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November 2007

November 22, 2007

New Video! How to use a circular saw

This week's ToolGirl How-to Video is jam-packed with beginner's tips for learning how to use a circular saw.  Once you understand your options for adjusting this indispensable saw's angles and blade depth, you'll be able to create complex compound angles, cut up plywood and make hundreds of projects!

If you prefer a written primer, read Mag's circular saw tutorial.  Either way, you're going to master this baby.

How to use a circular saw


Some people would say that circular saws are not for weenies, but they would be wrong. It doesn’t matter where you rank on the courage scale; if you have a molecule of desire to build stuff you can learn to handle this tool with the unflagging authority of a bra saleswoman.

You’ll love the freedom your saw gives you to dream up projects. Whether you want to build a tool shed,a night table, a deck, a sandbox, a raised border or a garden bench, your circular saw will be your favourite assistant. The only thing it can’t do is bring beer.

Putting off learning how to master your circular saw will only keep you from expressing the full range of your creativity (desks, go-carts, cat scratching posts, full-size replicas of Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose) so here’s a quickie tutorial on the features of your circular saw...

Continue reading "How to use a circular saw" »

Search string theory

Burning_questions Because ToolGirl.com caters to people with eclectic tastes, we have intriguing visitors.  For example, here are some things people were searching for when they arrived at Toolgirl.com this week:

* How to escape a dull marriage

* Slide rule parts

* IUD earrings

* How do I get my greasy windows clean?

And my favourite:

* Do-it-yourself motorized snowboard

How to save time installing tongue-in-groove paneling, bead board or wainscotting

Ready_pine_coloursIf you've ever installed tongue-in-groove paneling or wainscoting, you know how it adds warmth and character to a space (and new words to your vocabulary).

Even in a closet, a lining of aromatic cedar creates a sense of luxury, abundance and freedom from moths.

RedoakOne persistent problem with installing traditional knotty pine and western red cedar paneling is that it comes unfinished, so after you've installed the boards you'll still need to give them a couple of layers of clear coat or stain so they don't collect dust, absorb fingerprints and start looking grimy.  And don't forget to seal the knots first with a couple of coats of shellac so the pitch doesn't blister through your finish.

GoldenpecanAnother issue is that most paneling boards are milled thin, so the tongues are fragile.  It's easy to bust 'em during installation, or split them with a mis-aimed finish nail. 

Also, if you've applied a finish only on one side of the boards, changes in humidity can cause the paneling to absorb moisture in an unbalanced way.  The naked wood surface on the back of the boards draws in moisture and expands, causing cupping and twisting.

A new entry in the market solves many of the issues that DIYers have struggled with in installing traditional knotty pine and cedar.   Ready Pine (available through most Canadian hardware outlets) is treated on both sides with a vacuum-coated clear sealer (to halt pitch pockets in their tracks), followed by a finish coat.  Thicker than most available pine paneling, Ready Pine comes in eight-foot lengths and can be custom-ordered in several shades.  If you're cutting the boards to make wainscoting you can create matching trim using standard MinWax shades.   The nice thing is that the pine still mellows after a year or so, even underneath the finish, developing the honey-gold  tones you find in the best Canadian antiques.

Ready_pine_has_two_profiles_in_oneCost is reasonable considering the time you save on finishing.  About $108 to install 10 lineal feet of wainscoting. 

One design note:  Ready Pine is completely reversible, with a different pattern on each side, so if you prefer the detail of a narrower v-grooved board, you have that option.

One other design note:  The finish on the wood is a little bit glossier than satin, so if you want a more matte finish you can buff each board with a fine 3M abrasive rubbing pad, (which you can stick onto the hook-and-loop surface on the bottom of a palm sander or random orbit sander to speed things up).  Taking down shine on the boards is still WAY faster than all the drippy duties involved in staining or clear-coating.

November 21, 2007

NextStone - something new in the siding line-up

Realistic_sedona Today I'm going to a manufacturer's demo of NextStone, a new kind of siding that looks like stone, but is apparently lightweight and easy to install.  I'll let you know how easy.

Now if you're going to install something that imitates nature, you don't want it to look fake, right?  So another important aspect I'm going to be checking out is whether the patterns and stone textures look fake or real.  A lot of cultured stone (which is usually crushed stone powder mixed with Portland cement and dye) is predictable.   Your brain picks out the fakeness right away, whereas real stone is full of surprises and unexpected textures that your synapses can't anticipate. 

If NextStone is nice-looking well-made stuff, it could be a great DIY alternative to real stone for creative applications like foundations, pool houses and pillars.  Keep your fingers crossed.

November 20, 2007

ToolGuy Jim Barry

Jim_barry_in_conversation There are some amazing people in the world.  Some of them are busy building, creating, inventing and devising original solutions to puzzles that all of us face.   The projects they come up with are so bracingly ingenious you just want to smack 'em in a salute of glee mixed with respect and okay, a little envy.

Here's an example:  Canadian woodworker Jim Barry not only provides a massive list of the Internet's free plans at his Woodworker's Workshop web site, but he also shares his own work portfolio at Woodchuck Canuck - a glimpse into the wild-ass creativity he comes up with on a daily basis as he takes on jobs for neighbours, relatives, friends and clients. 

Gingerbreadcustom20070721003 Gingerbreadcustominstalled One of my favourite Jim Barry projects is the monogrammed gingerbread trim he created out of some scrap wood.  If you click on the photo at right you'll see how well the project turned out - check out the corners for the monogrammed letters.

A great tow rope to stow in the trunk

Smartstrap1_2 The guys over at ToolMonger.com give this Smart Strap stowable tow rope a great review.  The spring-loaded strap releases symmetrically to prevent snapping and be-fouling.  I've used my old nylon tow rope a bunch of times over the years to haul friends' vehicles out of drifted-in, impassable driveways (usually my own, because it's more fun to tow than shovel).  My rope has a history of crocheting itself into a snarl of resentment between uses.  For reducing chaos, the Smart Strap is nominated for the ToolGirl Tidy Trunks award.

A barn in transition

P1000925The old barn came down in the night, kneeling to the future.

Viewed from the south it now offers the wry appearance of the ship that brought its builders to Canada circa 1850.


One of the barn's inhabitants, probably a raccoon, exited in a hurry, leaving his belly-track in the snow.

November 19, 2007

How to build a cheap firewood storage rack


If you heat with wood or you're planning to build the occasional cozy blaze in your fireplace this winter, you'll enjoy it more if the wood is stored in a dry spot, protected from accumulating snow.  The simple frame structure in the photo is made from pressure-treated wood and was originally a hitching post.  The two vertical 2x4 posts are embedded in concrete to stabilize the unit.  Only problem is, this storage configuration allows firewood to sit on the ground where it wicks moisture and quickly gets buggy and rotten.  It also gets buried by snow in winter because it's so exposed.

You can make a dead easy, reasonably cheap firewood storage rack using two-by-four lumber and Allan block, which is a hollow, pre-cast concrete product that offers a stable base for a firewood rack.



Continue reading "How to build a cheap firewood storage rack" »

November 17, 2007

Tree of Hope - official lighting

P1020751The Tree of Hope was officially lit on Thursday night and I got to sing with the gorgeous Kim Stockwood PLUS the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus AND The Argos (those are the big guys). 

Please drop by the Toronto Hilton sometime before January 6 and  drink some Lindt hot chocolate to help the Sick Kids Hospital fundraising effort!


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Mag's Books

  • : We're All In This Together

    We're All In This Together
    Based on four years of interviews with Steve Smith, Mag's unconventional biography reveals the personal stories, sorrows and joys that continue to inspire the man behind the Red Green legacy.

  • : How Hard Can It Be?

    How Hard Can It Be?
    Mag's quirky and entertaining book of home improvement projects for beginners.

Nota Bene

  • It’s never too late to be who you might have been. - George Eliot (1819-1880)
  • Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought. - My fortune cookie