Atlantic Illumination Entertainment Lighting

An AIEL Instructional

(Image: Tips Bag

Tech Tips



Miscellaneous Suggestions and Recommendations
for Technical Personnel and Related Occupations


Grabbag Topics

Lighting Tips     Shop Tips     Storage Tips

Quick Tips


Lighting-Related Tips:

Don't Buy Twist-On Flashlights   

Easier Lamp Replacements

Easier PAR Lamp Adjustments

Fixture Alignment   

Restore Scratched Gel    

  1.   Don't Buy Twist-On Flashlights:  Not only are they hard to turn on with one hand, but since these models incorporate a focus mechanism in the switch, one must go through the nuisance of having to adjust the light beam every time it is turned on, and to defocus it every time it's turned off.

        Flashlights best suited for show work have a momentary switch for quick views in the dark, but the switch can be locked on if desired. (This is known as a `make-before-lock switch', that is, it makes electrical contact before it locks in the `on' position.) If there is a focus mechanism, it is best when it's separated from this on/off switch. Then it can be preset to the most-used beam angle.

        Another issue with many twist-on flashlights is that the batteries are accessed by removing the switch/focus assembly. Unfortunately, if during a normal turning-off operation it happens to be twisted too far, the assembly then has the potential to separate from the flashlight body after it's inside a toolbox or briefcase. Separation happens because of movement during loading or through vibration in transit. When at the next gig, this means a search for the batteries, the lamp and the lens assembly, plus a hope that the latter two have not been damaged.

        In addition, if one is too cautious after experiencing a few unintended disassemblies and decides to not turn it as far, those same vibrations can allow the light to make contact, meaning burn out of the batteries and/or the lamp. This results in the surprise (and annoyance) of a dead light at the next gig.

        For a more focused look at flashlights, see our Flashlight Purchase Guide.

  2.   Easier Lamp Replacements:  To have burnout replacements be less cumbersome in the future, first inspect the socket looking for tarnish or bits of broken lamp. Fix or remove as appropriate. Then spray a bit of high-temperature silicone spray on to the socket contacts or threads. Don't use too much; it should not be runny. Burned out lamps will release much more easily -- even years later. (Employ this technique for home lighting, as well.)

        Be sure to date tag all lamps. This tells one how long they are lasting under in-service conditions. It also will make apparent a fixture with electrical or socket problems because one will notice if a particular fixture seems to be going through lamps too quickly.

        To date-tag PAR lamps, use a large, permanent-ink, felt-tip marker to write the year and month on the backs of the reflectors. For all others, place a piece of white electrical tape on the inside vertical surface of the fixture's yoke. Make it long enough to have room for a second date. This will allow one to change the lamp a second time without having to replace the tag.

  3.   Easier PAR Lamp Adjustments:  As PAR fixtures spend time in service, dirt enters and infiltrates between the lamp and its circular support. With heat and moisture, the dirt eventually forms a film that binds the lamp when a focus is attempted. To alleviate this, remove the lamp and carefully clean where the bulb edge touches the side of the fixture and the ledge that supports the lamp. Use a household cleaner and water. Clean the bulb as well. Rinse well with plain water to remove cleaner residue.

        Once dried, spray industrial silicone lubricant on to the fixture areas just cleaned. Place some silicone onto a paper towel and wipe the edge of the bulb where it touches those same areas. Restore the lamp. Spin to see if it binds. If so, check to see that the lamp has clearance all around; the fixture may be slightly warped. Remove the lamp and gently squeeze the lamphouse back to round again. Replace the lamp and test again.

        If all is well, set the lamp retainer in place. Keep it away from the lamp so that the latter can move up & down a bit. This allows for expansion room when the fixture is in operation. If the retainer is the type that is built in and actually touches the rear of the bulb, clean it as above and silicone the edge that touches the bulb.

        Now using a nozzle extension, spray the socket contacts with silicone before reconnecting. Close the lamphouse cap and test the spin again. If the lamp binds, check to see if the cap pinches where it seats, pulling the lamphouse out of round. The reason is that the cap is either out of round or the cap's hinge is out of alignment. Fix these problems. Restore everything to working positions. Now when you go to focus this fixture, the lamp will turn easily making for far less frustration.

        Be sure to use industrial silicone lubricant; the types found in automotive supply or hardware stores are rarely suitable for theatre lights. It must be able to handle very high temperatures and remain slippery for long times in service. See our Lubricants and Solvents Guide. Finally, dispose the siliconed paper towel into a hazardous materials bin.

  4.   Fixture Alignment:  To make alignment of your ellipsoidal and fresnel fixtures easier, set them up near a flat-white wall, or use a non-wrinkled, drop-down white cloth. Give about three to five metres space between it and the intended fixture position. The latter needs to be near an electrical outlet. Draw a target pattern on the wall or cloth. Mark a center point that is at the height of where the light will be positioned for a straight-on throw. Then draw half-metre circles out to the limit of the field angle of your widest-angle fixture.

        Have a pipe or a cradle to hang or hold the light firmly in position while you work. Be sure to standardise the fixture's test position so as to maintain consistency among aligned fixtures. If you use a cradle on a wheeled case or stand, mark the floor so as to ensure this position.

        It's now simple to shine the light on to the target area and to adjust a fresnel reflector or ellipsoidal lamp positioner for flat or peak field, and for the brightest intensity. An aligned light gives the most efficiency for the chosen lamp wattage and thus for the power consumed. (For more on fixture maintenance, go to Equipment Maintenance in our Shop Tips section.)

  5.   Restore Scratched Gel:  Use scratched gel where a bit of diffused colour is needed. Otherwise carry a small can of furniture polish and a soft cloth to partially restore scratched gel if you don't have a piece of new gel as a replacement, or if you simply want to extend the gel's service life. There is also a product called ArmorAll that works better than furniture polish.

For more information on maintaining plastic colour media,
go to Colour Media Care and Preservation in the Shop Tips
section elsewhere at the AIEL Website.


Shop-Related Tips:

Cable Securing   

Colour Code Everything

Fan/Blower Tips

Filling Screw Holes

Newspaper Usages

Pen Holder Block

Renew Casetop Retainers

Restore Rusty Chains

Reclaim Garbage
Can Space

Suction Cup
Holder Issue

Removing Stubborn Labels

    Cable Securing:  Put leather boot laces on all your cables. Buy the thick ones that typically come in two-metre lengths. Cut them in half for multi-circuit cables; cut in quarter for single cables. A cut lace should be long enough to be able to be tied while wearing work gloves.

        Lash them near the female end of your cables with a tight, double-granny knot. After coiling a cable, pass one end of the lace through the center of the coil and bring it up to meet the other where a shoelace knot & bow will be tied. (This type of knot can easily be released with one pull, and everyone knows how to tie one.)

        When in use, the attached tie becomes a handy way to make for a stress-free electrical connection. Secure the female end of the cable to truss, drop-tile T-bar, or to a handy pipe or post using the tie. Make a shoelace knot & bow here too, for quick release during tear-downs at the end of a gig.

        Leather ties last for years, and are very strong as long as they don't dry out. They are superior to sash cord for all but the heaviest cables because they are thinner and weigh less, plus can often cost less. Their friction coefficient exceeds that of nylon cord, which can be slippery to tie (especially if wet), and even when wearing work gloves. Plus, nylon tends to take a set, while leather remains very flexible.

        Leather ties are preferable to hook & loop (Velcro) material which fails to hold once it gets dirty or lint laden. Hook & loop sticks to many types of work gloves, so it becomes a nuisance. Also, if this kind of material is handled night after night without work gloves, one's hands will become raw and painful.

        Leather ties also surpass adhesive tape because they can be reused for years, while tape might get a few reuses, if that. This means that tape costs more in the long run. Plus, adhesive can be transferred to the cable after a long periods of no use, leaving one with a gooey cable.

  2.   Colour Code Everything:  Most losses at a gig are usually not due to intentional theft. These are caused by persons that mistakenly take something they believe to be their own. Or, it's the borrowed item that gets passed to so many others that it reaches a point where nobody knows to whom it belongs. It gets left on a ledge, or it gets put into someone else's kit because somebody thought that was where it belonged.

        The solution to preventing most such losses is to colour code everything. Yes, you can put stickers or other identifiers on, but colour-coding tape is generally more easily recognised so it quickly tells everyone that an item at least does not belong to any of those persons. Wrap the handles of soldering irons, heat guns, tools -- even pens and markers! I also have my laptop power supply coded. (See Quick Tips, later on.) As a joke, I once colour coded my bottle of water; that drove my point home. (-:

        Select two or three colours used by nobody else you know or have seen. Electrical tape is recommended for this purpose because it comes in a great variety of colours. It can be stretched tightly to wrap an item and will stick securely. (For information on other tapes, see the: AIEL Stage Tape Guide.)

        Clean well your hands and the things to be coded; dirt on the adhesive side will eventually cause tape to come loose. If an item's surface will not be compromised, use lacquer thinner as the cleaner. Cut the tape with scissors so as to have clean lines for a more professional finish. As you apply it, place a small gap between each strip of tape to make the colours stand out more. For cables, place coding on to each end back a bit from the connectors. This space allows room to slide the shells back for inspection or repair without fetching on the coloured tape.

        Do not allow the tape to form an ending seam at an edge. Edges of objects get the most stress from handling. A seam on an edge will come undone more readily than one on a flat surface.

  3.   Fan/Blower Tips:  Whether it's a small, battery-operated, personal, gig fan, or a large one- or two-metre effects blower, always keep the blades and grills clean so as to have maximum air-pulling power. Collected dust will always reduce the efficiency of the unit and lessen the flow of air.

        Whenever maintenance is being performed, re-contour any warped blades and reshape dented or creased ones back into their proper profiles. Finish by honing each blade lip to a sharp edge. If blades cannot be properly reshaped, replace them. Use metal blades whenever possible; they typically give greater efficiency than plastic ones and don't attract dust due to static charges.

        Proper blade edging and contour maintenance will give maximum airflow for power consumed. This is critical with battery-operated fans. Being able to select a slower rotation because there is enough air movement means longer battery life.

        Remove motor housings. Vacuum the coils using a small paint brush to dislodge dust. Lubricate as per the manufacturer's instructions. Some larger units may have an access tube for oil. Remember to replace the cap after oiling.

  4.   Filling Screw Holes:  Use hot-melt glue to seal the screw holes left in cases after removal of internal dividers, blocks or fittings. It sets quickly and is watertight. After it hardens, use a razorblade knife to shave off excess glue bubbles, and fine steel wool or a fine sanding sponge to remove glue strands from aluminum edging. For a finished look, touch up by using a narrow-point artist's brush with paint that matches the case colour.

  5.   Newspapers:  Use old newspapers to cover work surfaces when disassembling equipment. Small parts show up better, and oils and dirt are absorbed. Frequent paper changes mean you will always have a clean surface on which to work.

        Here are some additional newspaper uses:

  6.   Pen Holder Block:  Do you find that pens and markers tend to get lost on the bench top or are taken away? Cut a heavy block of wood and drill holes to fit four to six pen caps. Glue a cap into each hole and insert the appropriate pen. Use coloured caps for pens with inks other than black. As each runs out, simply pop the replacement into the old cap that is already glued into the wood block; then push the old marker into the new cap and send it to recycle.

        The block provides a convenient and permanent home for pens and markers, and it presents them in a straight-up orientation. As such, workers are more likely to pop the pen back into its holder than to leave it lying on the bench. This is especially true for felt-tip markers that will quickly dry out if left uncapped. Making it easy for workers means greater likelihood of compliance when it comes to returning pens.

        A bonus is that it only takes one hand to disengage or replace any pen because the weight of the block acts as a hand to hold the cap whenever a pen is removed or returned.

  7.   Renew Casetop Retainers:  Have a detached or missing retainer arm that is allowing a case top to open fully and threatening to pull off its hinges? If you can't fix or reattach the arm, or if you don't want to even use such a mechanism, replace it with one or two nylon straps. I keep broken ratchet tie-downs around for this and similar purposes because their straps are strong and useful.

        Cut a piece of strap to fit. It needs to span the distance from the side of the case's cover to the side of the lower part of the case when the open cover is just past the upright position. Allow this extra length so that when the top is open, its own weight will keep it back far enough so that it won't come down and bruise your arms. Mount the strap well forward away from the hinges to keep stresses low on it and its anchor points. However, don't allow it to be too close to the front because it can interfere with your hands or catch on equipment being inserted/removed as you access the inside of the case.

        Drill holes in the case's side where you will secure the strap and also through one end of the strap itself. Leave a centimetre or two of strap material beyond its hole as a margin. Now loosely fasten one end to the side with a bolt that is just long enough to pierce both the case and strap, and to be able to accept the remaining hardware. The latter will consist of a flat washer on the outside under the bolt head and another inside to press against the strap itself, a lock washer and one or two nuts. Always use plated hardware to avoid rust. This will all be tightened later.

        Next, with the top open and supported from behind so that it is just beyond the vertical, pull the strap taut to position it over the other bolt hole in the side and punch or drill the strap at the alignment point. Bolt this end on with the appropriate hardware in the proper order, as above. Test the case. If all is well, straighten the strap and tighten all hardware. If necessary, add an extra nut to cover the end of either bolt if one or both protrude to where a user might get scratched. An acorn nut is good for this because it caps the bolt end completely. An alternative is to cut off the excess with a hacksaw and file off any burrs.

        Now cut away the excess strap using a sharp pair of scissors, leaving the same margin beyond the hole as at the other end. Ratchet strap material can be cut without shredding or unravelling due to its weave and the fact that it usually has thread sewn along its length near each edge. You may have to train the strap by creasing it with pliers at the bend point so that it folds inward as the top is closed, but you now have a working case that won't destroy its hinges.

  8.   Restore Rusty Chains:  To remove rust from chains, place them into a rock tumbler or cement mixer with newspaper. Turn at a slow speed. Rust will be rubbed off the chains and stick to the paper. After revolving the drum for a while, clean out loose rust from the drum and replace the rust-coated newspaper with new. Repeat until the chains are clean.

        If oil is not a problem in usage, after the final cleaning, spray the chains with oil as they tumble inside of a clean drum. Otherwise, coat the chains with a rust inhibiting paint. Yes, it may rub off in usage, but it will afford some protection for a time. Be sure to thoroughly clean rust and oil from the drum of the tumbler or mixer when this task is complete.

  9.   Reclaim Garbage Can Space:  Shop garbage cans need to be large to provide longer times between emptying. Round cans take up a lot of space, so replace them with half-round ones. Buy models as tall as feasible to regain at least some of the volume lost when switching to the half-round models.

        A bonus with these cans is that they stand flat against a wall or bench, not only taking up less floor space, but tucking in closer; thus offering less of an obstruction. Place them beside or between shelving units -- say where a post is, or below a light switch where shelving would not usually be. Arrange it so the cans will not stick out any farther than the depth of the shelves. This gives a tidy and organised look.

        Carry this idea over to other areas, such as offices, by switching to half-round or rectangular garbage cans. These models would be smaller so as to fit under desks or beside computer stations. The ideal type for these purposes is paper shredder baskets. They are typically flat on one side and bowed on the other, so they too, will press flat against a wall or desk. Look for these baskets in thrift stores; the shredders have failed or blades dulled and have been sent to e-recycle, while the baskets often get donated to thrift organisations where they sell for very low prices.

  10.   Suction Cup Holder Issue:  If you use a suction cup holder to hang an item from a smooth surface and it comes loose on a regular basis, it's because the air seal is not perfect. Once pressure equalises to the point where the weight of the hung item dislodges the cup, all will fall. Try the following:

        Another reason for release or slippage is the weight of the item being suspended. If you believe this to be so, use two suction cups. If the item cannot be hung on more than one cup, place a wire between two cups and hang the item on it. If it can't be hung on a wire, place an `S' hook on the wire and hang your item from it.

  11.   Removing Stubborn Labels:  Removing labels from surfaces requires some investigation first: Is the label lick-&-stick or peel-&-stick? The former uses a water-based adhesive; the latter, an acrylic or rubber adhesive. To remove the water-based ones, if the item is water proof, it may be soaked for a bit in warm water. If not, wet a cloth in hot water and press it against the label. Once the label begins to pucker, it should be able to be removed. Some picking may be required; if so, use your fingernail or a plastic scraper. Go slowly so as to not scratch the surface where the label is.

        For the other type, use a hair dryer or heat gun to soften the adhesive; pick at one corner to raise a tab, then slowly pull the label off while continuing to apply heat. Watch that the heat is not excessive to the point where the surface is deformed.

        Some adhesive may be left. Employ hot water to soften the water-based glue, and use your nail or a plastic scraper to finish. For the other types of adhesive, continue to use heat to keep the glue soft while picking away at it. Try blotting with a dry cloth, while turning the material to an unused section after each blot or two.

        Solvents are another alternative, but test each on a hidden part of the surface first. If it does not dull that surface, use a technician's swab with the solvent to precisely dissolve and wipe away the adhesive. Do not use personal-care swabs; these will often dissolve and/or deform when in contact with solvents.

        Finally, buff the surface with ArmorAll or a commercial polish to restore lustre to smooth surfaces. The nap on fabric surfaces can often be brought back into line with its surroundings by using a clothes brush.


Storage-Related Tips:

Hardware Organisation

Juice Can / Paint Pail Storage

Storage of Scenery Flats

  1.   Hardware Organisation:  At some point, you will want to have a selection of nuts, bolts and washers. For the road, get a multi-cubicle container with a transparent, lockable cover if your hardware quantities are minimal; otherwise, use a fishing tackle box with multiple levels of divided compartments. (Peruse Hardware Kit in our Kits section.)

        For the shop, a small parts cabinet will do the trick. Do not put different hardwares into one drawer or you will spend too much time searching for the right piece. Use one drawer or compartment for each type and size. Each time a new box of hardware is bought, cut out the label along with its plastic or cardboard backing. It should show the type, size and thread information. (I like it if there is a picture of the piece, too.) Place the label right into the same compartment or drawer as the hardware. This will not only show identity, it will aid when it comes time to reorder. You could even take the label with you to the store to be sure of no mixups. Bring it back when you return so it can be reused, rather than having to cut out another label.

        If you find that you must put more than one hardware type or size into a compartment, use small, lockable, transparent bags to keep the separation. As was just suggested regarding the individual drawers, place the label into the bag with its hardware. Keep the bottom sections of the boxes in which the hardware came. These are useful as open-top kit or drawer dividers/compartments.

  2.   Use Juice Cans or Paint Pails for Storage:  Cut the tops from large, used juice cans, filing any sharp burrs to a smooth finish. Screw them on to a wall with the openings facing out, Use as rope or cable spools/hangers. The interiors can hold smaller items such as cable adaptors. Remove the labels and spray each can a different colour to aid in organisation or to cover the juice company's name for ink-on-can labels.

        Juice cans also make good bins for nuts and bolts. Screw a series of them to a wooden stud. Mount the stud at an angle in a rack made from wood or from pipe and fittings. Have the cans sit at a 45-degree angle with their open ends supported by another stud or pipe. The latter can display contents labels for each can above it. Several rows of them on a frame make for a comprehensive hardware stand for a shop. Again, remember to blunt any sharp edges.

        Put the rack on casters so it can be wheeled anywhere within the shop for work. As well, a wheeled rack can be moved out to access a dropped bolt or to sweep. A rack on casters is a convenience in a small shop because it can be stored in front of a cupboard or other, yet be moved easily aside so as to access what lies behind.

        For larger hardware or for chain, use 12 or 20-litre plastic pails. Make a rack from pipe and fittings suitable to handle the total weight of the rack and hardware. As just described regarding juice cans for hardware bins, arrange a rack so that the pails are again held at 45-degree angles, but this time using three horizontal pipes per row -- one running along under the pail near the front edges, one under the bottom edges, and a third pipe behind the middle of the pail bottoms to prevent them from sliding backward. Have the under pipes be away from the extreme top and bottom edges of the pails so that the weight of the contents won't crack the plastic. Unlike juice cans screwed to a wooden stud, the pails need not be secured because of the three-pipe method and the fact that their own weight will hold them in place within the cradle of piping.

        If you place this rack on casters, you must buy ones that can handle the total weight, and that have tires suitable for the surface on which the rack will roll. A lot of force will be exerted on just four tire points. Have at least two locking casters so as to prevent rack `drift' across the floor as one deals with the contents of the pails during normal work procedures. If the rack has multiple rows, be sure to provide enough swing height for the handles.
    (See the AIEL Caster Guide.)

        Do not remove the pail handles. They make it convenient to take a pail from the rack for certain jobs. Remember to leave a bit of space between pails so that no binding will happen as you remove or replace a pail. When in the rack, orient handles to the top and pivot them up & back against the pail. This is so they won't hang down in the way of lower pails.

  3.   Use Anchor Plates and `D' Rings for Flats Storage:  Storing flats and stocks of wood or metal piping when space is at a premium often means no wood-frame housing can be used. Leaning flats and wood against a wall can only provide so much storage before the outer items will slide out at the bottom and go down to the floor. When the weight of many items is considered, the pressure at the `lean' points where the rear items touch the wall will become too high and not allow one to easily "leaf' through them to make a selection. There may even be enough pressure to damage those rear items.

        Instead, install a series of anchor plates and `D' rings to the wall. Place one each on other side of a scenery flat just above its centre of gravity. Sash cord, rubber straps, or chain & snap hooks would attach to the anchor points so as to retain flats in a vertical position and allow easy perusal of inventory. For very tall flats, two straps per group may be needed -- one low, and the other high up.

        As more items are added, adjust the cordage, strap or chain to suit. The material used as retainers will be determined by the weight of the items being stored, with chain being reserved for the heaviest of stacks. Be sure to keep items close to vertical so that one can lean each item forward to view the one behind. To prevent chain abrasions to stored items, slip the chain inside a length of an old garden hose long enough to cover flats or other items, while leaving its ends accessible.

        The nice thing about this method is that stored items only take up floor space away from the wall as determined by their numbers and thicknesses. Using framework would take up that space even when it's empty. In addition, should that space be required for another purpose, there is nothing to disassemble -- simply remove the stored items and their retainers, and all that will be left behind will be the anchors and rings on the wall.

        One final method to consider for flats storage is in regards to low ceiling areas. Here, one may consider storing flats edge out. This will allow for easier selection, but will mean that floor space consumed away from the wall will equal the flat's width -- even if only one flat is stored.

        Attach vertical stops to the ceiling that hang down enough to keep four to six flats standing upright. When no flats are there, the floor space will not be lost as with floor-to-ceiling frames.


  Quick Tips

Time- and Money-Saving Techniques

Lighting    Office    Painting    Personal

Shop     Storage    Travel    Vehicle


Quick Tips: Lighting

  •   Hide Yellow Electrical Connectors: Yellow plugs and cord connectors are great because they stand out in a mess of tangled, black electrical cables. However, when one does not want them to be so visible, 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. The covering will blend in with the black cabling as seen from by an audience.

    Use the left-over toe and heel parts as small polishing or cleaning cloths by cutting them open so as to lie flat.


Quick Tips: Office

  •   Pen and Pencil Holder: Cover with cardboard the bottom of a cleaned, old automotive distributor cap and use it to hold writing implements. The orderly positioning of the openings in the cap will keep pens and pencils 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 lubricant 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.

  •   Identify Laptop Power Supplies: Colour code your laptop power supply with tape. This 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, farther back.)

    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.

  •   Freely Flowing Ink: For ballpoint pens that won't write, soak only the tip in methyl alcohol for a number of seconds. This solvent often will dissolve solidified ink. Alternately, warm the tip with a heat gun and roll the ball on scrap paper. This will often free the 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.

  •   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 the photos ensure to you that something has not been forgotten.


Quick Tips: Painting

  •   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, or slip a small bottle right over the socket. Place a bag over the reflector, or if the reflector is recessed, put a cardboard cut-out in front of 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 through vent openings.

  •   Reduce Paint Lid Seizing: After opening a paint can for the first time, using a large nail, hammer eight, evenly-spaced holes into the lid groove around its perimeter. Paint that pools inside the groove will be able to drip back into the can, yet these holes will be sealed when the lid is replaced.

    For screw-top paint containers, coat the threads of both the cap and container with petroleum jelly. Before storage, wipe the threads clear of paint and recoat with jelly whenever necessary.

  •   No Paint Scum: For paint in long-term storage, place waxed paper cut to the diameter of the can right onto the paint itself. Cut to fit using the can top as a template. This will eliminate, or at least lessen, the change that a scum will form.

    Waxed paper is preferred over transparent kitchen wrap because it is thicker, can more easily be cut to shape, and won't fold back to stick to itself during insertion.

  •   No Paint Splatters: Gently place the lid onto the paint can, then put a cloth over the top so as to catch splatters when pounding closed. 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.


Quick Tips: Personal

  •   Holder for Cards or 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 necessary.

    Other purposes for these case are to hold flashdrives or emergency keys. Place the keys into a small, plastic bag to lessen rattling.

  •   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.

  •   Wash Hand Towels Less Often: Hand towels need to be washed weekly, 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.


Quick Tips: Shop

  •   Parts Organiser: Have egg cartons or muffin baking trays hold small parts during equipment overhaul. Number each well 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.

  •   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. Clean each label 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.

  •   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.

  •   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 the latter 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 refilling.

  •   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 a pegboard hardware 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.

  •   Reuse Locking Bags: Do you bring sandwiches to work? If they are in resealable bags, take these used ones, turn them inside out and rinse; 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)

  •   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, spray 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.

  •   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.)

  •   Accumulate Tasks: As one works, there will be things that must be put elsewhere. Instead of taking time to do each individually, as you go past on the way to do other things, drop like items off at the entrance to the area where they will be placed or stored. Once finished your work, go to each area and do all its tasks in the same session. To facilitate this, set up a `drop' area or counter that will temporarily hold these items until you come by to resolve them.

  •   Restore Hook & Loop Material's Grip: When hook & loop (Velcro) loses its holding power the hook part of the fastener has likely become clogged. Typically this happens with hair, and/or carpet and clothing fibres. Remove the clog with a soft-bristle wire brush, haemostats, or use a vacuum cleaner employing only the wand's tube part with no attachment. You may have to rub or pull at the clog from more than one direction in order to completely clear it. Check the `loop' side of the fastener in case it too has some cloggage.

  •   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, and be less comfortable to the hands.

    If the worn handle grip can not 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.

  •   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.

  •   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.

    You can also use the clean wand as a plastic scraper where a metal one would be too aggressive to the surface being scraped. You may wish to sharpen the scraping edge to provide a better blade.

  •   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 purpose.

  •   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-wastage 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 cutting.

  •   Spray Can Nozzle Extension Fix: If this no longer wants to go into the nozzle head and/or won't stay there, cut a small bit off the tube's end and reinsert. Be sure the cut is square, and that you've left no burrs on the plastic. This is so the extension tube will seat properly.

    Should this still not hold, replace the nozzle head and try again.


Quick Tips: Storage

  •   Case Liner: Home entry-way mats with rubber backing and a ribbed, fabric top make excellent liners for cases and counter tops. They are waterproof and very robust, and are easily cut with shop scissors to the size and shape required. For those mats with bevelled 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 keeps the mat in place on smooth table or cabinet tops.

  •   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 cushion contents. Simply clean the surface, and then hot-melt glue the pad pieces where required. Be sure to choose a glue stick rated for wood and rubber.

  •   Broken Plastic Drawers: As those transparent drawers from parts cabinets get cracked or the pulls break, replace them, and cut the old ones to use as drawer dividers. Smooth the cut edges with sandpaper, 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.

  •   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. Audio and video boxes fit these, of course, so place small hardware or electronics parts into them. 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 units so that like items are together.

  •   Additional 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 where they get caught.
  •   Stud Storage: If your shop has visible-stud walls and narrow items are stored between each pair of studs, you may find that objects tend to lean out somewhat, or at times actually fall to the floor. Place screws on either side of an object's tip point, and using the small 25cm x 5mm bungee cords, span the cord from screw to screw.

    By leaving enough screw threads visible, each screw can be shared with the stud space on either side, so a row of stud storage can be created with items retained within each the space. These cords are thin enough and have small-enough hooks, that they are unobtrusive, yet allow easy removal for item retrieval, or in some cases, the item can be slipped out from above or below the cord.

    Yes, you could use any cordage, but the built-in hooks allow easy detachment, and the cord's stretchiness permits one to pull outward on it so as to insert an item, and then have the cord snap into place for secure storage.


Quick Tips: Travel

  •   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, when not in use, switch to "AC Volts" at the highest voltage setting. This will give the best protection from induced-voltage surges that might damage the meter movement.

  •   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.)
  •   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 a hardshell eyeglass case to transport flashdrives, should you come to possess many of them.

  •   Use Lockable Sprayers: That is, buy the ones that have an `off' position. This will prevent leakage during transit, and except for the cheapest sprayers, prevent spillage should the container fall over.


Quick Tips: Vehicle

  •   Door Gaskets: To lessen the chance of frozen rubber door gaskets pulling off, while warm, clean the rubber on the door and frame with lacquer thinner. Then apply viscous silicone such as LPS Silicone Lubricant (available from us) to the rubber surfaces that touch one another. Silicone repels water so the rubber gaskets stay free of moisture and won't freeze together. During the winter season, clean and reapply as necessary.

  •   Selling Your Vehicle: Besides doing repairs, having good tires, a valid inspection sticker and so on, realise that people buy shine. One can often ask hundreds of dollars more for a vehicle that looks new and cared for. Along with carefully washing the exterior and scrubbing the tires and rims, detail the interior by using a toothbrush on the dash and door crevices, and on the floor pedals. Scrub the seats and the floor and/or floor mats. When dry, apply ArmorAll to all plastic and rubber surfaces. After it has soaked in, wipe away the excess.

    Eventually, your prospective buyer will want to see under the hood. This calls for an engine shampoo. Commercial products are available but you can make your own: Mix half a litre of mineral spirits and 100ml of dish detergent. With an old paint brush apply the solution to a warm engine. Get into all the crevices of everything under the hood. Now rinse with a garden hose and let dry. This solution will degrease and clean at the same time.

    Once dry, inspect for missed areas and recoat those places. You may have to scrub a bit to get them completely clean. Hose and let dry. Once done to your satisfaction, coat everything with ArmorAll and let sit. The next day, wipe away any excess, and recoat areas that have dried dull. When complete, all should be clean and shiny.

    Detailing a vehicle in this manner makes your vehicle appear to have been given regular attention, and will usually net you more money when sold.

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