Case Liner: Thin entry-way mats that have a rubber
backing and ribbed, fabric tops make excellent liners for cases.
They are waterproof and very robust, and are easily cut with shop
scissors to the shape and size required. For those mats with
bevelled, rubber edges, orient the edge to the front for a nice
look on flat surfaces in your shop or home.
The fabric tops are soft enough to be gentle on items you don't
want to become scratched, and can be easily cleaned with a dry
scrub brush and/or vacuum cleaner. The rubber backing and its
weight won't allow the mat to slide around easily on smooth table
or cabinet tops.
Holder for Cards and Small items: The pocket-sized
aluminum cases meant to hold credit cards often have the interior
dividers fail. Remove them and use the cases to protect business
cards. Since only one type of card is in there, no dividers are
Other purposes for these case are to hold flashdrives or emergency
keys. Place the keys into a small, plastic bag to lessen rattling.
Longer Label and Sign Life: Use clear packing tape to
protect small labels and signs. Invariably they will get dirty from
handling or simply from the atmosphere in the shop due to floating
dust and debris. Wipe each item you wish to protect and the surface
to which it will adhere before covering with the clear tape. Trim
near the tape edges with a straight edge and a razor knife so as to
present a finished, professional look.
Pen and Pencil Holder: Cover with cardboard the bottom
of a cleaned, old automotive distributor cap and use it as a pen
& pencil holder on your desk. The orderly positioning of the
openings in the cap will keep pens separated for easy selection.
Locking Prevention: Use an automotive hose clamp to
prevent accidental locking of file cabinets that have push-in lock
mechanisms. Simply tighten the clamp around the part of the lock
cylinder that sticks out.
Gliding File Folders: Lubricate hanging-file rails with
silicone to prevent files from binding. Spray on to a paper towel
and rub the rails where the file folder hooks touch. They will
then effortlessly slide and glide as you move them. Remember to
dispose the siliconed paper towel into a hazardous materials bin.
Interior Case Protection: Unused computer mouse pads
can be cut up to line the insides of small cases. The sponge type of
pad is especially useful for this purpose because it can better
Identify Laptop Power Supplies: Colour code your
laptop power supply with tape. Having your colours on it makes
for easy selection when fishing for it under a dark table or
counter when the floor is crowded with others' supplies. It also
means others are not likely to mis-identify your supply as belonging
to them. (Review Colour Code Everything,
In addition, if you have many supplies, label each as to the device
it powers. One cannot use any supply to power any device. The
differing connectors, connector polarities, voltages and currents
that are required must be observed. Remember: the power-supply
connector, polarity, and voltage must match exactly with the device,
but available current from the supply can be the same or higher.
Protect Sockets and Reflectors During Painting: Don't
want to disassemble a lighting fixture just for touch-up internal
painting? Shield the metal socket contacts with medicine-bottle
batting stuffed inside. A way to protect the entire socket at once
is to slip a small bottle over the socket. Slip a small, plastic bag
over the reflector, or if the reflector is recessed, place a cardboard
cut-out over it that exactly matches its diameter.
To keep paint off the outside, which would look unprofessional,
manipulate a cardboard mask while painting to prevent overspray onto
the areas that you don't want to be covered. Be sure to have newspaper
placed under and beyond the fixture so as to absorb paint that makes
it out through vent openings.
Easy Gloves: When using latex gloves to protect
yourself from harsh cleaners and other chemicals, wash and thoroughly
dry your hands, then apply baby powder before donning the gloves.
Hands will easily slip into and out of the gloves.
Glue Mixer: Make usage of old, plastic food container
lids to mix small quantities of glue. Plastic blister-pack or frozen
dinner trays will work, too. Use a technician's wooden applicator to
mix the glue, and a thick toothpick to apply to the smallest areas.
Send waste glue and mixer containers to hazardous materials collection.
Usage for Old Drawers: As those transparent drawers
from parts cabinets get cracked or the pulls break, they become a
nuisance to use. Replace them, and cut up the old ones to use as drawer
dividers in any of your parts cabinets. Using sandpaper, smooth the cut
edges, and round the corners so as to make them regular and easy to
insert. Then employ rubber cement to keep these separators in place
within the drawer. This type of cement allows removal of dividers
should they need to be repositioned.
Multimeter Protection: To safeguard a multimeter on the
road, use a student's snap-lidded, rectangular pencil case large enough
for the meter and its test leads. Line the case with old mouse-pad
sponge glued in place via rubber cement. These cases may be found for
under $2.00 in thrift stores and at yard sales.
For analogue meters that don't have `Off' positions, switch to "AC
Volts" at the highest voltage setting. This will give the best
protection from induced-voltage surges that might damage the meter
Prevent Loss of Small items: Use a hardshell eyeglass
case to hold jewellers' screwdrivers when the original plastic driver
case has broken or no longer snaps securely shut.
Also, use hardshell eyeglass cases to transport flashdrives, if you
come to possess many of them.
Lessen Paint Lid Seizing: After opening a paint can for
the first time, take a large nail and hammer eight, evenly-spaced
holes into the lid groove around its perimeter. Paint that then pools
inside the groove will be able to drip back into the can, yet these
holes will be sealed when the lid is replaced.
Easy Tape Dispensing: Before putting adhesive tape away,
fold over a small amount of the leading edge so as to make a tab. This
identifies the start of the tape, and it gives you a strip to grab
when first pulling tape off the roll.
If you don't like the chore to make a tab, or the wasting of tape,
one could use the plastic closures for bread bags. Stick it to
the start of the roll. The next time you use that tape, you will be
able to immediately find the cut edge, and it will be a snap to pull
off that first length.
Choose closures that are flexible; the stiff ones often fall off the
tape or break in transit, or even just when putting the roll away.
Keep a supply of closures inside a small, snap-lid container and store
that container right with your tape supplies.
Easier Tape Dispensing: An alternative to the adhesive
tape suggestion just given is to buy one or more weighted dispensers
from a stationery or industrial supplier that hold on the same unit
two or three rolls, or one or two wide rolls. Buy one for each location
where tape is dispensed.
The expense of these dispensers can be justified by the non-wastage of
tape, by the elimination of plastic closures and the time-wasting
associated with closure fumbling. In addition, is the ease whereby
one can get just the right length of tape when it's needed, and by not
tying up both hands as happens when one has to hold the roll and do the
Freely Flowing Ink: For ballpoint pens that won't write,
soak only the tip in methyl alcohol for a minute. This solvent often
will dissolve pen ink. Alternately, warm the tip with a heat gun and
roll the ball on scrap paper. This will often free coagulated ink.
Don't use so much heat that you melt the plastic surrounding the metal
housing of the pens' tips. No heat gun? A hair dryer on high heat and
low air velocity may work for some pens, some of the time.
Either method stops the wastage of pens. This keeps them out of the
landfill and doesn't squander your office supplies budget.
Cheap Storage: Buy old audio or video cassette tape
storage units. These came in drawer or wall-mount styles and are now
commonly found in thrift stores. Old cassette and video boxes fit
these, of course, so you will place small hardware or electronics
parts into those boxes. Label the spines so you know what you have.
CD/DVD cases and holders are also useful for this purpose, especially
for flat items such as gaskets. Organise the drawers so that like items
Duplicate Supplies: If you find yourself frequently
going to other parts of your shop to get service items such
as adhesive tape, cleaners and polishes, spay lubricants, and
so on, save those steps by having supplies duplicated wherever
they are needed. If this seems expensive, realise that you won't
go through these supplies any faster because you will use only one
at a time, any way.
Solder Dispenser: A dental floss container can hold
a small coil of solder to protect it and be handy on the road. Make
each winding of solder be on top of the previous and small enough to
fit inside the container. Bring the end out the dispenser opening,
enlarging it to fit the solder's diameter. Remove the dental floss
cutter blade so as to prevent skin damage. Such containers are much
easier to find inside a tool kit; plus, their snap tops make for easy
Holders for Small Tools: Some tools don't fit typical
holders, so employ bench-top, or preferably wall-mounted, toothbrush
units. As necessary, enlarge the openings by drilling them out, or
reduce them by gluing washers in place. For pegboard mounts, wind
the metal coil smaller so the tool will not slip through. Hold the
coil base with one pair of pliers while reducing the coil diameter
with a second pair so as to not break the weld joint.
Used Locking Bags: Do you bring sandwiches to work
on a regular basis? If they are in resealable bags, take these
used ones, turn them inside out and rinse them; then when dry,
return them right side out and fill with small parts. Label
the outside and file them away. Sandwich bags are often more
robust than is required for food, so they are very suitable to
hold small parts.
(See "Parts Bags" and "Filing the Clutter" at
Decluttering your Shop)
Parts Organiser: Have egg cartons or muffin tins hold
small parts during overhaul of a light. Number them and place parts
in order as related to each step of the disassembly. Follow the
reverse number order when reassembling. Larger parts holders can be
made by joining frozen-dinner trays. Some of the largest trays
already have dividers.
More Cheap Storage: Use stackable vegetable bins
to hold rags, polish cloths, and scraps and reel ends of cables.
These are fairly cheap at grocery stores, but can often be had
at yard sales for pennies. Select the ones with solid bottoms
and sides. Screened bins tend to allow things to poke through
and get caught.
Miniature Oil Can: Employ eye drop bottles as precision
oilers. Spray dispensers often splatter because they have too much
pressure. For more viscous oils, enlarge the tip's opening with
a pin. A light squeeze will deploy only a single drop of lubricant
to just the right place.
Prevent Blade Damage: Slit pieces of old garden hose
to use as blade guards for saws, files and knives in a tool kit.
Secure to the blade with twist ties or short lengths of cordage.
(See our AIEL Cordage Guide.)
Date Tagging: Knowing how long expendables last helps
when deciding what level of quality versus price to go with. Take
a sharp-tip felt marker and write a date on your batteries. Then you
will know if the expensive batteries cost less per time period than
multiple cheap ones. (They usually do.)
For lamps, write the date on a strip of white electrical tape and
stick it to the inside vertical surface of the yoke on each light.
Use a permanent marker to write right on the back of PAR lamps. You
will know at the next lamp change if the fixture might be causing
premature lamp burn outs and can pull it out of service for repair
or socket replacement.
Wash Hand Towels Less Often: Every week hand towels
need to be washed, but this can be extended to every two weeks.
Simply use oversize, towels. Fold each vertically in half and drape
it over the towel rack bar just far enough that the top edge comes
down to touch the rest of the towel below the bar. Use clothespins
or binder clips, one on each side, to secure the towel to itself.
Since the towel is now captive, workers only need to reach out and
wipe to dry their hands. Thus the towel stays in place. Besides the
extra bonus of a captive towel, only two surfaces of the four get
dirty at any time. After a week, take down the towel, fold it with
the dirty surfaces facing inward, rehang it and replace the clips
for another week of usage.
Replacement Handle Grips: Rubber garden hose lengths can
also make reasonable replacements for worn or broken grips on road
case handles. They will cushion just as well. Note that vinyl hose
will not work as well for this purpose; because it is not as
flexible, it will tend to split sooner.
If the handle grip can be removed, simply slip the correct-length
piece of hose over it and reassemble. Otherwise, slit the hose and
wrap it around the grip; then glue the slit back together. Don't use
tape because the glue will eventually gum the handle grip.
Old Dish Washing Scrubbers: Dish washing wands with pads
can be still useful. When too worn for dishes, but still with a
covering of pad left, use it to texture paint on a theatrical set.
For a pad that is completely worn, clean off any remaining material
and glue sandpaper or a sanding sponge piece to it. This sanding
wand can now be used for small items that are too difficult to
work with fingers alone.
No Paint Splatters: After replacing a paint can lid but
before pounding closed, put a cloth over the top of the can so as
to catch splatters. Use a rubber mallet so as to not dent the can
lid or edge.
Before putting away spray paint, turn the can upside down and spray
onto some old newspaper to clear the nozzle, or better yet, try to
estimate the final few strokes required and paint them with the can
upside down. This reduces paint wastage, and clearing the nozzle will
prevent it getting clogged when it comes time for subsequent usage.
Use a pin to clear nozzles that do become clogged. Save all working
nozzles as substitutes for ones that can't be unblocked.
Oil Station: Have a plastic dish pan that is leaking due
to a split? Buy a new one, but use the old one for an oil station.
Epoxy the split to prevent it getting worse, or weld the plastic with
a flat attachment for your soldering gun.
Take an old towel and cut a square or rectangle from it that will
cover the bottom of the pan and a few centimetres up the sides. Now
when you have small hardware parts to lubricate or protect, use a
spray dispenser of light oil over, or even inside, your new oil station.
Overspray will be kept inside the pan. Turn the parts to assure full
coverage and leave them there to drip off the excess. If you need only
to wipe a part, the bottom towel will always have oil in it for that
Lock Out Portable Power Tools: If you carry
battery-operated power tools to your gigs, be sure to switch the
power button to its "Lock" position so as to prevent the tool from
coming on during transit and running down the battery. Alternatively,
remove batteries for transit. Better yet, carry the tool, battery, and
accessories in a case of their own where the tool is nested within an
impression in the case. (It's still a good idea, though, to lock out
the tool's power switch.)
Hide Yellow Electrical Connectors: Yellow plugs
and cord connectors are great because they stand out in a mess
of tangled, black electrical cables. However, there are times
when one does not want them to be so visible to an audience. A
solution is to cut off the toe and heel of an old sock leaving
just the leg part. Slip the sock on to and past one connector,
make the connection, and then center the sock over both connectors.
They will now blend in with the black cabling as seen from the
Make usage of the left-over toe and heel part by cutting it open
so as to lie flat. This can now become a small polishing or cleaning
Insurance Inventory: When was the last time you did
an inventory for insurance? Don't have time right now? Then
take photos of your shop and its contents. File them away off
premises and update them regularly. Insurance companies love
photos because they show details that may not be on an inventory
list. In particular, they prove to them that false claims are not
being submitted because the evidence is right there in each picture,
while your photos ensure to you that something has not been