The lowdown on ladders

  •  Stuck on top

Few things are quite as irritating as dropping a needed screw or tool from the top of a ladder. One way to put an end to such mishaps is to glue a magnetic strip to the top rung of your ladder. It will safely hold onto all your fasteners and small tools until you need them. When it comes to larger tools, secure a canvas tool bag to the ladder to keep them in.

  •  Off on the right foot

A scrap of thick carpet wrapped around the bottom rung of a ladder makes a handy mat for wiping the soles of your shoes before you ascend. It will also let you know that you have reached the bottom when climbing down. Secure the carpet scrap with gaffer tape and replace with a fresh piece when needed.

  •  Don't leave your mark

Cushion the tops of a ladder's rails with an old pair of socks, gloves or a couple of bunched up old T-shirts to prevent it from leaving marks or scratches on interior walls while you are working.

  •  Boot up a ladder

Set the feet of a ladder in a pair of old gumboots (Wellington boots) to give it a skid-free footing on smooth surfaces.

Clamping and sanding

  •  Clamps from the car

If you have an old set of jump leads just lying around collecting dust, cut off the battery clips and use them in your workshop. They make excellent spring clamps and can accommodate objects up to 40mm thick.

You could also use a car hose clamp (Jubilee clip) to secure a cracked wooden leg or spindle while you re-glue it. Just be sure to put a piece of cloth between the clamp and the wood so that you don't risk gouging the surface.

  •  Pour on the pressure

It’s almost impossible to clamp irregularly shaped items and fragile objects when gluing them back together, but there’s an easy way to provide adequate pressure. Fill a small plastic bag with sand to weigh down repairs on small, fragile items so it shapes itself to the item being glued, without undue pressure.

  •  True grit

To extend the life of sanding belts and get the most use out of each sheet of sandpaper, back them with strips of gaffer tape. The tape will prevent the paper from tearing and take some of the stress off the belts. Write down the grit size of the paper and the direction of the belt on the tape using a permanent marker.

  • Resizing sandpaper

Many sanding jobs require the use of sandpaper in odd shapes or sizes. Here are a few household items you can use to get the job done:

  1.  Pencils and pencil erasers

  2.  Section of garden hose

  3.  A wood block secured to a sponge mop holder (for walls and ceilings)

Sealants and adhesives

  •  Cold weather sealing

When you need to do some sealing on a crisp, cool day keep your sealant pliable and running smoothly by wrapping the tubes in a heating pad (like those sold for pain relief) for 30-45 minutes before using them. Trap the heat by wrapping each tube in plastic wrap before inserting it into the sealant gun.

  •  Clean fingers

 Don't use your finger to shape a bead of silicone sealant around a bath or basin (unless you don't mind wearing it for a while). Instead, use a lollipop stick or the back of an old plastic teaspoon; both have smooth, rounded edges and are easy to hold, so you can avoid getting silicone on your skin.

  •  Improve your aim

It can be hard to manoeuvre a sealant gun in a tight spot or to properly seal a crevice that’s out of reach, but an effective extension tool may be as near as the kitchen drawer: a plastic drinking straw. Push the straw (or any plastic tube of the right size) into the nozzle of the sealant tube. Keep your impromptu extender from slipping off by securing it with gaffer tape.

  •  Mix it up

Old jam jar lids are ideal for mixing two-part epoxy adhesive. The raised edge keeps the adhesive from spreading out as you're mixing it, and the limited interior space prevents you from using too much.

  •  In the bag

If you are looking for an easy way to mix and apply two-part epoxy adhesive there’s a solution in the pantry. Take a plastic sandwich bag and squeeze as much adhesive as you need into a corner section. Tie off the rest of the bag and mix the epoxy by rolling it between your fingers (You'll notice the adhesive gets warm as it is mixed.) Use a pin to put one or more small holes in the bag and gently squeeze the epoxy adhesive out.

  •  Unglue the glue

You shouldn’t have to fight to get adhesive out of a bottle or tube. Dab a little petroleum jelly on the inside of the lid or on the tip of the tube before replacing the cap. It will prevent the glue from sticking to the cover, and you will have one less frustration to face.

Top tips for tools

  •  Sharpen blades with a matchbox

You can restore the cutting edge to a dull blade on a small craft or utility knife by rubbing it a few times on the striking surface of a box of matches or, if one is handy, an emery board. Be sure to sharpen both sides of the cutting edge.

  •  Be carpet scrap happy

As handy as they are for repairing tears and burns in matching carpeting, carpet remnants may actually be even more useful around the workshop. You can do the following:

  1.  Glue them to the inside of your toolbox to cushion tools in transit.

  2.  Tack them to the tops of workbench surfaces to prevent scratching furniture finishes.

  3.  Staple several remnants inside a narrow cupboard to form cushioned cradles for drills and other power tools.

  4.  Staple remnants (one at a time) to a small block of wood to make a reusable contact-adhesive applicator, where a thin even coating is required.

  •  Hands-on handles

You'll get a firmer (and more comfortable) grip on hammers, spanners, screwdrivers and other tools if you wrap the handles with adhesive tape or flat foam draught-proofing strip. Hard tools will become soft to the touch.

  •  Save your fingers

To avoid bruised fingers when hammering home really tiny nails, hold the nails upright in the teeth of a pocket comb rather than between your fingers.

  •  Save the wood

Claw hammers are great for pulling nails out of wood — but you can easily damage the wood's surface as you lever the nail up. Slip a piece of thick cardboard under the hammer head to prevent this from happening.

  •  Shield wood from hammers

Protect wood from accidental hammer blows with a homemade hammer guard. Take the lid from a small plastic container and cut a small hole in the centre large enough to fit over the nail head. Place the lid over each nail before hammering it in. To stop wood from splitting, blunt the tips of your nails with a hammer before using them: simply hold the nail upright on a block of metal and tap its tip lightly.

  •  Pliers as torch holder

Trying to hold a torch and work at the same time is a juggling act that you don't want to perform. But you can still get the illumination you need if you don't have a helper to hold the light. Place the torch between the jaws of a pair of pliers and position it at the required angle. Slip a thick rubber band around the handles of the pliers to keep the torch from slipping.

  •  Fizz away corrosion

Loosen a rusty nut or bolt by covering it with a rag soaked in vinegar or a fizzy drink. Let it sit for an hour to give the liquid time to work into the corrosion. The carbonation in fizzy drinks has another workshop application as well: it will unfreeze a rusted padlock or cabinet lock.

Laundries and garages

  •  Touch up a scratched washer or drier

Metal buckles, zips and clasps can leave marks and scratches on both washing machines and clothes driers — marks that will undoubtedly rust when exposed to moisture and wet clothing. Don't wait to repair the damage or you may regret it. First, clean the area with a cotton wool ball dipped in surgical spirit. When the surgical spirit has dried (a few seconds at most), cover the scratch with a thin coat of clear nail polish or like-coloured car body touch-up paint, available from car supply shops.

  •  Clean your washing machine

An easy way to periodically clean out soap scum and disinfect your washing machine is to pour in 2 cups of white vinegar, then run the machine through a full cycle without any clothes or detergent. If your machine is particularly dirty, fill it with very hot water, add 8 litres vinegar and let the agitator run for 8-10 minutes. Turn off the machine and let the solution stand overnight. Next day, empty the drum and run the machine through a full cycle.

  •  Catch the ripper

If your clothes come out of the wash with small rips or snags, it’s likely that something inside the washer is the guilty party. Rub a wad of old, clean pantihose over the agitator and tub to detect any coarse edges that snag. Then smooth over the rough spots with a piece of very fine-grade sandpaper.

  •  Cleaner floor

Concrete garage floors can get very dusty, which can make painting jobs a nightmare. It really is worth investing in some garage floor paint, which not only looks smart, but also holds the concrete surface together and makes sweeping the floor much easier.

  •  A great stand-up routine

Why go through a balancing act every time you need to stand up a mop, duster or broom? Cut off the finger sections from some old latex gloves and slip them over the ends of all those long wooden handles. The rubber provides enough traction to stop a pole from sliding whenever you lean it against a wall.

  •  Mould and mildew treatments

Garages and cellars generally suffer from a lack of ventilation so even the driest of these rooms can have mouldy walls or corners. Wearing rubber gloves and a disposable face mask, brush or scrape the worst of the mould from all surfaces, then scrub the affected areas with a brush dipped in a solution of water, disinfectant and soda crystals. Blot the damp walls with a cloth to minimize moisture, and keep a fan running to recirculate the air and to help dry the walls thoroughly.

  •  Air out a cellar or garage

You don't have to live with a musty cellar or garage. Once you've taken care of the source of mildew, combat any lingering odours by mixing 2 parts cat litter with 1 part bicarbonate of soda in a large container. Then fill several clean, empty large tins to the brim and place them around your cellar or garage. Replace with fresh mixture as needed. If the moisture affects the upper corners of the cellar, fill cotton bags or old pillow cases with the mix and hang them close to the damp areas.

  •  Hang up insulation

If you have an attached garage with a flat roof and exposed rafters, warm it up by insulating the roof from below. Buy some rolls of batt insulation plus rolls of garden netting. Push the insulating material up between the exposed rafters and use a staple gun to secure the netting to the underside of the rafters to hold the insulation in place.