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Home Workshop Tech Tips

Down to earth tech hints

by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • Offcuts storage
  • Power
  • Tool height
  • Lighting
  • Bolt storage
  • Bulk penetrating oil
  • Salvaged castor cabinets
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This article was first published in 2007.

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A convenient way of storing lots of flat items is on an old aluminium security door suspended from the roof or ceiling. In this case, perched on top are heaps of off-cuts of acrylic and polypropylene. It’s not far above head height, so just a short stepladder allows full access. Six super-strong cable ties are being used here to suspend the door but rope could as easily have been used. This door cost nothing – it was being thrown away at the local tip.

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It’d be nice to have a retractable power cord reel above each bay in a home shed but this achieves much the same outcome at no more cost than the price of the extension cord. A bracket was bent out of scrap and screwed to a rafter, allowing the extension cord to be coiled-up out of harm’s way while still being fully accessible for power. The only trick is to get the height right.

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Talking about height, if you’re bench-mounting tools, set the height that suits you. This hydraulic press is mounted much higher than many but it puts the workpiece nearer eye level, while at the same time the press isn’t too high that operating the jack handle becomes difficult. Build a home workshop to suit yourself, not others.

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Good lighting in a home workshop is vital. Lighting is best split into two categories – general and specific. General lighting (eg provided by fluorescent tubes or a high-mounted high intensity discharge light) illuminates the whole space. But even if that lighting is very bright, it will still be too dim for lighting specific points like the work table of a drill press or the wheels of a grinder. Directional lighting is needed in those areas. This can be provided by portaflood style directional incandescent (filament) bulbs or directional high intensity discharge lights of the sort often used to illuminate shop displays. The latter is being used here – picked up for near nothing at the shop of a local tip.

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A simple one but a goody. Always keep all the big bolts that you pull out of cars – they’re very often high tensile, plated and use fine metric threads, a combination that in some sizes is very hard to obtain. But it’s no good having them if you can’t find the one you want when you need it. Storing the bolts in an open metal tray makes picking out the right bolt much easier without having to empty the lot on the bench and then, after the correct bolt is found, put them all back in their container. A spray over the top of the bolts every now and again with penetrating oil like WD40 or the like will keep any corrosion at bay.

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And, talking about WD-40 type sprays, it’s an absolute waste of money to buy the stuff in aerosol cans. Instead, buy it in a bulk 4 litre (or bigger!) container and then for application, pour it into a pump-action plastic bottle. I’ve found that many universal plastic spray bottles won’t last with the (presumably hydrocarbon) contents of penetrating oil, but a spray bottle that originally handled window cleaner (which is normally dilute meths!) works fine long-term.

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If equipment is heavy and awkward to lug around, chances are that it won’t be moved to the job as it should be. This welder was a good case in point: the earth and electrode cables were always at full stretch whenever any welding was being done. The answer is, as here, to put it on wheels – but here’s the trick. Photocopiers are now available very cheaply (sometimes on eBay from even a few dollars!) and as photocopiers tend to be pretty heavy, any wheeled cupboards on which they sit are also heavy duty steel, with good strong metal castors. Easy solution: buy the old photocopier, discard the copier (or pull it apart – plenty of good bits inside like stepper motors – but watch out for the High Voltage power supplies!), keep the wheeled cabinet and put the heavy equipment on top. In this case the cables, gloves, electrodes and welding mask also all fit neatly in the cupboard.

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