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Archive for the ‘Trash into treasure’ Category

The rattle inside a can of spray paint? It’s a marble.

01 Mar

Marble from spray paint canI retrieved this marble from an empty can of spray paint. Retrieving it by breaking open the can with the claw end of a dollar-store hammer was an entertaining challenge. Protip: do it outside.

The rattle inside some spray cans is caused by an object inside the can that helps mix the paint (or other payload) with the propellant inside the can. The propellant forces the paint out of the can, but the propellant and the paint tend to separate over time into two distinct layers inside the can. Bouncing a marble up and down inside the can breaks up the boundary between the two substances and mixes the propellant with the paint, making spray paint actually spray PAINT instead of just plain old propellant.

Is this a worthwhile effort? No. Plain glass marbles can be found at any dollar store (such as The Dollar Tree) in large quantities for much less than the cost of a can of spray paint. I think it’s still worthwhile to know what is inside the mechanical devices we use every day. If you enjoy busting open empty spray cans, you will get a marble for your trouble. Enjoy!

Spray paint can and marble

 

T-shirts make perfect carboy covers

11 May

Carboys wearing t-shirtsCarboys are large bottles typically used for one or more stages of fermentation for homebrewing cider or beer. Some people prefer glass carboys, and other people prefer plastic ones.

The unavoidable issue is that both types of carboys are typically transparent. Ultraviolet radiation can pass right through the clear walls of a carboy and ruin the brew inside.

My solution: put a t-shirt on your carboys. An old undershirt or two can give your brew a more consistent flavor and a longer shelflife.

Here comes the science: ultraviolet radiation has a shorter wavelength than visible light, and its higher energy content allows it to break chemical bonds in all kinds of substances, from beverages to DNA (this is why it gives people sunburns and/or skin cancer). “Skunked” beer is caused by sunlight, and any other source of ultraviolet light will also affect the flavor of any brew, usually for the worse. This why brown bottles are the best for the long-term storage of homebrew: the dark color blocks most of the ultraviolet light from reaching the liquid inside. For this reason, I keep my more transparent glass containers (green, blue, and clear bottles) inside another opaque container, such as a cardboard box. Putting one or more t-shirts over a carboy will reduce the amount of light that reaches the brew inside. A white shirt will reflect the most light. However, a thick shirt of any color will still absorb the light and protect the contents of the carboy.

As for the choice between glass and plastic carboys, there is good reason for the debate between these two options. Glass does not absorb colors or odor and will last indefinitely with proper care, but the glass bottles are heavy and expensive, which increases the cost and risk of dropping one and breaking it. Plastic carboys are lightweight and convenient, not to mention cheaper. Of course, colors and odors may linger in a plastic container, and the plastic will weaken with age and may split easily after over a long period of time. Neither type is a perfect solution for everyone. I use both without preference and have not observed any differences in flavor or consistency between the two bottles.

 

Reuse cardboard boxes with style by inverting them

15 Feb

Box stepsIf you want to stay organized on the cheap, reuse the trash that comes through your home. Here’s a favorite trick of mine: take any cardboard box apart and refold it inside-out. The plain interior of most cardboard packaging makes a great exterior for a reusable box. After inverting the box, I usually apply packing tape to any tears in the cardboard and slap on a few labels to make it recognizable. A plain box with

Lots of people reuse shoe boxes, but I suggest you take it another step. Any box that enters my house may end up with some weird reuse, from storing holiday decorations to controlling messy projects to organizing small parts in my workshop.

My favorite reusable box is the kind with tabs that tuck in to keep it shut, known as the ”roll end tuck top box with dust flaps and cherry locks” (according to the fabulously-named boxmaster.com and others). They come with all kinds of products: I salvaged some recently from a baby carrier, a power saw, and a PC motherboard. The boxes are usually made of strong corrugated cardboard, and their folded design makes them great for reuse.

The tuck-top boxes are especially appropriate for refolding and reuse because they are held together by friction and clever geometry, which works just as well when they’re inverted. That’s a big advantage over cereal boxes and other everyday specimens where you’ll tear through some glued seams to invert the box, which then requires packing tape or other repairs to reuse it.

 

Silhouettes to turn your windows into Halloween showcases

15 Oct

Bats and headless ladyBlack paper makes a striking impression on a backlit window at night. Here’s how I made the creepy silhouettes that are gracing the front windows of my house

Dark paper works best, such as black construction paper. Laminated paper will last for multiple years, and even newspaper will provide a funny effect for a night or two.

It isn’t hard to sketch out basic shapes on large paper, but feel free to search for easier ways. Searching for Halloween stencils yields many images that would work well on a window (I borrowed several from this article by Jeffrey Rudell on the Make: blog).

Printing a black stencil will use up expensive printer ink quickly, so don’t do it! It’s more efficient to cut a big, dark design out of big, dark paper. To save printer ink, I turned my dark silhouettes into simple outlines using the open-source graphics software GIMP (Edge Detection and Threshold are your friends).

To print on a large scale, you may want to use a program like PosteRazor to enlarge and print out your outline over multiple sheets of paper.

Once I had the outlines, I taped them to my roll of heavy paper and used a razor to slice both the stencil and paper at once. Pizza boxes make excellent backings for slicing paper with a razor blade or X-Acto knife.

Finally, tape the silhouettes onto the window and turn on the lights. The effect is dramatic from inside and outside the house.

Zombie silhouette in windowTools and head

 

Kill weeds for free with sunlight and trash bags

12 Aug

Untreated-vs-treated“Green.” “Biodegradable.” “Sustainable.” These terms sum up a lot about how I try to live my life, and yet they carry hidden baggage beneath their friendly exteriors:the ecologically-friendly, non-toxic, all-natural alternatives are more expensive and yet less effective than their more-toxic cousins.

Take oven cleaner, for example. Conventional oven cleaning spray is nasty stuff, but it works — it makes a tough job much easier. Cleaning an oven “organically” takes laborious scrubbing and a lot more time. I wish this weren’t the case, but it’s true. After all, if the non-toxic way was cheaper and easier, wouldn’t we all be doing it already?

Therefore, I feel I must celebrate any “green” option that actually saves both money and effort. Today’s example: Black plastic bags can kill grass and weeds on your patio at no cost to you. I have reclaimed an overgrown patio without pulling a single weed or spraying a single chemical by using a few trash bags and the power of the sun. The only cost to you is patience.

Method: Wait for sunny weather. Cover the area of vegetation that you wish to kill with any kind of black plastic. Put rocks or other weights on the plastic so it stays in place. Leave the plastic there for at least a week, if possible.

What will happen: Any vegetation underneath the plastic will wilt and die. Given enough time, the roots will die as well.

Patio setup for weed killing experimentScientific explanation: The color of an object is determined by what kind of visible light it reflects best. White materials look white because they reflect all colors of visible light, which look white when combined together. Black materials look black because they absorb most visible light rather than reflecting much of it, making them dark in appearance. The absorbed light energy then radiates out as heat (a.k.a. infrared light, which we cannot see). Sunlight absorption is what makes the black plastic effective against plants. First, the plastic prevents the plants underneath from receiving any sunlight, which stops their growth. Second, the absorbed sunlight also heats the plants far beyond their comfort zone. The plastic keeps fresh air from circulating across the ground surface, and the high temperatures beneath the plastic during a sunny day will roast the plants to death. Given enough time, this will kill the roots under the ground and discourage the plants from growing back. This is also why trash cans will create a patch of dead grass right under each can.

My evidence: I treated different patches of my brick patio with black plastic for at least a week at a time. During this time, I did not mow, weed, or poison anything on the patio. I left parts of it untreated to serve as the control group (vital for measuring the results of the experiment). I took photos to record how well the plastic killed the plants and how quickly the plants came back. The photos speak for themselves: the treated patches remain almost entirely clear of plants, while the untreated areas are so overgrown that the bricks are barely visible. The only plants to survive the treatment were located under the edge of the plastic where light, air, and moisture could pass more freely. Moisture trapped underneath the bags did lead to some temporary green mold growth on the bricks, but that faded away after a bit of direct sun exposure when the bags were removed.

Cost to me: under $1 (the bags can be reused repeatedly, which will make their initial cost even more negligible over time, or you can use them as trash bags when you’re done). Of course, this will cost more if you want to treat an entire patio in one shot and need lots of coverage.

Time spent: 5 minutes placing and removing the plastic.

Detailed 'after' shotAdvice: Use the thickest, largest, darkest material you have. A grid made of individually-weighted garbage bags will work (as I demonstrated here), but some weeds may survive at the edges of the bags where air and light leaks in. A dark tarp should work, but beware: some tarps include a reflective liner to reduce heat buildup, which defeats the entire exercise. Plants can still invade when you’re done, so you should expect to repeat the process at least once a year (or more frequently if the plants come back faster).

Overall value: High. You have to plan in advance (and accept the unsightly plastic for a week or so while it does its job), but you don’t have to pull weeds manually, spray toxic herbicides, or spend more than a dollar on the project.

 

Magnetic bottlecap rings are like wine charms for bottles

19 Apr

Labeled magnet, ring, and finished bottle cap holderI often pour one glass of cider and recork the larger bottle for later. This has one drawback: no longer do I know what type of cider inside the bottle. Without caps, my blank bottles are impossible to tell apart.

My solution? With a magnet and a steel ring, I can attach the cap to the neck of the bottle. These things are require no tools to make, and they are infinitely reusable. I keep several stuck to the fridge in case I have a bottle-labeling emergency of some kind.

How to make one: Stick the magnet on the ring, and drop the ring around the neck of the bottle. The magnet will hold the cap there as long as you like. Magnetic or ring-based charms could also help people identify their bottles at a party.

Magnetic cap holder on bottleMagnetic bottle cap holder

Where to get the parts: I used magnets from hard drives because they’re powerful and semi-elegant, but any magnet that keeps the cap from flying away under normal drinking conditions should be fine. As for the rings, large ones work best — they need an internal diameter of at least 1.1″ (28 cm) to fit past the flared mouths of most bottles. Split rings (a.k.a. key rings) are fine if they’re large enough. Hardware stores also have a number of cheap plumbing fittings that would work as long as they’re ferromagnetic (made of metals like iron or steel) and will attract to a magnet.

 

Build a tabletop easel in two minutes for $2

23 Jul

Frames on easels With too much framed art for our walls, I wanted to be able to move any frame from the wall to a table and back again as desired. Unfortunately, frames designed to hang on the wall usually don’t come with a hinged stand because the weight of the stand makes the frame hang crooked on the wall. I looked around for small easels and found that even small, simple easels could be surprisingly expensive. I saw no point in spending $14 for an easel when my frames and art are already so cheap.

Enter my good friends at The Dollar Tree. I found laptop stands there that look like broken, two-legged easels. They’re meant to prop up your laptop from below to allow air circulation to keep things cool. The main legs on each stand are adjustable to a variety of lengths. I had a brainstorm and bought all of the black laptop stands I could find at $1 apiece.

With the addition of a few carefully-placed zip ties, a pair of laptop stands becomes an adjustable tabletop easel that can accommodate different sizes of frames and display a frame at any desired angle. That’s quite a bargain for $2 (or perhaps $3 for the first one if you need to buy zip ties). These are great if you have a lot of art and/or don’t want to put holes in your walls. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Eyeball pillows to make your life cushier and creepier

05 Jul

Eyeball pillows on chaiseI have been dying to do justice to the eyeball-pillow concept ever since my list of decorating tricks for Halloween. Judging by the Wife’s obvious discomfort in their presence, my eyeball pillows were having the intended effect, but they weren’t practical for actual use as pillows. I like to prop up my head with a few pillows at a time; the tiny eyeballs would only have worked after some severe head-shrinking on my part. Solution: I needed BIGGER eyeball pillows.

Pillows are easy to make, as you’ll see. I had plenty of white fabric from old t-shirts and gray fabric from hemming some Ikea curtains, so I decided to make reversible pillows: eyes on one side, plain fabric on the other. That way, I could appease the Wife occasionally by flipping them over and thereby keep them in the living room all year long rather than just during October. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Save your corks and put them to use

07 Jun

Corks of various sizesI used to save corks for no particular reason. Wine corks and the occasional whiskey cork went straight into a big bowl. Now that the bowl is nearing its maximum capacity, I have finally found that a collection of different-sized corks can actually be useful.

I put my cider in the largest bottles I have in order to reduce the number of bottles to clean (and fill) at bottling time. When opening one of these bottles, I like to have a way to reseal it so I can keep the rest cold and carbonated in the fridge. Lo and behold, my collection of wine and whiskey corks fits allows me to reseal any bottle I want and keep the contents from going flat.

Even though I use the same metal caps on all of my cider bottles, some of my bottles demand stoppers of different sizes. Wine corks are typically a single standard size, so there’s no need to collect too many of them unless you have a bowl to fill. Instead, look for corks from high-end liquor (cheaper booze uses screw-caps; the use of a cork quietly implies that the bottle is handcrafted or antique or otherwise distinguished enough to justify the price). Different liquor brands use corks of different sizes, so having a variety ensures a snug fit for a wide range of bottles.

Is saving every cork that enters your home overkill? Of course, but it’s easy to save one of each size that you encounter so that you’re prepared for any bottle that strolls in the door. Corked bottles can make homemade gifts such as last winter’s homemade vanilla extract a touch classier.

Recorked bottlesBowl of corks

 

Never to wonder if the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty again

24 Mar

Clean dirty indicator combinedKnowing that the dishwasher is clean saves time. Here’s a double-sided clean/dirty indicator that you can make in less than a minute.

Dishwasher indicator magnetsFirst, use a magnet to find any ferrous surfaces on your dishwasher. Even if your dishwasher appears to be plastic, there may be metal bracing in some areas. If the magnet sticks, you are in business.

Put two magnets in an Altoids tin, with one on the lid and one on the bottom. This way, the tin will stick to your washer no matter which side is facing out.

Finally, put nametags (or other adhesive labels) reading “Clean” and “Dirty” on opposite sides. Flip the indicator as needed.