DIY Frequently Asked Questions

Building Materials FAQ's (273)

How often do I need to reseal my granite countertop?

Check the product you use to seal it. You’ll need to reseal the countertop every five years, but some products may need to be reapplied every two years.

Are there other options besides brick trim for trimming the doorway of my home?

There are a variety of other trim options that can add a lot of detail to the entranceway. Options include caps or headers over the door, pilasters, plinths, sidelights and transoms. Also, many of the types of trim, such as crown molding and cove molding, that are used inside can be used outside as well.

What are some signals I need new windows?

Air leaking around the windows; windows don’t open easily and are painted or nailed shut, which could prevent a safe escape during a fire; or the sash and other parts are rotting or deteriorating.

How do I fasten fiber cement siding?

Use corrosion resistant nails, either stainless steel or galvanized. You can also use galvanized screws.

What do I use to cut the paneling?

Use a fine-tooth panel saw.

What’s the difference between thinset mortar and latex-modified thinset mortar?

The latex additive in the mortar adds strength and moisture resistance to the mortar mix. You may want to use this type, for example, if you are tiling a shower stall.

What is the difference between ceramic and porcelain tile?

Porcelain is made from a more dense clay and kiln fired at higher temperatures. This means porcelain has a higher scratch resistance, durability and stain resistance than ceramic. It is also more difficult to cut.

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.

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.

Should I use 3 mil visqueen or 4 mil visqueen?

The 4 mil is thicker, which makes it more durable. The 3 mil is not as good, but if it’s for a short one-time use, it is a little less expensive. For example, it could be used as a disposable drop cloth.

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Building Materials Terms (161)

Rigid Insulation

  • Can be used on the interior or exterior of the house, or on basement walls.
  • Usually comes in board form in a variety of sizes ranging from 8” squares to 4’ x 12’ sheets.
  • Some types are made of fiberboard and are popular because of their durability and low cost. Fiberboard repels water, while the asphalt coating eliminates the need for building paper.
  • Another type is made of extruded polystyrene. It is very resistant to moisture and is most highly recommended for below-ground use.
  • Molded polystyrene board is another type that dissipates water well.
  • Another type is polyisocyanurate sheathing that is available with aluminum foil or glass fiber mat facers. This type has the highest R-value per inch of thickness of all insulation products.

Hollow-Core Wood Door

  • Has wooden or cardboard ribs inside for stability.
  • Primarily used as interior doors, as they will warp or disintegrate from weather.
  • Size is usually 1-3/8” to 1-3/4” thick, and usually 30”, 32″ or 36” wide.
  • Common height is 80”.

Oriented Standboard

  • Known as OSB.
  • A structural-use panel used for roof sheathing, subfloors, underlayment, single-layer floors, exterior siding and wall sheathing.
  • Composed of elongated, thin strands of wood that are bonded with resin under intense heat and pressure.
  • A uniform panel free of knotholes that holds nails and screws securely.
  • Available in 4’ x 8’ panels in thicknesses of 3/8”, 7/16”, 15/32”, 19/32” and 23/32”.
  • Three grades are available: sheathing, single floor and siding.

Power Ventilator

  • Turbine vents that consist of a turbine mounted on a sheet metal cylinder.
  • Installed like roof line vents along the face of the roof.
  • When the wind blows, it spins the turbine, which in turn draws air up out of the attic.
  • Their effectiveness depends on whether the wind is blowing or not.

Carpet Padding

  • Installed underneath the carpet.
  • Prolongs the life of the carpet and adds to comfort.
  • Usually made from felted cushion, urethane, foam rubber or sponge rubber.
  • Weight, density and thickness vary by type and the amount of traffic in the area to be carpeted.
  • Typically available in 36”, 54”, 72”, 108” and 144” widths.

Vinyl Patching Cement

  • Used for patching concrete.
  • Consists of a powder mixed with water.
  • It has greater adhesive strength than cement and sand mixtures and a greater resistance to cracking and chipping.
  • Not affected by repeated freezing and thawing.
  • Can be applied in layers as thin as 1/16”.
  • Bonds to brick, tile, marble and concrete.

Laminated Flooring

  • Consists of thin layers of wood or paper products adhered to a resilient foam core.
  • Designed to look like wood, stone or marble.
  • A coating of aluminum oxide provides hardness for the flooring.
  • Easy to maintain and resists scratching, denting or staining.
  • A glueless, interlocking design offered by some manufacturers makes it easy to install.
  • Not recommended for bathrooms since it can swell when exposed to water.


  • Three female openings in a T shape.
  • Straight tees have the same size openings.
  • Reducing Tees have two openings of the same size and one of a different size.
  • Sanitary Tees are used in waste lines. They have a curved branch designed for a cleanout plug and are designed to prevent obstruction of waste.
  • A Cross has four female openings of equal size.
  • A Wing Tee has lugs for fastening the fitting to a wall or stud.
  • A Compression Tee uses compression fittings on two or more ends.
  • A Test Tee has a threaded opening to be used in conjunction with a threaded plug for a cleanout opening on a drain pipe.

Polyurethane Glue

  • Is a one-part adhesive offering the strength of an epoxy without mixing.
  • Generally requires 4 to 24 hours to fully cure, but it does bond to most materials.
  • Cures in the presence of moisture, so wetting one or both materials to be joined is required.
  • Good for a bond between either similar or dissimilar surfaces an is commonly used in woodworking.
  • Waterproof, sandable, paintable and stainable.

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.
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Electrical & Lighting Terms (80)

Voltage Tester

  • Also known as a test lamp, a circuit tester, a neon tester or a test light.
  • Consists of two insulated wire probes and a small neon light.
  • Designs vary widely.
  • Used to determine if there is electricity running through a circuit or if it is properly grounded.
  • Recommend as a basic tool for every toolbox.

Range and Dryer Cords

  • Range and dryer cords are free-end types, commonly called “pigtails,” attached directly to the appliance. Free ends are fitted with cable terminals that connect to screw terminals of the appliance to assure positive connections. A metal clamp attached to the cable serves as a strain relief at the point where the cable enters an appliance and a cord protector.
  • Heavy-duty attachment plugs for ranges and dryers are much larger than standard attachment plugs. Most are “L” shaped with a power cord feeding out the side of the plug.
  • Sizes range from 30 to 50 amps for dryers and ranges. The different amperage attachment plugs are not interchangeable because of a difference in their configuration.
  • A recent change in the National Electrical Code requires new range and dryer receptacle installations to be 3-pole, 4-wire grounding receptacles. The neutral (grounded circuit conductor) can no longer be used to ground the frames of electrical ranges and dryers.

Four-Way Switch

  • Controls power to lights and devices by turning off the hot side of the circuit.
  • Mounted in an electrical box.
  • Has four brass terminal screws.
  • It may also include a green grounding screw.
  • Used in connection with three-way switches to control one circuit from three or more points.

Plug Fuse

  • Also known as Edison base fuse, plug-in fuse or glass fuse.
  • A safety device that breaks an electrical circuit when it is overloaded.
  • The most commonly used fuse. Available in 5- to 30-amp sizes.
  • It has a threaded base like a light bulb and a small window to view a metal linkage. Electricity flows through the linkage. When the circuit is overloaded, the linkage melts and turns black, cutting off the flow of electricity through it. The fuse then must be replaced.

Low Voltage Lights

  • Safe for many outdoor lighting applications. Because of the low voltage, users will not receive an electric shock even if they touch the bare wires or cut a buried cable with a garden tool. Consequently, these systems are harmless to children and pets and do not require cables to be buried.
  • A power pack is the heart of the low-voltage system and should be located outdoors by installing a weatherproof outlet cover to keep snow and rain out. Power packs typically range from 88-watt capacity up to 900-watt capacity.
  • May be one of several types. Bayonet base lamps feature a copper base that twists into the fixture socket, while the wedge base lamp plugs into the socket. Halogen lamps provide the most energy efficiency.
  • Remote photo control automatically turns lights on at dark and off during daylight hours.

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.

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.

Specialty Switches

  • Rocker Switch operates the same as a standard switch, but instead of a toggle, it operates with a rocker action.
  • Delayed Action Switch keeps the circuit open for a few minutesafter the switch is turned off. A good use is in a garage where, after the user turns off the switch, it allows the light to remain on in time exit.
  • Photoelectric Switch operates with a photoelectric cell. It turns off during the day and turns on during the night.
  • Motion Switch turns on the light as you enter the room. Good for both convenience and security.
  • An Illuminated Switch has a small light that is on when the switch is off so it can be easily found; these are usually used at entrances to rooms and in hallways. Another version is the Pilot Light Switch.
  • An Outdoor Switch features a turning lever inside a weatherproof box cover with a toggle switch.
  • Voice-Activated Switch operates with a voice command.

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.


  • Available in a variety of sizes and styles. Popular features include high-intensity, adjustable spot-to-flood beams with a simple twist of the wrist.
  • Mini-flashlights operate with AA or AAA cell batteries. Standard flashlights use two 6D cell batteries.
  • Flashlights with LEDs (light emitting diodes) will last much longer than standard incandescent bulbs. LEDs do not have a filament that will burn out. Instead, they use a semiconductor material. They’ve long been used in the electronic industry, and manufacturers are new using them in consumer flashlights.
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Electrical FAQ's (92)

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.

My fluorescent fixture does not seem to be putting out as much light as it used to. Could the tube be failing?

If the entire tube is dim, it may simply need washing. Try removing it and wiping it with a damp cloth.

My dimmer switch feels warm. Is that safe?

It is normal for a dimmer to get warm during operation, and they have a built-in heat sink for that very reason. Always be sure the load on the switch does not exceed its rating.

What is BX cable?

This is a trade name for an armored cable that wraps the wires in a flexible metal sheathing.

Is there a tool for removing the outer sheathing on cables such as Romex?

A utility knife will work, but an inexpensive a cable ripper is designed for the task and will not damage the wires inside.

What is a time delay fuse?

Time delay fuses are used on circuits where appliance motors have initial surges of electrical power when the motor starts. This initial surge might blow a regular fuse.

I’ve noticed that some outlets have a T-shaped neutral slot. What does this do?

It identifies the outlet as a 20-amp grounded receptacle and it should be used only on 20 amp circuits.

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.

I have an older home that does not have ground fault interrupters. Can I install these myself?

Yes, you can replace your regular outlets with ground fault interrupters. If you do not want to rewire the outlet, you can use a portable model that is plugged into an existing outlet.

What is the difference between an extension cord rated for outdoor use and a standard one?

The outer coating of the insulation is weather and sunlight resistant.

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Encyclopedia-Terms (0)


  • Has a blade at a right angle to the handle.
  • Available with long or short handles.
  • Different models are available for cultivating, planting and picking.

Lopping Shears

  • Has long handles and tempered steel blades.
  • Used to cut through heavy underbrush and branches up to 3” thick.
  • Available in anvil or bypass styles.


  • Japan DrierAlso known as Japan drier.
  • Increases the gloss and hardness of oil-based paint.
  • Also decreases dry time by as much as 30 percent.
  • Generally mix 8 oz. per gallon of paint.
  • Not for use water-based paints.

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.

Rag Rolling Applicator

  • Used with rag rolling technique to achieve effects similar to crushed velvet, parchment, chamois leather, watered silk or brocade.
  • As with sponging, ragging begins with application of a coat of paint in a solid color and allowing it to dry. A crumpled cloth is then used to add glaze in another color.
  • To rag-roll, a cloth is rolled into a sausage shape of varying tightness, then lightly dipped into the glaze and rolled gently across the base coat.
  • Ragging and rag-rolling results vary according to the cloth material used. Linen, lace and burlap are common choices, but almost any material will do if it is clean and free of lint.
  • Can also be used with a negative method, which involves applying a base coat, then a glaze coat. A rag is then rolled over the glaze to remove some of it before it has a chance to dry, partially exposing the color of the base coat.

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.

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.

Water Supply Tube

  • Steel Supply TubeUsed to connect a water supply line to a faucet fixture, toilet or appliances. Several types available.
  • Plastic type is flexible and inexpensive but not designed for exposed connections.
  • Ribbed chrome type bends easily without kinking.
  • Braided type features pre-attached connector nuts at both ends and can be flexed to fit.
  • Chrome-plated copper or brass tubes are more rigid than other types and are good for exposed applications.
  • The most common size is 3/8″, with lengths ranging from 6″ to 72″.


  • Used to clear stopped-up drains by chemical action.
  • Most liquid drain cleaners are heavier than water and will seek out the stoppage, even if the sink, tub or bowl is full of water.
  • Cleaners are typically a combination of potassium hydroxide, which turns grease to soft soap, and thioglycolic acid, that dissolves hair. Others may contain sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid or lye.
  • Toxic liquids should carry warnings and must be used with caution.

Pipe (Stillson) Wrench

  • Used to grasp pipes and other curved surfaces. Solid housings and hardened steel jaws provide excellent bite and grip.
  • Has two serrated jaws, one adjustable and the other fixed and slightly offset.
  • The Straight pattern is standard.
  • The End-pattern style has jaws slightly offset and is handy for working in restricted spaces or close to walls.
  • The Offset style has jaws at 90∫ to the handle and is also handy for tight spots.
  • The jaws will leave marks on the pipe, so itís best to avoid using them on coated pipe, such as galvanized pipe.
  • Some pipe wrenches have aluminum handles for lighter weight.


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FAQs (0)

Should I apply a protective coating over a faux finish?

While it isn’t mandatory, it will enhance the durability. Just be sure to let the glaze dry for two days before coating.

Should I use a brush with synthetic or natural bristles?

As a general rule, you should use a synthetic bristle brush with latex paint and a natural bristle brush with oil-base paints. However, many synthetic bristle brushes can also be used with oil base paints.

Should I buy a paint brush with angled bristles or cut square?

An angle-tipped brush allows you to put the tips of the bristles on the work at the natural angle that the brush is held. In addition, an angle-tipped brush puts slightly more bristle area on the work than a square-tipped brush of the same width.

What tool should I use to strip the plastic sheathing off wire?

A combination wire stripper tool has openings that fit different sizes of wire. When a wire is put into the correct one and pulled it will remove the covering without damaging the wire.

The dryer plug will not fit the receptacle in our new house. How can I remedy this?

In most new homes, there should be four-prong dryer and range receptacles. If you have a three prong power cord, you will need to change it.

Should I just throw away my old recyclable batteries?

No, laws require that they be recycled. This includes Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-ion) and small sealed Lead (Pb) batteries. You can look for a battery recycling seal on the rechargeable batteries found in cordless power tools, cellular and cordless telephones, laptop computers and camcorders.

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.

How do I test a switch to see if it is working?

Use a continuity tester. First, shut of the electricity going to the switch and remove it. Touch the tester leads to both of the switch’s terminals. If the switch is working properly, the tester will light up when the switch is on and go out when the switch is turned off.

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 does a tube grate work?

A tube grate functions like a conventional grate or andiron in a fireplace. It is an energy saving device that pulls air into the bottom tube opening, moves it around and over the fire (warming the air as it goes) and then shoots it back into the room. It keeps the room’s air from escaping up the chimney, and when combined with glass doors, is an effective way of increasing the energy efficiency of a fireplace.

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Hand & Power Tools FAQ's (185)

Why does the hook on the end of my tape measure move slightly? Doesn’t that affect the final reading? Do I need to get a new one for my toolkit?

It is designed to slide the same amount as the thickness of the end of the hook. That way it can accurately measure distances when the tape is hooked to the end of an object (such as the end of a board) or when measuring between objects (such as the width of a door jamb). If it were fixed, one of these two measurements would be off by the thickness of the hook.

I need a hex key wrench, but I don’t know the size.

Since they are not expensive, an 18-piece all-purpose hex key wrench set is recommended.

What can I cut with a circular saw?

With the proper blade, it can cut wood, metal, plastic, fiberglass cement block, slate and brick.

What drill bits do you recommend for general use?

For drilling smaller holes in a variety of materials, choose a high-speed steel twist bit. These can drill holes from about 1/16 inch to ½ inch in wood, soft metal and other materials.

I want to cut some lightweight sheet metal, which hacksaw blade should I use?

Use a fine cut blade. On heavier metals, such as steel pipe, a coarser cut blade will be more efficient.

What can be used to produce a nice smooth surface when I finish furniture?

Using a fine steel wool between multiple coats will give you a smoother surface. Be sure to clean the surface with a tack cloth before painting each additional coat.

When buying a trimmer or edger, should I buy a gas-powered or electric model?

If you can reach every corner of your yard with a 150-foot extension cord, you should consider an electric model. They typically cost less, are quieter and require less maintenance. If you have a larger yard then a gas-powered model may be better.

How does the number on the shank of a drill bit relate to its size?

Bit diameters are usually marked by a single number—the numerator of a fraction. For example, an auger bit, which is marked by 16ths of an inch, with a number 8 would stand for 8/16″ or 1/2″. Twist bits are usually marked in the same manner by 64ths of an inch. Thus a No. 8 bit would stand for 8/64″ or 1/8″.

What are the quality differences between drop forged and cast metal hand tools?

During construction, drop forging removes more air bubbles. This means there are fewer weak spots.

What’s the best way to sharpen the head of my axe?

With a file, restoring the head to its original shape.

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Hand Tools Terms (241)


  • Also known as a snake.
  • Consists of a coiled spiral cable, usually 1/4î thick and of varying lengths.
  • The most basic type has a z-shaped handle used to crank the cable as it snakes through the drain.
  • Another type uses a funnel-shaped container to store the cable and then to spin it as it works its way through the drain.
  • Professionals use an auger attached to a drill or other device that spins the cable. Usually these versions can maneuver a much longer cable.

Sweep Rake

  • Used like a broom to pull leaves and debris past the user.
  • Fan-shaped.
  • May have a straight or round leading edge.

Nail Set

  • Used to countersink nails before filling with putty, plastic, wood or other filling materials for a smooth surface.
  • Nail sets are sized by 1/32″ and range from 1/32″ to 5/32″.
  • It is important that the correct size set be used for each size nail to prevent enlarging of a small nail hole by too large a set.
  • The pointed end of the nail set should be cupped or hollowed out to avoid splitting the nail head. Self-centering nail sets are available.

Strap Wrench

  • Recommended for working with brass, aluminum, lead, soft metal or plastic pipe because it grips pipe without teeth and does not damage the surface.
  • Consists of a fabric strap, attached to a loop ring that is fastened in the curved head of a straight forged bar or handle. It is then pulled around the pipe, back through the loop and over the head.
  • When the wrench is pulled tight, the strap grips the pipe.

Fiberglass Repair Kit

  • Contains fiberglass fabric for patching and waterproofing.
  • It remains flexible after application, preventing reappearance of the same crack.
  • Kits includes fiberglass tape and oil-based mastic.
  • After the tape is applied over the crack, the mastic is brushed over the tape.
  • The edges are then feathered to blend with the surface being repaired.
  • Recommended for repairing rain gutters, roofing, interior walls and wood surfaces.

Drywall Hand Sander

  • Used for hand sanding drywall joints.
  • Generally accepts ½ sheet of sandpaper or sanding screens.
  • Some models come equipped with a 6” flexible hose adapter that can be connected to a shop vacuum to suction drywall dust during sanding.

Pointing Trowel

  • Used by bricklayers for pointing up their work.
  • Pointing and margin trowels are used for patch work and for cleaning other tools.
  • High-quality pointing and margin trowels are forged in one piece and constructed the same as a brick trowel.
  • The length of pointing trowels may be from 4-1/2″ to 7″. Best sellers are the 5″ and 6″ lengths.
  • A 5″ x 2″ is the most popular margin trowel size.

Bench Vise

  • Tool that mounts on a workbench or table to hold work pieces securely in place between two flat jaws.
  • Generally used in light-duty applications.
  • Available in both stationary and swivel models to hold work at various angles and positions.
  • A threaded spindle opens and closes the jaws of the vise to hold and release work piece.
  • Generally has jaws ranging in length from 3″ to 8″.
  • Jaw opening ranges from 4” to 12” in different models.

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.

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.
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Hardware & Fasteners Terms (109)

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.

Straight Link Welded Chain

  • Available in many gauges and link sizes.
  • Has high strength and is popular for general use.
  • One type is the coil chain, which has long lengths.
  • Another type is machine chain, which has shorter links than the coil chain.

Swinging Drapery Crane

  • Adjusting positions permit it to swing clear and project outward to keep curtains clear of venetian blinds.
  • Also used to push curtains close to the wall, to lengthen or shorten to suit drapery width and to tilt out to allow easy window or trim washing.
  • Good for French doors or windows.

Friction Catch

  • Helps the cabinet door stay shut.
  • Operates by pressure of the catch on the strike.
  • Catch mounts on a doorframe, jamb or underside of a shelf while the strike mounts on the door so that upon closing, it is inserted into the catch.
  • Two common types are alligator and lever spring-action.

Spring Hinge

  • Closes the door automatically.
  • Double acting types are commonly used on café doors that swing in both directions.

Duplex Nail

  • Has a double head to allow for easy removal in temporary construction applications.
  • Used for concrete forming and scaffolding.

Drywall/Deck Screw

  • Use when installing drywall or decking material.
  • Coated to prevent rust.


Wall Driller Anchor

  • For light-duty use on drywall.
  • Fastener makes its own hole in the drywall.
  • Do not use overhead.

Proof Coil Chain

  • The most common all-purpose chain.
  • A welded chain, which means the individual link is welded to form a continuous loop.
  • Commonly used as a log chain, tow chain, guardrail chain and switch chain.
  • Not intended for use as a sling or overhead lifting chain.
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Hardware FAQ's (78)

When should I use a polyester rope?

Polyester twisted rope has strength similar to nylon, but at the expense of a poor shock load capacity. However, it has a good resistance to abrasion and sunshine. It’s a good choice for general-purpose boating applications.

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.

Will a stick-on hook hold much weight?

They are really only designed for towels and other lightweight items.

My cabinets have handles that have holes that are 3-1/2” apart, but I am only finding new handles that fit holes 3” apart, what do you recommend?

Most pulls are generally on 3” mounting centers. You will need to drill new holes and look for pulls that are designed to cover the previous holes. There are also decorative plates that will cover the previous holes. Mount these plates under the new pulls.

What is the difference between a caulk and a sealant?

Although “caulk” and “sealant” are often used interchangeably, a sealant is generally a high-performance caulk. A product that meets or exceeds the requirements of American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) Specification C-920 is considered a sealant because of its high-performance characteristics, such as durability both inside and outside and during inclement conditions. If there are no specifications on the label—or if the label says the product meets requirements of ASTM Specification C-834—it is considered a caulk.

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.

Are there screws that will not rust?

Brass, aluminum and stainless steal screws should meet your needs.

How do I install a molly bolt?

Drill the proper size hole to insert the molly. Turn the screw head until you feel the molly expand and grip the drywall. Next, remove the screw for intended use. A drive-in type is available which eliminates the need for drilling a hole.

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 do I set finishing nails?

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.

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Heating & Cooling FAQ's (61)

Where in the room should I place a portable heater for best results?

Place heaters under a window to warm cold air as it enters the room through possible gaps around the window.

I already have some loose-fill insulation in my attic. How do I know if I need more?

Generally, if you have less than 9” of insulation on the attic floor, it needs more.

Why should I put a vent fan in my bathroom?

Bath fans help eliminate odors but also clear away steam that causes steamy mirrors and windows after bathing or showering. Walls damp with steam build-up can result in mold, mildew, wood rot and ruined insulation.

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 does a heat extractor help me conserve energy with my fireplace?

A heat extractor mounts on the stovepipe and extracts additional heat from flue gases beyond what normally comes from the stovepipe or the chimney. You can use it for either fireplaces or wood-burning stoves. As it extracts heat, it cools the flue’s gasses and could cause the flue to smoke, so it’s best to install an extractor with more capacity than is necessary for the size of the fireplace. The downside is that an extractor could work against the efficiency of a good wood-burning stove. As the flue gases cool, combustion is reduced and the stove gives off less heat.

Can I stack insulation to get a higher R-value?

Yes. For example, two R-19 batts can be stacked on each other to create R-38 insulation. You also can add loose-fill insulation on top of a bottom layer of batts.

My ceiling fan wobbles, what should I do?

If a wood blade is warped, it will wobble. Correct this problem by installing adhesive-backed weights to the blades. Operating at faster speeds may also cause humming or clicking noises with some models.

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.

How does a tube grate work?

A tube grate functions like a conventional grate or andiron in a fireplace. It is an energy saving device that pulls air into the bottom tube opening, moves it around and over the fire (warming the air as it goes) and then shoots it back into the room. It keeps the room’s air from escaping up the chimney, and when combined with glass doors, is an effective way of increasing the energy efficiency of a fireplace.

What does the R-value on insulation mean?

R refers to resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the effectiveness of the insulation. The R-value depends on the type of material, its thickness and density.

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Heating & Cooling Terms (56)

Fireplace Set

  • A set containing the tools usually needed around a fire.
  • Contains a stand, fire poker, ash shovel and broom.
  • Available in many different styles for a variety of décor options.

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.

Evaporative Humidifier

  • Uses a wick and high-volume air to return moisture to the air.
  • The wick is a honeycomb arrangement of cellulose paper with a large surface area.
  • Operates by partially submerging the wick in the water while a fan forces air to pass through the upper exposed area, distributing absorbed water into the air.
  • Wicks will need replacing.
  • This type uses little energy and is easy to clean. Some units can be noisy.

Electric Heater

  • Plugs directly into a wall unit.
  • One type uses black heat, where heating elements have the heating wire wound around a porcelain insulator.
  • Another type is the more popular instant heat that uses a ribbon element.
  • Some models have small fans to force heated air into the room.
  • Heating capacity is rated in BTUs. Wattage ratings of heaters can be converted to BTUs consumed per hour my multiplying the number of watts by 3.413 (the number of BTUs equaling one watt.)

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.

Ultrasonic Humidifier

  • Uses high-frequency energy to break the water up into tiny droplets, which are then dispersed into the air by a small fan.
  • Quiet and use little energy.
  • Has the potential of leaving a sticky white dust around the house if used with hard tap water.
  • Can pose health risks if the unit raises the level of airborne particles in the air.
  • For best results and to prevent pollutants in the air, use distilled water with this type of humidifier.

Radiant Heater

  • Directs infrared heat to the objects or people to be warmed.
  • For short periods of time, these heaters are more energy-efficient than convection heaters.
  • Usually has a wattage rating of 1,500.
  • The heating element is encased in quartz or a metal sheath and has a reflector panel behind it to direct the heat.
  • The quartz rods will periodically need to be replaced.

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.

Duct Insulation

  • Insulates ductwork to minimize heat loss and improve efficiency.
  • Available either as self-stick vinyl foam with aluminum foil backing or in handy rolls of 1-1/4” thick fiberglass combined with aluminum foil.

Baseboard Heater

  • A convection-type heater.
  • The heating elements are completely enclosed, so they are safe for use around small children, but they do not give off as much heat as other types of heaters.
  • Has protective grills removable for easy cleaning.
  • Available with or without a thermostat.
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Home Security FAQ's (38)

Is there a product that makes installing a strikeplate easier?

Yes, there is an adjustable strikeplate

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 is the difference between a single-cylinder and a double-cylinder deadbolt?

A single-cylinder is key operated from the outside while a double cylinder is key operated on both sides. They both have their advantages.

How long should a smoke detector last?

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

What is a gunlock and how does it work?

A gunlock fits over the trigger to prevent the firing of the gun. A good gun lock will cover the trigger completely and have a quality, pin-tumbler locking mechanism.

What can I do to add security to my door?

Consider installing a stronger strikeplate—these are larger and have much longer screws.

I need to attach my grill to my deck to deter it from being stolen. What do you recommend?

Aircraft cable is a good alternative. You can swage both ends and use it with a padlock. It’s more attractive than a heavy chain, and it can be used on many things—such as outdoor furniture.

Is there a product that makes installing a strikeplate easier?

Yes, there is an adjustable strikeplate.

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.

What is the best type of fire extinguisher to have in my kitchen and my garage?

A dry-chemical extinguisher marked general-purpose or multi-purpose is best for home use.

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Home Security Terms (35)

Keyless Entry System

  • For advanced home security and convenience.
  • Audio and visual indicators confirm the lockset is activated.
  • Uses a keypad on the door or a remote control to open the door.
  • Some models will sound an alarm after the incorrect code has been entered more than three consecutive times.
  • Anti-theft rolling code feature ensures the same code is never used twice.
  • Some systems are compatible with some garage door openers so the homeowner only needs one remote.

Cable Lock

  • Uses the combination of a lock and cable to lock and secure objects in a variety of applications.
  • Some models have a chain or cable permanently attached to a combination or keyed lock.
  • Chain or cable often has a protective plastic coating to prevent scratching.

Home Area Alarm

  • Uses either ultrasonic waves or microwaves to detect motion. When it detects motion, it triggers an alarm.
  • Generally plugs into a standard electrical outlet, so they’re easy to install.
  • Ultrasonic detector waves only go as far as the wall of the room, while microwaves penetrate walls and windows.
  • Some ultrasonic alarms use a narrow sonic beam that must be bounced off a hard surface. Here, the intruder must break the beam to be detected.
  • Other ultrasonic alarms use a wide beam that fills the room and detects motion anywhere in the trap zone.
  • The most important consideration with this type of alarm is avoiding false alarms. These can be caused by air conditioners or drapery moving above a hot air register. Better systems have built in circuitry that does not respond to these types of signals.
  • Some systems have extra repeater alarms or satellites. These can be plugged in anywhere in the home to add extra noise and relay the warning to remote rooms.

Tubular Cylinder Padlock

  • Offers many key changes by replacing the cylinder.
  • Usually used in electronic security systems, but some owners of motorcycles and expensive bikes use them as well.
  • Pins are arranged in a circle and are exposed.
  • The key is cylindrical.

Fire Safety Ladder

  • Used to escape from an upper story window.
  • Comes in varying lengths, but most are sold for second-story rooms.
  • Features include tangle-free designs, compactness and strength ratings of the lines and footsteps.

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.

Home Perimeter Alarm

  • Some types use low-voltage wire, similar to stereo speaker wire, to connect magnetic window and door sensors to a control panel.
  • Other types use radio transmitters at each door and window sensors to trigger an alarm at the control panel.
  • Alarm sounds when the window or door opens.
  • Alarm systems designed for d-i-y installation are frequently battery powered, so ease in testing the batteries can be an important feature. Some systems sound a warning when the batteries are low.
  • Hard-wired systems may have a button on the control panel that checks the entire system.

Combination Lock

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

Night Latch

  • Installed on the inside surface of the door.
  • Has an automatic locking feature. The large, spring loaded latch automatically locks whenever the door is closed.
  • For light security and usually used in combination with another lock.

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”.
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Lawn & Garden FAQ's (154)

How do I keep the water from pooling beneath my downspouts? Do I need to adjust the position my gutters?

There are several products designed to help carry water away from the foundation. The first is a splash block which sits directly under your downspout elbow to help carry the water that extra couple of feet away from the house. The other product is a downspout extender which is generally four-feet long. If after using these products the water is still pooling under your downspouts, you probably need to check the grade of your foundation, which is how much the land slopes away from your house.

What type of grass seed should I use for a bare spot?

There are many types of grass for different regions of the country. But the things to consider include—is the area shaded or sunny and how much foot traffic the area gets.

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.

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.

What is lawn thatch?

It’s a layer of stems and the crowns of dead grass just above the soil. While clippings decompose quickly, thatch decomposes slowly and if it builds up it creates a problem. Either use a de-thatching machine or a core-aerating machine to fix the problem.

What are micronutrients?

These are nutrients, such as sulfur and iron, that plants need in tiny amounts. Generally, micronutrient deficiencies are not common because organic matter and most soils and fertilizers contain sufficient amounts.

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.

What is an ice dam?

An ice dam is a condition where the temperature is just below freezing and the snow has fallen on the roof. The combination of heat from the sun and the escaping building heat causes the snow above the heated space to melt. The melted snow runs down the roof until it hits the unheated eave overhang. If the weather is cold enough, the runoff freezes and forms a small ridge. As the process continues, the ridge grows. Soon, water is backed up over the house and flows under the shingles, leaking into the home.

I need to re-pot my houseplants. What soil should I use?

You need a good potting soil that allows for air movement, moisture retention and will not shrink away from the sides of the pot. Look for one that contains vermiculite, perlite and sphagnum peat.

My gutters are letting out water at the ends. What can I do to fix it?

The endcap of the gutter is one of the most common places for leaks to develop. You can by a silicone based product specifically designed to seal gutters. It comes in a caulk-like tube and can be applied with a caulk gun.

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Lawn and Garden Terms (144)

Kentucky Bluegrass

  • Forms a good sod when grown alone and thrives when included in a mixture.
  • Slow to germinate and become established.
  • Does not tolerate dense shade.
  • Responds well to fertilization and high mowing.
  • Grows well in lawns in the cool-climate, Northern half of the U.S., except in areas with mild winters, such as the maritime Pacific Northwest.

Gutter Leaf Guard

  • Placed over the top of the gutter.
  • Used to keep leaves out of the gutter while letting rainwater in.
  • A variety of styles are available from different manufacturers.

Synthetic Organic Fertilizer

  • Contains ureafoam and methylene urea.
  • Provides a combination of slow and fast release of nitrogen, combining the best of the other two kinds of fertilizer, inorganic and organic.
  • Easier to use than organic fertilizers because they are typically packaged for use with a specific application and are less bulky.

Lawn Weed Control

  • Weeds are classified as grassy (such as crabgrass), broadleaf (such as dandelions and plantain), annual or perennial.
  • Weed seeds can lie dormant in the ground for several years, then grow again when conditions are right.
  • Spring is the best time to control broadleaf and grassy weeds when they are small and vulnerable. Weed killers are formulated to work best in temperatures between 60°F and 85°F.
  • Pre-emergent herbicides attack weeds before they break the surface of the soil. Apply them early in the spring. Post-emergent herbicides attack the plant after it begins to grow.
  • Selective herbicides kill certain plants but do not harm others. Non-selective herbicides will kill all vegetation they touch.
  • Do not rake or dethatch lawns after applying a pre-emergent herbicide. It will destroy the protective barrier the chemical has created.

Drip Irrigation System

  • Placed close to plant roots to water slowly and evenly.
  • Installed on top of the soil.
  • The key fitting is the emitter or dripper head. It has a small orifice and fits on the end of the hose.
  • Systems are easy to install and come with all of the necessary accessories such as hose adapters, couplings, emitters, spikes and clamps.

Coil Hose

  • Shaped like a coil or a spring, this hose rebounds gently after each use for convenient storage.
  • Withstands sun and rain and has solid brass or nylon fittings for drip-free connections.
  • Usually made of nylon or polyurethane and is available in a variety of colors.

Hand Trowel

  • Used to loosen dirt in a garden.
  • Blade is usually 3-1/4” to 3-1/2” wide.
  • Another type is a transplanting trowel that has a slimmer 2” wide blade.

Weed Cutter

  • May also be called a swing blade or weed whip.
  • For cutting tall grass and weeds.
  • Operates with a swinging motion.
  • Has a double-edged, serrated blade for cutting on the forward and return swing.

Lawn Fencing

  • Offers homeowners inexpensive protection for shrubs, trees and flowerbeds.
  • Vinyl-coated fence withstands harsh weather and does not need painting or other maintenance. Available in green or white.
  • Plastic fence is available in a 2” square mesh design and a 1” diamond mesh.
  • Available in white and green. Will not rot, rust or corrode and has no sharp edges.
  • Galvanized fence is available in 2”x4” mesh.
  • Typical fence stands 36” to 48” high.


  • Fast-growing seed, frequently used by itself or in mixtures.
  • Available as an annual or perennial. The annual quickly germinates for temporary lawns.
  • Good for slopes because of its quick germination.
  • Perennial ryegrass is ideal for lawns in the cool-climate, northern half of the U.S.
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Paint & Decorating FAQ's (80)

Do I need to prime my ceiling before painting it?

While it’s always a good idea to prime before painting, unless you ceiling has stains, you probably don’t need to because it doesn’t take the abuse and get as dirty as walls typically do.

Should I use a primer?

In most cases, you need a primer if the surface has never been painted before. If you are repainting something, you will need a primer if the old paint is worn down and the surface is exposed.

How much glaze will I need for an average room?

It depends, but generally one quart of tinted paint to six quarts of glaze is common. When using acrylic glaze, the ratio increases to one quart of tinted paint to eight quarts of glaze.

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.

What type of brush is best for rough surfaces?

A synthetic brush is your best choice, because the rough surface can quickly damage the flags on a natural-bristle brush.

What type of primer should I use on ceilings?

It depends on factors such as whether or not there are stains that need attention and if you are painting the ceiling white or giving it some color. If you don’t have stains and you will be painting the ceiling white, there are specially formulated primers that go on pink or blue and turn white when dry.

Can I store unused spray paint?  Sometimes I have paint left in an old can of spray paint but the tip is clogged.

Paint dries in the tip if you do not flush it out. When you are finished with your project, you can turn the can upside down for a few seconds and spray. The propellant will blow out the remaining paint that is in the tip.

What type of precautions should I take when using paint stripper?

When using strippers, be sure to read the safety and usage instructions on the label. Wear chemical-resistant gloves and protective clothing, ventilate the room if using indoors and avoid exposure to the skin and eyes.

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.

What is the advantage of a natural-bristle brush?

Bristle has naturally split ends called flags, which help hold the paint in the brush so that it is released throughout the stroke instead of all at once.

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Paint & Decorating Terms (82)

Spray Paint

  • Is an aerosol-based product used for a variety of applications.
  • Spray paint is classified by the type of finish and length of wear.
  • Generic terms such as “enamel” and “lacquer” are used, but they also encompass a variety of film-forming resins with differing characteristics. Read labels and manufacturers’ literature for a description of actual features.
  • Latex-based spray paint is safe to use indoors or outdoors, resists scratches and cleans up easily with soap and water. It can be applied to wood, metal, wicker, clay, plaster and plastic materials.
  • There are three kinds of aerosol propellants: hydrocarbons (liquid propellants), carbon dioxide (a compressed gas) and dimethyl ether.
  • Hydrocarbons are effective as propellants because they turn to vapor as the product is used and then fill the void left by the decrease in product.
  • Carbon dioxide does not maintain a constant pressure, so it is best recommended where a coarse, wet spray is needed and where the distance to be sprayed is short.
  • Aerosols are effective and safe—as long as the product is used in well-ventilated areas. For most aerosols, instructions on the can make usage easy, but paint is different because the kinds and qualities vary greatly.

Sculpture Paint

  • Thick paste material for creating raised designs.
  • Commonly used with stencils.
  • Porous nature accepts additional glaze well and can be blended with glaze to created tinted designs.
  • Can be used on walls, furniture, cabinets and crafts.

Ladder Paint Tray

  • Similar to paint tray for step ladders but designed for extension ladders.
  • Can fit on aluminum or fiberglass extension ladders with round or flat rungs.

Heavy Duty Scraper

  • Is used to scrape old wallpaper off walls and peeling paint from work surfaces.
  • Blade is removable for replacement and is secured with screws.
  • Angled head offers enhanced leverage.
  • Many now come with ergonomic rubber grip handles for enhanced comfort.

Foam Brush

  • Foam brushes have handles like regular brushes, but a foam pad replaces the bristles.
  • Considered disposable because they are inexpensive, but most are durable enough to be cleaned and reused.
  • Ideal for clear finishes, however, most brands are not recommended for use with lacquer or shellac, which have chemical formulas that destroy the foam.

Extension Ladder

  • A non-self supporting type of ladder with two similar sections that are linked with internal guides on the bottom of base section and external guides on the top.
  • Sections are pulled apart to increase length.
  • Used for working in high areas and primarily for exterior applications.
  • Available in heights ranging from 16’ to 40’.
  • Smaller extension ladders are extended manually and secured with gravity spring lock brackets
  • that rest on the selected rung.
  • Larger extension ladders are extended by means of a rope and pulley running down the side of the ladder and secured with a cleat.
  • Generally available in all aluminum and fiberglass with aluminum rungs.
  • Rungs can be round or flat and are usually serrated for enhanced slip resistance.
  • Ladder shoes pivot to allow full contact with ground. Shoes can also be turned up to penetrate soft ground for extra stability.
  • Quality classifications include consumer (household), commercial (mechanic) and industrial grades.

Clear Coat

  • Clear acrylic protective finish for painted walls.
  • Particularly recommended for crackled walls and walls where sand tones have been applied.
  • Gives an ultra flat finish.

Paint Pail Shelf

  • Attaches to step ladders to provide a tray for paint cans.
  • Generally constructed of molded plastic shelf with aluminum arms.
  • Some models automatically close when step ladder is folded for storage.
  • Usually contains a built-in rag rack.

Wood Conditioner Sealer

  • Is used on softwoods to help tame wild grain patterns and to even up stain absorbency.
  • The sealer penetrates the wood, which allows a more even color appearance and grain pattern.

Radiator Brush

  • Also called hockey stick due to shape.
  • Used to paint hard-to-reach areas.
  • Sash positioned at 45-degree angle to long handle.
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Plumbing FAQ's (121)

What is the purpose of a pressure relief valve on a water heater?

This is a safety device that will open in case of high pressure or temperature.

Can I attach metal fittings and plastic fittings?

Yes, there are transition fittings that make this possible.

My sump pump runs constantly, do I need to buy a new one?

It could just be a bad switch that is easy to replace.

Why isn’t my toilet bowl filling up?

See if you toilet has an overflow pipe. If so, a rubber tube should go into it. It has a metal clip on it and sometimes it can come loose.

What does the toilet vent pipe do?

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.

Do I use the same type of glue for both PVC and CPVC?

No, CPVC requires a special solvent cement that is different from cement used for other types of plastic pipe.

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 am not getting enough hot water from my gas water heater. What could be the cause of this?

The thermostat may be set too low, otherwise it the burner is probably not burning correctly. If that’s the case, it’s best to call a service technician.

What does O.D. and I.D. mean?

This refers to the diameter of a pipe. Some pipes are measured base on their outside diameter, or O.D. Others are measured by their interior diameter, or I.D.

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Plumbing Terms (100)

PVC Pipe

  • PVC stands for Polyvinyl Chloride.
  • Used for carrying cold water, irrigation, as conduit and for DWV (drain-waste-vent) projects.
  • Rated by thickness and strength. Common ratings (thickest to thinnest) are Schedule 40 (most common), Class 315, Class 200 and Class 125 (generally used for irrigation).
  • Available in sizes from 1/2” to 2”. White in color.


Compression Fitting

  • Achieves a watertight seal by tightening a nut, which compresses a ring onto the pipe.
  • Avoids threading, gluing or soldering a pipe connection.
  • Used with water supply tubes or other unthreaded ends of pipe.
  • Can also be used to connect two different types of pipe, such as plastic and copper.
  • Can be removed and reinstalled or retightened.

Tubing Cutter

  • Primarily used to cut copper pipe.
  • Easier to use than an ordinary hacksaw, and it makes a cleaner cut.
  • Has a single cutting wheel and two rollers that make smooth right-angle cuts.
  • Some have a triangular blade-type reamer that folds out of the way when not in use.
  • Sized to cut material with outside diameters ranging from 1/8″ through 4-1/2″.
  • Major points of wear are rollers, wheels and pins on which they are mounted. When cutter wheels are worn out, they should be replaced; sharpening them is not advisable.
  • Separate cutting wheels for plastic pipe are also available.

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.

Seat Dresser

  • Also known as a faucet seat reamer or valve seat-grinding tool.
  • Used to smooth a faucet seat. Seats may not operate properly if they collect corrosion or calcium deposits or become rough with wear.
  • Inexpensive ones often have 1/2″ and 5/8″ cutters.

Nipple Extractor

  • Also known as an internal pipe wrench.
  • Used to remove pieces of pipe that have broken off.
  • Has a rigid cylinder with a moving part that fits into the inside of the pipe and is used with pliers to turn it.

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).


  • Is closed on one end and either has male threads (for galvanized pipe) or no threads (for PVC and other solvent welded pipe.
  • Used to seal a run of pipe or fitting.
  • A Cleanout Plug can be added to a tee at the base of a vertical drain pipe. The plug is threaded for easy access to the drain. The threaded fitting for the plug can be added on, or some tee fittings have the threaded connection built-in.



Pipe Threader

  • Uses a die head to create threads on unthreaded pipe ends
  • The hand tool type revolves around a stationary pipe. It is good for threading pipe on the job.
  • With the powered type, the tool stays stationary while the pipe revolves into the die.
  • Always use thread cutting oil for best results.

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.
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Power Tools Terms (84)

Profile Sander

  • Used for sanding details and profiles, not general sanding tasks.
  • The head can accept a variety of attachments for a variety of tasks.
  • Good for sanding moldings, shaped wood edges and panels.

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.

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.

Router Table

  • A table built to accommodate a router mounted underneath.
  • Provides a smooth surface for routing, and a fence for guiding the material.
  • Another version is a horizontal table that holds the router horizontally.

Worm Drive Circular Saw

  • Designed to make straight cuts on materials that are difficult to cut with a handsaw.
  • Can make cuts on a variety of materials, and different types of materials generally require different blades.
  • The motor is inline with the handle and at a right angle to the blade arbor. It also has an oil-filled crankcase.
  • The worm gear style of power transmission means this saw has plenty of torque, which keeps it from stalling in wet or pinched lumber.
  • Quieter operation than sidewinder saws, but heavier, usually 14 to 19 lbs.
  • It has better sightlines than a sidewinder style saw
  • Most common blade size is 7-1/4”. Also available are 6-1/2” and 8-1/4” blades.

Rotary Tool

  • Often called a Dremel, after a manufacturer of a popular version of the tool.
  • Available in corded or cordless versions. Some have variable speed settings.
  • Small tool that is highly versatile and can be used with a variety of attachments.
  • Attachments can be used to sand, drill, grind, cut and carve on a small scale.
  • Bits used with these tools include a variety of grinders, sanders, cutters, routers, cleaners and polishers.

Miter Saw

  • Chop SawAlso known as a chopsaw.
  • Used for making repeated straight or miter cuts.
  • Uses a circular blade that is pivoted to the correct angle, then dropped onto the material, which is clamped stationary on a turntable.
  • The turntable has a large compass scale that is marked in degrees to show the degree of the cut.
  • The simplest miter saw available.

Plunge Router

  • Similar to a fixed-base router, but the motor is mounted on two posts and can be retracted from and lowered into the workpiece.
  • Required depth of cut can be set so it’s the same every time.
  • Versatile and good for use in joinery.
  • Plunge depth is the deepest cut that can be made by a router.

Router Bit

  • Attaches to a router to create a variety of shapes and cuts.
  • Use carbide bits for cutting laminates and harder composite materials.
  • Use high speed steel bits for general purpose cutting in wood and aluminum.
  • Generally grouped into three types: grooving bits, edging bits and specialty bits.
  • The standard d-i-y bit uses a 1/4” shank.
  • Available in an anti-kick-back or chip-limiting design that helps protect the piece of work where the router is being used by preventing the bit from lurching forward and biting into the material.

Sidewinder Circular Saw

  • Designed to make straight cuts on materials that are difficult to cut with a handsaw.
  • Can make cuts on a variety of materials, and different types of materials generally require different blades.
  • More compact than a worm drive saw. Has the motor mounted on the side of the blade.
  • Requires less maintenance than worm-drive saws and does not have an oil-filled crankcase.
  • The size of the saw tells you what is the largest size blade that you can use with it. Generally, blade sizes range from 5-1/2” to 10” in diameter. 5-1/2” and 7-1/4” are the most popular. The larger the blade, the thicker material it will cut.
  • Rated by amperage. Better tools have higher amp and rpm ratings.
  • Cordless models are popular, but offer less speed and power than corded models.
  • A popular feature is an ejector chute that directs dust away from the work and a tilt base that allows the user to cut a variety of angles.
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Storage & Workshop Terms (35)


  • Is available in solid, liquid and aerosol form.
  • Used to remove dirt, oil and grease from basement and garage floors, driveways, patios and sidewalks.
  • Some formulations are made for concrete only and should not be used on blacktop surfaces.

Woodworking Vise

  • Has jaws made of wooden pads to hold work piece securely in place without marring surface of work piece.
  • Generally mounted to the side of a workbench
  • Some woodworking vises have a fast-acting screw arrangement for the rapid positioning of the movable jaw prior to clamping.
  • Smaller vises have continuous screws and are light and easy to clamp on a workbench or sawhorse.


  • Prepares surfaces before painting and assists paint and varnish in bonding to old finishes.
  • Available in water- or solvent-based formulations.
  • Concrete Cleaner is specifically designed to clean and degrease concrete and masonry surfaces and to prepare concrete basement floors to be painted.

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.


  • 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.

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.


  • 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.

Pipe Clamp

  • Can be mounted to standard threaded or unthreaded pipe to clamp boards together while gluing.
  • Clamping can be performed from one end or both, and jaws can be positioned at the ends or anywhere along the pipe.
  • Pipe clamps can also be quickly converted from a clamp to a spreader.
  • A hardened steel set screw holds the head firmly on the pipe, but is easily loosened. The 3/4″ size has a crank handle, and depth from screw center to pipe is 11/16″. The 1/2″ size has a crosspin handle, with depth from screw center to pipe of 7/8″.

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.

One-Handed Bar Clamp

  • These are bar clamps designed with a pistol grip to allow the user to tighten or loosen the clamp instead of screwing it.
  • Can be adjusted by using just one hand on a trigger switch.
  • Perhaps the most significant innovation to come about recently in the area of clamps.
  • Available in jaw openings from 6″ to 50″ and a variety of sizes
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