For Popular Mechanics‘ 110th anniversary, we decided to do something special: We dived into our archives to find the 110 best, handiest, and most helpful tips ever printed in PM. It’s more than a century of DIY wisdom. (You can read the introduction to the project here.)
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Enlarged screw holes can be quickly repaired, we said in March 1972, by filling the hole with a wooden golf tee. Use a hacksaw to saw the tee flush with the wood’s surface, then sand and finish.
Our September 1948 issue showed how to store an ironing board upright in a closet by mounting a towel rack to a wall. The board’s tip slips up under the chest-high rack. It’s still a good idea. At the right height, a rack (or a rig made of steel pipe fittings) could support brooms or lumber.
File a notch in a frequently used key’s top to locate it without looking through the whole set. — April 1984
To set up a simple worklight, coil 12-gauge copper wire around a flashlight’s barrel and twist the rest into a base. — March 2011
On band saws, router tables, or other shop equipment that requires a wrench to make routine adjustments, we advised in July 1952: Press the wrench into a lump of weatherstripping putty and stick the putty on the side of the shop tool. The wrench will be easy to locate for quick changes of bits and blades.
The August 1955 issue told a farsighted person to punch a pinhole in cardboard and peer through it to read small type. It still does the trick!
“Transistor radios produce a deeper, more melodious tone when placed speaker-down on top of an open fruit jar.” This worked in February 1961. And it works today for an iPhone.
Nail 2 x 4 blocking between studs when framing walls, we suggested in November 1948. The boards provide sturdy mounting bases for heavy pictures or recessed medicine cabinets. Record the positions upon installation.
Depression-era milk thieves met their match with the bandit-proof box we showed bolted to a porch in August 1934. A hole in the top permits the bottle to be set inside, and four strips of spring brass prevent its removal. The owner unlocks a panel to access the milk. Home-security technology evolved in PM’s pages, from safes made of spare tires to whole-house diagrams on burglar deterrence.
Punch holes in a paint-can rim with a 4d finish nail. This helps paint along the rim drain into the can. — January 1991
“Replacing a shovel handle is one of those disappearing rural skills that shows basic mechanical competence—just as wrapping duct tape around a broken handle denotes the opposite,” the May 2007 issue said. Getting a wood handle’s grain direction right ensures the strength of a replacement handle. Mount the new handle so that the oval rings of wood grain run up and down the sides of the handle relative to the blade. Handles break when the tool is strained along those ovals. A look down the blade toward the face of the handle should reveal only straight, parallel lines of wood grain.