Archive for the ‘Trash into treasure’ Category

Classic paper airplane does loops, circles, and tricks

28 Feb

This design dates back to my elementary-school days. The plane is meant for goofy stunts, not distance, and it delivers. Any fool can fold it, and there are a wide range of possible variations by tweaking its wings and fins. A plane that does tricks is great for breaking lamps, scaring sisters, and pissing off the cat. Of course, if you want fast or long-range planes, you should check out my dart and glider designs. Read the rest of this entry »


Save past-their-prime bananas to make banana milkshakes

24 Jan

Bananas and banana milkshakeI love bananas, and I hate wasting them. Overripe bananas turn soft and mushy inside as the skin blackens. However, that doesn’t make them useless. I have an old trick passed on from my father to turn mushy bananas into a delicious, healthy shake. If you have milk and vanilla extract, you’ll never need to throw away a banana again.

The key is advance preparation. When you have bananas that are mostly black, peel them and freeze them in a plastic bag. Once they’re frozen, all you need is milk and vanilla to make a milkshake whenever you want. Read the rest of this entry »


Customized moving dolly for transporting wine

22 Dec

Wine dolly - assembledMy father uses the crawlspace beneath his house as a wine cellar. The problem with the crawlspace is the crawling part. Between the rough edges, the dust, and the low clearance, the crawlspace leaves every visitor filthy and sore from waddling around in a painful squat. To make delivering and retrieving wine a bit easier, my father kept a creeper (the sort of low, wheeled platform that mechanics use to roll themselves underneath cars) in the crawlspace. You could kneel on it and scoot around, and it made lugging cases of wine a lot simpler. It cracked in half years ago from heavy use, with the obvious demand for a replacement just ignored.

This year, I decided a new solution was in order. For Christmas, I put together this customized moving dolly to replace the broken creeper (I gave it to my father yesterday, so it’s safe to reveal now). The base with the wheels is a moving dolly, which you can find at a hardware store. This one is rated to 1,000 pounds and feels sturdy enough to last for decades. By itself, though, the dolly is not an effective transporter of wine. The opening in the middle is too wide for cases or bottles. The center of gravity is also a bit trickier, since the dolly has a higher ground clearance and can be flipped by leaning too heavily on the front or rear edge.

Wine dolly - two partsTo help with both issues, I built the rig inside the dolly out of familiar-looking scrap wood from Ikea. The slats are spaced close together to prevent wine bottles from slipping through and are bowed downward, preventing wine from rolling off. The additional weight in the middle of the dolly also reduces the chance of tipping it by accident. The rig itself is not nearly as strong as the dolly, of course, but it is completely removable. I made no changes to the original dolly, so you can lift the rig out and use the dolly to move furniture if desired.

You could borrow this concept for all kinds of mobile storage or transportation functions. The whole setup cost less than a creeper would have and yet is more versatile. A dolly can save your back a lot of agony when you’re moving heavy objects. Come to think of it, my cases of cider are just crying out for some wheels.


Use register tape for shopping lists and other household notes

10 Nov

Register tape mountMy friend Carly gets all the credit for this one. She has a roll of register tape mounted on a handsome spindle to use for household notes like shopping lists. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to make my own. Classy, cheap, and functional? I’m sold even without the classy. It’s easy to slap one together from spare parts that any packrat will have around the house.

I’ve attached notepads to the refrigerator door for shopping lists, which is a great idea for anyone to use, but this is superior and more aesthetically pleasing to boot. I like the elegance of tearing off as much paper as you need for any given task. Register tape is cheap, too, since a 130-foot roll costs less than a dollar. With an Altoids tin, a pair of corner braces, and a few magnets, you can be taking notes on a roll like the rest of us. Read the rest of this entry »


An all-purpose glider-style paper airplane

26 Oct

Unlike the needle-nosed dart model we’ve seen before, this airplane is designed for gentle gliding. It’ll go quite a distance if you throw it hard, but it will also float smoothly for ages with light toss. I’m not encouraging littering, but these are great for throwing out your window. Overall, it’s easy to make and remarkably sturdy. All you need is an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper and a minute to fold it. Read the rest of this entry »


Halloween decorations should be creepy (and cheap)

18 Oct

Store displayHalloween is my favorite holiday (after the ones with presents and the ones where I get to eat cake all day). Judging from the cutesy, neutered Halloween decorations I’ve seen, it appears that America wants to forget that Halloween is supposed to be scary. If an October passes without me fearing for my life during a horror flick or at least worrying about skeletal hands creeping out from beneath the couch, then the year gets chalked up as a personal failure. (watching The Orphanage guaranteed that I would succeed this year). Thankfully, the wife and I have a deal: in October, we watch horror movies; in February, we watch romance movies.

October is also when I get to break out the Halloween decorations. I’ve assembled my own batch of Halloween icons over the years, and I try to add something new every year. Today, I’m going to go through some ways to bring the true, creepy spirit of Halloween into your house with minimal expense and effort. My specialties include creepy creatures in jars and horrifically-labeled bottles.
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The best dart-style paper airplane you’ve ever met

19 Sep

Some paper airplanes do loops and tricks. Some glide lazily along from the weakest toss. This one? It’s a hot rod, a competition-winner streamlined for speed and distance. It’s a simple design perfected over many bored geography classes in my middle-school years. It has narrow wings, so it cuts through the air rather than gliding atop it. Grab yourself a standard piece of letter-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) and follow along to make your own. Read the rest of this entry »


Build a camping stove from empty cans

16 Aug

When I’m camping, I much rather build a fire than fuss with a camping stove. A campfire becomes a center for the evening, while a stove is efficient by nature and doesn’t provide much of a hearth. Still, there are places where wood is scarce (wood-gathering is illegal in many state and national parks), and a lightweight stove is essential for many backpacking trips.

All a camping stove really needs to do is burn some kind of inexpensive fuel to heat a grill, a pot of water, or a frying pan. Punching careful holes in an empty can makes a perfectly functional stove that can burn all kinds of cheap fuels like mineral spirits (available at every hardware store in the country). I made the stove pictured here from a pair of aluminum cans. It actually burns so hot that can melt cheap aluminum grills; it left permanent dips in my backpacking grid after I let it cook a little too long. How’s that for do-it-yourself value?

My stove mostly followed this model, which combines aspects of the models described here and here. I left it unsanded and unpainted, so you can really see the seams where the parts come together. The flattened can top acts as a simmer ring; when it is placed atop the stove, it cuts off most of the jets while letting a limited flame come through the hole. You can also just build a second stove with fewer holes to use only for simmering. The stoves are so lightweight and cheap to make that having two of them isn’t a big deal.

If I were to make a new one today, I think I would follow the Super Cat design, which is so simple that it cannot fail. There is also a variation known as the Simmer Cat that would suffice for slower-cooking recipes.


Art collages inspired by record albums

27 Jul

Six collages on floorIn America, we can judge you based on the walls of your home. Blank walls say, “I’m a boring bowl of cornflakes.” Conversely, a picture of  a bowl of cornflakes may say, “I watched too much Monty Python as a child.”

Stores everywhere (Michaels, Jo-Ann, or even Target) sell frames for record albums, which you can get for as little as $5 if you wait for a sale. These are marketed under the assumption that being able to listen to your albums is less important than having your walls say, “I like music!” If you choose obscure albums that no one likes or even recognizes, your walls can also say, “I am more cultured and knowledgeable than you! Bow before my elite taste!”

I love music, but I’d rather be able to listen to my records, so I make collages based on my favorite record covers to hang up instead. From a distance, they look almost exactly like the actual albums, but they have a personal, handcrafted feel. I make them at full scale using the actual record cover as a model; you can do the same using cover art from the web. It may help to have a printed version at the same size as your intended collage (record covers are 12″ x 12″) so you can tell how large to make each part of the image. All you need is a bunch of collage materials (magazines and cloth work well), glue sticks, scissors, and patience. The more materials you have, the easier it is to find colors, textures, and shapes that match the record cover you’re imitating. Read the rest of this entry »


Making cloth napkins/handkerchiefs/dishrags from old clothes

19 Jul

Stack of napkinsLet me begin by saying that I have nothing against paper napkins or people who like them. I prefer not to waste too much on disposable personal hygiene, though, and I’ve always bought the cheapest paper napkins I could find (Target and Dollar Tree). Still, we can all admit that cloth napkins are softer, classier, and more absorbent than their paper counterparts. They are also reusable, and I much prefer reusable products over disposable ones, which typically leads to saving both money and natural resources. I’ll admit that the environmental benefits of cloth napkins are a bit debatable, but making cloth napkins from my own scraps of fabric should be a sure winner. Using my own castoff clothing would avoid any of the emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting a truckload of new cloth napkins. Plus, I like making things myself, so it’s a form of entertainment if you want to think of it that way.

You can make great cloth napkins out of old white t-shirts. I have a constant ecosystem of white undershirts in my home. When I buy new shirts, the oldest ones get turned into napkins or rotated to the kitchen for wiping up spills. I used to throw used napkins and worn-out shirts away, so making my own napkins reduces our trash output on two fronts while also saving money.

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