Stainless Steel Locking Wire

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Over the years I have used pipe clamps, zip ties, Velcro straps, and all sorts of other fastening methods, and many have their rightful place for various uses. However, I have discovered a versatile and inexpensive material that, when combined with some other tools for specialized uses, fits the essence of a cool tool: durable, flexible, inexpensive and versatile. Stainless steel wire is sometimes known as safety wire or lock wire; it is used routinely in the aerospace and other industries and conforms to national standards for strength and performance.

Stainless steel wire is available in different sizes measured in nominal diameter for different purposes, and in various quantities depending upon one’s capacity needs. For general purpose fastening and use around the shop and home, I have found that 0.041″ nominal diameter wire in 1-lb dispenser canisters (approx. 220 ft) works really well. At about $6 per pound, that works out to less than 3 cents per foot.

This particular size can be bent easily by hand, is durable and strong, and can be manipulated easily with various hand tools. In use it’s sturdy yet reusable, and as a fastener it’s super inexpensive. It’s also corrosion-resistant, non-magnetic and unaffected by UV light.

There are some specialized hand tools that make stainless steel wire even more useful:

The previously reviewed Parallel Jaws Pliers put uniform twists in safety wire installations and are generally useful when using wire as a strapping material for multiple twists. The previously reviewed Clamptite hose clamp tool is the best hose clamp solution anywhere, hands-down. And finally the previously reviewed Fencing pliers, a great multi-tool when working with wire fences and general repairs using stainless steel wire.

Here are just a few uses I’ve found for stainless steel wire:

-Building a bamboo vine trellis
-Keeping posts from splitting when pounding them with a sledge hammer
-Repairing a leaky hose fitting
-Keeping my aging, rusting catalytic converter from rattling
-Repairing my temporary fence until I can get around to building a proper one

With a spool of stainless steel wire, some needle-nose pliers and a pair of wire cutters, there is very little I can’t fasten. With a Clamp-tite tool, some wire twisting pliers and and a pair of fencing pliers, the number of possibilities rises exponentially.

Simple, effective and versatile. Inexpensive and long-lasting. What more could you ask from a tool? Plus, it’s a tool that justifies the use of other cool tools. I’d call that a recipe for a Cool Tool, for sure.

-- Geoff Keochakian  

Stainless Steel Locking Wire
.041″ diameter, 1 Lb. Coil
$8

Available from Harbor Freight



Novus Plastic Polish

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I’ve found that Novus plastic polish works very well for the sorts of things that readers wondered if the previously reviewed 3M Headlight Polishing Kit worked on. I use it when cleaning and removing scratches from pinball machine parts and have had a lot of success polishing things ranging from cell phone displays to sunglasses.

There are three different compounds: #3 for dealing with big scratches, #2 for normal/light scratches, and #1 for a basic clean. #2 does the job for just about everything I’ve used it on. Available in 2-oz, 8-oz and half-gallon bottles. I’ve had 8-oz bottles of #1 and #2 that have lasted me several years of occasional use. I’d expect the half-gallon to last practically forever. Wonderful stuff.

-- Alex Mauer  

Novus Polish Kit, Plastic Polish and Scratch Remover
Three 8 oz bottles
$17

Available from Amazon

Novus Plastic Clean & Shine, Formula #1
64 oz
$19
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Novus



3M Headlight Polishing Kit

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I originally bought the 3M Headlight Polishing Kit in order to remove the haze on my truck’s plastic headlights, but I have since found that it has a plethora of uses. Basically, you use the progressively finer grit sanding surfaces to smooth the plastic and grind away the scratches and finally polish using the 3M rubbing compound. My headlights looked like new and were way more effective after the treatment.

The other day I discovered that the compass for my sailboat was scuffed pretty badly, and I tried using the polishing kit to buff it out (after testing on some safety glasses first). The results blew me away. The compass lens was crystal clear! I’ve since been polishing anything plastic that I have that’s been scratched. Calculators, display screens, etc. You could put this kit together yourself with p500, p800, p3000 grit pads and a foam compounding pad with some 3m rubbing compound but the kit is very convenient and should last a long time as long as you use water with the sanding pads.

-- Jason Tan  

3M Headlight Lens Restoration Kit
$16

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by 3M



Sewing and Quilting Sources

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The best resource for sewing and quilting needs is Clotilde.com. It’s been around for ages and offers a complete selection of templates, needles, scissors, rotary cutters, patterns, fabrics and on and on. They have the largest array of seam rippers I’ve seen anywhere: lobster-clawed, flat-handled, round-handled, two-sided with an awl, lighted, retractable. They sell many unusual and specialized”feet” for sewing machines with adapters to ensure fit on your particular model.

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The best online source for quilting fabric is eQuilter.com. It’s a very personal, small company out of Boulder, Colorado with the largest online selection of fabrics in all genres: batiks, Asian, novelty prints, solids, tonals, etc. They have great prices and sales, rapid shipping, and excellent customer service. I usually try to patronize my local small quilting shop, but this is my go-to source for things I can’t find locally.

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The best resource for quilting kits is Keepsake Quilting.com. Why kits? It’s easy to overbuy fabric for quilting projects and the fabric is expensive. Also, Keepsake puts together breathtaking combinations of colors and designs. My most recent purchase was #2990 which I had been lusting over for some time and it would have easily cost more buying the fabrics individually. If you want to use your own quilt pattern, try their medleys of fabrics like Nara Gardens #1646 or the Aquatica Medley #7582 or the Intergalactic Medley #7564.

-- Madame Tut  

Sewing and Quilting Source
Clotilde

Quilting Fabric Source
eQuilter

Quilting Kit Source
Keepsake Quilting



Fire Mountain Gems

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Fire Mountain Gems and Beads is, in a sense, the McMaster Carr of the jewelry world. The company’s 400-plus page print catalog, with its to-scale photos of beads, gems, clasps and findings (roughly, the jewelry-making hardware), rivals any catalog in terms of introducing creative possibilities, and enticing you to buy stuff. For me, having the physical catalog makes navigating the extensive website easier.

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If you’re interested in making bead jewelry, I’d recommend taking a beginner’s class at a local bead store to get started and gain a basic familiarity with the tools. I took a wire wrap class at a local shop and then had a foundation from which I was able to learn knotting and stringing pearls watching Fire Mountain’s instructional videos.

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One of my favorite aspects of having even a basic ability to make jewelry is that I’m always able to create a last-minute gift, at least for friends whose taste is similar to mine. I keep a small stash of beads and findings around, and then can put together a pair of earrings in 10 minutes—a personal, homemade gift I didn’t have to go to the store to buy.

-- Bryn MacKinnon  



GooGone

GooGone is a liquid that helps remove adhesive residues. I’ve been using it for years to clean off the adhesive residue left from stickers, labels, tape, etc.

Let’s say you just bought a picture frame and removed the label from the glass. In order to remove that irritating, gummy adhesive residue left by the label, you just rub a bit of GooGone over it with a cloth and the goo is gone! No need to use a razor blade, acetone or other nasty solutions.

Not much of an odor, and an 8oz. bottle lasts for years since you use just a small dab each time!

-- Dale Burgham  

GooGone
$5, 8 oz.

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Homax



SuperMagnetMan

I have been buying Neodymium Iron Boron (NIB) super magnets for years. Back then, the previously-reviewed Wondermagnets was the only source for hobbyists and they had quite a selection. But times have changed. For the past five years, I have been ordering my magnets from “Mr. George the SuperMagnetMan,” unequivocally the best source today. His prices are the best on the net. His selection is vast: no one else has the stock he has or the variations in size of commonly available shapes. This is no exaggeration or hype. He’s got stuff you can’t get anywhere else and is constantly adding new items, like axially- and diametrically-magnetized NIB wedding rings and radially-magnetized ring magnets. He has magnets so large they are dangerous (fortunately he has put videos on YouTube that show you how to safely handle these monsters — with large leather welding gloves and a special wooden wedge and a 2×4!). He also sells magnetic hooks, pyramid shaped magnets, magnetic jewelry, teflon coated magnets, heart, star, and triangle magnets. You can even get powdered magnets that act like iron filings on steroids! You name it he’s got it. Most magnets are N45-N50 grade, the highest strength you can buy.

Some of the products I have ordered are the magnet powders, radially-magnetized ring magnet, various size sphere magnets, conical magnets, large rectangular magnets, cubes, and many others. Shipping charges are reasonable. Service is great. One time I ordered a bunch of stuff and never completely checked what I got. I went to use one of the magnets months later and found out it was the wrong size. He sent me the right size in the mail a few days after I emailed him.

Mr. George seems like a pretty cool dude, too. An electrical engineer, Mr. George develops magnet products himself and caters to other engineers, inventors, and hobbyists. He can have custom magnets made to order. He has also put up a series of educational videos on YouTube and has done a lot of work with kids. He has a saying, something like, “Give a kid a magnet and you have a friend for life.”

-- Laral  

Separating magnets:



Specialty Bottle

This retailer sells all sorts of glass, plastic and tin containers at extremely low prices. I found the store two years ago when I set out to start my own darkroom. I knew I wanted small amber bottles to store batches of chemicals, and I learned that glass was important so I could put them in a water bath to get them to the proper temp for film developing. These bottles are available from various photo suppliers, but usually at *many* times the cost and, sometimes, only in bulk. Specialty Bottle sells thirty-two-ounce, amber, glass Boston rounds for $1.86; you can buy as few as one and, as is often the case, the more you buy, the lower the price. I originally bought a bunch of bottles for my darkroom, but have continued using the site for all my bottle-jar-container needs: tall tin containers for storing tea, and short flat tin containers for storing all my bulk spices. Recently, I bought 20 4-oz. glass jars to keep single servings of a mix of fish food. Each jar cost only $0.66.

-- Jamie Marshall  



Unistrut

As an alternative to the previously-reviewed shelving system, I recommend Unistrut, a system of slotted metal channel, framing and tubing that can be connected and interconnected with various nut and bolt fittings to create storage racks, shelving, work tables, support for overhead lighting and a lot more. The parts are industrial quality (steel and/or pre-galvanized steel), but priced to be used everywhere. If you want to see it in use, go into any garage, gym or building where the structure is exposed. You will usually see Unistrut brackets used to hold up the water pipes for the fire sprinklers. The real wonder of the stuff is that you are not limited to using it on the wall; they have a large variety of fittings available specifically for hanging. It’s often used to anchor mezzanines and catwalks in warehouses.

The variety of fittings makes Unistrut very versatile. My dad uses it to make ski and ladder racks in the garage in the 8 inches of space above the garage door and the ceiling. He also used the tracking system to make a sliding door. I once welded a bunch of shelf brackets for him out of 2 x 2 x 1/4 inch angle iron. You can create shelving with the light gauge, 1 1/4-inch width channel or with the heavier gauge, 1 5/8-inch width with 24 inch brackets, which is good for 1200 pounds. The fail weight is two or three times the rated weight. We have a pile of the stuff in the back of our shop next to the scrap wood. If the shelf needs more capacity, we usually just double them up. What’s also wonderful is that if you don’t want to purchase pierced channel and/or additional brackets, you can take any standard bracket, drill a bolt hole, and create adjustable shelving. You can buy Unistrut fittings online. Channel, the part which is expensive to ship, can be found next to electrical conduit at Home Depot.

-- Michael McMillan  

[The General Engineering Catalog and Application Showcase (pdf) provide a good primer. -- SL]

Unistrut
Prices vary depending on the channels, brackets and fittings
Available from Unistrut

Sample Excerpts:
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Stack-It Brackets

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My wife has been asking me to build a firewood rack for years. I was planning to construct something from square steel tubing, which would require a lot of cutting and welding. A friend recommended Stack-It Brackets, which allow you to quickly assemble and locate 2x4s in three directions without using any additional hardware. I’m sorry I didn’t find these years ago, as we’ve been stacking wood badly for quite some time. They’re inexpensive, work as advertised, and allow for quick and easy variations in the size of the rack.

I picked up a set of four steel brackets and in less than 30 minutes, I had an 8×3-foot firewood rack. Most of the time is spent in cutting the 2x4s into whatever lengths you want. After that, you just install the pieces. NOTE: the brackets will not hold true 2x4s. The rectangular hole in the bracket that determines the dimensions of the lumber giving the rack it’s length is 1.61″ x 3.61″. With that piece of wood in place, the space for the vertical piece is 1.63″-1.72″ x 3.63″. The space available for the piece determining the width is 1.65 x 3.69″. I used dimensional lumber measuring 1.5′ x 3.5″ with both of my racks.

The brackets are drilled to allow the used of screws for added rigidity, if one chooses. The first rack I made, I used some decking screws to attach the 2x4s to the brackets, because I thought it needed to be rigid. The second rack I assembled to hold kindling is made without using any hardware other than the brackets, and it is working just fine (below). Without using hardware, increasing or decreasing the capacity of the rack means just swapping in different lengths of 2×4. I’m actually a bit bummed about using the screws on the first rack (below), as I want to add taller verticals to increase it’s capacity, but will have to wait until the rack is almost empty to move it to get to the screws on the backside.

According to the box, the brackets can also be used to construct a workbench, storage rack, plant stand, or shelving. I’ve seen a similar bracket product online, but they’re made from ABS plastic rather than steel. With a bit of wood preservative, my racks should last for years.

-- Kurt Jensen  

Stack-It Brackets
$21

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Seymour Manufacturing

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