Wagner DeckMate

I’ve used the Wagner Deck Mate for years. Its smart design really speeds up staining the planks in a deck. It has an aluminum handle, gravity-feed reservoir, control valve knob, and swiveling paint pad head. The long handle lets you stain the deck while standing up (and off your knees!)

Fill the reservoir with up to a ½ gallon of stain or sealant, and then twist the yellow knob to control the flow of stain down into the paint pad. As you glide the pad along the decking it both applies stain and back brushes for even and full coverage in one step.

A really clever feature is the center brush: a brush-within-a-brush that protrudes down and rides along inside the space between the decking slats. The stiff bristles both keep the paint pad in position as you go and get stain down along the side edges of the decking. Genius!

To clean, just place the Deck Mate in the sink and run water thru it.

-- Bob Knetzger  

Wagner DeckMate
$20

Available from Amazon



Rapid Heat Ceramic Glue Gun

Over the years I’ve owned half a dozen glue guns, ranging from $6 craft guns up to $120 semi pro guns. They dribbled glue, took forever to heat up, and couldn’t output much glue.

That last issue is a big problem for big projects – you have to use the glue while it’s hot and if the gun can’t quickly output all the glue you need then you can’t stick the parts together.

I was skeptical that the DeWalt could possibly be as good as the package claimed: “heats up 50% faster,” “outputs 50 4-inch glue sticks per hour.” That’s 1.2 pounds of glue per hour, which is far more than any of the previous guns I’ve used. It’s not in the realm of professional glue guns but those cost hundreds of dollars while the DeWalt is $19.95.

Everything on the package is true. I’ve been using this gun for a month and it heats up very quickly, doesn’t dribble glue when you aren’t pressing the trigger, and outputs a phenomenal amount of glue.

Unless you are sealing cardboard boxes all day long this should have enough capacity for any DIY project. It’s better than guns costing 5 times as much.

-- Hank Thomas  

Dewalt Rapid Heat Ceramic Glue Gun
$20

Available from Amazon



Plastic Bone Folder

“Bone folders” made of real bone are classic, but I prefer a plastic one. The one I use for making crisp folds in origami, for bookmaking, folding cards, and paper construction is molded to the hand for extended ergonomic use. It slides super easy with no trace on paper. Sharp point, makes a really crisp fold. Lasts forever. Inexpensive. If you work with paper, you’ll want one of these.

-- KK  

EK tools Bone Folder
$4

Available from Amazon



Golden Mean Calipers

I absolutely love these things and have used them for a couple of years. Aside from just wandering around with my kids and having them put it up to just about everything (“Dad! this has a golden mean in it as well!” — I’ll never get tired hearing that) you can also use them to bring some simple relational beauty and balance into anything physical that you make.

You can go to this website for some very well made ones (and a little pricey) or just download some plans for a few bucks and make your own.

-- Eric Warner  

Available from Amazon



Rubber Stamps Unlimited, Inc.

Back in the 90s, I did a lot of mail art (small scale and one-of-a-kind artworks, letters, collages, and post cards exchanged through the mail). I’ve recently gotten back into it (and believe it’s making a comeback).

Part of the fun of mail art is creating your own custom rubber stamps to embellish your artwork. In the 90s, stamps were expensive and took weeks of production and turnaround time. Today, sites like Rubber Stamps Unlimited make it quick and easy. And cheap (averaging around $10-$20/stamp). To get a stamp produced, all you do is upload your art (up to 3.75” x 6”), choose the stamp type you want (rubber or self-inking), and place your order. Stamps arrive in just a few days. I’m also using rubber stamp artwork for packaging on some limited-run product kits, something other professional makers/kitchen table business moguls should consider.

-- Gareth Branwyn  



15 x 18 Craft Sheet

From online discussions and reviews, it seems that nearly everyone who buys one of these non-stick, heat-resistant worksheets has the same initial reaction: “I paid $14 for THIS?” Quickly, that skepticism turns to appreciation, if not outright tool evangelism. I am one such skeptic. For too long, I’ve taken the “self-healing” billing of my cutting mat far too literally, subjecting it to paints, glues, epoxies, clay, heat — all sorts of indignities from which it never heals. Besides cutting, every other crafting/hobby activity should happen on some other surface, and for me, I now don’t want to use anything but one of these heavy duty (5 mil) PTFE (Teflon) sheets.

The Craft Sheet first seems rather fragile and insubstantial, but it’s virtually indestructible. Almost nothing sticks to it. And besides it acting as a protective surface, you can also use it for techniques like low-brow paper marbling (mix some paints on the sheet and swirl paper through it). To clean the sheet, you just wipe with a rag – good as new. You can buy direct from sealersupply.com for cheaper (and larger sizes), but you’ll have to pay for shipping.

-- Gareth Branwyn  

Available from Amazon



The Drama Teacher’s Survival Guide

Let’s put on a show! Problem is, you have never put on a show before. A veteran high school drama teacher dispenses some great advice on how to shepherd your school or community towards a rousing performance. She walks you through the whole process, check-lists in hand, assuming you’ve never done it before. How long/often to schedule rehearsals, what to audition, how to cast, how to block, when to set the lighting, how to make effective costumes on the cheap, all the way to what to do about tickets. I’ve used four or five other beginner production guides but they tend to dwell on the technical aspects. Johnson’s guide tackles the whole multi-month long adventure. This unassuming but dense guide is aimed squarely at high school drama productions, but it works great for camp directors, small-town community theater, or any other newbie hoping to put on a show.

-- KK  

The Drama Teacher’s Survival Guide
Margaret F. Johnson
2007, 256 pages
$20

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Off-book rehearsals (five to six days)

Off-book literally means that the actors go through the segments without using their scripts. The key word for these rehearsals is memorization. Your actors are giving the characters life and need to begin developing relationships with other characters. They cannot do that if their heads are in their books.

You need to check that each actor has memorized both their blocking and their lines. This means that the actors do not have any scripts in their hands. These rehearsals are hard, frustrating, and extremely important. You must stick to your guns. No books allowed on-stage during this group of rehearsals or afterwards – ever, ever, ever! No “nanny” blankets for the actors! You are inflexible here.

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Principles of movement

The following principles of movement have been developed through stage experience. They are not rules – acting in the theatre defies rules. The following principles of movement need to be modified at times to fit the needs of you and your actors. Usually, characters:

  • Cross toward the objective point. If grace and beauty in the scene are desired, then cross in a curved line.
  • Cross on their lines.
  • Break up their speeches while they cross behind others.
  • When crossing with another character, the speaker walks Upstage and slightly ahead of the other, turning his or her head Downstage to speak.
  • When entering with a group, the speaker enters first.

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Food that is eaten

  • If people have to eat, then either the real food or a look-alike substitute that can be swallowed easily must be on-stage.
  • Mashed potatoes work well for ice cream or anything requiring that kind of consistency. Just tint them the color you need.
  • Angel food cake is easy to eat, can be colored and cut into shapes, and goes down easily, not causing anyone to choke.
  • Slices of bread with a half of an apricot in the middle create fake fried eggs.
  • Drinks:

  • Tea is a great substitute for alcohol or coffee. [If you are going to do a show where characters use alcohol be sure it has been cleared with your administration. Many districts have strict rules about seeing students drinking on-stage.)



Brush-On Super Glue

What’s so exciting about this Super Glue? Two things: it has never dried out in 4 years and the brush allows you to easily apply amounts smaller than a drop without needing paper towels or toothpicks to assist you with cleanup and application.

I purchased a bottle of this brush-on Super Glue 3 or 4 years ago. Since then, I’ve fixed numerous toys and other small things around the house and the bottle has never dried out, unlike traditional squeeze-style super glue dispensers. It seems that the shaft of the brush allows only the smallest amount of glue to dry at the opening and that seal is broken by simply twisting off the cap and brush.

When I need to use super glue, I usually require a very small amount. The brush makes it easy to apply extremely small amounts of glue. I’ve always found the squeeze tubes to be difficult since I’ve almost never needed a whole drop of glue. The bottle opening is also sloped inward so you can remove extra glue from the brush and it simply drains back into the bottle.

I don’t know if this glue is better than others. The cool tool is not the glue, but the bottle design. Krazy Glue makes a similar product, although I haven’t ever tried because my current bottle is still going strong.

-- Harvey Chapman  

Scotch Super Glue Liquid Brush-On
0.17 ounce bottle
$4

Available from Amazon



Tibet Almond Stick

Here’s a great “off label” use of an old product for a completely different application that a guitar player turned me on to years ago. The Zenith Tibet Almond Stick is an oil- and cleaner-impregnated plug that comes as a tightly rolled up cloth in a metal can. Its original use is to “efface 1,000 scratches from pianos—radios—furniture—etc. It’s amazing!” I use it to refresh old strings on guitars, banjo and mandolins. Just swipe the stick along the strings, then pinch each string with a rag and slide along its length. All the nasty bits of rust, dirt, and finger cheese come right off. It’s especially good at helping to remove the crud that get trapped in the coils of wound strings and restores that brilliant “new string” sound. I also like the art deco inspired litho steel tube it comes in.

By the way, it will last forever: my 40 year old stick is still going strong!

-- Bob Knetzger  

Tibet Almond Stick
$6

Available from Amazon



Create Your Own Stage Effects

I worked on the stage crew for a local community theater and the old timers there had a bottomless inventory of quick and rough tricks for most stage effects. They would immediately say, here’s how to make a clouds move across the moon. Or get the sound of light rain on a roof. Or make a character fly, safely. At no cost. This book is chock full of a zillion little rough and ready, low-cost effects for local theater. And enough inspiration to create your own.

-- KK  

Create Your Own Stage Effects
Gill Davies
1999, 160 pages
$4+, used

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Rain
Buckets of water to pour into metal containers below
or
Dried peas for rain – in a tin or rolling in a wire sieve
or
Sugar poured down a grease-proof paper chute for an alternative rain sound effect.

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To make a twinkling starry sky, attach lengths of strong black thread to the stage bar. Create a galaxy by twisting aluminium foil around these threads and then make a pleasing random effect by looping up the threads to crisscross so the stars are scattered.

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A fan rippling water and the right lighting angle will make the ripple effect reflect onto the stage.

Rain
Simulated rain effects are achieved by a disc that is largely black but with a few scratches in the black surface to let light through. This effect is best confined to a small area.

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Fast changes with flats

Rotating flats
These are flats that are hung and so they can swivel. If they are fixed only at the top and hung from sturdy timber or onto an industrial track, as shown in the illustration, flats can be spun around very quickly indeed for a most effective fast change.

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