Hugo’s Amazing Tape

I was introduced to Hugo’s Amazing tape several years ago by a colleague. He uses the tape to keep board game boxes closed for storage, and it has quite a following in the board game and collectible card game community. The tape is flexible, reusable, and has the fantastic quality of only sticking to itself. These qualities make it ideal for securing something that you need to wrap and unwrap repeatedly. Hugo’s Amazing Tape is available in rolls of various lengths & widths, allowing the user to cut a length to fit their needs.

I have found many household uses for Hugo’s Amazing Tape. I have used the tape as a sort of clamp, to secure oddly shaped objects together while glue dries. I have used it to secure small parts within an assembly to prevent them from falling out of place during storage. It is also perfect for securing rolls of gift wrapping paper, and for securing spools of thread, twine, or rope. I’ve also used it on all of my board game and puzzle boxes. Hugo’s Amazing Tape won’t leave sticky residue, and it doesn’t bind, crush, or decay like a rubber band. It is an indispensable addition to my household tool box.

-- Ryan Gwaltney  

Hugo’s 2-Inch by 50-feet Amazing Tape
$12

Available from Amazon



Swivel Straight Christmas Tree Stand

One Christmas tradition I was happy to discard what was the annual fight with the tree stand. My brother and I would wrestle the tree into the kind of old stand that uses bolts to screw into the trunk to ostensibly stabilize it. Being the younger of the two, I had the task of holding the tree while lying on the floor after it had been impaled on the stand’s spike and then turning the three bolts into the soft pine in rotation, all in an effort to try to have the tree stand straight. Between the griping and groaning and being covered with pitch, this was a major operation that often had temporary results, leading to guy wires from the tree to the wall to keep it upright.

And then my mother bought a Swivel Straight Stand.

20 years later, having inherited the stand, putting the Christmas tree up is a breeze.The mechanism attaches to the tree separately from the stand, so you can do it outdoors before you bring the tree in. You then plop it into the stand and — voila! — the tree is standing solidly. Need to have it tilt to the right? Push the foot-lever in the stand down, move the tree to perpendicular, release the lever. Done. I can think of no gadget in my household of gimcracks that has been as simple and dependable.

-- John Bulger  

Swivel Straight Tree Stand
$48

Available from Amazon



Rinnai Direct Vent Wall Furnace

I’ve had a similar Rinnai direct vent heater similar to the newer model for over 3 years. It replaced an older Italian made direct vent heater that was poorly designed. The Rinnai has a digital thermostat and uses a piezo lighter. It comes on reliably and there’s no pilot light at all. It direct vents to the outside through a very small pipe and is very easy to install. This heater heats my office in Connecticut from October to April reliably and efficiently.

It has a low setting that keeps the temperature above 5OF and then you can set the thermostat from 60 to your preference. When it’s 0°F outside my office is comfortable and my total heating costs for the season are around $300.

They have versions for propane and natural gas. If you have a small space that needs to be heated reliably you should consider one of these heaters. They also have larger models but I’ve never tried them. I had considered putting in a heat pump/air conditioner (Mr.Slim). It would be interesting to see which would be more efficient/costly to run.

-- J. Sciarra  

Available from Amazon



Programmable Digital Outlet Timer

Except for one cool feature, this is a typical wall-outlet timer for turning things on and off once or twice a day. It works well once it is programmed correctly, but you know where this is going: you have to press each button the right number of times in exactly the right sequence to achieve correct programming. There is no Ctrl-Z “undo” command.

The feature that is cool is a little slot in the housing. You fold up the programming instructions, slip them into the slot, and they are there when you need to re-program the device. I wish every programmable device in my house had such a slot and a set of instructions that fit into it.

I asked Woods (Coleman Cable) if any other of their Woods timers have this slot. They replied, “Only this timer has the slot for instruction currently. Future timer designs may have this feature.” And Woods doesn’t even tell you about it in their promotional literature.

It’s such a useful feature that I write about it in hopes that it becomes more widely spread.

-- Doug Wilber  

Woods Indoor 24-Hour Digital Outlet Timer
$14

Available from Amazon



SmartJars

Somehow our work bench keeps getting taken over by a crazy mess and our current organizational system, the one left to us with the house, was just not cutting it for how we use the garage (aka Halloween Craziness takes over). We found SmartJars in May 2013 at the Bay Area MakerFaire and were impressed with them. Basically a build-it-how-you-need-it solution, with containers that can be popped on and off a standard peg board for use.

You attach SmartJars’ colored jar holders to your peg board, organize and color code as you like. Then you snap the plastic jars into the holders for storing. The jars can be removed and returned to their holders easily, but are held securely when snapped in place. The jars are clear so you can see the contents; you can also add labels to the front for more specifics. You can rearrange the jars if you choose. Color coding my jars has helped let me tell other people where things are. Such as look for rubber bands in the Yellow household goods section. Or Nails are in white and screws are in blue. And the color coding also helps me put the jars back in the right areas if I have taken more than one out at a time. The jars are big enough (2.5″ in diameter and 4.5″ tall, or 10 fluid oz.) to hold some larger bolts and other items that tend to take up a bit more room than many organizing systems have, but more of that room is in the length that sticks out from the peg board, so the footprint on the peg board doesn’t take up too much space and you have room for lots of the jars.

We bought a bunch during their pre-release promotion and have reorganized our garage work bench. We aren’t quite done with the reorganization, but its working well so far. There have been several times this year during our haunted house build when someone has needed something and I have been able to produce the jar with that item right away.

We have seen photos from people who have used them under kitchen cupboards to organize spices as well. They are very versatile.

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 4.40.11 PM

-- Rachel Lea Fox  

Smart Jars
6 Jar Starter Pack: $20



Deckkeeper Tie-Downs

My deck is raised off the ground by about 4 feet and there is an above ground pool built into the deck. Every spring and every fall, I struggle to open/close the pool. The big headache is securing a tarp to cover the pool.

When I had pressure treated decking, I would just screw some hooks into the decking and use some bungee cords to secure the tarp. I recently replaced the pressure treated boards with composite decking. There is no way I’m going to drill holes into my beautiful boards!

So, I’ve struggled with securing the tarp. I attached bungies to the railing, I secured it through the boards under the deck, you name it. All of these solutions took time, effort and were simply not easy. I had to find a better way!

I heard about these DeckKeeper Tie Down devices from Ask This Old House a few years ago. They slip between the boards, include bungee cords to attachment and protect the surface of the deck. I bought them from Amazon and closed the pool this fall using them. What a difference! I secured the tarp in the a few minutes, I didn’t have to crawl under the deck.

-- Brian Tobin  

Deckkeeper two tie down cords and anchors
$13

Available from Amazon



Twist A Lite

I need to read a little before sleeping. My wife needs as dark as possible before sleeping. This little light works great for both of us. I’ve tried many other reading lights before but this works the best. It easily adjusts the light direction with a small narrow beam that hits the page but doesn’t go much beyond. Powered by a single AA cell, this flexible light can be worn around your neck, or coiled on a table, and has 3 white LEDs on each end. I can get good results just using one of the lights pointed in the opposite direction of my wife.

-- Bill King  

Twist A Lite
$15

Available from Amazon



Schlage Keypad Deadbolt

I have had this lock on my front door for three years. The advantages are numerous: one less key on the key ring, illuminated keypad, never lock myself out, easy to give the code to relatives, friends, dog walkers or anyone needing access to your house without you present. But, most importantly, when my wife has to run back in the house to get one last thing, I don’t have to turn the car off so she can use my key.

When the 9-volt battery start to go the keypad blinks, so you don’t end up getting locked out with a dead battery. (It will also accept a key).

-- Steve Haslet  

Schlage Camelot Keypad Deadbolt
$103

Available from Amazon



Eco Brick

I love heating my house with my fireplace and wood stove. Its carbon neutral, it targets the heat where I want it, and somehow it just feels warmer then forced air heat.

I don’t love dealing with firewood. I don’t like storing it, trying to keep it dry, and I especially don’t like going outside when it is freezing cold to bring an armful inside.

That’s where Eco Bricks come in. They are compressed hardwood sawdust bricks that you burn in a fireplace just like logs. They are kiln dried and bug free, so they can be stored inside. Since they are kiln dried, they always light easily.

BTU wise, the company says that a pallet of Eco Bricks are equivalent to a full cord of hardwood firewood. Where I am, a pallet runs $235, which is roughly the same as a cord of firewood.

Since these things are so dense and dry, some care must be taken not to over-fire your fireplace or stove. I’ve been using them for three winters, and haven’t had any problems yet.

I’ve got about a half pallet in my basement queued up. I’m looking forward to my first fire of the season.

-- Clark Case  

Eco-Brick pressed sawdust fireplace fuel
Find a local retailer here

Sample Excerpts:

[Enjoy this video of a one-hour Eco Brick burn. - Mark]




Pocket Rocket Outside Diameter Rule

I work in a pulp mill and this tool comes in very handy when sizing up pipes in the field. The calipers quickly measure outside diameters of any round object up to 16 inches in diameter. The gauge is marked with actual inch diameter and also standard iron pipe sizes. When opened completely it also doubles 14″ ruler. Folded, the rule easily fits in your pocket. For years I used PI tapes but this is much quicker and easier to use on pipes in hard to reach or tight spots — you only need access to a small section of the pipe to get a read, not wrap the tape all the way around. Simple one handed operation, great when you are on a ladder. They are available in plastic or aluminum, I prefer the durability of the aluminum, it is worth the extra few dollars.

-- David Riecken  

Pocket Rocket Pipe / Diameter Caliper and Ruler Black Anodized Aluminum
$35

Available from Amazon