DIY Frequently Asked Questions

Building Materials FAQ's (273)

What type of wood should I use to build my birdhouse?

Use a naturally weather resistant wood such as cedar or redwood.

What’s the difference between the different types of patio doors I can buy?

Patio doors with aluminum frames are the least expensive, but also the least durable and least energy efficient. Vinyl is mid-range for both price and quality. Wood is the best.

What type of nails should I use with redwood?

Use top quality, hot-dipped galvanized, aluminum alloy or stainless steel fasteners. These will not rust, corrode or discolor the wood or lose their holding power by rusting away.

How do I know which latch fits my storm door?

If you are going to use existing holes, you need to know the spacing of the holes, or there is an adjustable one available.

Are there differences in the types of treated lumber I can buy?

The difference you need to be concerned about is what kind of use it’s qualified for. The grade stamp will indicate whether it is rated for Ground Contact, Above Ground Use or Below Ground Use.

Why does a piece of wood have knots?

Knots mark the spot on a tree where there once was a branch, which has since been encased by the growth of the tree.

Can I substitute screws for nails when fastening drywall to the studs?

Yes, as long as the spacing of the fasteners is the same, and the length, head diameter and shank are the same.

How do I clean slate?

Frequent sweeping is always the first defense. For best results, use cleaners specifically made for slate and similar tiles. Never use abrasive cleaners or scouring pads.

Can I cut vinyl with a standard utility knife?

Yes, but a vinyl tile cutter you can rent is easier. Also, if you are cutting with a knife, change blades frequently to keep them sharp. A dull blade can tear the vinyl.

Can I use existing lighting over my ceiling tile?

Yes, but you will have to temporarily remove the fixture to install the tile.

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Building Materials Terms (161)

Window Film

  • Plastic used as window film can be used to reduce heat, prevent heat loss to lower heating and cooling costs and to reduce fade and glare.
  • Can block up to 98 percent of UV radiation and about 80 percent of normal heat gain.
  • Film made of polyester is coated with water-activated or pressure-sensitive adhesive on one side and with a scratch-resistant coating on the other side.
  • Dyed films absorb heat and give a tinted appearance.
  • Metallic films can be clear or reflective. Use this type on double-glazed windows.

Premixed Concrete

  • Contains all the elements needed to mix concrete except water.
  • Generally comes in 40-, 60- or 80-lb. bags.
  • Typically used for minor concrete repairs or projects such as setting a post or replacing a section of a sidewalk.

Marble Tile

  • Made of natural marble.
  • Slick and easily scratched, although scratches can be buffed out.
  • Tiles should be sealed after installation.
  • Types include travertine (for exterior use), while (translucent) and green (usually installed with water-free epoxy mortars.

Southern Pine

  • Has high strength, resistance to wear and holds fasteners well. It is often used in homes and other structures.
  • Descriptions for this type of wood range from 1 through 4.
  • No. 1 has the highest quality and best appearance.
  • No. 2 is characterized by tight knots and is generally free of holes.
  • No. 3 is good, serviceable sheathing, usable for many applications without waste.
  • No. 4 contains usable portions at least 24” long.

Foam Sealant

  • Installs similar to foam insulation, but comes in an aerosol can and is best for do-it-yourself use.
  • Best used for permanently sealing irregular gaps around the home, such as plumbing feed-thrus, electrical outlets, vents, etc.
  • After curing, it can be trimmed, sanded and painted.
  • When installing, only fill the area about 33 percent and the expanding foam will fill and seal the rest of the area.
  • Formulations include triple-expanding for general-purpose sealing and insulating; minimal-expanding for windows and door frames; and fast drying for multi-step projects such as filling a crack before painting.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection when applying.
  • Remove wet foam with acetone or acetone-based nail polish remover. Cured foam is difficult to remove from skin and clothes.


  • Connects a pipe to a wall, floor or any flat surface.
  • Flanges are threaded onto pipe and tightened. Four screw holes allow the flange rim to attach to a flat surface.
  • A Closet Flange is made to connect toilets to drain and vent systems.
  • Another type is the Offset Closet Flange that is used when the drain pipe has been incorrectly positioned.
  • The adjustable ring on some closet flanges allows for easier toilet alignment.

Metal Roofing

  • Steel panels designed to cover the roof in place of shingles.
  • Designed with either exposed or hidden fasteners.
  • Metal roofing can be coated with zinc or a mixture of zinc and aluminum for rust prevention. The best steel panels are manufactured with zinc.

Mounting Block

  • Offers a waterproof surface for installing outlets, lighting and plumbing fixtures with new siding.
  • Used with wood, aluminum, vinyl, stucco, brick or shake siding.

Glazing Compound

  • Is a long-lasting material used for glazing wood or metal sash.
  • It remains semi-elastic under a smooth, firm, wrinkle-free film that forms when the material sets.
  • It does not dry rock-hard and is easier to remove when reglazing.
  • It resists cold, heat and moisture and is used for patching or sealing small openings or cracks.
  • Glazing can be tinted with oil color.

Resorcinol Glue

  • Is two-component adhesive of liquid resin and powdered catalyst.
  • Used in wood joints, it cures under pressure in 10 hours at 70° F.
  • Ideal for exterior structural applications because of its waterproof and weatherproof qualities.
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Electrical & Lighting Terms (80)

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.

Drill Press

  • Used for boring holes in precise, repetitive cuts. With the appropriate accessories, the drill press can also shape, carve, sand, grind, buff and polish.
  • Consists of a base and a column rising upward to a head holding the motor and drill. A radial arm holds a worktable that adjusts vertically. A feed handle enables the user to direct the drill chuck up and down.
  • On a radial drill press, the head rotates 360º around the column and can drill at an angle or horizontally.

TV Wire and Accessories

  • Television lead-in wire connects the receiving set to the antenna. Good quality 300-ohm wire is used for both VHF and UHF receivers.
  • A TV set coupler is a loss-producing device for connecting two or more TV receivers to the same antenna. The loss introduced into the circuit is small, but can be critical in “fringe area” reception. In such areas, you should be aware of this small loss and to expect a slight reduction in signal strength at the receiver.
  • A lightning arrestor mounts on the outside of the house as close to the TV receiver as possible to protect the receiver against lightning damage. The lead-in wire is attached to proper contacts and the ground rod to ground connector. Lightning will jump the gap inside the arrestor and flow into the earth if the circuit is properly installed.

Time Delay Fuse

  • Similar in appearance to a plug fuse.
  • Provides a minimum time delay for small household motors that cause an electrical surge when started. That surge would cause a regular fuse to blow needlessly.

Table Tap

  • Also known as a plug-in strip or plug-in outlet adapter.
  • Increases the number of outlets available at a single outlet.
  • One side plugs into an outlet and the other provides two to six pairs or outlets.
  • A smaller version is the cube tap, which is in the shape of a cube and provides two or three receptacles in the place of one.

Lamp Holder

  • Used to hold light sockets where design is not a concern. Often used in garages or basements, or as a temporary fixture.
  • One type has a pull chain to turn it on. The other, a keyless lampholder, does not have a chain. Another type has a socket, two receptacles and a pull chain that turns off the lamp but not the receptacles.
  • Typically is a round porcelain fixture with a socket with prewired leads ready for connecting to a circuit. It also has screw holes for mounting it to a box.
  • Another type is the Pigtail. It is merely a socket with wire leads and without a fixture. It is also used for temporary lighting or for testing.
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Electrical FAQ's (92)

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).

Do I need special tape for wiring?

Yes, you should use electrical tape.

How do I wire a lamp switch?

With lamp wiring, there is a ribbed side and a smooth side. Unscrew the light switch. Strip and twist your wire. The ribbed side will go to the brass side of the light terminal. The smooth side will go to the silver side. Wrap around the terminals and tighten it down.

I’m replacing a light switch. How do I know which wire should be attached to each screw on the new light switch?

If you are replacing an existing switch, make a diagram of how the wires were attached to the old switch before you remove them. Snap a picture with your camera phone or draw a diagram. Then replace them in the same position on the new switch.

I have a circuit breaker that tripped. Is this dangerous?

Usually the problem is simply an overload and you only need to run fewer appliances on the circuit. However, if it is not overloaded and it keeps tripping, you should suspect a short. Also, look for a defective cord, socket or plug.

The tubes in my fluorescent light are graying near the ends; does this mean they are wearing out?

Working tubes usually have a gray tinge on the ends, but dark gray or black is a sign that the tube is failing.

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

Two of the locations will use a three-way switch and the other location will need a four-way switch.

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Encyclopedia-Terms (0)

Drywall Corner Trowel

  • Is used in applying compound to both sides of a corner at one time.
  • Comes in both inside and outside corner models.
  • A flexible one-piece blade of stainless steel eliminates tape snagging.
  • The blade angle is set at 103° to give perfect 90° corners when flexed in use.


  • Comes in five general types, including garnet, emery, aluminum oxide, silicon carbide and alumina zirconia. Of these, the first two are natural minerals or abrasives; the others are synthetic materials that are tougher and longer wearing than the natural abrasives.
  • All U.S.-manufactured sandpapers conform to the same numerical system for grading coarseness. The smaller the number, the coarser the grit.
  • Coarseness generally runs from 12 (extra coarse) to 1500 (ultra-fine). Grit finer than 600 is usually measured on the European FEPA scale, and identified with a “P” immediately before the number.
  • The back of each sandpaper sheet contains important labeling information, including product and lot number, abrasive type, grit size, whether it is open or closed coat and backing. The backing weight is rated by letter. “A” is the thinnest weight, while “C” and “D” are the best options for hand sanding of wood. “X” is effective for heavy-duty sanding.
  • Manufactured on a variety of backings, including paper, cloth and fiber.
  • Garnet is a reddish-brown natural abrasive. By special heat treatment, a tougher, sturdier grain is produced. Garnet is used almost exclusively in the woodworking field; it is not suitable for use on metal.
  • Emery is a black natural abrasive that can polish metal surfaces. Emery is typically used in conjunction with an oil lubricant.
  • Aluminum oxide is the most common general abrasive. It is a synthetic brown that is hard and long-wearing. It is used on wood, metal or painted surfaces and is well suited to finishing high-tensile materials such as steels and bronzes, as well as some hardwoods.
  • Silicon carbide is hard and sharp—effective in sanding low-tensile materials such as cast iron, aluminum, copper or plastic. It is also useful between coats of finish.
  • Alumina zirconia is harder than silicon carbide and tougher than aluminum oxide. It should be used for grinding and shaping metal and wood—not for polishing.
  • Sandpaper comes in two styles: open coat (OC) and closed coat. “Coat” refers to how densely the grain is adhered to the surface. “Closed coat” means 100 percent of the surface is covered with grain. Open-coat sandpaper has greater spacing between the grains, which prevents it from clogging up as quickly with sanding residue. Closed-coat sandpaper, however, fills more rapidly with the substance being sanded and must be discarded sooner.
  • Many styles available in sheets as well as sizes for various sanding power tools.

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’.

Double Loop Wire Chain

  • Made of light-gauge wire with the links formed by knotting or tying the wire to the desired link size.
  • One of the most popular chains because of its versatility.
  • Commonly used for dog runners, swing sets, playground uses and padlocks.


  • Used to tighten wire or for bracing doors.
  • Consists of a barrel-shaped metal device with a threaded rod inserted into each end.
  • Rods have eyes at both ends, or some types have a hook on one end and an eye on the other.


Self-Tapping Concrete Screw

  • Hardened steel screws designed to cut threads in pre-drilled holes.
  • Holes can be drilled through the item to be fastened without moving the fixture.
  • Head styles are Phillips, flat or hex-washer.
  • Used in poured concrete, concrete block or masonry.
  • Pull-out resistance of concrete screws is much greater than in plastic screw anchors because they bite directly into the concrete.

Flooring Nail

  • Screw-shanked.
  • Used for laying tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring.

Gas Fireplace

  • Uses natural or LP gas.
  • Burns either natural or LP gas to provide primary or secondary heat to a home.
  • Conventional models require a venting system and a smoke dome or chimney installed through the roof.
  • Newer gas fireplaces can be vented through the wall using a power vent.
  • Built-in units require no special flooring or hearth front.
  • Can be converted to a wood-burning fireplace.
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FAQs (0)

My crosscut saw doesn’t cut like it used to. What’s the best way to sharpen the blade?

With a taper file, which is a triangular shaped file specifically designed to sharpen saw teeth. Just be sure to follow the saw manufacturer’s recommendations for redressing the teeth and be sure the file size is the right size for the saw teeth you are sharpening.

What Type of Ladder Should I Buy?

The major points to consider when selecting a ladder are:

  • The kind of activity involved—The intended activity will make the choice obvious. For example, a stepladder would be the choice to paint interior walls and ceilings, while an extension ladder usually is needed to paint outside. If the job involves more effort than usual, or will require more time on the ladder, you should probably by a platform ladder instead of a stepladder.
  • The demands of the application— All ladders are designed to hold a certain weight. Therefore, ladders are matched or “job-rated” to the physical demands of the application. For instance, a ladder used daily on a construction site obviously should have a sturdier construction than the ladder used a few times a year around the house. The most important factor is the rated load capacity—the aggregate working weight of the user, his clothing and his tools. For that reason, the duty rating is described in terms of pounds. (See Pro Corner for more information.) Every ladder’s duty rating is color-coded. A label in the appropriate color is prominently displayed on the side rail. Look for the proper duty ratings to match the highest level of use.
  • The height the ladder must reach so the climber may work from a safe position—Stepladders should be high enough for the user not to have to stand above the second step from the top. (The first step from the top carries a label warning the user not to stand there.) On extension ladders, the user should stand no more than four rungs from the top, which should extend 3’ above the work surface. The base of the ladder should be one-fourth the distance from the top support of the ladder to its bottom support.
  • The basic material from which the ladder is made—The most common materials for ladders are wood, aluminum and fiberglass.
  • Wood ladders are non-conductive when clean and dry. They also offer a natural, firm grip for the worker’s feet and hands. However, wood ladders are heavy.
  • Fiberglass ladders offer a favorable blend of the more desirable qualities of wood and aluminum. It’s non-conductive (like dry, clean wood) but made of sturdy modern materials (like aluminum). If you are planning to use the ladder in a variety of circumstances, a fiberglass ladder is the best choice.
  • Aluminum ladders are lightweight, provide excellent strength and offer reliable performance. Aluminum ladders are corrosion-resistant and require little if any maintenance. They conduct electricity, however, so they should never be used when working near electrical lines.


What do I use to hang a plant?

For small to medium size hangings, there are kits that include a toggle and a decorative hook. These often have screws so that you do not have to use the toggle if you install it directly into a joist. For larger things, you may have to buy a large hook and toggle separately.

Which is a bigger nail—No. 6 or No. 8?

No. 8 – the bigger the number the bigger the nail.

Even with a lock washer, I continue losing the nut off my mower.

Use a lock nut with a nylon insert. This arrangement will not vibrate loose as readily.

What do the marks on the head of a bolt mean?

No marks is the least hard.
Three marks is a medium hardness.
Six marks is the hardest bolt.

Is there a product that makes installing a strikeplate easier?

Yes, there is an adjustable strikeplate

What are the different types of smoke detectors?

Thermal smoke detectors detect heat only. Ionization smoke detectors respond particularly well to smoke caused by flaming fires. Photoelectric smoke detectors detect smoldering fires but react slowly to flaming fires.

What time of year should I plant my container garden?

The same time of year that is recommended for planting the plants you choose outdoors.

How should I go about trimming my evergreens?

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.

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Hand & Power Tools FAQ's (185)

I’m drilling in some wood, where I will probably hit some hidden nails. What bit should I use?

A spade bit is a good choice, because they are relatively inexpensive and you can resharpen them with a file.

What is kickback?

Kickback usually occurs when the workpiece pinches the blade of the saw. In stationary power tools, the result can be that the workpiece suddenly lurches back toward the user. Power tools should come with an anti-kickback device that helps control this potentially dangerous situation.

I’m buying outdoor power tools. Which is better: an electric or gas leaf blower?

A gas blower provides mobility and is more powerful.

What is the advantage of composite handles on an ax or maul?

These cost a little more than wood-handled versions, but they are stronger. This can be particularly important if you have a tendency to overstrike, which can break a wood handle. In the past, wood handles were easier to replace, but new composite designs make these easy to fix as well. Some people say they prefer the feel of wood and that it creates less vibration.

Are there any power tools I should own?

A power drill is a must for general maintenance. A drill, a circular saw, and a saber saw can handle most household repair and carpentry jobs. Power sanders have also become popular.

Are hand drilling tools used very much anymore?

With the advent of cordless drills, both hand drills and bit braces aren’t used very much anymore. However, they are still used on some job sites where there is no electricity for re-charging batteries and in fine woodworking applications.

When my tool belt is loaded with tools and fasteners it becomes too heavy to wear all day. I need all of my tools handy, but is there anything that can help?

Strapping a pair of suspenders to your work belt can relieve some of the strain on your back by allowing your shoulders to carry some of the weight.

I’m drilling in some wood, where I will probably hit some hidden nails. What bit should I use?

A spade bit is a good choice, because they are relatively inexpensive and you can resharpen them with a file.

I need to make an accurate cut with a circular saw, but it’s difficult to keep straight.

You can get more accurate cuts by using a guide or fence that help you stay on the right path.

I have an old house and am not sure if the walls are square. How do I check for this?

Use the 3-4-5 method. Measure along one wall for three feet (or a multiple of three—the bigger the better). Mark this point. Next, measure along the other wall from the same corner four feet (or the same multiple) and mark the spot. Then measure diagonally from mark to mark. If the diagonal is five feet (or the same multiple), the corner is square. If not, it is out of square.

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Hand Tools Terms (241)

Landscape Rake

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

Fence Pliers

• Used to pull and cut staples in fencing and other work involving wire.

• Only tool needed for work on wood posts.

• Feature flat, heavy head for hammering, staple-pulling hook, wire cutters on each side and pliers jaws to pull wire.


Offset Screwdriver

  • Designed for removing and inserting screws in places where it is impossible to use a straight shank screwdriver.
  • Available in two- or four-blade varieties, with one end slotted and one end Phillips
  • Some models available with reversible ratcheting mechanism to turn screw tip and magnetized tips to guide screws into holes or otherwise inaccessible areas.
  • Others have split-points that can be expanded in width to fill the screw slot and hold screws when guiding into inaccessible areas. A spring clamp that fits over the screw head, holding the bit in the slot, serves a similar purpose.


Hex Key Wrench

  • Hex-key wrenches are short, L-shaped tools designed to turn bolts or screws with hexagonal heads.
  • They generally come in sets of different sized wrenches.


Shingler’s Hammer

  • Drives roofing nails, assures proper shingle spacing, trims composition and fiberglass shingles.
  • Typically includes slotted, replaceable cutting blade.


Star (Torx®) Tip Screwdriver

  • Designed for use with star head screws and bolts to reduce slippage.
  • Tips have six lobular drive surfaces to provide additional contact surface with the screw head.
  • Vertical sides transmit torque perpendicularly to the driven element so there is no slipping or cam-out.


  • Used for detailed shaping of curved work, such as chair legs and seats, as well as for chamfering edges.
  • Replaceable cutters adjust for depth of cut and shaving thickness.
  • Generally 10” in length.

Yardstick Metal Rule

  • Used for measuring and cutting roll and sheet material using straight edge as a fence.
  • Also called a straight-edge rule, as thicker, rigid models can be used as a saw guide.
  • Some models measure in 1/8” and 1/16” increments on one side and in 1/32” and 1/64” increments on the other.

Single-Bit Axe

  • Most popular style of axe, the single-bit axe is used to fell, trim or prune trees, to split or cut wood.
  • The easiest and safest axe for inexperienced woodcutters to use because it only has one cutting edge.
  • The other end of the head, the poll, forms a hammer for driving wooden or plastic stakes. It should never be used to strike splitting wedges, steel posts, stone or any hard object.
  • Handles for single-bit axes are curved to help increase leverage. Axe handles are made of hickory and range from 20″ to 36″ long. The most common is 36″.
  • Common head patterns include Michigan, Dayton, Kentucky, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Pull Saw

  • Is similar to most traditional saws except the teeth are designed to cut with a pulling motion.
  • Pull saws cut wood faster and with less effort because of the thinner and more flexible blade.
  • The saws feature teeth diamond-ground on three cutting edges.
  • Because of the flexibility of the blade and the minimal set to the teeth, the saws are excellent for flush cutting.
  • Mini pull saws that cut sharply on the pull stroke are used for precision carpentry.
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Hardware & Fasteners Terms (109)

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’.

Double Loop Wire Chain

  • Made of light-gauge wire with the links formed by knotting or tying the wire to the desired link size.
  • One of the most popular chains because of its versatility.
  • Commonly used for dog runners, swing sets, playground uses and padlocks.


  • Used to tighten wire or for bracing doors.
  • Consists of a barrel-shaped metal device with a threaded rod inserted into each end.
  • Rods have eyes at both ends, or some types have a hook on one end and an eye on the other.


Self-Tapping Concrete Screw

  • Hardened steel screws designed to cut threads in pre-drilled holes.
  • Holes can be drilled through the item to be fastened without moving the fixture.
  • Head styles are Phillips, flat or hex-washer.
  • Used in poured concrete, concrete block or masonry.
  • Pull-out resistance of concrete screws is much greater than in plastic screw anchors because they bite directly into the concrete.

Flooring Nail

  • Screw-shanked.
  • Used for laying tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring.

Door Plates

  • Kick plates protect the bottom of the door from scuffing.
  • Push plates provide a non-marring surface where the user can push the door open.
  • Pull plates provide a handle to open doors.
  • Adds a decorative touch to doors.
  • Available in a variety of materials, including brass, stainless steel and anodized aluminum.

Touch Catch

  • Helps the cabinet door stay shut.
  • Also called a push catch.
  • Mounts inside the cabinet and needs no knobs or pulls.
  • User operates by simply pushing on the door, the catch releases and the door springs open.

Picture Hanger

  • Nail Hangers consist of a piece of metal with a hook on the lower end of a twist and loop that forms a nail hole. Depending on the size, this type will hold from 10 lbs. to 100 lbs.
  • Adhesive Hanger is a piece of flat metal with cuts or serrations along either edge that attaches to the back of a picture frame. The strip will stick to any clean, flat surface like glass, wood or metal. For light-duty use only.
  • Adjustable Hanger is a piece of flat metal with cuts or “serrations” along either edge that attaches to the back of a picture frame. Serrations allow for adjustment. For light-duty use only.
  • Utility Hanger is a hook that has an eye drilled into the flat upper piece for nailing or screwing to the wall. For light to medium use.
  • Hook Anchor is made of polypropylene and can be used in hollow or solid walls. For light to medium use. It will hold mirrors and pictures.
  • Hardwall Hanger is a plastic hook with case-hardened pins that can drive into brick or concrete walls to hold light- to medium-weight mirrors and pictures.
  • Flush Mount Hanger has two pieces of formed metal. One piece mounts to the picture and the other to the wall. These pieces interlock to create a high-load system.
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Hardware FAQ's (78)

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.

How long will a bottle or tube of glue last?

If it has been bottled tightly and kept in a normal temperate environment, it should last up to one year.

I need a screw to anchor a knob onto a drawer, what do you recommend?

If you do not have the knob to identify the size, it’s probably a 8-32 screw. It may not be the right one, but it’s the best guess that may keep you from making another trip.

How can I anchor something to concrete?

A newer anchor has a drill bit built into the end of a screw so that it can be driven directly into the concrete.

What do the numbers—such as 8-32—mean on a machine screw?

The first number is the diameter. The bigger the number the bigger the screw. The second number is the number of threads per inch.

Is nylon rope worth its extra cost?

Twisted nylon rope is the most versatile because of its strength. Additionally it has good shock resistance, which means sudden jerks are less likely to damage the rope or cause failure. It’s resistance to abrasion makes it durable where rubbing is likely to occur. It is resistant to most chemicals and will not rot or mold when wet. When stretched it tends to return to its original length, making it good for lifting and towing. However, it should not be attached to winches, bits, hooks or chains.

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Heating & Cooling FAQ's (61)

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.

How do I know how much loose-fill insulation to buy to insulate my atttic?

First measure the attic floor area, and then divide that by 1,000. For example, if the dimensions are 30’ x 40’, or 1,200 square feet, you divide that number by 1,000 and get 1.2. The label on the bag of insulation will tell you how many bags you need to cover 1,000 square feet. Multiply that number by 1.2.

Do I have enough vents in my attic?

You should have one square foot of vent area for every 150 square feet of attic floor space. The vent manufacturer will list the vent area on the package as the FVA (free vent area). The vent area must also be split between high and low vents. If a vapor barrier is present, then the requirement changes to one square foot for every 300 square feet. Shingle manufacturers require that attics have adequate ventilation; otherwise their product warranty may be voided.

How much space should there be between the stove and surrounding objects?

There should be a 36” clearance on all sides of the stove to prevent scorching or possible fire.

Does the tank size contribute to the efficiency of the humidifier?

No. Larger tank sizes merely mean you won’t have to refill them as often.

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Heating & Cooling Terms (56)


  • 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.

Window Fan

  • Uses less energy than air conditioning and contains no chlorofluorocarbons.
  • Brings fresh air into the room while expelling hot air.
  • Typical size is 20”.
  • Larger window fans require mounting kits and side panels. The panels support the fan and prevent air from circulating around and back into the fan, resulting in a loss of performance.
  • Smaller units are easiest to install, as they come with the panels attached to the fan.
  • Used to intake and exhaust, for bringing inside air into a room or expelling inside air out of a room. Better models have electrical reversibility, which allows the user to switch from exhaust to intake without turning the fan around.

Digital Thermostat

  • Controls the temperature in a room turning on or off the furnace or air-conditioner.
  • Temperature is set electronically.
  • A popular type is a programmable thermostat that allows the use to preset temperatures for different times of the day.
  • A popular replacement for dial thermostats because they use the same wiring.

Wood Fireplace

  • Burns seasoned wood or manufactured wood logs to provide primary or secondary heat to a home.
  • Newer prefabricated fireplaces are more energy efficient than traditional masonry ones.
  • Must use a venting system. In a conventional, open-face fireplace, the chimney serves as the vent. The drawback is that it pulls warm air up the chimney and out of the house.
  • A prefabricated fireplace has an enclosed firebox made of a material that will hold some of the heat from the flue gases so more heat is radiated back into the room.
  • Fireplace systems will incorporate a damper in the flue, which can be closed when the fire is extinguished. Otherwise, the warm air will continue to flow out of the house through the draft that is created.

Vented Gas Heater

  • Requires vents to the outside.c
  • Available in medium- or high-output models ranging from 25,000 to 65,000 BTUs/hr.
  • Includes an enclosed radiating circulator unit with tempered glass in front of a series of radiants.
  • Designed to take up medium space.
  • Popular with consumers seeking to trim heating bills.
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Home Security FAQ's (38)

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.

How long should a smoke detector last?

We recommend that you replace any smoke detector that is more than 10 years old.

What features make a padlock stronger?

The high-security padlocks often have cases that provide a collar around most of the shackle. That makes it harder to get bolt cutters on them.

Where should I keep a fire extinguisher in my home?

Don’t mount it too close to where a fire is likely to occur. For example, don’t keep it next to the stove. A good place is at the top of the stairs or near a workshop. In most cases, it’s a good idea to have a fire extinguisher for every 600 square feet of living space.

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Home Security Terms (35)

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.

Pin-Tumbler Padlock

  • Provides maximum security for valuables.
  • Pin-tumbler locking mechanisms make padlocks harder for thieves to pick.
  • Tumblers with five or more pins provide the best security, while four pin is the next best.
  • Hardened solid steel and steel alloys make better locks and shackles.
  • Solid extruded brass padlocks are more resistant to rust than steel, but can be damaged more easily.

Dry-Chemical Extinguisher

  • Some types extinguish only Class B and C fires.
  • Includes sodium and potassium bicarbonate base agents.
  • Some types are marked general-purpose or multi-purpose. These types can be used on Class A, B and C fires.
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Lawn & Garden FAQ's (154)

How can I tell when the compost is ready to use?

It will look like rich, organic soil, without any large clumps in it. To test if it’s ready, plant a few grass seeds in a small pot using some of the compost, and if the seeds sprout in a couple days, it’s ready.

How deep of a hole should I dig for fence posts?

Put line posts at least 24” into the ground. Gate and corner posts will carry more stress, so they should be at least 30” into the ground.

How do I clean up engine oil or grease from my driveway?

Use a driveway cleaner formulated especially for that purpose.

When do I apply a pre-emergent herbicide?

This is applied in late winter or early spring before seeds begin to germinate.

How do insecticides work?

There are basically two types: systemic and non-systemic. The systemic is absorbed by the plant and makes it poisonous. The non-systemic provides a coating on the outside of the plant.

How do I fertilize my tree?

Use fertilizer spikes. The size of the tree’s trunk will tell us how many you should use, and always put them in the ground at the drip line of the tree not the base of the trunk.

When purchasing outdoor power equipment, what should I consider in a leaf blower?

It’s best to buy a blower that can be reversed and also used as a vac. This allows you to sweep up the leaves, and some models even have a mulching feature.

What is the best way to water a lawn?

Once a week for an extended period (slow watering) rather than more often for shorter periods of time. This allows moisture to go deeper into the soil.

Do I need to sand my deck before staining it?

Sanding deck boards before proceeding with the staining process helps ensure that the surface of the deck is level and there are no tripping hazards. It also removes stubborn stains left behind after the stripping process. Perhaps most importantly, it removes old cellulose fibers that will soon wear away from exposure to the sun’s UV rays.

How often should I apply fertilizer to my lawn?

You should feed your lawn every six to eight weeks during the growing season. This usually means April, June, August and October, but your lawn may require more or less feeding depending on the type of grass you have and your soil conditions. Always be sure to check with your local extension agent to get growing tips for your area and for your type of soil.

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Lawn and Garden Terms (144)

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.

D Handle Round Point Shovel

  • End of handle is shaped like the letter “D.”
  • Best for ordinary garden digging jobs.
  • Available in light and heavy weights.

Level Head Garden Rake

  • Has a level head set close to the handle.
  • Used to break up and smooth soil after it has been spaded and cultivated.
  • Has sharp, curved steel teeth to pulverize dirt clods.
  • The straight back is good for leveling the soil for planting.

Rubber-Vinyl Hose

  • Combines the strength and durability of rubber with the lightness of vinyl.
  • Easiest hose to use.
  • Reinforced with tire cord fiber.
  • The type with an expanded or foamed cover is easy to handle and has better kink resistance.
  • The type with an extruded or non-foamed cover had good flexibility and has better abrasion resistance.

Traveling Sprinkler

  • Self-propelled sprinkler designed to cover large, irregular areas, some as large as 20,00 square feet.
  • One style is the wind-up type. It follows a cord laid out by a user, has two speeds and large hose capacities.
  • Another style is the tractor type. It drags the hose behind as it follows the hose pattern. Better units are heavier, allowing a larger range, and have two speeds.
  • Better models also have a shut-off valve.
  • Delivers water by two arms similar to a rotary sprinkler. Adjusting these arms can change width of coverage.

Scissor-Action Trimmer

  • Similar to a draw-cut trimmer, but has two moving blades instead of just one.
  • Operates with side-to-side pressure, like ordinary household scissors.


Grow Light

  • Gives indoor plants light they need to grow.
  • Versatile and can be fitted into bookshelves, into hanging planters, etc.
  • In order for the plant to maintain its shape, evenly distribute the light from above.

Professional Potting Soil

  • Features additives such as sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, composted bark finds and a wetting agent.

Zoysia Grass

  • Planted by plugs.
  • Adapted to sunny areas in warmer parts of the Midwest.
  • Surface runners make a dense mat, which reduces weeds and crabgrass.
  • Turns brown slowly in mid-fall and remains dormant until mid-spring.

Chain Link Fencing

  • Durable, trouble-free fencing that offers safety and security.
  • Another type is plastic chain link fence, available in a variety of colors, including white, orange and green.
  • Installation is difficult, so recommend a how-to booklet available from manufacturers.
  • Install using a fence stretcher.
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Paint & Decorating FAQ's (80)

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.

What should I look for in a quality paint brush?

Look for the tips of the bristles to be a different color than the rest of the bristles. This shows that the tips have been machined to be flagged, which will apply the paint easier. The ferrule should be copper or stainless steel so it won’t rust. The handles should also be made of hardwood and should be unfinished for a better grip.

Can putty knives be used as a scraper for drywall?

While putty knives with stiff blades can be used to scrape loose materials, a paint scraper is a better tool for the job. It has a sharp blade designed specifically for removing old paint and other materials.

What type of paint should I use in my kitchen?

High-gloss paints are great for high-traffic areas because they provide a tough, washable finish that also resists water and grease. Use them on kitchen and bathroom walls, kitchen cabinets, banisters and railings, trim, furniture, doorjambs and windowsills. However, the gloss will make surface imperfections more noticeable, so you will have to work a little harder to ensure a good finish. A semi-gloss provides a little less durability but is a little easier to work with.

What tools do I need to remove old wallpaper?

A wallpaper remover, a 3” wallpaper stripping tool, a bucket and a sponge. You can also buy a tool that will score the paper before you apply the remover.

Do I need to stain or paint my cedar fence?

Cedar is naturally resistant to decay and when it weathers, it will turn a soft silver gray and even black in some areas. To protect its color and protect from mildew, use a penetrating stain. You can use a transparent stain, a semi-transparent stain or an opaque stain.

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Paint & Decorating Terms (82)

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.

Aluminum Paint

  • Is a paint with aluminum blended with a resin base.
  • For interior and exterior use on heated surfaces, such as ovens, barbecue grills, mufflers and other surfaces that are exposed to high heat.
  • It works equally well on almost any surface and may be brushed or sprayed. Colors become more intense with age.
  • Aluminum paint can be used on all interior and exterior metal or wood surfaces, or applied to metal flashing, gutters, downspouts, tools, tool sheds, patio furniture, pipes, mailboxes, fences, etc.
  • Do not apply aluminum paint during freezing temperatures; paint should dry at least overnight before recoating.


Paint Pad

  • Lies flat on the surface, allowing the user to avoid spattering.
  • Most pads are made of mohair or foam and can apply either latex or oil-based paints.
  • Some models have guide wheels or trim tabs that guarantee a straight line at the point of intersection.
  • Paint pads are also an excellent way to apply waterproof coating to a deck or fence. Attached to a long handle, they eliminate bending and stooping and can be washed and re-used.

Spackling Compound

  • Is used for patching cracked plaster, filling nail holes, repairing wallboard and smoothing surface imperfections on unprimed wood.
  • Lightweight vinyl spackling is the easiest to use—it resists shrinking, cracking and sagging and requires little sanding.
  • One type of spackling changes color when optimum drying time is achieved. It goes on pink and turns white when dry to signal time for sanding and painting.
  • While some are formulated specifically for either interior or exterior applications, many can be used in either situation.
  • Available in 8 oz., pint, quart and gallon buckets as well as 6 oz. tubes.

Ladder Jacks

  • Convert a pair of extension ladders into a working platform.
  • Ladder jacks can accommodate 12”, 14” and 20” wide planks, depending on the model, and can be attached to either 2 or 3 rungs.
  • Clamp secures platform to ladder jacks and ties supporting ladders together to help secure entire ladder jack system.
  • Can be mounted to either side of an extension ladder.

Paint Shield

  • Also known as a trim guard.
  • Used to mask off areas not to be painted.
  • Used primarily in corners where wall meets ceiling or where twowalls meet that are not painted the same color.
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Plumbing FAQ's (121)

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.

How does a typical water filter work?

Different types of filters work differently.
If it is a bacteria/sediment/taste/odor filter, water flows through a silver-impregnated ceramic wall, which traps particles down to one micron. Then it flows through a granular-activated charcoal liner that absorbs chemicals, unpleasant tastes and odors. Water that is free of bacteria then passes through the center hole and out of the filter.

If it is a filter that removes chemical/taste/odors, water enters the filter and surrounds a cartridge inside. Water then passes through the hole at the bottom of the cartridge and flows up through a bed of granular activated carbon, which absorbs chemicals, tastes and odors, and then out of the filter.

If it is a filter that removes sediment, it is installed at the source of the supply. Water containing sand, silt, algae and rust enters the filter and surrounds the cartridge, which is tightly sealed at both ends. Water passes through the cartridge well, which traps sediment particles. Relatively free of solid matter (depending on micron rating of the filter), the water flows up through the center hole and out of the filter.


How do I remove a faucet seat?

Use a seat wrench, which has several sizes of square and hex ends.

What is a compression fitting?

This type of fitting squeezes a brass or plastic ring around copper or plastic tubing.

What is a toilet vent?

It is a pipe that runs from the toilet drain to the outside, usually to the roof. This prevents air lock in the drain line.

I am getting no hot water from my electric water heater. What could be the cause of this?

The high-temperature cutoff may have been tripped, which requires someone to press the reset. Otherwise its probably a faulty heating element or thermostat, which can be replaced.

How do I test my toilet flapper for leaks?

Test your toilet flapper by pouring a bit of food coloring into the tank, then check back in 15 minutes to see if the water in the bowl has changed color. If it has, then most likely your toilet flapper needs to be replaced. If this does not fix the leak, you may need to replace the entire flush valve. For more information on diagnosing a leaky toilet, watch our video “Why is My Toilet Leaking.” To learn how to change your entire flush valve, watch our video “Installing a Flush Valve.”

How do I join PVC fittings to PVC pipe?

Use a solvent welding glue, which softens the pipe and fittings so they can melt together.

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Plumbing Terms (100)

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.

Flush Handle

  • Activates the flush valve ball.
  • Usually sold in combination with the trip lever.
  • Attaches with a left-handed screw, which screws on in a counter-clockwise direction.

Sill Cock

  • Is a faucet located on the outside wall of the house that easily hooks to garden hoses.
  • The best type is a frost-proof sill cock, made of heavy red brass, that looks and works like any ordinary faucet. However, water flow valves are located inside the building where it is warm.
  • The anti-siphon frost-proof sill cock employs integral back-siphon and back-flow devices. These serve to prevent potential back-siphonage, which, if unchecked, could compromise the safe potable water supply to the home. Hose-attached garden sprays and other pressurized canisters can potentially link a cross-connection if a pressure charge occurs when the frostproof is in the open position.
  • The anti-siphon frostproof sillcock allows for outside spigot usage in freezing climates. The closing member (seat washer) is located inside the heated building.

Galvanized Pipe

  • Has zinc coating that prevents rust if not scratched.
  • Use primarily for carrying water or waste. Do not use for gas or steam.
  • Common water sizes are 3/8”, 1/2”, 3/4” and 1”. Common waste sizes are 1-1/2”, 2” and 3”.
  • Often sold in pre-threaded standard lengths, or can be custom threaded.
  • Use only with similar galvanized pipe fittings, not with black pipe fittings.
  • Measured using the I.D. (inside diameter).


  • Any length of pipe less than 12″ used to extend a run of pipe.
  • Usually available in increments of 1″, from “close” (the shortest length, where threads almost touch) to 12″
  • Longer lengths of pipe are considered “cut lengths” and are available in 24″ increments.

Chain Vise

  • Helps hold pipe when cutting or reaming pipe.
  • Smaller than the yoke vise. Has a fixed lower V-shaped jaw with teeth on where the pipe is laid and a bicycle-type chain fastened to one end. When the pipe is inserted, the chain is placed over it and locked in a slot on the opposite side.

Epoxy Repair

  • Repairs small leaks in pipes.
  • A two-part material that looks like clay.
  • Just before using, break off a piece and mix together by rubbing between your fingers.
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Power Tools Terms (84)

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.

Hammer Drill

  • Used to drill quickly through concrete, stone, block and brick.
  • While the drill turns, the drill vibrates the chuck back and forth or side-to-side to help the bit chip the material while it is drilling.
  • Many models have a mode selector, allowing the operator to choose rotation only, like a conventional drill, and hammer drill, which combines the drill and hammer action. Better models might offer a hammer only option for chisel and scraper attachments.
  • Do not confuse with a rotary hammer, which can accommodate core bits up to 6” in diameter. These tools have unique bit drive and retention methods rather than the conventional geared chuck.
  • Manufacturers will measure speed by rpm (revolutions per minute), and the hammer action by bpm (blows per minute).


Power Planer

  • Smooths and reduces the surface of wood to achieve a flat surface.
  • Operates with a pair of replaceable knives that can adjust to various depths.
  • Features include an edge fence for edge trimming.
  • Another feature on most models is a safety foot that prevents damaging a surface if the user sets down the tool before the cutter has stopped spinning. A safety foot drops down to raise the plate and keep the blade from cutting into the surface.

Edge Cutting Guide

  • Attaches to a jigsaw.
  • Used as a guide to making straight cuts.
  • Some models come with a pivot knob that guides the saw in a circular cut.


  • Can use gasoline or electric power.
  • Chips and sheds branches up to 3” in diameter into small pieces that can be used as organic mulch.
  • Uses a bag to collect chipped materials.
  • Most types allow the user to rake leaves directly into the machine or feed branches into the top. Some models offer both a drop-in hopper and a dedicated chipper chute.

Chuck Key

  • A small T- or L-shaped tool used to tighten and loosen the chuck on electric drills and drill presses.
  • Available in various sizes, as well as universal models.
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Storage & Workshop Terms (35)

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.

Edging Clamp

  • Three-way clamp resembling a C-Clamp with a third screw located in the middle of the throat.
  • Used to apply pressure at a right angle to the side of the work surface.
  • Commonly used for installing molding and trim on furniture and countertops.


  • Is available in denaturedwood isopropyl or methanol form.
  • Wood and methanol alcohols are extremely toxic and should not be recommended for do-it-yourselfers.
  • Denatured alcohol, a safer substance, is used for thinning and for cleaning shellac and pigmented shellac primer.
  • Alcohol is excellent for removing grease and oil spots, fingerprints and other smudges.
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