pulling.

Plumber’s Putty

  • Used on sink rims, drain plugs and faucets before installation.
  • Ensures a good seal.

Standard Toilet

  • Made of vitreous china and finished with a high-gloss glaze.
  • Designed to be durable and sanitary.
  • White and almond are most common colors.
  • Federal law mandates that all new toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to old models that used 3.5 gallons or more.
  • Gravity-fed toilets operate with a conventional flush, where water draining from the tank is released into the bowl and its weight and gravity pull waste down the drain.
  • Pressure-assisted units use pressure built up within the water supply to increase the force of the flush. These tend to be noisier than gravity-fed models, but the bowl empties quickly (within 4 seconds). The larger water seal surface results in fewer stains. Since the trapway on pressure-assisted models has fewer bends, it is less likely to clog than a gravity-fed system.
  • A third type of toilet uses a pump to assist the flushing operation with increased pressure. Some models are even designed to flush automatically when the seat lid is closed. Dual flushers feature a lever that uses 1.6 gallons for solid waste removal and 1.1 gallons for liquid waste.
  • The rough-in is the distance from the finished wall to the center of the sewer outlet. Standard rough-ins are 10″, 12″ or 14″.
  • Another style is the one-piece toilet.

Laundry Faucet

  • Mounts either on laundry tubs or on the wall above the tub. Most fiberglass tubs require a ledge faucet with 4″ centers.
  • Sometimes furnished with a standard 3-3/4″ hose thread outlet on the spout. Most codes require the use of a vacuum breaker attachment if the outlet contains threads to prevent water contamination.

PEX Pipe

  • PEX stands for crosslinked polyethylene.
  • Chief advantage is its flexibility and strength. It can make turns around corners without couplings.
  • In a PEX plumbing system, a separate line is run from the main water supply to each fixture in a set up much like a circuit breaker box.
  • Used for carrying hot and cold water.
  • Excellent chemical resistance to acids and alkalis, but do not use for fuel oil, gasoline or kerosene systems.
  • Do not weld with solvents. Join with heat fusion, flare, crimp ring or compression fittings.


  • Changes the direction of the pipe, usually at a 45∫, 90∫ or 22-1/2∫ angle.
  • Most common are elbows with female threads or solvent welds on both ends.
  • A Street Elbow has a female end on one end and a male end on the other. Also available for solvent welded products.
  • A Sweep is a type of elbow that has a longer curve for a more gradual bend. Available in long or short versions.
  • In two-piece toilets, a Closet Bend attaches a toilet tank to the bowl.
  • Reducing Elbows change the size of the pipe.
  • Adapter Elbows change from one type of joint to another, such as from a threaded connection to a solvent weld connection.

Yoke Vise

  • Helps hold pipe when cutting or reaming pipe.
  • Has V-shaped jaws that grip pipe from above and below. The lower jaw is fixed, while the upper jaw is raised or lowered by a screw.
  • Holds pipe with the inverted V-shaped yoke that unlatches on one side and tilts to accommodate the pipe.

Flame Shield

  • Protects surrounding areas from the torch flame when sweating a joint.
  • Most popular type attaches to the torch.
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Power Tools Terms (84)

Power Drill

  • Available in different chuck capacities, such as 1/4″, 3/8″ or 1/2″. For example, 1/4″ means that is the largest diameter shank that will fit the chuck. The speed of the drill also increases with the size.
  • Motor load limit can be light-, medium- or heady-duty. The higher the amp rating, the more powerful the drill. Drills rated at 2 amps are generally considered light-duty drills, while 5-amp drills are considered heavy-duty.
  • Tighten the drill bit in place with a chuck. A keyed chuck uses a rotary key to tighten and loosen the chuck. A keyless chuck is operated by hand.
  • Another feature on some drills is variable speed. They allow the operator to control the drill’s revolutions per minute, usually by varying pressure on the trigger switch. Some models also allow the user to vary the torque. Higher torque is better for driving screws, and higher speed is better for drilling holes.
  • A good quality 1/4” drill can drill through concrete, metal, plastic and other materials. Better for high speed and not high torque. Better for sanding and buffing than 3/8” or 1/2” drill sizes.
  • A 3/8” drill has more speed, but less power than a 1/2” drill. They are usually built with a double-reduction gear system. Can perform most of the drilling jobs a 1/4” drill can, and can handle a larger range of drill bits.
  • A 1/2” drill has high torque and slow speed, which is ideal for making large holes in metal and wood. Best drill for use wtih hole saws.


Plate Joiner

  • Also called a biscuit joiner.
  • Used for making strong plate joints, or biscuit joints, that join separate pieces of wood together.
  • The tool is plunged into the workpiece to cut a slot that accepts various size biscuits. Most models come with different blades to create various slot sizes. The slots of one piece of wood are then aligned with the slots of the other peice being joined. These slots share the same biscuit.
  • Has top-mounted or side-mounted sliding switches and comes with a dust bag or an adapter for hook-up to a shop vacuum.
  • Good joiners will have adjustable fences for making a joint at a variety of angles.

Rip Fence

  • Provides a guide for a circular saw that allows it to rip large sheets of plywood.
  • Usually made to fit a specific brand and model of saw.


  • Used to cut and grind metal, concrete and masonry, for sharpening all tools, cutting into corners and tight spots, polishing, buffing and wire brushing.
  • Consists of a motor powering one or two grinding wheels, often mounted on a workbench.

Circle Cutter

  • Also known as a fly cutter.
  • Has a cutting blade attached to a horizontal arm. It can cut holes up to 7” in diameter.
  • Primarily used on a drill press.

Cordless Drill

  • Operates with a rechargeable battery, with sizes ranging from 9.6 volts to 24 volts.
  • Most portable drill and popular among DIYers and professionals alike.
  • Lower-voltage drills cannot handle more heavy-duty drilling jobs.
  • An important feature is an adjustable clutch. This lets the user select the degree of force applied to the drill. This helps prevent the motor from stalling and overheating, which can damage the battery.


Rotary Cutting Tool

  • Uses a blade that looks similar to a drill bit. It rotates and cuts through material without the ripping motion of the sabre or jigsaw blade.
  • Allows user to plunge directly into the center of material and eliminates the need for pilot holes.
  • Can cut material up to 1” thick.
  • Many different bits are available for cutting in a variety of materials.
  • Lightweight and easy to control. The spinning motion of the blade reduces the ripping, binding and potential jumping of the tool.
  • Typically used to cut sink openings in countertops, for cutting and replacing ceramic wall tiles and cutting openings in drywall.

Beam-Saw Attachment

  • An attachment for a circular saw that looks like a chain saw and gives the standard circular saw a 12” cutting capacity.
  • Used to rip, crosscut or notch heavy girders or planks.

Drywall Hopper Gun

  • Pneumatic tool used for texturing and spraying joint compound on walls and ceilings. Generally has a multitude of spray settings and patterns for a variety of finishes.

Drill Guide

  • Functions as a portable drill press.
  • Has a bracket to hold a portable drill and allows the user to drill perfectly angled or perpendicular holes.
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Storage & Workshop Terms (35)

Handscrew Clamp

  • Also called a cabinetmaker’s clamp, it consists of two hardwood clamping jaws adjusted to the work by two opposing steel screw spindles assembled into the jaws.
  • The jaws adjust to a variety of angles and come in a wide range of sizes up to 10”.
  • They are used for clamping wood, metal, plastic and fabrics.
  • Handscrew adaptors can be used to convert handscrews into miter clamps.
  • Also available are handscrew kits so woodworkers can make their own jaws.

Sawhorse Brackets

  • Generally made of steel or high-impact polystyrene and convert dimensional lumber into a sturdy wooden sawhorse.
  • Brackets allow user to construct a sawhorse of any height and length.
  • Brackets are generally secured to wood with screws, nails or wing nuts. Other types provide flanged nail holes for easy nail removal with a claw hammer.
  • Selling features include ease of assembly since miter cuts are not necessary and sturdiness and convenient storage since most brackets allow legs to fold together.

Corner Clamp

  • Designed to hold miter or butt joints at a 90º angle.
  • They can be used for gluing picture frames, cabinets, molding and trim.

Oil Finish

  • Common types include Danish oil, tung oil or Swedish oil.
  • Provides coloring and protection in one step. However, oil finishes do not stand up to alcohol or water the way polyurethane does, so they are not recommended for high-traffic, abuse-prone applications.
  • Oils make nice, low-luster finish for furniture and other fine pieces. Waxing can provide water resistance with these finishes.
  • Lemon oil can be used to replenish fine wood with its natural oils while protecting the finish. It is best to use products that contain no beeswax or silicones that could cause a buildup or darken the wood.
  • Timber oil is a wood finish designed to penetrate exotic hardwoods such as mahogany and teak. This specialty wood finish helps preserve the hardwood and maintain its natural appearance.
  • Available in several shades, timber oil is a combination of tung oil, linseed oil and long-oil alkyds. In general, teak should be treated with oil-based formulas. Since teak is denser than many other common woods, wood protector should be applied with a brush or by rubbing it in with a cotton cloth.

Spring Clamp

  • Similar to a clothes pin, this clamp consists of two metal jaws to which clamping pressure is applied by use of a steel spring.
  • They are designed for use with thin materials.
  • Spring clamps are versatile enough for home, hobby or professional use indoors or outdoors, holding round or odd-shaped objects.
  • They typically come with 1″, 2″ or 3″ jaw openings.

Paste Wax

  • Protects and adds luster to any stained or finished wood surface.
  • Many formulations contain carnauba for enhanced durability.
  • Commonly used on hardwood floors and fine wood furniture and even marble surfaces.
  • Dries quickly and doesn’t cause surface to become slippery.

Web Clamp

  • Also called band clamps, they apply even clamping pressure around irregular shapes or large objects to hold tight by means of a spring-loaded locking fixture.
  • Commonly used on cylinder-shapes and to hold chair legs while gluing.

Linseed Oil

  • Pure preservative available in boiled and raw formulations.
  • Boiled linseed oil has driers added to promote faster drying than raw linseed oil.
  • Offers superior penetration into wood surfaces and provides good UV protection.
  • Also improves the flow and gloss of exterior oil-based paint.
  • A classic finish for natural wood to seal and protect it.

Hold-Down Clamp

  • Is the screw portion of a “C” clamp, designed to be secured onto any surface, with the screw used to apply clamping pressure.
  • Also available in locking models, similar to locking clamps.


  • Has greater solvency than mineral spirits, causing it to work more quickly.
  • It also has a stronger odor and contains a small amount of resin.
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