My top 10 DIY hacks that make projects much easier

August 07, 2021

These ten DIY hacks will make your next painting or wood build project easier!

I've gathered my favorite little hacks and tips for home DIY projects to share with you! They are tricks that save money and make projects go much smoother. 

I use ALL of them consistently and they help a ton, whether you're staining, painting or building. 

My summer of slothdom is about to end my friends! If you've been reading for awhile you know how I do. Heat makes me...tired. And grumpy. But mostly really lazy tired. 

I'm already dreaming up a bunch of DIY projects I want to tackle now that a normal schedule will be upon us again soon. 

That had me thinking about these DIY tricks. Some of them are pretty basic, but I wish I would have known about them in my early do-it-myself days. 

Never forget a paint color

We've all been there -- you need to touch up a spot, or you love a color so much you want to use it again. But did you use eggshell or satin? Was the color Storm Cloud or Stormy Clouds? 

I started using this easy way to keep track of our paint colors at our last house.

Use a sharpie and label the back of your switch cover with the name, sheen and brand of your paint: 
label paint color on back of switch plate

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This is super helpful, especially if you're used similar colors throughout your house, or even a different sheen. 

If you need more for touch ups, knowing what type of paint you used will be especially helpful. Different formulas may look noticeably different even though they're the same paint color and sheen. 

Insulation tubing to fill holes

This skinny insulation/foam tube can be used for way more than just filling gaps in doors and windows:

use insulation tubing to fill large trim

It's the perfect way to fill large gaps in trim or along the floor. (Backer rod is made for this purpose, but any small foam tubing will work!)

Since it's so easy to manipulate, you can cut it to the size you need and squish it into the smallest spots: 

fill large cracks with insulation tubing

It's especially helpful when you have a big gap you want to caulk over -- you'd have to use a TON of caulk. With caulk you have to fill, then and wait over and over again as it dries, fill more, let it dry, etc. 

With this it fills that in, you'll save all that caulk and you can finish it off with a bead of caulk right over it. 

This would also be another great way to fill large holes in the wall! I have a method I've used for years, but a tiny cut of this may work even better. 

Paper bag instead of sandpaper 

I LOVE this little hack and use it often. Tear off a piece of paper bag to do your final sanding on wood staining and polyurethane projects: 
sanding with paper bag

I really love this for after the final coat of polyurethane or protective finish on wood -- when you don't want to ruin the finish by sanding (even with a fine grit), but you do want to knock down the little bits that keep your finished product from being completely smooth. 

Just "sand" all over the surface with the paper bag and it will knock all of that down and leave you with a perfectly smooth surface and no marks. 

You can use this paper bag trick over a DRY painted surface as well!

Make cheap wood look much better

I use expensive pine for almost all of my DIY builds. I used it on my office built in bookcases and my giant entertainment center wall in the basement

You can use "common" pine or select pine -- I use select pine for the areas you'll really the trim on the front of bookcases. 

Common pine is the most inexpensive and will have more knots and imperfections:
filling imperfections in cheap wood

A lot of the time I will just roll on my paint heavily in those areas and let it go at that. You can see here that the paint didn't fill in that rough spot enough. 

If that doesn't cover it well enough or I want a really professional look and feel (AKA I'm trying to be patient), I use a putty knife and wood filler to fill in those spots: 
filling knots in cheap wood

I also use spackle (that I use when filling drywall holes) and it holds up just as well. 

Use the putty knife to push the filler in and then lightly sand before painting again. You won't even notice the imperfections when you're done!

Shims are your friend 

Wood shims are small strips of wood that are thicker on one end and really thin on the other. 

I shared how I use shims to install cabinets -- they are a must to help get the cabinets level and even as you install: 

using shims to make cabinets level

You can use them underneath, behind and in between to get everything perfectly flush. 

But they're also helpful for built in projects and getting the front trim looking super professional:

make bookcase trim flush

See how seamless those front frames are on the bookcases? That front trim is the most important part in my opinion -- it's what you see more than anything else! 

If your trim doesn't match up perfectly, you can use shims to bring the trim forward and flush with the rest. 

I didn't take the time to do this on my office built ins. To fix it and bring the front of the shelves forward just a bit, you'll want to tap the thin end of the shims behind that trim until it brings it forward enough: 

how to use shims in build projects

By the way, it's not the end of the world...most of the time only you will notice these small imperfections. (And anyone else who does gets a cookie...)

You may have to do it from both the top and the bottom, but it will work! When you have the shim where you want it, score it with a razor and snap off the end with the thin part still behind the trim. 

Use caulk to fill in any gaps the shims created on the top of the shelf. (On bookcases most will be above your head anyway.)

Picking the perfect piece of wood

The more you spend on wood, the less you'll have to watch for imperfections. It's worth it to me to spend (a lot) less on pine and spend a little more time digging to find "cleaner" boards. 

Watch for large knots (they may pop up or out of the wood over time), sticky sap (that is impossible to get off) and missing chunks of wood. 

If you find a board that checks all of those off the list, you'll also want to check the wood for bowing. A piece will look great on the shelf, and then you'll get it home and realize it's so horribly uneven you can't get it to lay flat. 

You can avoid this by holding the board in front of you on the floor and eyeing it right down the middle: 

how to check wood for bowing

You'll immediately be able to tell if it's straight and flat. 

If you look closely, you'll see that my board is slightly bowing at the end -- just a bit of a bow that goes to the right. This doesn't bother me at all if I'm using the wood for front trim, as I know I'll be able to secure it well enough. 

I always check my skinnier molding pieces for bowing as well. If it's thin enough you'll be able to straighten it out during install, but some pieces should be avoided all together. 
Check wood boards from all sides, as the wood can bow all kinds of ways. 

Get uniform spacing 

If you're adding a vertical or horizontal shiplap wall, you really want to make sure your spacing between each board is exactly the same throughout the project. 

If the spacing isn't consistent you will notice that small imperfection more than you think. 

I have found a coin is an easy way to get that perfectly thin, consistent gap between each shiplap: 

using a coin to space shiplap

You'll want to move it down the plank as you nail it in. Sometimes I use a penny for a smaller break, sometimes a nickel.

Scrap wood cut to the length you need is also GREAT way to easily keep measurements consistent when you're installing a trim project: 
scrap wood jigs to space trim projects

I find it especially helpful when installing wainscoting. I keep my "jigs" nearby and hold them up on the wall as I nail in the trim.

They make it MUCH easier to keep continuous distances throughout your project: 
easy wainscoting installation tips

Cutting a hole in the middle of wood 

Sometimes you'll need to cut a hole for an outlet, switch plate or vent on the wall. A jigsaw is the best way to cut those smaller, detailed spots:
cutting wood with jigsaw

It's easy to do when your cuts are on the side of the board -- just start cutting with your jigsaw from the side. 

But if you need to cut a hole in the middle of the board, this trick is helpful. Do NOT try to start a cut with a jigsaw directly on the wood. It will rattle all over and potentially snap the blade. 

Instead, use a drill and drill bit to drill holes into your wood as a "starter" for the jigsaw: 
drill holes into wood to start jigsaw

That way you can slip your jigsaw blade into the hole and start a straight cut. I like to use four holes so I don't have to do any curved cuts. 

Use scrap to protect your projects

I tend to keep way too much scrap wood...I've learned to let go over the years but it hurts my soul a little bit every time. 

I do keep some scrap because I've learned it's hard to finish a lot of DIY projects without it! 

When you have a board that is going to fit just a tad too tight into a spot (and you really don't want to go cut millimeters off of it for the THIRD TIME), use scrap pieces to pound your trim into place: 
using scrap wood to install tight wood

Here I'm holding the scrap underneath the trim and hammering it into place till it is level. If you tried to do this directly to the nice trim part, you'd dent the sides or front with your hammer or mallet. 

You don't ever want to force your wood where it won't fit, so if it's way too long cut it down. 

A piece that is thisclose to fitting, you can easily maneuver it into place by pounding it with your scrap wood. And your good wood will still look great! 

If you look closely, you'll see that I also use scrap to write down my measurements. Especially helpful if you're going up or down steps to cut your wood and you tend to forget the exact measurement by the time you get to the saw. :) 

I also use scrap wood pieces to remove trim -- if you put too much pressure on a crowbar it will dent or break the drywall: 
how to remove baseboards

If there's much resistance as you push the crowbar back to pull the base away, it will dent your walls. Place a thin piece of scrap wood behind the crowbar and the wood will disperse the pressure. 

Easily clean paint brushes

And finally, the little paint brush cleaning tool I couldn't live without! (Now they are made to clean rollers as well!)

I use this brush cleaning comb every time I clean my paint brushes: 

paint brush cleaning comb

You use it to comb the paint and dried up bits out of your paint brush. I use it when I wash the brushes, and then sometimes later after they dry to get any little additional bits out of there before painting again. 

If you use it consistently, your brushes will last a very long time. It has saved me hundreds of dollars over the years! 

Do you use any of these simple DIY hacks? I use them on ALL of my projects, big to small. I'm sure I've forgotten a few, but these are my favorites. 

Any others you use consistently? Feel free to share in the comments. :) 

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  1. Something else that you can write on the back of the switch cover is the circuit that the switch is on. Same for the covers on the outlets.

  2. I've used cotton balls to fill large gaps before caulking. The foam rod will be even better. No little fuzzies I have to keep tucking back in!

  3. Can't believe after all these years I've never heard to use backer foam before caulking. So many wasted tubes of caulk to fill large gaps. I've got to get out more. Ha! Thanks so much!

  4. I just wanted you to know that WAY, WAY back in 2011 you made a tiny side table out of a chunky candle stick. I am looking for something tiny like that and thought, “I think Thriftydecorchick did something cool.” And to my astonishment your search bar brought it right up!
    I have loved your blog for YEARS!


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