Archive June, 2010

The Unsung Heroes of Making

20 June, 21:42, by Simon Clark

So this is going to be one of the ‘Tricks of the Trade’ posts. You’ve seen them before, probably lots of times.  Hopefully though, every time you read one, it’ll spark something you haven’t thought of before.

Tonight’s instalment was inspired by our rocket launcher project.  We pulled most of the launcher together a couple of nights ago, the only piece left unfinished was the pressure sensor/trigger. This was my job tonight, and in the course of it, I pulled a few tricks out of my bag that I haven’t used in a while.


I always try and keep a bucket of lentils around the workshop.  The reason is, they make a most excellent holding mechanism when you’re waiting for glue to dry.  Need to keep something at a very specific angle while the epoxy sets? Push it into the lentils, and it’ll stay where you put it.  If some of the lentils get stuck to the project, they always break off easily, with a minimum of material left behind.

Hot Melt Glue

I know, I know.  Hot melt glue is the domain of craft soccer moms pulling together a quick pine cone wreath for the holidays. I used to belittle the lowly hot melt glue gun. I mean, come’on, it’s not even real glue, it’s just melted plastic.

Nowadays, the glue gun gets used at least once a week.  I buy the glue sticks by the box. The beauty of hot melt glue is that it sets in the time it takes to cool, it can be remelted easily, and it can grip like a son-of-a-bitch. A regular pastime in our house is building large, complex structures with popsicle sticks and hot melt glue. No other option gives you the speed and forgiveness, and that is why I love it.

Masking Tape

What I like about masking tape is that it sticks.  It grabs what you put it on, it doesn’t stretch and it doesn’t budge. Nor does it pull away over time under small stresses.  A while back, I gutted my bicycle’s headlight and replaced the bulb with an LED array. Being the lazy sort, and not wanting to drop in a voltage doubler, I pushed things around to make room for a third C battery. The main sacrifice was the screw post, and I’d lost my means to hold the lamp together. Masking tape came to the rescue!  A couple of wrappings held out for 2 years, until I needed to replace the batteries. Then I re-wrapped anew (Then it got stolen).  The point is, no other kind of tape would have stayed fast so long, and come off so easily when the time came.

Our little rocket launcher project has made extensive use of masking tape too.  The rockets themselves start out as a tube of paper, but the bulk of the finished rocket is masking tape. It holds, it’s easy to work with, and for this project, it was just perfect.

Shrink Wrap Tubing

At this point, you’re probably guffawing at my use of ‘unsung’ in the title.  After all, what self-respecting do-it-yourselfer doesn’t have this in his toolkit. But I’m adding it here because there are those that haven’t drunk the shrink-wrap koolaid. My dad, always making stuff, had never seen the light where this stuff is concerned. Sure, he’d heard of it, but never used it. As result, his eyeglasses were repaired with thread and glue. His wire splices sported slowly slipping electrical tape, sticky and unpleasant. Christmas last year was a big box of assorted adhesive-lined 3:1 shrink wrap tubing, and a little precision blow-torch. Since then, like me, he’ll pull this stuff out on a regular basis, and keeps his toolkit well stocked.

Keep in mind, it comes in two types: plain, and adhesive-lined, which has a thin layer of hot-melt glue on the inside. As you shrink the tubing, this melts and adds some extra grab to the join, as well as potentially making it waterproof.  I use the adhesive-lined almost exclusively, but of course, your mileage may vary.

So, there you have it. I’ve missed a bunch, I’m sure, so add your own in the comments.