Welcome - Charles - D-I-M - Hints 28 January 2010

Cartoon of the HyperHandyman scratching his head.

The HyperHandyman's Hopefully Helpful Hints

I was once told that giving advice freely does not remove the liability of providing that advice. The following is a list things that I have found out for myself, here as a memory jogger for me when I "do it myself". You may read over my shoulder, if you wish, but the responsibility is all yours if you decide to "do it youself"...


  • Opening a paint tin is a job for a screwdriver, right? Wrong. pliers gripping edge of tin lid Use a pair of pliers instead!
  • Stirring paint is a job for a screwdriver, right? Wrong. Use a flat piece of wood instead. It works better, and it won't scratch the coating on the inside of paint cans and let water based paint rust the can from the inside.
  • Don't waste good paint with a bad brush.
  • Hate sanding gloss paint before re-painting? Try a damp nylon scouring pad; quicker, cleaner and more conforming to curved surfaces.
  • The same damp nylon scouring pad with a bit of soap will help move emulsion paint off hard plastics as found in electrical fittings. Turn off power to fittings etc. before trying this.
  • Paint stripper not working too well? Remember it is not a cleaner. If the paint is dirty (or old) clean it with sugar soap first.


  • Can't turn off a stop tap? Try loosening the small packing nut (nearest the spindle) first. Remember to tighten it afterwards to avoid drips.
  • Don't fully open a stop tap: leave a fraction of a turn so that if it sticks in future, turning it either way will free it.
  • Double action stop taps? double stop tap Both sides open for full flow. Big side shut for normal off. Big side open and small side shut for mostly off to allow rewashering of big side. Take care!
  • Try removing the chrome "dome" of a tap by wrapping it in with a wide rubber band and gripping that.
  • Undoing a tight tap mechanism: with the spanner arranged to point almost over the spout, lever the spanner against the spout to reduce strain on the basin. Beware of scratching the spout with a metal lever.
  • A persistently leaking tap can be caused by embossed writing on the washer.


  • Energy saving lamps may not start if they are cold (near freezing).
  • Dead fluorescent tube or dead starter switch? If the ends of the tube glow and the tube is not flashing, it's probably the starter. If the tube constantly flashes, it's probably the tube.
  • A fluorescent lamp will run without a starter switch, once it has started.
  • A fluorescent lamp that has been running and is therefore hot will start without a starter switch.
  • Always changing the lightbulbs in a particular fitting? Perhaps the circuit fuse blows wheen the light bulb does? It might be getting too hot, but there might be a loose terminal in the light switch. Isolate from the supply before checking!.
  • Circuit fuses blowing often when there is not enough load could mean you ought to check the wiring, especially if it runs through damp areas.. very rusty backbox ...like this one. Seriously corroded wires and electrical terminals result in short circuits.

Greasy stuff

  • Oiling hard to reach parts? Try a pair of tweezers rather than a screwdriver to get that oil drop there. curved tweezers holding an oil drop
  • When replacing a self tapping screw into plastic (e.g. small appliance cases), turn the screw the wrong way with gentle pressure until it drops into its original thread, then do it up. This will greatly prolong the usability of the fastening.
  • Use wax or silicone grease to lubricate screws going into plastics.
  • Use soap, wax or linseed oil to lubricate screws going into wood. Never use silicone grease.
  • Use mineral grease to lubricate screws going into metals, especially self-tapping screws.
  • Use vegetable oil, brake fluid or soap to lubricate rubber parts. Never use mineral oils or greases on rubber.

Sticky stuff

  • Super glues usually need a tiny amount of water to make them set; breathing onto one of the surfaces to be joined can improve adhesion.
  • Blu-tack stains (oils) unpainted wallpaper. But a blob of it on a stick is great for fishing screws out of hard to reach places...
  • Sticky tape residues are best removed with "Sticky-Stuff Remover". Failing that, white spirit and meths, in turn.
  • Hot glue guns are a neat way of sticking bell wire or telephone extension wire to skirting boards, picture rail etc. The hot glue is not quite hot enough (usually) to melt the cable insulation.
  • If you drip hot glue onto your finger, don't suck it...


  • Pick one day a year to
    - oil all the door hinges in your house, including cupboard doors
    - turn off and back on every stop tap
  • Clear glass ("crystal") lamp shades look better with clear glass lamps, opal shades with opal lamps.
  • Old style (tapered) wood screws will be easier to remove after a few years than the new style (parallel) screws, especially if they are going into new wood.
  • When filling a chase in a wall with plaster, slightly overfill, wait until set but not hard and shave back to the surrounding level with the edge of a trowel or steel float.
  • Moving old chest freezers can be made easier by first removing the lid. Remember to disconnect the interior light, and take great care with those spring assisters in the hinges!
  • Having a problem with a binding aluminium door in an aluminium frame? If the door is drooping and binding on the cill, you might be able to move the whole door up a fraction of an inch if you have those hinges fitted with double washers. Take one of the washers from the top pair and use it to make the bottom pair into a triple, for each hinge.
  • Two hinges good, three hinges better. If you're fitting a door, three hinges make it possible to adjust/replace the hinges without removing the door.
  • Turning lace-up shoes into slip-ons is as easy as lacing them with suitable elastic cord... shoe laced up with elastic cord
  • To stop a tool-tray sliding down a sloping roof, use a rope to a counterweight over the ridge. tool tray roped to dumbel over ridge
  • A plastic slide binder (for papers, bigger ones used for poster hanging) makes a good blade guard for a saw.
  • Boots not used for a while? Got mildew have they? black boot with white powdery mildew Wipe it off with alcohol then. IPA (Iso Propyl Alcohol) will do nicely. Optionally, try alcohol gell hand sanitisers or kitchen "cream cleaners"
  • On the subject of mildew: if it is on something like an old book that might be damaged (stained) by alcohol, try wiping with neat fridge cleaner.
  • One way to make boots and shoes grip on ice is to use self tapping screws as studs. boot heel showing stud screw attachment Beware! studs can be slippery where there is no ice, so avoid studding the sole as well as the heel. Make sure there's something solid to screw into, first...
  • Screwing things onto ceramic tiles? Push wall plugs right through the tile so when the screw goes in there is no side side contact between the tile and screw (or plug). If the object being fixed is metal, use a soft plastic shim between it and the tile. A piece cut from a polythene drinks bottle will do.


  • Some common maintenance sprays leave solid residues when they eventually dry, causing a sort of "spray addiction". (Note the cracked "varnish" on some motor HT leads...)
  • If you switch a piece of electrical equipment off and back on too quickly, it could be destroyed. Wait at least ten seconds (count to 20?).
  • Do not use a mains plug while it has an instruction card around its pins. It will be very susceptible to moisture... charred top of trailing socket

Specific fixes

  • A modern hair dryer can run very hot if either the fan gets snarled with hair, or if the motor's rectifying diodes fail.
    - The hard bit may be pulling the fan off. Try this... wire cradle and prybar method
    - The diodes may look impossible to replace, but remember that if a diode can survive in there, a soldered joint probably can as well.
  • Got a washing machine that occasionally won't open when the cycle seems to have finished successfully? It might be because the washing is mostly hard-to-spin-dry stuff and - here's the catch - the wash cycle finishes some time before you get to the machine. In that time more water can drain out of the wet washing and the machine does therefore contain water. Run the spin again.
  • Speaking of catches and a washing machine that won't open... Some machines have a dingly-dangly thing next to the drive belt and linked to the door catch. It's a belt movement detector and if its centring spring is broken, the door will not unlock.
  • After a few years, plastic rainwater guttering may leak and drip, drip, drip through the joint seals. They can be remade with silicone rubber and a shaped spreader. outlet to downpipe with new seal Wait for the rubber to set before reassembly.
  • Spiders love anchoring webs to clothes lines. To dicourage this, end of greased line, with spider apply a little grease - vaseline, or silicone grease - to the last couple of inches of the line. MARK the line with a permanent marker first, so you keep clothes clear of the grease!

Tools and materials

"The smarter the technician is, the simpler the tools can be." Which doesn't say much for me...
Some of my favourite tools and materials are (in no particular order) -
  • "Terminal" screwdriver. Has a 1/8 inch wide blade, about 3 or 4 inches long. Seems to do most things...
  • Silicone grease. Wonderful stuff for lubricating plastics, waterproofing spark plug leads etc. Never use it on electrical contacts, though; it sparks to glass, I think.
  • Volt-stick. Non contact version of a neon screwdriver. Can check switches, fuses and fairy-light strings.
  • "Swiss Army Knife". These have two types of owners: those who almost never use them, and those who almost never don't. Guess which type I am?
  • Broken pallette knife. This is a snapped off, small, artists type palette knife. The "blade" is about an inch long, half an inch wide and has a straight but not quite square edge. snapped off palette knife Really good for filling, paint stripping, glue spreading.
  • Small wrecking bar (or "jemmy"?) About 12 inches long, shaped like a question mark, with a nail pulling claw at one end, and a flat prying edge at the other.

Cookery stuff

  • Your only bottle of milk gone off a bit? Try "repasteurising" by heating in a microwave (or pan) till halfway between hand hot and boiling.

iTechy stuff

  • Scanning a document/picture that has something on the back? Put a sheet of black paper behind it to reduce "see through"
  • If you're scanning a document (especially a photograph) that has a crease in it, align the document so that the crease is parallel with the long side of the scanner.
  • Reworking digital photos? Do not save them again as JPEGs until you have finished all edits.
  • Computer not connecting to broadband or other comms link? Shut down, UNPLUG the electricity supply, then plug in, start up and reconnect. Many comms cards do not power down when the computer "shuts down".