Quikrete Mortar Repair

I live in a 112-year-old brick house. Brick lasts a long time. Mortar does not. Most of my house’s tuck pointing is in great condition, but a few isolated spots are almost completely devoid of mortar. Small spots, but bothersome. And bound to become bigger spots if I don’t take care of them soon. So today I decided to take care of them.

I assumed that I would mix mortar for the repairs, but the prospect of carrying a 60-pound bag of dry mix inspired a change of heart. Scrounging around Home Depot’s cement aisle I stumbled upon Quikrete Mortar Repair. It’s sold in tubes for use in a caulking gun, but it’s not caulking. It’s a sanded acrylic designed to do the job of mortar, without the mess of mixing and applying the real stuff by hand.


The square applicator tip is supposed to make finishing the surface easier, and in fact it worked well. Although a wet finger did an equally nice job. Water is key to patching mortar, and with this stuff a wet sponge was extra helpful not only for smoothing the mortar as it cured but for wiping excess off the face of the bricks.


The 10-ounce tube cost me about $4; still a premium over dry mix. (It’s also available in a 5.5-ounce hand-squeezable size.) But for the handful of single-brick-sized repairs I needed to make, I was very thankful to avoid the setup and cleanup that mortar mix would have required. Not to mention the hassle of effectively getting the mortar from my unskilled hands into the open joints.

It is neither practical nor advisable to use Quikrete Mortar Repair to cover a large area of wall. The acrylic isn’t designed for structural tuck pointing so much as it is intended to fill in the gaps and keep water out, which is crucial if you want your brick wall to last a long time.

-- William Sawalich  

Quikrete Mortar Repair

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Quikrete

Watch Case Ball

If you have a screw-back watch that won’t open, get one of these plastic balls. They actually work, and they will not scratch the watch case.

I own the Pittsburgh watch case opener, and it will usually open watches. However, I have one favorite watch that defied the Pittsburgh tool. I read about the Watch Case Ball, and bought one online. Within five minutes of picking up the mail, the watch was open. (I had to inflate the ball; it’s shipped flat.)

The ball is made of plastic. It’s not actually sticky, but when you press it onto a watch back, it conforms to the surface and won’t readily slip on it. Now I go to this tool first, because there’s no chance of marring the watch case with it, and it works on all screw-back watches with no set-up at all.

-- Dan Hoyt  

Watch Case Opener Ball

Available from Esslinger

Park Tool MT-1

I’m sure most roadside bicycle repair multi-tools do their job, but for me the MT-1 is the coolest. Not only does it do the job better than most, its design is so simple, it’s so small and lightweight, so ingenious that it has to qualify as a cool tool.

Park’s MT-1 is made out of nickel-plated investment-cast steel, weighs next to nothing, has no moving parts, and yet has all the functions one needs for most emergency bicycle repairs, from adjusting derailleurs to tightening crank bolts. Because the shafts are so short and the lever longer, the MT-1 provides superior torque to tools such as the previously reviewed Crank Brothers Multi-19, or a standard folding hex, such as Park’s AWS-9. Unlike folding tools such as the Multi-19 or AWS-9, the MT-1 has no retaining bolt that can come loose over time. And because the thin MT-1 has such a low profile, it can fit in tight places, including small saddlebags.

It also offers 8-, 9- and 10mm socket wrenches, which are commonly used on rack and fender hardware, as well as older brake bolts. Overall, the MT-1 is simpler and more usable than the Crank Brothers tool. Though it does have fewer functions, I find the ones the MT-1 does have are all I need for road riding that doesn’t involve a long-distance expedition — and they work better. Perhaps the only thing wrong with it is that it isn’t blaze orange; I forgot mine in the grass the other day after a quick tune-up, which I might not have done if it had been painted an obnoxiously bright hue.

-- Andrew Wilson  

Park Tool MT-1

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Park Tool

Akro-Mils Small Parts Storage

Working in industrial design, I constantly acquire small sets of parts to use for multiple clients and projects. I’ve tried using a variety of translucent plastic boxes to contain and organize these parts, but they’ve been flawed in a number of ways: the parts are difficult to pick out with your fingers; the small pieces migrate from compartment to compartment; and finally, the latches break.


I think Akro-Mils has solved all of these problems with their cases. The latches span the entire front side of the organizer, work well, and don’t seem to break. The bottom of each compartment is curved on at least two sides to allow picking up those 0-80 screws, and the top has ridges that surround each divider to make it much less likely for the parts to jump out of their compartments. The two Akro-Mils organizers I have been using are the small (05-705) and the large (05-905). There’s a medium available, too. I think I paid $4 and $7, respectively, which is about the same price as products with none of these features or durability.

-- Arthur Carr  

Akro Mils Storage Case
$7 (small)

Available from Amazon

Large also available for $11 from AmazonAkro-Mils

Blade Runner Drywall Cutter

The Blade Runner quickly and neatly cuts the front and back layers of paper on a sheet of drywall at the same time so you only have to make one pass.How it works: little rolling blades are integrated in the top and bottom halves of the tool, which are held together by strong magnets but can be separated by two hinged levers. The drywall goes between the two halves. When you push the tool across the drywall the levers retract; the top and bottom pieces remain aligned; the cutters score the paper. A little tug breaks the board. There’s no awkward added step of snapping the paper on the front face and then holding things steady to go around to cut the paper on the back.

I’m by no means a fast drywaller to begin with, but the Blade Runner cuts straight easily and does so faster and neater than a utility knife, the tool I usually use. It also cuts clean curves and closed openings that a utility knife will not do. You could cut out a window in the middle of a sheet, for instance, and just pop it out because the drywall is scored exactly both front and back. (note: it would not cut an opening for a electrical outlet or switch too well due to its size but most people use a rotozip for that chore anyway.)

It’s not cheap I realize (I used company funds to buy the tool). But here’s my rationale: while I am primarily a finish carpenter and furniture builder I end up doing dry wall occasionally, as much as a dozen times a year, usually on small jobs or repairs. I have always found it awkward to cut the paper on the back of a board after bending it and I’ve never had a lot of luck just snapping it back to pop the paper on the back side. That only works if the dry wall is very dry and crisp.

This speeds the job up considerably; I can cut clean curves; and I can work the drywall standing on edge, for the most part. The tool also seems really rugged. I haven’t used mine for very long, but it is certainly immune to being dropped repeatedly (I work alone and the 10′ boards I’ve mostly used the tool on are awkward). The manufacturer says it will cut 3500 feet of drywall before needing new blades, which are easy to replace.

-- Lory Littlefield  

Blade Runner Drywall Cutter
Manufactured by Goldblatt

Available from Amazon

Barnett’s Manual

The “bible” of bicycle mechanics, this 2000-page, four-volume manual is filled with detailed diagrams and repair steps for every aspect of fixing and maintaining a bicycle. Starting with a brief introduction to materials science, lubricants, and basic tool use, this comprehensive manual covers everything — from tires and tubes to wheel building, drive-train theory and application to frame alignment, brakes, seats and more in explicit detail. If anything can break on a bike, Barnett’s Manual tells you how to fix or replace it. The manual is far from cheap, but nothing else comes close to duplicating its value. I spent more than $1500 attending a professional bike repair and overhaul certification class this summer at the Barnett Bicycle Institute in Colorado Springs, CO. While the classes were essential to boosting my skills and understanding of bikes so that I could get a job as a mechanic, this manual is a fantastic resource for everyone, gearhead hobbyists and professionals alike. I’ve got my electronic version at home and we use a printed version at work.

I have come to realize there are two philosophies of bicycle mechanics: what one might term Pascalian and Cartesian. The late Sheldon Brown believed in a highly-evolved intuitive approach to bicycles. In my opinion, this can only come through time and extensive exposure to the craft. Barnett’s, on the other hand, believes in quantifiable mechanics so the approach (and therefore manual) is as close to a science as one can hope for. The thinking is that with the proper set-up one can reliably duplicate any procedure any number of times. So everything in the text is broken down logically, step by step. Personally, I believe a good mechanic must be both willing and able to apply either method as the situation dictates.

While BBI no longer produces a paper version of the four-volume set, one can still purchase older print copies online for less than $125. Or the manual is available as PDF for $140. John Barnett explained to our class that it simply costs too much to make changes to a printed version of such a large manual.

-- Karl Malivuk  

Barnett’s Manual: Analysis and Procedures for Bicycle Mechanics
$249+ – print

Available from Amazon

$140 - digital (CD-ROM) Available from Barnett Bicycle Institute

Sample Excerpts:

Truing Wheels with Undamaged Rims, Spokes, and Nipples: Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Based on decades of teaching experience, there are ten common pitfalls to truing wheels a mechanic should watch out for at all times. The pitfalls are listed here and in some cases are repeated as the procedure is described later on.

Pitfall #1

Avoid turning the nipple the wrong way. Nipples are right-hand thread, just like any type of jar lid. The problem is that while turning the nipple, the viewpoint is the same as looking at the “jar” upside down. With the tire off and looking at the nipple from the tire-side of the rim (the nipple’s “tire end”), the viewpoint is the same as looking at the top of the “jar lid.” When the view is of the end of the nipple that the spoke attaches to (the “hub end”), it is the same as looking at the “jar” upside down. Try this experiment. Get an empty jar (preferably clear) and hold it upside down. Now, look through the bottom of the jar and turn the lid off. The lid had to be turned clockwise (the normal way to tighten lids) to get it off. Loosening a nipple when looking at it from “hub end” is just like loosening the lid on the upside-down jar. Tightening it is just the opposite. If you have trouble with this visualization technique, just a felt tip pen to draw a half-circle arrow on the inner perimeter of the rim around every fourth nipple in the counterclockwise direction. Turn nipples the direction the arrow indicates when tightening and opposite the arrow when loosening.

Pitfall #6

Don’t lose track of the right and left sides of the wheel when making dish corrections. A good technique is to always wrap a rubber band around the right end of the axel before starting to true the wheel. Always install the wheel in the truing stand with the rubber band on the right, always start each dish measurement on the right side of the wheel. By using these habits consistently, the chance of getting turned around and performing a reverse correction is minimized.

Micro Torch

For soldering wires in places beyond an extension cord, or for burning stuff with fine details I use this butane-fueled micro torch. It is like a propane torch, only 10 times smaller. The micro torch generates a tiny, precise, very hot blue flame. Uses typical butane refill liquid. It’s lightweight and agile. But unlike other self-igniting micro-torch models, including the previously-reviewed Weller Portasol, or the ones used by jewelers, this one is cheap at $12. It is good enough for the occasional heating I do.

-- KK  

Micro Torch

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by BernzOmatic

Topeak Turbo Morph Bike Pump

The Topeak Turbo Morph is a lightweight frame pump that functions like a floor pump. It has a fold-out anchor for your foot, and the handle also flips sideways into a T-shape. It’s also got a hose, so you can easily inflate the tire while it’s mounted on the bike. Before getting the Turbo Morph about two years ago, I had a tiny frame pump that was just this side of useless. Most portable bicycle pumps are designed to be used exclusively with your arms/hands. Since they attach directly to the tire, they’re cumbersome to use and difficult to get to the full tire pressure. Contrast this to the floor pump in your garage. You anchor it with your feet and use your body weight to power it. Unfortunately, they are also too large to easily carry with you. I tried another “mini foot pump” before the Topeak, but it wouldn’t quite work with a Presta adapter. With my other frame pumps, I’d spend more time inflating the tire than I would fixing it, and it would be hard getting the thing past 60 PSI. With this pump, I can get the tire to its full 120 PSI in just a couple of minutes. I have the G model, which has a built-in gauge. More convenient to have a gauge on the pump than to have to carry a separate one. But if you’ve already got a gauge, then you probably won’t want the gauge version. I have puncture-resistant tires, but the key word is “resistant.” I still wind up getting a flat a couple times a year. This is well worth carrying.

-- Joe D.  

Topeak Turbo Morph Bike Pump

Available from Amazon

Tire Slime


I have found that anti-puncture strips are often not wide enough to stop thorns from piercing bike tubes, as the strips are only useful in the middle of the tire. I started using Slime, a green liquid sealant, after talking to a bike-borne cop who had very good results. I now use the stuff in my mountain bike and wheelbarrow tires. Actually, I bought pre-Slimed bike tubes when I got new tires recently. No flats at all for six years, despite rough use. I will confess to having to pump up a few times, though. If the bike is left parked in one position in, say, the winter season, the Slime may run down to the bottom of the tire, thus unsealing some of the sealed holes. As such, you will have to pump the tires and ride a while to reseal everything after a month of non-use. In cold weather, Slime puddled at the bottom of a tire while parked will cause a markedly unbalanced tire for the first few miles. This is most noticeable on dual suspension mountain bikes like mine, but it doesn’t seem to affect the operation of the bike.

The last time I changed bike tubes,I found 29 thorn holes Slime had sealed! Slime works in both tubed and tubeless tires, but with a few more caveats: it adds weight to the wheels, which is a disadvantage in racing. For normal road or trail use, you won’t notice. Also, Schrader valves are what to use with Slime, as the skinny Presta ones clog too easily. Tubeless tires, which are already heavier, also require special rims or rim treatments to prevent leaks through the spoke holes. I’d appreciate lighter wheels and tires, but my present tubed setup is fine for my use. Tubeless tires are much better than tubed tires at resisting “snakebite” (tire damage from striking a sharp-edged bump or hole at high speeds). However, tubeless tires obviously can be punctured by thorns, etc. — Slime will dutifully seal such. I have heard Slime itself will not patch “snake-bite” damage, as it is too far up the sidewalls for Slime to be thick enough to work. As I do not race (especially downhill) at 74 years old, tubeless tires do not tempt me. Slime does not last forever either. After a few years, it isn’t as runny, and may not seal a thorn hole in time to prevent needing to pump.

Some people say a Slimed tire cannot be patched by the usual means. Don’t believe ‘em. You just have to wipe off the Slime from the area before patching it in the usual way. They offer incarnations of Slime for cars and motorcycles, too. Personally, I would not use Slime in automobile tires, as the high temperatures and odd balance changes might prove obnoxious. It’d be expensive to find out I was wrong. Bottom line: if you cycle where there are thorns (we call them”goat-heads” or “concho burrs”), Slime will greatly reduce flats. I have had only one flat in the last 10,000 miles — from running over a broken bottle bottom. Slime couldn’t seal the 1.5-inch slit. Neither could my patch kit.

-- J. Baldwin  

Tire Slime

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Accessories Marketing Inc.

Ready Patch


Ready Patch easily outperforms any spackling compound and drywall mud I’ve ever used. I’d liken it to the superbeast that would be created if you combined the hardness of body filler with the sandability of light vinyl spackle. It can patch drywall, wood, even metal on both interior and exterior surfaces. We recently moved into a new home and needed to relocate a cable jack in our family room that has painted wood paneling. I didn’t want to use vinyl spackle, but was a little lost about how to patch the holes until finding Ready Patch. Smooth and easy to apply, it goes on just like vinyl spackle, takes no more effort, and in my experience it doesn’t shrink when applied, so there’s no need to overfill. Sand it like you would spackle and it leaves a nice smooth surface. It cures up hard as a rock, though. (I’m not certain about the product’s composition, but the Technical Data Bulletin shows the generic name is casein resin emulsion; from what I gather, casein is used to manufacture plastic, so perhaps that helps make it stronger). It hasn’t sagged when I’ve patched larger holes (like the ones left after removing toggle bolts from drywall), so it’s good to go almost immediately with no second coat. Amazing stuff. I’ve patched drywall holes 2 inches across with it and sanded/painted the same day. Aside from the wood paneling and various drywall repairs around the house, I used it to patch the outside of the house on the fiberboard siding where I pulled the cable back through. Just a light sand, bit of paint and it was good as new.

-- Chuck Balog  

Ready Patch
$6 (1 quart)
Manufactured by Zinsser Co.

Available from Amazon