IKEA as platform

People have been hacking Ikea furniture forever, customizing and upgrading its modular units. Now Ikea has become a platform that highend designers create skins for. You buy the economical guts of an Ikea kitchen, shelving, or a sofa, and then apply new doors, handles, countertops, or fabrics created by legendary designers. This is a great New York Times summary article describing the ecosystem with links to the many companies that offer refined design layers for the Ikea platform. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Get PDF first

Owner manuals and installation guides contain far more information about a product than either the sales brochure, the online descriptions, or even Amazon reviews. The manual will have exact dimensions, all the parts, and caveats about what it can’t do. So my rule of thumb these days is to always download the product’s manual before I purchase the item. Impossible in the old preinternet days, it’s a no-brainer today. It has saved me many times. Regrettably, not 100% of products have PDFs that are findable, but the better products do. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Damage-free hanging

I use these neat hooks from 3M when I want to hang something on a surface I don’t want to damage, either a stucco wall, or a hotel room, or for a temporary hanging on a wood surface. Command Hangers employ an innovative glue strip to hold and release. The strip will securely hold the hanger for as long as you like (difficult to pull off), but will remove itself entirely, and easily, without marks or damage to paint at the end, using an ingenious particular physical pull. Hard to explain but it really works. I find they hold more than they specify. Command hooks come in all kinds of sizes, many styles, and reusable, too. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Small parts storage

My preferred system for storing lots of small parts (screws, Legos) in my workshop or studio is a multi-bin case. Many brands (Sortimo, Stanley, Amazon) made these at different price points but the form is similar. The clear lid of the flat case opens to a grid of different sized bins, which can be moved around to suit the contents. The cheapest ones, good enough for me, are 20-bin Storage Cases from Harbor Freight for $9. I have 20 of these trays stacked in a rack. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Maker space storage

My daughter and I have converted part of the family room into a maker space. We needed something to hold and organize lots of small parts, and that didn’t eat up a lot of tabletop space. This $28 cabinet with 44 drawers was just what we wanted. It’s tall, but some double-sided tape on the bottom has anchored it to the table to prevent tipping over. — MF

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Workshop tip

When mixing epoxies, resins, goops, paints, and glues, I always need to dispose of the gunked up mixing container afterwards. I try to hoard used take-out containers and paper cups yet run out. By far the best solution is to use flexible silicone mixing bowls. Nothing sticks. Turn them inside out to clean, and use again and again. They come in all sizes. You need only one each size. Since I mostly use small amounts of epoxy, I use the smallest silicone cup I could find, the Norpro Mini Pinch Cups. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Most handy 

A true miracle device in my workshop is a right-angle attachment to my power drill that lets me drill or screw in tight places. This small geared unit allows me to fit the drill or screw tip into narrow spaces I can’t get the length of the drill into. Just imagine being able to twist the tip of your driver 90 degrees to the side. Now that I have one, I use it all the time. There are several makes. I use a Dewalt right angle ($21), because I have Dewalt tools, but it’ll work on any brand driver. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Long-nosed precision marker

In my workshop I use a Dixon needle-nosed marker for maximum accuracy. This is like a wire-thin sharpie that can reach deep into holes or tug close along edges to make a thin indelible line or dot. The handle is fat for your grip, but the business end is only 2mm wide and several inches long (like a hummingbird beak) making it perfect for precision marks on fabric, plastics, metals and wood. This Dixon is a slightly cheaper version of a similar Pica brand marker recommended by Adam Savage. — KK

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Best tape measure 

I’ve used many different tape measures over my four decades of making things. My go-to measurer for the past 5 years has been a 25-foot Stanley Fatmax. It is comfy to hold, and not too big for my small hands. 25 feet is plenty for most jobs in the home or workshop, and best of all, because of its wide curved width, it will extend 10 feet straight out on its own. Reasonably priced. – KK 

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Garage parking aid 

There’s probably a simple DIY substitute for the AccuPark Vehicle Parking Aid, but I was happy to pay $11 for it. I adhered this yellow plastic mini speed bump to the garage floor using the attached double-side tape. We can now drive our electric car right up to the optimum spot to plug in the charger port. — MF 

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Pro-quality tire plug kit 

My car tire had a dry-wall screw in it. I bought a cheap tire plug repair kit at the local Pep Boys for about $12. It was hard to use because I had to apply a lot of force to the plastic handle and it hurt my hand. A month later I found another screw in my tire. I left the screw in until I ordered this heavy duty $27 tire plug repair kit. The all metal handles were a pleasure to use. The kit comes with a lot of useful extra tools and parts. Buy one today and you’ll be happy you did when you need it. — MF 

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Emergency key 

Although it is less common to lock yourself out of your car with electronic locks and ignition these days, it happens often enough that I keep a spare key hidden in our vehicles. Grant Thompson (King of Random) has a great YouTube tutorial on how to make a key-hold big enough for modern fob keys — the kind that contain a transponder that work at a distance. This is the crazy-strong magnet I used for our hidden key-holds. It is cheap insurance compared to a locksmith visit. — KK 

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Instant bond 

I never had much luck using superglue. It really wasn’t instant, it didn’t seem to bond tightly, and I’d get it all over my fingers. The trade secret to using superglue (which all serious model-makers seem to know) is to use an accelerator with it. You spray the glued joint with this catalyst solvent and it cures the glue instantly. Or you can spray one half of the joint with the accelerator and when it touches the other half with the glue it bonds instantly. Yes! I got a small spray bottle of accelerator (the brand name doesn’t matter much) but it is so useful I now get the combination of glue+accelerator in larger quantities. — KK 

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Powerful tube squeezer 

The Big Squeeze Tube Squeezer ($35) forces every last drop of goop out of a tube. It can handle tubes up to 3.375” wide. To use it, insert the end of the tube between the two rollers, squeeze the handle and turn the key. The tube is completely flattened, and because of the serrated design of the rollers, the tube is crimped so it stays flat. I’ve used it on tubes of toothpaste, acrylic paint, and lithium grease. It’s all metal and heavy duty. — MF 

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Bleaching bones 

Any bones or skulls you collect can be whitened up without using chlorine bleach, which can weaken the bone. Use concentrated hydrogen peroxide, which will fizz and brighten bone to a brilliant white very quickly. You need stronger stuff than the dilute peroxide found in drug stores. Head to the hair care aisle or hair product stores, and look for bottles of concentrated H2O2 in bottles labeled as Clairoxide or the like. — KK 

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Blocked nozzle tip 

Don’t throw away a can of spray paint when the nozzle is not working. If there is still paint inside you can easily swap the nozzle with another one from another can of paint that is working. Just pull it off and swap. Clean it when you are done by turning the can upside down and spraying till it is clear. Then you can return the nozzle to the original can if you want. To get really geeky, order extra nozzles online. — KK 

WorkshopClaudia Dawson
Label lifter 

I use Goo Gone to remove stickers from glass and plastic, but when I need to remove a label from a book cover or cardboard, the Scotty Peeler Label and Sticker Remover does the trick. The flat tapered edge fits between a label and the surface and, if you work slowly and carefully, will remove the label without marring the surface of your book or other item. — MF 

WorkshopClaudia Dawson