Rivet Spacer

A rivet spacer was originally designed for evenly spacing rivets on aircraft, but it can be used for evenly spacing anything, from buttons on a sweater, to finish nails on those infernal Ikea drawers you are trying to put together nicely. It completely eliminates any need for calculations and weird fractions. You just stretch the fan to the end points with the number of holes you want. It is one of those tools that you never knew you missed until you use it once.

[The maximum span of the open spacer is 37 inches; when closed it collapses to 10 inches.]

-- Alexander Rose  

Rivet Fan Spacing Tool
20-holes, adjustable

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Air Capital

Max Pedestal Disc Sander

Any serious shop should have a big stationary disc sander. All special-effects shops I know have one.  Mine is a Max 16″ diameter, three-phase, 220-volt pedestal stand disc sander. I’ve had a succession of little disc sanders and drum sanders from all the different manufacturers, but they don’t compare. This is more than a sander; it’s a cutter and shaper, too.

You can remove such fine degrees of material with great precision, and so fast, that it’s almost like cutting. You can’t do this on your belt sander. I have an electronic three-phase converter on mine, so I can’t run it for more than 15 minutes, but I’ve never ever run it for a total of 15 minutes because it does everything I need it to do in about 30 seconds. You can do huge amounts of rapid shaping with it. Often, I’ll cut something rough to an eight of an inch from the line on the band saw, and then do all of the finishing on this one.The sanding discs are attached with stickum. It’s pretty much always one grit — 80 grit. These generally run in the several thousands of dollars; however, I picked this one up on Craigslist for $600. That’s about as good a deal as you would find on one. I love this thing.

-- Adam Savage  

Max Pedestal Disc Sander
16 inch

Available new from Factory New


You should know about styrene. It is a really easy material to work with because two pieces melt together really easily and fast with a solvent glue like ”Weld-On 3″.  It’s the same Weld-On for acrylic, but it works even faster on styrene. For example, I’ve made this prop (see below) in about four hours. On movie sets, most of the props are  nothing but styrene. You can paint it to look like anything. And styrene is sold in about a bazillion form factors — rods, tubes, sheets, textures.

-- Adam Savage  

Styrene Sheet
12″ x 12″ x .06″
Other size available

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Dharma Trading Company

Dharma Trading Company has EVERYTHING for the knitter and home fiber craftsperson. Excellent dye supplies, and blanks — white clothes for dyeing — and lots of great ( white) fabric for all kinds of projects at very reasonable prices.

– Lesley Creed

I get my batik and tie-dye supplies from Dharma Trading.  Great selection and good service.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

Natural Yarns for Dyeing

Natural Yarns to dye in solid colors or hand paint into variegated yarns. They are natural in color and come in skeins averaging about 8 ounces unless otherwise noted.
The Sample Card (#YARNFS) comes with 8″ samples of every yarn, so you can get a better idea of how they look and feel.


Better Tjantings (Batik Tools)

Here’s a better Tjanting from Indonesia, the home of batik. Carefully handmade in a small village with all copper parts and Teak wood handles. Copper is easier to heat than the brass ones, and the tips produce a finer line. Some also use the size #1 for drawing very fine lines of wax to make Ukranian Easter Eggs! These tools just look good too!



Vanishing Fabric Markers (Purple)

Use these to draw your design on the fabric. The lines disappear “like magic” with water or within 48 hours. On thin silks, it fades away very fast. Test that you have enough time.
Purple for white fabrics.

Granite Surface Plate

I have had my Granite Surface Plate for 6 years. It allows me to make anything flat without the risk of using a glass plate and breaking that. I use it to sharpen and restore older tools for woodworking. With it and good sandpaper you can fix a lot of things.

I use the flatness for two things.

This first is that to properly sharpen a tool blade a straight edge is needed to ensure a clean cut. I can place a blade down and pull it along the sandpaper to make a sharp edge. For a full sharpening start with 400, 600, 1000, and 1500 grit sandpapers from the automotive department (black stuff) at this point the edge is already almost mirror polished and will give a really good cut. I have sharpened almost everything from flat to curved surfaces including kitchen knives.

The second is that to make boards really flat you need flat tools. I use hand planes all of the time and they need to be made flat on the sole to make good joints. These good tight joints make furniture, repairs, and other projects look good and last a long time. It allows me to buy older planes and restore them to service at a great cost savings.

I should also mention that I’ve used it to touch up bad plastic castings. I don’t think any one type is superior as long as it is super flat and able to have a standard sheet of sandpaper put on it.

-- Alan T  

Granite Surface Plate
9″x12″x2″ Grade A

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by WoodCraft

Gingher Sewing Shears

Ask almost any tailor or sewer which scissors they use and you’ll hear universal acclaim for these venerable 8″ Gingher Shears. They’ve been making them in this style forever (although they are now manufactured by Fiskars in Italy). Ginghers are durable enough to pass on to the next generation. These hefty scissors slide through layers of fabric with ease, are comfortable with long use, and stay sharp all the way to the tips. (Pair them with the previously reviewed Gingher snip scissors.) Bless them, they also come in a left-handed version. The key to keeping sewing scissors in top shape is to never use them to cut paper or anything else in the garage. A good idea for those who live in a large household is to tie a bit of fabric or ribbon on the handle as a red flag: “CLOTH ONLY. Do not even think about using this for anything but fabric.”

-- KK  

Gingher 8-Inch Knife-Edge Dressmakers Shears

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Gingher

Kapton Tape

I do a lot of work with electronics assembly and disassembly, rewiring, and removing and adding components. Kapton tape (generically known as polyimide tape) is a cool tool in these cases and better than regular black electrical tape for a number of reasons:

It is heat resistant. You can put a soldering iron on Kapton tape and it will not melt. In fact, numerous flexible circuits are made with copper on a Kapton substrate where the components are soldered directly to the copper.

It does not stretch. This may be either a pro or con, but it’s good when you just want to tape down wires.

It is thin. Actually, it comes in various thicknesses. I usually get the 2 mil (0.002″) thick stuff in the 1/2″ wide rolls. When you’re trying to cram as much as possible into a given space, the low profile and smooth, slick surface help tremendously.

The adhesive leaves no discernible residue. You can pull the tape off after a year and not worry about having to clean anything else up.

As mentioned before, the tape comes in different widths and thicknesses, depending on your need. You can also get it with adhesive on one side or both, though there may be limited width/thickness availability for the two-sided tape.

If you take apart any consumer electronics device nowadays, you’ll notice three or four different kinds of adhesives and tapes being used (I’d cover the rest because they’re also great, but I really don’t use them that much and don’t know what they’re called nor how to source them).

Mostly, I use this tape as insulation on either a PC board or wires, especially if I think I’m going to have something on top of it that I’ll be soldering. It’s a bit overkill for just taping down wires, but still, that’s better than Scotch tape or electrical tape.

I have no favorite brands of Kapton tape, I just buy a roll from my local electronics supply house when I need more.

-- Mark Huie  

[Note: Kapton tape is available in a bunch of different sizes and brands. --OH]

Kapton Tape
2″ x 36 yards

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by C.S. Hyde

Homemade Tools

This is a website that collects and points to how-to tutorials on the web from folks making their own tools. They range from simple hammers to complex lathes. The site is just a clearing house with not much of its own activity. The list of homemade tool instructions also vary in quality, but it’s a great resource if you make your own tools — and you should.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:


I love portable band saws. Many tools that cut metal are super noisy and polluting. If you’re cutting metal with a cutting wheel it will spray hot metal; it shrieks. The great thing about the Milwaukee Port-a-Band is that it cuts almost silently. There’s no shaking. Zero. I can get my hands up really close to the cut; I can be precise. In fact, one of my favorite things to do with the Port-a-Band is to cut almost all the way through a piece, but not quite, so that the piece doesn’t fall on the floor when done. I can be that precise. One of the things these tools are great for is in situ or ariel cutting where you’ve gotta cut a piece of rebar that’s way up on a crane or somewhere precarious. This will cut through rebar all day, without shattering or shaking. Blade replacement is trivial. It’s expensive though, and the batteries themselves are about $100. Still, I like these cordless portable band saws so much I bought the little baby portaband version that Dewalt makes. I recommend the baby version for most folks — the cutting throat is obviously more minimal, but you get that precise shake-free silent cutting.

-- Adam Savage  

Milwaukee 6232-6 6 Amp Portable Band Saw

Available from Amazon

DEWALT Bare-Tool DCS370B 18-Volt Cordless Band Saw

Available from Amazon

The Backstage Handbook

backstage handbook.jpg

I bought this book back in college when taking stagecraft. I still look through it and refer to it every now and again when doing woodworking projects at home. For a do-it-yourself person this book has a lot of useful shop math, sizes of stock nuts/bolts, strength and properties of various materials like canvas or rope, diagrams of wood joints, doors, chairs and ramps, and loads of tool and fastener drawings.

It won’t tell you how to build a chair or use a fastener, but it will help you identify things quickly. It is a fine reference and everyone I show it to is blown away at the amount of information it holds.

-- Rob M  

The Backstage Handbook: The Illustrated Almanac of Technical Information
Paul Carter and George Chiang
Third Edition
1994, 310 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Image via flickr/hodgepodge