What Is a Tune-Up? Speed and Car Care 101

When defining “What is a tune-up?” the first step is to determine what you expect to gain from your tune-up. While there are many ways to tune up a vehicle, routine maintenance is what most people think of regarding tune-ups.

Other types of tune-ups concentrate on creating more speed, better gas mileage, and various other focus areas. If your state has yearly vehicle inspections, and you’re not sure your car can pass, you can tune it with that in mind.

If your tires wore out 20,000 miles before they should have, you could tune up your ride to focus on fixing that. Got a shimmy in your steering? It could be your brakes, wheel hubs, or suspension. No matter what you want to improve in your ride, there is a type of tune-up to address it.

There Is More than One Type of Tune-Up

Routine maintenance tune-ups are the most common, while other types of tune-ups pay attention to particular areas. Some of the different tune-ups include:

  • Routine maintenance
  • State inspection (the “must pass to keep driving”)
  • Adding speed
  • Gaining fuel economy
  • Reducing exhaust emissions
  • Frame and suspension attention
  • Extending tire life
  • Increasing your stopping power

If your car is a daily ride, you’ll probably stick to the basics. However, if you have a project car, you can tweak your ride for show or even racing.

Routine maintenance tune-up

Check the fluids, check and replace the spark plugs, drop some injector cleaner into the fuel tank. You can perform most tasks in your driveway, even on the newer, computerized cars of today.

If you have the owner’s manual, it will list tune-up intervals for your model. If you don’t have that, you can probably find it online by searching for the make and model. Most auto manufacturers maintain web archives for 7 to 10 years.

If you can’t find it on the auto manufacturer’s website, you can check other outlets:

If you plan on performing your tune-up, we recommend beginning with a list, so you don’t miss anything. Use your owner’s manual to determine the areas you should focus on for routine maintenance:

  1. Change oil
  2. Check and fill wiper fluid
  3. Check and fill transmission fluid (change as required)
  4. Clean, check, and re-gap spark plugs (change as required)
  5. Check all spark plug wires, battery cables, and wiring harness (replace as needed)
  6. Change windshield wipers
  7. Check all lights and hazard flashers
  8. Check tires for wear and fill to proper psi (replace as needed)
  9. Rotate tires according to manufacturer’s specifications
  10. Check brakes for wear, including brake lines and wheel cylinders (replace as needed)
  11. Grease all zerk fittings on suspension components (replace as needed)
  12. Check frame for rust and weak spots

Please remember to use the recommended type of oil and transmission fluid for your vehicle. When you change fluids, please use proper disposal methods. Many local auto parts stores have free disposal programs for hazardous materials.

Performing your maintenance can be a satisfying (or frustrating) experience. With a few tools, cleaning cloths, and a weekend, you can make sure your car lasts a long time.

Yearly “must pass state inspection” tune-up

If you live in a state without annual vehicle inspections, consider yourself blessed. For those people who reside where the state requires a yearly safety, emission, or other types of inspection, it can become an expensive proposition.

Each state has specific requirements, so we can’t cover them all. Some states offer exemptions for older vehicles. To check the requirement in your state, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is where you will find the information you need to “pre-inspect” your vehicle to make sure it will pass.

Most states with inspection requirements will check the basics:

  • Tires, suspension, and brakes
  • Lights, windshield wipers, and safety equipment
  • Windows (for operation, chips, and cracks)

Your state may require more or less. If you have been performing routine maintenance on your vehicle, your chances are better to pass an annual inspection. A failed inspection means you will be unable to register or drive your car without repair in many states.

Tweaking your ride for speed

If you want a little extra horsepower out of your car, you can add some tune-up modifications to give it a little boost. Bear in mind that, although these mods may add a little boost, they won’t make you instantly qualify for the Daytona 500.

If your vehicle is still under a factory warranty, be advised that some modifications can void your remaining warranty coverage.

So, what works? Not all things work with all vehicles. Checking online forums and discussing upgrades with other people who have the same make, model, and year as your car will save time, effort, and a lot of money. Use what worked for other owners and avoid their flops.

Some areas where many people find extra horsepower:

  • Add a high-performance cold-air intake system
  • Change to a high-performance air filter to increase airflow
  • Add a high-performance exhaust system
  • Add a supercharger to your engine
  • Integrate a turbocharger into your exhaust system
  • Replace the camshaft with a high performance model
  • Switch to high-performance spark plugs and wires

Depending on who you talk to, there are numerous ways to boost your horsepower. Some work well, while others may produce only marginal results. Approach any modifications realistically because no matter what you do, your car is still just a car.

Getting Better Fuel Economy

With continually fluctuating fuel costs, this is an area many car owners want to improve on. The quickest and surest way to improve fuel economy is to keep your vehicle maintenance schedule. Regular oil changes, spark plug changes, and routine maintenance provides your car with a boost in mileage.

Use a good quality oil with the correct viscosity for your vehicle according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Maintain the proper air pressure in your tires. Keep engine air filters clean.

Minimize the drag to let your vehicle use the aerodynamics in its design. Don’t carry things on your roof rack. If you have a pickup truck, install a cap or tonneau cover. Drive with windows up as much as possible.

Allow your vehicle to warm up to normal operating temperature before setting out. If you must drive immediately after starting your car, drive conservatively and consistently for the first few miles. Good driving habits can assist in lowering fuel costs. Acceleration and quick stops during bouts of aggressive driving can increase fuel use.

Use cruise control when able because consistent speeds will increase fuel economy. If your area has toll roads, use the subscriber toll pay system to avoid complete stops at the toll booths. Avoid rush hour on the roadways whenever possible because the stop-and-go traffic can suck up fuel.

Remove the junk from your trunk. Seriously. Excess weight in your vehicle can significantly reduce fuel economy. Those two cinder blocks in the trunk from last winter? Please leave them in the garage.

The best way to get and maintain good fuel economy is by keeping your vehicle tuned up.

Reducing Exhaust Emissions

While the most efficient way to reduce exhaust emissions is to park your car and walk, that doesn’t work in our bustling society. The next best option is to purchase a vehicle that meets or exceeds EPA guidelines for emissions. But what can you do with your current vehicle to reduce your exhaust emissions?

First (and we’ve said this before) is to perform regular maintenance and keep your car tuned up. A well-running vehicle puts out fewer emissions. Even tire pressure can affect your emissions, so vehicle maintenance is the single best option for reducing your carbon footprint.

You can also use a fuel additive to keep your fuel lines and injectors clean. There are many available. Please read the label and make sure that it is suitable for your vehicle.

Another way to reduce emissions is to combine errands. Rather than making a special trip out to the grocery store, stop on your way home from work. Plan a circular route on errand day to reduce the total miles traveled while you complete your necessary stops.

Use cleaner fuels. Low-sulphur gasoline can reduce pollutants released into the air by 10 to 15 percent. Use E85 (85 percent ethanol fuel) if you have a flex vehicle with this capability.

Keep your exhaust system in good shape. Even a small pinhole leak can create a lot of extra emissions. You should perform regular inspections every time you service your vehicle. You already have it raised to change the oil, so take a look at the exhaust system front-to-back while you’re under there.

Frame and Suspension Tune-Ups

Improvements for your frame and suspension focus on three areas of your vehicle’s performance — braking, handling, and acceleration.

Coilovers (literally, coils over spring) will lower your vehicle’s center of gravity, allowing it to hug the road better. This adjustable mod hits all three performance areas, which is why it makes a good mod.

Change to a wider wheel and tire, offering more rubber-to-road surface area. This stabilizes your ride and helps your car “hug” the road on curves.

Upgrade your brake components to add performance pads and lightweight rotors. By reducing weight, you increase the available horsepower for movement, rather than overcoming gravity.

While these may seem like small adjustments, the performance capabilities added to your car will make your daily ride more enjoyable.

Adding Life-Years to Your Tires

When it comes to extending the life of your tires, routine maintenance again tops the list. Checking the air pressure at least once a month can add many miles to tire life. Operating at decreased psi is a leading cause of tire damage.

Second to maintaining proper air pressure is suspension, brakes, and steering checks. An improper front-end alignment will cause tires to wear out very quickly. In some cases, it can shorten the lifespan by half. Keeping up with suspension and steering systems maintenance will extend tire life.

Aggressive driving is something not many people consider, but darting in and out of traffic, rapid acceleration, and stopping quickly can also affect tire wear. Minding your manners and driving responsibly is a great way to help your tires.

Brake Tune-Ups Because Your Life Depends on It

Although brakes are a part of routine maintenance, we wanted to emphasize their importance. As one of your vehicle’s safety features, brakes have built-in sensors and other warning systems. While these can effectively keep you from suffering complete system failure, we urge you to take a proactive stance with brake maintenance.

Change out your pads before the metal tab begins screeching at you. Maintain fluid levels, so the dash light never illuminates. Keep an eye on your rotors and replace them before they are gouged almost clear through. Don’t wait for your calipers to stop functioning.

Many people forget about their brakes until they stop working. Believe us when we say that finding out your brakes don’t work while driving is not a fun life event.

For most vehicles, a complete rotor and pad change can be done in a few hours and cost a few hundred dollars. Unless you are using performance parts, brake components are very affordable. For a few extra dollars, you can rebuild or even replace worn calipers for added safety.

Although some vehicles do require special brake tools, most don’t. You can perform most brake system repairs in your driveway even with very little mechanical knowledge. A repair shop will charge a lot, but the parts themselves are not overly expensive.

Invest in your overall vehicle safety by making sure your braking system is always in good repair.

Routine Tune-Up or Tweaked for Speed?

Vehicle maintenance is crucial whether you are doing a routine tune-up or trying to add extra horsepower to your car. While there are many tweaks you can do to boost your performance, there is no substitute for good general maintenance.

Although we offered a good number of suggestions, we would be remiss if we did stress the importance of checking your vehicle warranty. Many warranty plans are automatically voided with the addition of after-market enhancements. Know what your warranty says before you make any modifications to your vehicle.

Whether you are prepping your car for an annual state inspection or just changing your oil, please use safety precautions. Do not crawl under a vehicle supported only by a hydraulic jack. Use wheel blocks and approved jack stands to support your raised vehicle.

Please let us know in the comments what you’ve done to improve your car’s performance and what results you saw after completing them.


8 Lawnmower Maintenance Tips: Don’t Wait Til Spring!

Gone are the days of using the old rotary push mower to earn teenagers spending money. When you purchase a lawnmower, it is an investment, but bigger, better, faster also comes with responsibility. That means seeking out lawnmower maintenance tips to keep your mower running.

Most people don’t worry much about their mower until it doesn’t start. That almost always occurs when you’re trying to get your lawn mowed before a three-day storm. Employing a simple routine and following lawnmower maintenance tips can prevent catastrophe.

When winter hits, many folks just park the mower in the garage or shed and forget about it until spring. Doing a bit of fall maintenance will make sure your mower starts in the spring.

Why Fall Lawnmower Maintenance Is Important

You might be wondering why fall lawnmower maintenance is important. It really isn’t… that is, if you want to fight to get your mower started in the spring. If you don’t want that fight, an hour of your time in the fall can make your spring much more enjoyable.

Taking care of a few things before you put your mower away for the winter will make sure that it is ready to go when you need it. Before you exchange your mower for a shovel or snow blower, doing these tasks will protect your investment.

Remove the spark plug wire before performing any maintenance on your lawnmower.

8 Winterization Lawnmower Maintenance Tips

Your task, should you choose to accept it, is:

  • Drain and replace the oil
  • Check, clean, or replace the spark plug
  • Check, clean, or replace the air filter
  • Clean the mower deck
  • Check and sharpen the blade
  • Clean out the grass collection bag
  • Check axles and wheels
  • Drain gasoline or add a fuel stabilizer agent

That’s all there is to it. We’ll cover each task in detail below. Plan to spend one to two hours from start to finish. It may take you less time, or longer, depending on your mechanical abilities. The good news is that once you learn these tasks, they will serve you well for years.

1. Drain and replace the oil

Draining the oil will differ slightly depending on the type of mower you have. Please consult the owner’s manual or maintenance guide for your model. If you don’t have them, you may be able to find them at the manufacturer’s website. You can also check Manual Library online. You will need the model number for your mower.

Draining your oil

The steps for changing your engine oil are:

  • Run the mower for several minutes to warm up the oil so it flows better
  • Clean the area around the oil fill, deck, and oil drain (not all mowers have drains
  • Have an oil pan ready to catch the used oil and rags to wipe with
  • Remove the oil fill cap
  • Without an oil drain: Gently tip your mower on its side allowing the oil to drain from the fill spout
  • With an oil drain: Remove the drain plug and direct the oil into your drain pan

If your mower has a drain plug, you may still need to tip it slightly to make sure it drains completely. It is a good idea to leave your mower tipped for a few minutes to get complete drainage.

If your mower has an oil filter, you should change that also. Most push-behind mowers do not have an oil filter. Check your owner’s manual to see if your mower has this feature.

Refilling your oil

Make sure that you close the oil drain if your mower has that installed. Use the oil specified in your owner’s manual. This is normally SAE-30 engine oil.

Place your mower on a flat, level surface. Fill the crankcase to the level on your dipstick. This normally does not use a full quart, and you want to be sure that you don’t overfill the reservoir. There should be a dipstick on your oil fill cap. Add small amounts and check between addition until it reads at the full mark.

2. Check and replace the spark plug

Spark plugs will generally last more than one year on a lawnmower, but they may need cleaning. Using a spark plug socket, remove the spark plug and inspect the electrode.

Clean it with a soft cloth to remove residue and inspect it for damage. If it is pitted, burnt, or degraded, you should replace it. If the electrode looks good after cleaning, you can check the gap using a gapping tool and reinstall the spark plug.

3. Check, clean, or replace the air filter

Checking, cleaning, or changing the air filter on your lawnmower should be a regular part of your maintenance. It is a fairly simple procedure:

  • Remove the air filter cover
  • Clean the cover and metal filter with a cloth and solvent as needed
  • Clean the foam filter using the recommended procedure from your owner’s manual
  • Remove and discard the paper filter, if installed
  • Insert new paper filter if your mower uses one
  • Reinsert the clean foam filter
  • Replace the air filter cover

Refer to the manual for your model, as there are slight differences with each engine.

4. Clean the mower deck top and bottom

Keeping your mower deck clean will prevent rust and help your mower last longer. While there are many methods you can use, perhaps the easiest is using compressed air. If you have a compressor this job takes seconds.

With no compressor, you can use a cloth to brush away grass and debris from the top and bottom of the deck. This should be done each time you use your mower. Wipe away any oil or gasoline drips on the deck. Clear any collected grass from the chute area and under the mower deck.

5. Check the blade and sharpen

Checking your mower blade at the end of the season gives you time to sharpen it before spring. You can do this yourself, or you can take it to your local mower repair facility.

Sharpening a lawnmower blade is not difficult with the proper tool. Using a blade sharpening attachment for your electric or cordless drill is the recommended procedure. The tool ensures the correct angle and sharpens the blade without files.

You should remove the blade for this procedure, and balance the blade using a blade balancing cone. If your blade is not properly balanced, it will create strain on the lawnmower shaft while cutting and damage your mower.

You can use many other methods to sharpen a lawnmower blade, but this is definitely the easiest.

6. Clean out all grass collection bags

If your mower has a grass collection bag, you should empty it after each use. Frequently, mower bags will collect an absurd amount of dust during regular use. To remove that we recommend compressed air. Please wear safety goggles and a face mask, as this will produce a lot of dust.

An alternate method, if you don’t have an air compressor, is to knock the dust out by striking the bag with something. Hold the bag up away from the mower and strike it with a wrench or similar item. This won’t get all the dust out, but will remove a lot of it.

7. Check wheels, height adjustments, and axles

Checking your wheels is an easy task many of us put off until the wheel falls off. You should be inspecting wheels for cuts or missing chunks, checking the rotation, and making sure they don’t wobble.

In addition to checking the wheels, you should check and lubricate the adjustment bracket. This allows you to raise and lower the height of the lawnmower deck. Keeping these in good working order makes that task easier.

If you have wobbly wheels, there are a number of ways to correct them. You can replace the wheel assembly with new wheels. Or you can shim the old wheels. It seems that every lawnmower mechanic has a different fix for wobbly wheels.

This video shows the replacement of the shoulder bolts and wheel bushings.

This video demonstrates the procedure to replace a broken tire with a new wheel. The dogs are free.

8. Drain gasoline or add a fuel stabilizer

Gasoline has a shelf life. Who knew? Well, we do, and now you do. While most people leave gasoline in their mower over the winter, that isn’t a good plan. Fuel can break down after three to five months and cause problems with your mower:

  • Unused gas may clog fuel system
  • Carburetor may get damaged
  • Fuel may separate and go bad

Old gasoline turns into a varnish-like substance that can really gum up a mower engine. Preventing that is simple, though:

  • Run the mower until your fuel is completely gone
  • Add a fuel stabilizer to your gasoline

If you didn’t do that last fall and now your mower won’t start, use a product such as TruFuel Ethanol-Free Fuel to start your mower. TruFuel will offer a reliable first start and keep your mower reliably all summer.

Keeping a starting fluid in your garage can also aid in starting a stubborn mower. Used sparingly, a spritz directly into the carburetor can save your back from excessive pulling on the starting cord.

Lawnmower Maintenance Tips for Periods of Use

Each week when you mow your grass, there are maintenance checks that will prolong the life of your lawnmower. Taking a few minutes each time you use your mower can add years to its life. Because a new mower is an investment, you want it to last a long time.

Checks to perform before you mow:

  • Check the fuel level and fill as needed
  • Check the oil level and fill as needed
  • Make sure all levers and cables move freely

Things to check before you put your away:

  • Clean debris and grass off the deck of the mower
  • Clear any clumps of grass and dirt from the underside of the mower deck

Taking a few minutes before and after you mow can ensure that your mower starts and runs reliably for the entire season. Winterization maintenance will make your first mow of the season an easy task also.

Lawnmower Maintenance Tips Work for Snow Blowers Too

Lawnmowers and snow blowers use very similar (and often identical) engines. All the lawnmower maintenance tips for winterizing your mower can be used on your snow blower in the spring before you put it away for the summer.

Although your snow blower doesn’t have the same configuration for the deck and blade, clearing the area around the auger is just as important. Your yard and garden equipment is an investment, and if you take a few minutes to care for it, it will last for many years.

Protecting Your Investment is a Year-Round Task

Lawnmower maintenance tips aren’t just for the fall. Taking care of your equipment is a year-round task. It only takes a few minutes to perform checks before each use and to clean after use.

We hope you learned a new trick or two. Please let us know in the comments if you have tricks and tips you use to keep your equipment running at peak efficiency.


How to Stain Wood: Tips for Newbs and Old Hats Alike

Staining wood has been used for centuries to enhance and preserve wood projects. Learning how to stain wood properly will save you time, headaches, and heartache. After spending hours making a perfect trinket box, ruining it during the staining process can be crushing (yes, the voice of experience is whispering in your ear).

Every type of wood has peculiarities. Likewise, different types of wood stains act differently. Understanding these perks and quirks will help you make good selections. If you already know the basics, we apologize for the simplicity of the first few sections. You may skip ahead. If you are new to wood staining, read everything.

Your finished projects will be the masterpieces you set out to produce. Our master woodworkers have years of experience and will reveal tips and tricks about staining projects. Put on your safety glasses and nitrile gloves. We’re about to have some fun!

Difference Between Stain and Paint

The most notable difference between paints and stains is in the final appearance. Paints cover wood grain, adding color to the surface of a project. Stains bring out the natural coloration and grain of the wood. Although some color variations are available in stains, you should invest in purple paint if you want a purple deck.

Both paints and stains protect wood surfaces. They are both available in acrylic (water-based) and oil-based. With one look at a stain and a paint side-by-side, the most notable difference is the product’s thickness or consistency. Stains are much thinner than paints.

The other significant difference is in how they work on wood. Paint is a cover and stays on top of the surface of the wood. The stain is a penetrant, so it soaks into the wood.

When it comes to cost, the stain is almost always the less expensive option. While paint offers a greater variety of colors, it also hides the natural beauty of wood projects.

In addition to wood stains, there are concrete stains available. If you look at redoing that old driveway, staining the concrete can add some pop to your property. You can’t use regular wood stains for concrete, though, so make sure you’re in the right department when you’re purchasing stains.

Difference Between Water- and Oil-Based Stains

The type of project you are staining will have a bearing on whether you should use an oil-based or water-based acrylic stain. Applying a stain to a wooden deck is much different than adding some color to an interior stair rail.

If you have questions about stains, it is always encouraged to ask your local paint and stain specialists. You’ll find them in your local hardware or paint store and sometimes at the big box home improvement warehouses.

Looking at the pros and cons of oil and acrylic stains will help you make the right choice of stain for your project.

Oil-based stains

Using oil-based stains requires a bit more preparation, safety precautions, and cleaning materials. Oil stains require Linseed oil or mineral spirits as a thinning agent and mineral spirits for clean up.


  • Provides a more even finish
  • Extremely durable and long-lasting
  • Deeper penetration


  • Drys slower – easier to get a more even finish
  • Susceptible to mold and mildew

Oil-based stains are great to use on exterior projects. They penetrate deeper, which produces a richer color and adds protection to the wood surface.

Water-based stains

The ease of cleanup makes water-based stains very popular for project woodworkers. They create a nice finish but are not as easy to work with and clean up with water. No special precautions or materials are needed other than latex gloves (unless you want stained fingers).


  • Quick-drying
  • Easy cleanup
  • No harmful odor or fumes
  • Not flammable
  • Breathable stain (no venting or respirator required)
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Resistant to mold and mildew


  • Not deep penetrating
  • Require multiple coats for deeper coloration
  • More difficult to use due to quick drying time

While there are many advantages to both stain bases, the ultimate decision depends on each individual’s preferences. Consider the type of project you are staining. Oil-based stains do withstand exterior conditions better.

Selecting Your Stain

Using the pros and cons of oil- vs. water-based stains, you should be able to make an informed decision when selecting your stain.

Picture frames, jewelry boxes, and furniture all offer unique ways to display wood projects. If this is the type of project you primarily work with, water-based stains would be a good option.

If you have an older home with real wood baseboards, chair rails, door frames, and crown molding you are touching up, then oil-based stains will offer greater longevity.

The type of project you are staining has a bearing on what stain you select. Many woodworkers keep a variety of stains on the shelf. Stains are not like paints — a little goes a long way. Unless you are staining an entire outdoor deck or another large project, you probably can buy the quart or pint-sized cans.

Stains are available in cans, sprays, gels, and combination stain and finish. For our purposes here, we are only using the mainstay type that comes in paint-style cans. Call us old-school if you must, but we like the tried-and-true methods.

Stains are colored to match natural wood colorations, not a specific type of wood. If you can’t afford mahogany wood for your project but want the vibrant, reddish hue, you can buy the white oak and use a mahogany stain to obtain a very similar shade.

How to Stain Wood

The first step in staining your project is to collect the supplies you will need to complete this process:

  • Sandpaper or blocks in varying grains
  • Cleaning cloths (ole t-shirts work great)
  • Disposable gloves
  • Paintbrush
  • Dropcloth
  • Wood filler (optional)
  • Pre-stain wood conditioner (if needed)
  • Wood stain in a shade of your choice
  • Topcoat sealing product (optional)

Once you have your material assembled, you can set up your work area to begin staining your project. Lay your drop cloth under your work area. The stain is stain, and it stains. Wear old clothing, coveralls, or a shop apron to avoid ruining anything with a wayward splash.

Preparing your project

Before staining your project, you need to prepare the wood to accept the stain. The surface should be free of any imperfections, which of course means grabbing that sandpaper.

If you have a small palm or orbital sander, you can use that to speed up the process. Start with coarse-grit sandpaper (80 to 120 grit), then shift to finer grit sandpaper (180 to 220 grit). Wipe down the surface with a lint-free cloth in between each grit change.

After sanding, wipe the dust with a clean, dry cloth. In between each round of sanding, wipe the surface with a damp (not wet) cloth. This raises the grain of the wood and gives you a better final surface.

If you are working with a softwood, you should condition the wood before staining to avoid blotchy results with your stain. With some hardwoods, such as mahogany, you may need to use a filler to achieve a completely smooth finish.

Applying your stain

When you are ready to apply your stain, be sure to stir it thoroughly in the can. Using a damp cloth (old t-shirts again), dip the cloth into the stain and then rub it liberally across your piece. Always wipe in the direction of the grain.

You could also use a brush for this step, but the rag offers better coverage with less streaking and “heavy” spots. Thinner layers work better. If you want a darker finish, apply additional coats of stain. Each coat will add more color.

Once you have your piece thoroughly covered, wipe away excess stain with a clean, dry, and lint-free cloth (yes, of course, those old t-shirts).

Clean up right away, especially your rags. Once the stain dries on them, it is never coming out, and you can toss that rag right in the trash. It’s just an old t-shirt, but reusing them is excellent for the environment.

Grab a cup of coffee and a muffin. Check your Facebook or Instagram. This is the “hurry up and wait period.” Let your piece dry, or “cure,” for at least 24 hours.

When your project is finished

Once your stain is dry and you have given it time to cure, it’s time to think about final finishes. There are many choices available, from varnish to polyurethane. They each have advantages and disadvantages.

In the end, your decision will probably be based on the type of project you are completing and what you want in the final look. Some projects don’t need a top coat and are beautiful with their stain shining through.

Types of penetrating finishes available:

  • Tung oil
  • Danish oil
  • Linseed oil
  • Walnut, soy, and lemon oils

Types of surface finishes:

Some final finish products will add a look of yellow to your piece. Be aware of that, so you don’t get a shock. Others fade over time and “yellow.” Most are clearly labeled and will warn you of any color-changing or aging effects. Read the labels.

Whether you are resurfacing a table, reconditioning an outdoor deck, or adding a finish to a jewelry box, you want your project to look fantastic. Take your time, select great products, do the project right.

Handy Tips for Future Projects

We use old t-shirts as shop rags. They are versatile, lint-free, and washable. Try to stick to lighter colored shirts and don’t use any that have iron-on transfers (you can use the back panel). When cut, each t-shirt will make four shop towels.

Wear gloves. Otherwise, you may have stained hands for the next several months. We use nitrile gloves most often. They are easy to find, disposable, easy to store in a draw or on a shelf, and available in various sizes.

Wear old clothes, coveralls, or a shop apron. We know we mentioned this earlier, but we don’t want you to ruin your favorite jeans.

Ventilation and Safety

We also mentioned earlier that water-based stains are safe to use without extra steps for ventilation. However, the same rule applies to them as with low-VOC paints. It would be best if you still ventilated even though you technically don’t have to.

If you are using oil-based stains, please remember that the stains and thinners are flammable. A bucket of used rags left in the corner can combust. Don’t leave clean up tasks undone. When you clean rags with mineral spirits, lay them out on a flat surface to dry. Do not ball them up in a pile and stuff them in an old coffee can.

Ventilation is crucial when using oil-based stains. They should be used outside when you are able. If you use them inside, keep windows open and use a small oscillating fan to move the air around. Follow ALL the safety warnings on all the labels.

If you are using oil-based inside, please make sure that a second person is in the area but not breathing the same fumes in your shop. They’re not a canary. Tell them you will be working with stains, and ask them to check on you periodically.

Cleaning up the Easy Way

We try not to waste anything. When we cut out our old t-shirts, we save the sleeves. We use the sleeves as cleaning rags, too, then we throw them away, which makes cleanup easy. This is a great trick if you’re working with icky, messy stuff.

Keep a sticky lint roller in your shop. When you have a lot of sanding dust on your bench, you can roll most of it off, so it isn’t flying around in the air. When you use a small foxtail to finish up, you aren’t making more of a mess.

Always keep your shop as clean as possible. Getting stray dust or dirt in the finish on a project you just spent hours making perfect is depressing.

Making It Last

When we do projects, we may expect them to last forever. We do have a reasonable expectation that they will last a few generations, though. Taking care to select a good finish is part of making things last.

We hope you enjoyed our discussion of stains and finishes. May your next project become a masterpiece. Let us know in the comments what you’re working on.


To Rake, or Not To Rake: Should You Leave Your Leaf Litter In Place?

It is a question that is asked year after year. Spring, fall, summer: When is the best time to rake? Should you even rake at all? While many people hate to rake, there are arguments both for and against that make sound, scientific points.

There is a difference between raking and using a leaf blower, too. It isn’t just the annoyingly loud sound of the leaf blowers either. If you’re interested in finding out why you should tell your neighbor to quit waking you up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, we have you covered.

Raking leaves does serve many purposes, as does not raking. After exploring the matter in way too much detail, we understand what makes a perfect summer lawn. If you’re ready for some barefoot grass next summer, we should warn you that it will involve a rake or two.

Rake? Don’t Rake? Why It Matters

Nobody likes to rake leaves. Well, maybe some sadistic people do. Most people hate it. The chore that keeps giving. You rake one day, and the next day your yard is full again. This endless cycle continues until all the neighborhood trees have dropped their bounty.

If you live in an area with zoning restrictions, you must rake, or the city gives you a citation and possibly a fine. That’s certainly no fun, so you rake. If you are in a more lenient municipality, then you have the choice.

The decision then comes to what you do with the leaves and how you use your yard. If you garden, rake and save those leaves because they do make great compost. If you’re into saving all the bugs and nature’s forgotten critters, don’t rake. The creepy-crawly things live in those rotting leaves, and it becomes a whole eco-system under the snow.

If you like a lush, green lawn, some claim that leaves starve a lawn of oxygen, sunlight, and water to reach your grass. That cycle deprives your grass of nutrients, thus making your yard sparse and icky. If you like “barefoot” grass, the argument is that raking is a necessity.

Types of Rakes and How to Use Them

“Rake” is a universal term. Most people have a picture in their head of a standard leaf rake or a garden rake when they hear it. There are more than 15 different types of rake, and they all have a different purpose.

Don’t worry. We aren’t going to bore you describing all of them. We are going to discuss the most common types briefly. These are the ones most homeowners use to maintain an exceptional lawn and garden area.

Leaf, lawn, landscape, or flex rakes

Most people picture a standard leaf rake as a flimsy fan-shaped rake with plastic or metal tines. While the leaf, lawn, and flex rakes all look similar and can do the job of raking leaves quite well, there are some differences.

A landscape rake has stiffer tines and is useful for doing heavy-duty jobs. The leaf rake has flat or round plastic tines and is perfect for moving lightweight leaves around quickly. Lawn rakes or flex rakes usually have flat metal tines and more flexibility than their plastic-tined brethren. All are commonly seen perform leaf-raking duties.

Garden rake

The garden rake has a short, stubby head and pointy, rigid steel tines. It is often seen spoofed in cartoons as an unwitting victim steps on upturned tines and catches the handle in the face. While it may be funny to watch, it does happen in real life, so always place your garden rake tines down.

Although you can use this rake for leaves, it is not very useful on the open lawn. It does a much better job scooping leaves out of garden areas and under shrubs. It is also great with wet leaves, but it will snag some of your grass along the way. This rake is great for loosening soil before seeding your lawn.

Thatch rake

A thatch rake removes the layer of organic debris that can build up on your lawn. It has a steel head with tines that are more like blades. The sharp tines grab the thatch while leaving your grass intact. If you don’t rake this fall, you may need a thatch rake in the spring to help your lawn breathe.

The Argument for NOT Raking Leaves

The cat ate my rake is not an acceptable reason not to rake unless you happen to be Joe Exotic, and a tiger did eat your rake. On the plus side, there are valid points made by the folks in the anti-raking camp.

Fallen leaves provide a wide variety of benefits:

  • Food, shelter, and nesting for wildlife
  • Winter protection for creepy-crawly insects
  • A layer of organic material (insulates the ground)
  • Leaves compost adding some nutrients for the grass
  • Composted leaves also feed biological microbes

The natural mulch formed by leaves suppresses weeds, according to David Mizejewski, a National Wildlife Federation Naturalist. While Mizejewski also confirms that a thick layer of leaves will smother a lawn, he makes recommendations to repurpose the leaves in other areas, such as planting beds.

A healthy leaf layer becomes a mini-eco-system. Among species using the leaf layer as a primary habitat are chipmunks, wood frogs, toads, box turtles, and salamanders. Also included are beneficial critters such as earthworms, millipedes, and a wide variety of insects.

Many species overwinter in leaf layers. Butterflies and moths winter as either eggs, pupae, or adults, depending on species. In addition to being pollinators, many of these provide spring food for birds feeding new hatchlings. Don’t forget the bats, which also winter in leaf layers. They won’t survive winter to eat all the spring mosquitoes if you remove their habitat.

Why You Should Rake In the Fall

There are a significant number of arguments against leaving the leaves where they fall. Although many people claim that leaving some leaves can be beneficial, especially as a mulch (more on that later), they also support the smothering theory. The reigning recommendation is to take some care and at least thin the layer of leaves.

If you are in an area with a homeowner’s association or other municipal requirements for leaf clean up, there are recommendations for getting the most benefit from fallen leaves.

  • Move leaves to flower beds
  • Use leaves as a mulch around trees
  • Cover wintering garden beds
  • Use a mulching mower to pulverize leaves
  • Use as a fill layer in between food scraps in a compost pile

If you don’t have a mulching mower or leaf shredder, you can always put the leaves into a galvanized metal can and run your weed trimmer inside the can. (The manufacturer does NOT recommend this and please wear safety goggles and gloves)

The take-away from this argument is that, if you must rake, do not just dispose of the collected leaves. With so many viable and beneficial uses for them, recycling, reusing, mulching, or composting should be a part of your fall yard cleaning routine.

Mulching Might Be a Great Compromise

Mulching is a type of mowing that pulverizes leaves and grass and returns the tiny pieces to the soil. Alternately, they can be bagged and saved for use later, in a compost pile or your garden.

Mulching is a great way to add fertilizer to your lawn without an extra expense. It is also a great way to avoid raking those pesky leaves that fall off your neighbor’s tree and land in your yard. If you plan a fall planting of cool weather grass seed or fescue, mulching is a great way to ensure healthier growth.

Is a Leaf Blower as Good as Raking?

Every neighborhood has that one person. You know them. They have a huge, gas-powered, backpack-style weed blower that they seem to run from sunup to sundown in the fall. It’s loud, and you can hear it from three blocks away as they chase that last leaf of the season off their lawn.

As you roll over and pull the pillow up to cover your ears, you wonder why on earth they can’t rake like ordinary people. Aside from the annoyance of noise and the exhaust fumes’ evident environmental impact, are leaf blowers beneficial to a lawn?

The experts say, “No.” Their reasoning is sound. If you must remove leaves for aesthetics or local ordinances, it is healthier for your lawn to rake. Explain that to your neighbor.

As you manually remove that layer of leaves, your rake is disturbing the top layer of soil. This aerates the ground somewhat, allowing for better oxygenation for your grass. Although it is not as effective as actually aerating your lawn, it is more beneficial than using a leaf blower.

To Rake or Not to Rake?

There you have it — whether or not your rake your fall leaves is an individual choice that involves several factors. The bottom line is that if you opt to clear the leaves from your lawn, use them elsewhere.

Remember that it is much easier to rake dry leaves than wet, so wait out that rainstorm and give things time to dry out. Using the correct equipment is also the best option for optimal results. Or you can pay the kid down the street because they probably want to buy the latest version of their video game.

We hope you enjoyed this discussion about the pros and cons of raking fall leaves. Let us know how you perform this arduous task in the comments section.


How to Fix Frozen Pipes and When to Call the Pros

One of the worst things on the planet is waking up on a cold, winter’s morning and having no water. Frozen pipes happen all too frequently, and always at the worst possible time. And the plumber is going to charge you a small fortune to fix frozen pipes.

That means no shower, no coffee, and likely no breakfast. Calling the plumber is the last thing anyone wants to do. The good news is that many times, you can fix frozen pipes yourself. But knowing when to call in a pro and how to prevent frozen pipes is also good.

What Causes Pipes to Freeze?

Cold, of course, but it doesn’t act alone. When pipes freeze, it is caused by a lack of proper preparedness for cold weather. In that respect, there are several things that homeowners can do before cold hits to protect their pipes.

Just a brief list of preventative measures:

  • Insulate susceptible piping
  • Heat the space around piping
  • Leave your water trickling on freeze nights

We’ll discuss each of those with a more in-depth look later.

What Happens When You Don’t Fix Frozen Pipes?

The extent of the damage you experience can range from mild to extreme. Locate the area of the frozen pipe first. Most often, this will be in a basement or the crawl space under your home. For homes on a slab foundation, most of the piping is likely routed through the attic.

If pipes are merely frozen but not broken or cracked, you can repair them by thawing the pipes.

The Damage That Can Result

Freezing water expands. When trapped inside a solid object, such as a pipe, this expansion can cause piping to burst. As seen in the image below, ice has expanded just above a joint, leaving behind a gaping wound.

Fix frozen pipes: Image shows a small burst in copper piping caused by freezing
Image from Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Much of the damage from frozen pipes isn’t caused by the pipes freezing, but from water if a pipe bursts. Once a pipe bursts, the only way to repair it is to replace that section of piping.

There are many instances in which a homeowner can complete repairs. We do recommend contacting a professional at any point that you feel overwhelmed.

Many homeowner’s insurance policies have provisions for frozen pipe repair. Check your policy and be aware of those before beginning your repair. In some cases, a failed home fix-it may void insurance coverage, so please read your policy carefully.

What Do You Mean “The Basement Is Flooded?”

Having a flooded basement is never fun. If you have a heated basement, you usually won’t experience frozen pipes along most of your piping. You may have problems with lines leading to outdoor fixtures.

Fix frozen pipes: Images shows ice formed on a basement downspout pipe
Image from Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.0

Another potential problem is the main stack drainage line that carries wastewater out. This line is vented through your roof and can freeze, as seen in the above image.

Depending on the age of your home, you likely have a floor drain also. With small amounts of water leaking into the basement drain through the floor drain, freezing can also occur between your home and the main sewage line. This prohibits water from draining correctly and may cause flooding.

Being aware of your home’s drainage system and water system is an excellent way to stay prepared. This video describes a typical home plumbing system:

If It Looks Like Ice, It Probably Is Ice

The first sign that you may have a frozen pipe is no water pressure. If nothing comes out of a faucet, it is time to check the pipes. This should only take a few minutes.

Pipes will generally freeze at their most vulnerable point. Along outer walls, in non-insulated attic spaces or garages, or at entry points connecting to the exterior of your home.

If you aren’t sure that a pipe is frozen, treat it as if it is.

How to Fix Frozen Pipes

Knowing how to fix frozen pipes can save you a bundle in plumber’s fees. It can also help you prevent extensive water damage in your home should you have a burst pipe.

The Tools You Need

First, the obligatory warning — DO NOT use a torch to thaw frozen pipes. Just because you saw the plumber do it last year doesn’t mean you should attempt it this year.

You likely won’t need everything included on this list. Most of the items are everyday household items. We’re just repurposing them for use thawing your pipes. That said, here are things that will be useful if you need to fix frozen pipes:

  • Hairdryer with adjustable heat settings or heat gun
  • Small area electric heater
  • An electric heating pad
  • A cookie sheet or other reflective surface

Once thawing is complete, you may need to make a trip to the hardware store for parts to repair a burst pipe. Duct tape won’t work here, but we’ll discuss that shortly.

Using a Blow Dryer to Thaw Pipes

Before beginning this task, open all faucets so that you know when water begins to flow.

First, you need access to the pipe. Once you find the frozen pipe, you will need a blow dryer and your trusty cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet behind the area of piping that is frozen.

The purpose of the sheet is to concentrate the warm air from the blow dryer, reflecting it onto the pipe. If you don’t have a cookie sheet, you can use a similar item to serve the same purpose. Wrapping a piece of scrap cardboard in aluminum foil will work in a pinch.

Using your blow dryer on a low to medium heat setting, focus the warm air onto the piping section, moving back and forth over the surface. This may take a while, so be patient. Once water is moving freely, you will hear it flowing from your open faucets.

Using a Small Space Heater to Heat the Area

Open the faucets in your house before beginning this process.

If you don’t have a blow dryer or can’t gain direct access to the area where the pipe is frozen, you can use a small portable heater. Try to get the heater as close to the frozen section as possible, but not directly under any pipes.

While you may want to turn it to the highest setting, don’t. Since pipes in crawl spaces are usually in cramped quarters, it shouldn’t take too long. Remember, you’re not trying to raise the temperature to 72 degrees — you only need it above 32 degrees.

Please do not leave the heater unattended. Place the heater near but not directly under the piping. With the blower, small heaters push heat a few feet out from the base. This should be sufficient to warm the area, allowing the pipe to thaw.

Waiting on Mother Nature

Pro tip — Don’t wait on Mother Nature. Unless you expect a 20-degree temperature rise within 30 minutes, waiting could make your problem worse.

Using a blow dryer is the preferred method. Alternately, you can warm the area with a small space heater.

If all you have is a heating pad, you can wrap it around the pipe and turn it on. Use the low setting, and don’t forget to open your faucets.

What to Do If Your Pipes Burst?

Generally, this is the point where you call in the pros. But some homeowners are comfortable repairing piping on their own. If that is you — kudos.

Repairing Burst Pipes on Your Own

We aren’t going to give a lot of detail on pipe replacement here. Some shortcuts and quick-fixes can keep you rolling until you can get a plumber in to check things out, though.

Perhaps the quickest temporary fix is to use the Fix-It Stick by Oatey. You can purchase this online or at most local hardware and plumbing supply stores. It is designed for pinhole leaks, though, and may not work as well on a larger burst pipe. Fix-It Stick is easy to use and requires no plumbing knowledge.

Using SharkBite fittings and PEX piping are other quick ways to replace sections of copper piping. The video below explains the processes for this type of fix. You will need to have some special tools and equipment, though:

When to Call in the Pros

This really depends on your confidence level. Our purpose was to help you gain the confidence to handle a frozen pipe on your own. Although not all frozen pipes are manageable, many times a homeowner can thaw the pipes without a problem.

Preparing for Winter Weather

Ultimately, avoiding frozen pipes should be your goal as a homeowner. While it may cost a few dollars to winterize your piping, the resulting cost of a frozen pipe could be much higher.

Adding Pipe Insulation

Adding a layer of foam insulation is a quick way to prevent frozen pipes. As noted in the video above, foam is easy to work with. Simply measure your pipes and purchase the amount you need.

An important note is that you don’t need to insulate every pipe in your home. Concentrate on the piping most exposed and vulnerable to freezing. These will be pipes that run along exterior walls, that go to outside fixtures, or are in the unheated crawlspace.

Using an Incandescent Light

If you can’t insulate your pipes, an easy way to warm the area around vulnerable pipes is to use a low wattage incandescent bulb. A photographer-style clip light works really well. The incandescent bulb generates enough warmth to keep the temperature a bit higher.

This trick works well in crawl spaces and under sinks. If you have a well, using a lamp near the inlet piping can keep the cold water from freezing up your pump. Remember to check the bulb before retiring on really cold nights.

Fluorescent bulbs do not generate enough heat, so make sure you are using incandescent bulbs.

Leaving the Water Trickling on Cold Nights

This last method is the least reliable, and should only be used if you can’t insulate piping or leave a light on. This method isn’t always a fail-safe and your pipes could still freeze. Leaving your faucets open slightly, allowing a trickle of water to flow will help and is better than nothing.

Running water does help prevent complete frozen blockages. Although your pipes may still partially freeze, they won’t freeze solid, which reduces the risk of burst pipes.

Always open at least two faucets, with both hot and cold. You want a good trickle, but not a full stream of water. We recommend the kitchen faucet and the bathroom faucet farthest from the inlet or hot water heater. This allows water to flow through the entire system.

Your Home is An Investment Worth Protecting

This video illustrates everything we discussed above.

Many times you can fix frozen pipes without calling a plumber. We hope that we have helped you build confidence in your abilities.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Tell us if you have any tricks you use during cold snaps to protect your home from Jack Frost.


Winterizing Your Vehicle DIY-Style: What You Can Do at Home and How

Winterizing your vehicle is probably on your to-do list leading into the cold months. If you have ever taken your car to a mechanic for a simple seasonal checkup, you probably got a bit a sticker shock with your estimate. What you thought were simple fluid checks turned into a long list of optional and necessary repairs with a heart-stopping price tag.

You can perform many of the routine seasonal vehicle maintenance tasks in your driveway, even if you have zero mechanical experience. Not only will this save you lots of money, but it will also help you understand a little about how your vehicle works.

If you have done some of these tasks before, please bear with us. Our instructions may seem overly simplified and geared toward the complete novice.

What Does “Winterizing Your Vehicle” Mean?

Winterizing your vehicle means preparing it for winter driving. Winterizing involves a series of maintenance items that ensure your safety when the snow flies. While it may seem unimportant, giving your vehicle a good checkup may keep you from a snowy night on the side of the road.

Depending on your vehicle and where you live, the necessary checks may differ slightly. We are targeting moderate snowfall climates with temperatures ranging on an average scale for most Midwest states.

If you live in the Southern states, you should still winterize your vehicle as a part of your routine maintenance. Just like changing the batteries in your smoke detectors when Daylight Savings Times happens, forming a routine for vehicle maintenance is good.

Several items should be on the list of things to check when winterizing your vehicle:

  1. Check the battery for charge and correct electrolyte levels
  2. Change wiper blades
  3. Refill wiper fluid
  4. Check tire pressure
  5. (If installed) Check 4-wheel drive
  6. Run the heater and blower
  7. Check the anti-freeze and change if needed
  8. Change the oil and opt for a thinner viscosity
  9. Check all the belts and hoses and change as needed

Changing to a thinner viscosity of oil for colder months will help your vehicle run better. Oil thickens when cold and doesn’t lubricate your engine as well. Thick, clumpy oil can cause extra wear and tear, decreasing the service life of your engine. Consult your owner’s manual for oil viscosity for changing temperatures.

Don’t forget non-mechanical winterization needs

Make an emergency kit for your trunk. This kit should include roadside distress standards such as flares, cones, or warning triangles. You are also going to want a good flashlight or signal light with fresh batteries. Other items to include are:

  • Blanket
  • Jumper cables
  • Shelf-stable snacks such as granola bars or protein bars
  • Water purification tablets (bottled water can freeze)
  • Extra gloves and warm socks
  • Small plastic or canvas tarp

Hot Hands and similar products can be a lifesaver against frostbite if you need to hike two miles in your Italian loafers. Stock your emergency box with items that you will need if you are on the side of the road during a winter storm.

Too much is never too much, and filling a small box with supplies can ease your mind about winter driving. Items such as cat litter can be helpful to gain traction on icy roads. Think about what can help you and toss it in.

Standard Checks to Get a Good Start

Although you should check all fluids in your vehicle once a month, we all know that rarely happens. Gas and go is the routine for most people. Cars are more reliable now and less maintenance-friendly for the backyard mechanic. Therefore, people forgot about a lot of older practices.

Today is a good day to begin new habits, though. If you haven’t read through the owner’s manual for your car, pull it out of the glovebox and do that now. You will find a wealth of information, including the location and intervals for all fluid checks. This handy little digest also tells you where the fusebox is. Some even contain general schematics for your stereo, heating, and lights.

If you purchased your vehicle used and don’t have the owner’s manual, don’t despair. You can find them available online for most makes and models. The most important part of this manual is the types of recommended fluids and capacity. Some vehicles use 4 quarts of oil, while others may need 5, 6, and even 10.

Look up the recommended procedures for checking your fluids:

  • Oil
  • Transmission/differential fluid
  • Brake fluid
  • Antifreeze
  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Check and fill all grease fittings

Once you have finished all the fluid checks, there are still a few other things to check.

Wiper Blade Replacement

Wiper blades are usually the last thing anyone thinks to check until they begin to shred. Think of them like your smoke detectors and change them about every six months. Spring before the rainy season and fall before the snow flies are good points.

Wiper blades are rubber or silicone material. Although they generally last a long while, they are subject to sun and UV ray damage. The sun can break down the base materials and weaken them over time.

Changing blades is a free service offered at many local auto parts stores if you purchase the blades from them. It takes seconds but can be the difference between seeing that deer and hitting that deer during heavy snow.

If you want to change your blades, the procedure is relatively straight-forward:

While not all mounts are the same, they are all similar. Your owner’s manual will have instructions. You can also search for a video for your make and model on YouTube.

Snow Tires or All-Season Radials?

Tires are always crucial for snow driving. Aside from checking the tire pressure, there are a few things you can do to help your tires last. If you can see metal bands on your tires’ outer edge, you should be replacing them immediately.

To check tire wear, use a tread depth tool or a penny. You can use the space between the edge of the penny and President Lincoln’s head as a quick and easy tread-depth measure. The procedure is simple. Turn the penny so that Mr. Lincoln is upside down. Place the edge of the penny in the recessed part of the tread. Move across the width to the tire, checking each track. If the tread covers any part of Lincoln’s head, your tires are good for now.

Another thing to check on your tires is uneven wear, especially on the front. Irregular wear patterns can point to several other potential problems with bearings, alignment, shocks, and steering parts. Your tires should be wearing evenly across the surface that contacts the road. Take a quick look at the sidewalls for bulges, scrapes, or other potential problems.

If you determine that you need new tires, you can choose either snow tires for the coming winter or all-season radials. Snow tires will need replacing again in the spring, but you can store them during summer.

While both have advantages and disadvantages, the climate where you live will be the most considerable influence on your decision. Most Midwest regions are okay with adequate all-season radials. The farther north you go, the more snow, therefore the need for special snow tires. Talk with a tire specialist if you are unsure.

Flush Your Radiator for Better Heating

The radiator in your vehicle is responsible for maintaining the engine temperature. In the summer months, it works to cool the engine. It helps your engine reach optimum temperature quickly during the winter, without harming the metal engine components. Most cooling systems contain a mix of 50 percent antifreeze and 50 percent water, but please check your owner’s manual for your make and model.

To check your fluid level, locate the overflow reservoir in your engine compartment. It is clearly labeled minimum and maximum. Ensure the fluid falls between the markings and all is good. If your fluid is brownish or discolored (it should be pink or green depending on the type of anti-freeze used), you should flush your cooling system.

Although you can purchase flush and fill kits, you don’t need them. You will need a drain pan, antifreeze, distilled water, and the tool to release the drain plug on your radiator. You can loosen the drain plug with a screwdriver, pliers, socket wrench, or sometimes just your fingers.

A cleaning solution is recommended for this process to flush out debris and contaminants. We found a video that explains the entire process better than we can.

Your owner’s manual contains the size of your cooling system and lists how much coolant is required. Typical cooling systems use two gallons of a 50/50 mix, but larger engines may use more. Some makes and models have more specific requirements, such as a particular antifreeze type.

Winterizing Your Brakes

The braking system isn’t a necessary part of winterizing your vehicle because brakes are not affected by the cold. The importance of brakes is overall safety, so we include this check to keep you and your passengers safer on winter roads. You should get into the habit of checking your brakes at least every six months. Combining this check with your wiper blade replacement is a good practice.

There are several methods to check brake pad wear on disc brakes. Disc brakes use pairs of metallic or ceramic pads and a caliper to create friction on the rotor to stop your vehicle. The pads wear out over time and need replacement once they reach two millimeters in thickness or less. If your pads are close to that 2mm thickness, you should change them earlier rather than later.

There are outside and inside pads. You can check the outside pad on most vehicles without removing the wheel. To check the inside pad, you have to remove the wheel and the caliper to access the pad. It is essential to check both pads. Uneven wear can advise you of more severe problems, such as a non-functioning caliper.

Diagnosing brake problems is preferable to waiting for a system failure. We found a great video that shows the basic procedure to check your brake pads for wear. Your vehicle may be slightly different, so refer to your specific make and model’s correct maintenance instructions.

This simple brake pad check will take approximately 10 minutes per wheel. Remember, if your pads are below 2mm in thickness, it is best to change them. It would be best to replace brake pads in sets (front and rear) rather than individually. Most pad sets are sold as a set of four or eight pads.

Winterizing Your Vehicle Safely

Driving on snow is tricky. Remember that having a four-wheel-drive only works when you have traction. Wheels will slide the same way on the ice, even with a four-wheel drive. Winterizing your vehicle also means winterizing your driving habits.

It is a good idea to practice at the beginning of each snow season. That will refamiliarize you with how your vehicle handles in slippery conditions. Doing proper maintenance will give you peace of mind and hopefully keep your car from experiencing breakdowns.

While doing your maintenance will save a lot of money over having these tasks performed by a mechanic, it also means you should practice “shop safety” too. Dispose of used antifreeze and oil according to your local ordinances. Auto parts retailers often have used hazardous material drop programs, so ask about them when purchasing your supplies.

When working under your vehicle, always use wheel blocks, hydraulic jacks, and vehicle stands rated for your car’s weight. Jacking points are diagrammed in your owner’s manual. They differ for each vehicle. Improper jack and vehicle stand placement can cause damage to the underside of your car.

This last video includes a series of checks to offer a visual reference for you. The video covers all the items we covered above.

We hope that you learned a tip or two that will help you with winterizing your vehicle. Let us know in the comments if you have suggestions to share.


37 Art Kits: Give the Artist in Your Life the Gift of Creating

If you have an artist in your life, regardless of their level, you have no doubt considered art kits for Christmas. Sales advertisements expound many proclamations as the “best” everything. How do you choose the perfect art kit for your artist?

While there are many factors that can contribute to your choice, our recommended starting point is to simply ask your artist. It is quite common for an artist to become fond of a specific brand of paint. Most will not be shy about giving you a detailed list with color selections, sizing requests, and other information.

If you have an artist that provided you with a list that is wonderful. If, however, your artist shrugged and mumbled, “I don’t know…” then you will have to conduct a bit of due diligence. That is why you’re here we presume.

Defining Your Artists’ Needs

What kind of artist do you have? Are they a doodler who likes felt-tipped markers? A pencil sketch aficionado with an affinity for erasers? A watercolor painter with a flourish for pastels? Acrylic paints? Oil paints?

Figure out their preferred medium and you will figure out which aisle to head down in your search. Many artists work in various mediums depending on their mood. Perhaps they have traditionally concentrated on oil painting but now wish to venture into watercolor adaptations.

Determining what your artist needs or wants is the first step in having the perfect gift to place under your tree.

The Different Types of Art Kits

This is where determining what your artist needs or wants is handy. That tidbit of knowledge will allow you to streamline your shopping to make a more informed choice.

Just a quick (and very basic) sampling of the different types of art kits:

In addition to the types of kits listed above, there are many combination kits available. Combination kits include supplies from several different mediums.

They are very handy for young artists that haven’t settled on a favorite medium or people who enjoy working in several mediums.

Quality Art Supplies do Make a Difference

When selecting art supplies, quality does make a difference. If your artist isn’t talking, don’t be afraid to ask at your local art supply store. While you can save money with bargain brand paints, the color quality or lifespan may be less than optimal.

If you notice that your artist only has one specific brand of paints, don’t buy them a different brand without asking first. While two brands may produce the same color, there will be slight variations in hue, texture, and how the paint applies to a canvas.

The bottom line on quality art supplies is that if you aren’t sure, ask. Not all premium quality supplies carry a premium cost, so please don’t base your selections on the cost. Buying the most expensive thing doesn’t guarantee it the best.

A Quick Look Around

Let’s look at some art kits! Since we could write a full-length book on the various art kits available but we don’t have the space, we broke it down into general categories.

Sketching supplies are in the first category, followed by the three main painting mediums (watercolor, acrylic, and oil). We’ll list some combination kits in the final section also. Something for all the artists!

Pencils, Charcoal, and Ink Art Kits

This is where it all begins. From an early age, we are handed graphite pencils, pens, and pieces of chalk to make pictures. While not everyone continues using these basic materials for art, the few who do truly appreciate quality supplies.

Professional Drawing Pencil Set

This 33 piece Professional Drawing Pencil Set from Arteza has everything needed for pencil sketching. With 18 drawing pencils, 3 charcoal pencils, a white charcoal pencil, tortillon blenders, erasers, and more, your artist will enjoy hours of creativity.

The set is neatly packaged in a metal tin with form-fitted trays to keep it organized.

Inkonic Fineliner Pens

This 120 piece of Inkonic Fineliner Pens from Arteza offers AP-certified pens. With a dazzling array of colors, these are perfect for your Manga artist, wildlife artist, or bullet journalist.

Quick-drying colors don’t bleed and won’t smudge the paper. This set is great for left-handed people because of the anti-smudge.

Professional Watercolor Pencils

This set of 120 Professional Watercolor Pencils from Arteza is a perfect blending of pencil-ease with watercolor beauty.

The pencils work like colored pencils, but adding water softens and blends the colors. This allows for brilliant shading and layering of colors. The entire set comes in a molded tin for easy storage.

Tombow ABT PRO Alcohol Markers – Basic Palette

Tombow ABT PRO markers are the choice for many bullet journal enthusiasts. These dual-tipped alcohol markers add permanent, vibrant colors to any project. The brush tip and chisel tip allow flexibility for the artist to create thin, flared, or sweeping lines.

Colors can be layered, and a blending pen allows colors to be blended for unique looks. This set includes a stackable desk tray.

Staedtler Lumograph Drawing and Sketching Pencils

This set of 24 Staedtler Lumograph drawing pencils comes in a metal tin for easy storage. Each pencil has a graphite core in varying degrees from 8B (extra soft) to 6H (extra hard).

The degree of hardness allows artists to create differing effects. All pencils are pre-sharpened and ready for use.

Watercolor Painting Supplies

Watercolor painting sets are available as pan sets or tube sets. Pan sets are hard paint pellets in a pallet. They need water to activate the paint. Tube sets are a wet paint dispensed in a tube.

They apply very much like standard acrylic paints but can be thinned easily with water to achieve a “washed” look.

Pan sets are great for working on location or traveling. They store easily in their own pallet, dry quickly, and provide a versatile way for artists to express themselves.

Watercolor tube paints are great for studio work or classroom instruction. Watercolor artists design and create a large number of the greeting and special occasion cards we use throughout the year.

Pan Set Art Kits

We aren’t going to break out each kit in this section. We found some excellent representatives for you:

Watercolor pan sets are an excellent way to try watercolor painting.

Tube Set Art Kits

Watercolor tube sets are well-suited to studio work. If you are transitioning from acrylic to watercolor, tube paints will help you settle into the new medium of watercolor. There is a wide variety of sets available:

Whether you select pan kits or tube sets, watercolor paints are a satisfying medium for old and new artists alike.

Acrylic Painting Art Kits

Many people enjoy using acrylic paints. They are versatile but dry fairly quickly, so you can paint today and give it away tomorrow. With water clean up, it makes maintaining brushes easier.

Acrylic paints are available in tubes and pourable bottles. For our purposes here, we will only highlight the tubed versions. Bottled acrylics are ore often used for craft and project painting, although they are also suitable for canvas work.

If you have an artist that prefers tube acrylics, some of these awesome art kits might be just the thing.

Acrylic Painter’s Starter Bundle

This Acrylic Painter’s Starter Bundle includes a set of 60 tubes of Arteza paint and 28 pre-primed canvas panels. Your artist can get to work creating masterpieces as soon as they find a paintbrush, which isn’t included.

Arteza colors are vibrant, smooth, and easy to work with, and the color and transparency index is printed on each label.

Chroma Atelier Interactive Artists’ Acrylics – Set of 12

This Plein Air Painting Set from Chroma Atelier offers an array of 12 colors. The set includes drying and mixing mediums to help your artist enjoy painting outdoors, where drying conditions may be slightly different than studio painting.

Speedball Acrylics – Set of 6

This introductory set from Speedball includes the basic color palette. Colors can be mixed to create every color on the spectrum. Speedball has built a name on vibrant, graphic colors in ink and paints, and this set displays their reputation in tubes.

This is an excellent starter kit for someone just beginning to work with acrylics, or an advanced artist looking for reliability in a paint set.

Metallic Acrylic Artist Paint, Floral Brilliance – Set of 8

The Floral Brilliance set from Arteza includes 8 tubes of paints in shades of metallic beauty. Each paint is designed to accent and add flare to your paintings. Adding highlights with a metallic shimmer can greatly enhance nature-inspired paintings.

Daler-Rowney Graduate Acrylics – Set of 10

Although geared as an introductory set, this Daler-Rowney basic set of 10 colors provides a great base kit. Artists of all ages and ranges of ability will find inspiration within the tubes. This versatile paint set is an excellent way to show your artist they are loved.

Oil Painting Art Kits

A discussion of oil painting would not be complete without discussing the brilliance of Bob Ross. For many years on PBS, Bob Ross brought us oil painting lessons with happy little trees.

Using broad strokes and a variety of techniques, Mr. Ross showed people of every age that they, too, could paint trees and mountains.

Rembrandt Artists’ Oils – Basic Set – Set of 10

This Rembrandt Artists’ basic set includes 10 tubes of premium quality oil color. In keeping with the Rembrandt name, these paints are professional grade. Each color is hued to perfection using top-tier ingredients and binders.

Oil Premium Artist Paint – Set of 24

Another offering from Arteza, the Oil Premium Artist set contains a selection of 24 color tubes. Arteza, although a newer manufacturer, has entered the scene and made a name for providing quality at affordable prices.

Their array of vivid colors, consistency, and ease-of-use speaks for itself. Your artist will find these paints easy to work with, including the creation of blending and layering effects.

Oil Painter’s Bundle – Set of 24

The Oil Painter’s Bundle from Arteza is a complete set, although you will need your own brushes. The set includes 24 brilliant oil colors and a 14-pack of mini pre-primed stretched canvases. To make painting easier, they even included 5-inch mini easels to display your creations.

Grumbacher Pre-Tested Oils – Wood Box Set of 10

This beautiful boxed set from Grumbacher offers a selection of 10 colors in a finely crafted Cherry wood box. Also included are two badger hair brushes from Grumbacher’s Series 910 line.

Grab a canvas and this set is ready to paint the world (or at least an image of the world).

Wrap It Pretty, but Don’t Forget the Canvasses

It’s time to put on your ugly sweater and buckle down for a great holiday season. We hope that we made shopping for your artist easier. Remember to get quality supplies — your artist will thank you.

If you aren’t sure what medium your artist prefers, combination art kits offer a variety of supplies. With that, here are a few really good combo art kits to finish up:

Encourage your artist regardless of their age or ability. No one really thought Pablo Picasso was a good artist until abstract became the rage. It may be time to find a frame for that skeleton dog your kid painted in second grade. Hang it on the wall — be proud.

Have a great holiday season and drop us a comment to let us know what you did to make your season awesome.


24 Budget Christmas Gifts to Make Your Kids Smile

It’s been quite a year, but we still want to provide the best possible 2020 holiday for our families. Because people don’t have many extra funds, budget Christmas gifts are on the agenda for everyone. Especially the kids — we want to make the kids smile when they open their gifts.

We found some of the best budget Christmas gifts in the market this year. Beginning with games the whole family will enjoy, we tried to include a variety to appeal to a broad audience. Make your family game a fun night for everyone.

7 Budget Christmas Gifts for the Whole Family

Budget Christmas gifts for the whole family should be on everyone’s list. Although we may have lost it in our lives’ busyness, family game night is a great way to enjoy each other’s company.

1. Kids Against Maturity

Kids Against Maturity is a card game full of inappropriate flatulence humor. Geared for kids, it will provide hours of laughter in the style of fill-in-the-blank card games.

Parents should screen the 500-card deck of cards before playing if they’re squeamish about fart jokes. The more ridiculous the matches, the more you will laugh. Kids Against Maturity is a great way to unplug, and it is small enough to take on family trips. Best with 4 or more players 8-years or older.

2. Fortnite Edition Monopoly

Fortnite fans will love this Fortnite Edition Monopoly game for 2 to 7 players. Inspired by the popular video game, this is a classic Monopoly with different properties, game pieces, and health points instead of money. If you’ve never played Fortnite, this may help you understand the addiction a bit.

3. Pictionary Air

Pictionary Air is like the original game, but with a twist — you draw in the air, and images appear on Smart devices (you can even connect to a TV for large screen enjoyment) using the Pictionary Air app.

There are 112 clue cards, with 30 percent of them unique to this version of the game. It’s endless hours of fun and a great travel game. Parents should be aware that there is a record and playback feature, so avoid performing embarrassing antics while drawing.

4. Table Tennis To-Go

Table Tennis To-Go includes everything to set up a table tennis tournament for active kids that need to burn off some energy on a cold or rainy day. Any table will work to create hours of active fun. The set comes in a handy carry bag with two paddles, two balls, and a self-standing, retractable net.

5. Don’t Laugh Challenge – 12 Year Old Edition

Although this is a book, we included it in the family game section because everyone will enjoy trying not to laugh at these jokes. Don’t Laugh Challenge — 12 Year Old Edition is fun for the whole family as you take turns reading goofy jokes and trying not to crack a smile.

It’s also available in versions for children as young as 6-years old. Easy to pack for family trips and hours of hilarious “not” laughing.

6. Escape Room in a Box – The Walking Dead

This team game includes math, logic, and clues to solve. If you love escape rooms, you will love Escape Room in a Box — The Walking Dead. There is a twist, though. You’re not trying to get out of a room. You need to get in because, you know, zombies are outside ready to eat your brains.

While this is geared for children 13-years and older, younger children can be guided through with some help and a clear understanding that zombies are not real. Your 6-year old may save the whole family!

7. Unstable Unicorns Card Game (Base Edition)

If your family likes adventure card games, give Unstable Unicorns Card Game (Base Edition) a look. Befriend unicorns and form a unicorn army. Trample your friends (figuratively, of course). This kit contains 135 cards, a rule book and is ready to play on opening.

There are expansion packs available. Recommended for 2 to 8 players and 14-years and older. This game is okay for younger children with supervision and assistance.

7 Budget Christmas Gifts for Kids and Tweens

Kids and tweens like anything that isn’t socks and underwear. They are adventuresome, curious, and can’t wait to grow up. That thought inspired us to highlight this list of fun budget Christmas gifts sure to make your kids smile.

1. Gemstone Excavation Kit

Do you have a rock collector on your list? The Gemstone Excavation Kit is a great way to expand their rock collection, but they’ll have to work for it. The kit has a block of packed chalk and excavation tools. Kids carefully chisel and dig to uncover hidden crystals, gemstones, and beautiful rocks. This project does create debris, so you may want to set up a special work area for your child.

2. Grow ‘N Glow Terrarium Kit

The Grow ‘N Glow Terrarium Kit teaches kids about how an ecosystem develops and thrives. If your young botanist is ready to plant and maintain their own mini-ecosystem, this complete terrarium kit is a perfect start. Everything is included (with seeds from the U.S.).

The kit also has glow-in-the-dark forest figurines and constellation stickers to add a bit of flare—a great way to teach children about caring for plants.

3. Fold N Fly Paper Airplane Kit

Offering creativity and hours of fun for everyone, Fold N Fly Paper Airplanes will bring joy and laughter indoors or out. With 18 designs, easy instructions, and stickers to make unique airplanes, this kit is excellent for ages six and up. Bring the amazing gift of aviation to your children.

4. Corgi Succulent Planter

Another gift for your budding botanist who also likes animals. This adorable Corgi Succulent Planter is a perfect way to learn basic plant care. The planter does include a plant, so you can add a small plastic plant if your child isn’t quite ready for the real thing.

The bottom does have holes, so avoid over-watering, as it will leak. If Corgis aren’t your kid’s favorite, there are also other critters available.

5. Tabletop Robot Kit

Science isn’t just for the classroom with this Tabletop Robot Kit. Shaped like a crab, this little robot will scurry around the table. It redirects itself around obstacles. No tools are required to build it, but you will want to stock up AAA batteries. The robot uses one AAA battery, and it is not in the kit.

6. Fun Brick Mug

Does your little builder get bored sitting at the table with nothing to build? The Fun Brick Mug from FUBARBAR Creating Building will solve that problem and keep them from fidgeting. This 12-ounce BPA-free mug comes with 3 packs of bricks that can be used to build around the outside surface. Great for adults at the office too.

7. Moonjar Money Bank

It’s never too early to learn the value of a dollar. With the Moonjar Money Bank, your children can set aside funds to save, spend, and share. The bank includes three clearly marked sections to divide allowances up into categories. One is to save, one to spend, and one to share with others. This bank works on setting goals, appropriate spending, sharing, and financial responsibility.

8 Budget Christmas Gifts for Teens

Teens are always challenging to shop for. They are past the making a gift list age, so deciding on gifts can be hit-or-miss for parents. If your teen was less than helpful, you could add any of the budget Christmas gifts below to get smiles.

1. AirPod Storage Case

This handy AirPod Storage Case keeps the AirPod charging unit safe and secure. The case is lightweight and protects your AirPod charger and AirPods. Charging can be accomplished right inside the case, with a handy dust cover to protect the charging port.

With an included hand strap and carabiner clip, your kid won’t be misplacing their AirPods. You have to supply your own AirPods and charging unit — this is only a case to protect them.

2. One-Step Tie-Dye Kit

Tie-Dye is back in style! This One-Step Tie-Dye Kit from Tulip contains color-fast dyes that won’t fade. Included colors are yellow, turquoise, lime, fuchsia, and purple — but your teens can mix and match or combine colors to make different fun colors.

With 40 rubber bands and protective gloves, your teens will be ready to turn drab white t-shirts into works of tie-dyed splendor!

3. Water Resistant Bluetooth Shower Speaker

Because they can’t take a shower without their music, give your teens the ability to take it with them with the Water Resistant Bluetooth Shower Speaker from SoundBot. This speaker has easy access to all controls, and it includes a mic for hands-free talking.

Rated for indoor and outdoor use, the go-anywhere speaker is an excellent addition to your teen’s backpack. With 6 hours of playing time and a suction cup for the shower wall, you may never have hot water again. Compatible with most iPhone and Android devices.

4. Pepperoni Pizza Socks

Who doesn’t like cool socks? These Pepperoni Pizza Socks come in a single-slice pizza box. Your teen will get hungry just looking at them, adorned with tasty-looking pepperoni slices on a cheese background.

5. Tortilla Socks

This two-pack of socks comes wrapped like a tortilla box. Don’t take a bite, though, because the Tortilla Socks from the Rainbow Socks Store are not edible. One pair of socks contains images of tasty flatbread tortillas, and the second pair is a surprise. If your foodie enjoys tortillas, this may be the perfect gift.

6. Do Not Disturb Gaming Socks

Does your gamer spend hours in front of a screen with their feet propped up? They may need these Do Not Disturb Gaming Socks socks that double as a “Do Not Disturb” sign. On the bottom of one sock, it says “Do Not Disturb,” and the bottom of the other states, “I’m Gaming,” and has a small image of a game controller.

The print is a non-slip design, so if your gamer has wobbly legs after so much sitting, at least they won’t slip on the bathroom floor.

7. Blank Comic Book (Draw Your Own)

If you have a cartoonist in your family, this Blank Comic Book may be an excellent addition to their bookshelf. With pages full of empty comic book panels, this book is waiting for your artist. The blank pages can be used to create works of fiction or as a journal chronicling the average teenager’s monotonous life.

Whatever your teen decides to draw inside the pages of this book, it is sure to become a keepsake. Perhaps you have the next Stan Lee in your midst?

8. The Complete Cookbook for Teens

It’s time. Your teen needs to learn some life skills in the kitchen. What better way to send a subtle hint (OK, it’s not so subtle) than to include a cookbook in their gift pile? “The Complete Cookbook for Teens” contains more than 120 recipes, from simple to complex. Let your teen explore their culinary abilities by preparing a family feast to celebrate the coming New Year.

Bonus — Educational Games for Everyone

When it comes to family fun and learning, games have been a stalwart companion for our families. Not only are they fun to play, but we learn along the way without realizing it. So, a quick reminder not to neglect those “educational” games. They are far from boring.


Scrabble is a word-making game that is a fun and challenging way to increase your vocabulary and word knowledge. Forming words with a limited number of letters and trying to land on the high scoring tiles can provide hours of entertainment for everyone.

Trivial Pursuit

Trivial Pursuit is the trivia game that began a craze. With several editions, this popular game is available in your family’s personal favorites. The Family Edition includes separate questions for children and adults to even the playing field for younger players. But Classic Trivial Pursuit will give you bragging rights if you manage to collect all your pie pieces first.

Making Your List and Checking It Twice

We hope you enjoyed our look at budget Christmas gifts that will make your kids smile. Although it has been a tough year, the holiday season is a joyous occasion to celebrate families, time spent together, and the arrival of a future full of glad tidings.

Please drop a comment below to tell us how you are making this year special for your family.


Top Kitchen Tools Celebrity Chefs Can’t Live Without

If you have a chef on your holiday shopping list, they already have drawers and cabinets full of kitchen tools. Unless they provide you with a detailed list of exactly what they want this year (who does that?), you’re probably searching for just the perfect gift.

Without a clue, what do you get for the person who has everything? Watch any cooking channel on cable TV or the internet, and you will see a variety of kitchen tools highlighted by celebrity chefs. Informercials play at 4:00 a.m., professing the greatest thing since Betty White (she came before sliced bread, you know). They make it look so easy.

The truth of the matter is that not all kitchen “helpers” actually help a chef in the kitchen. Since you can’t try out everything on the market, we did that for you on several new and some older kitchen tools.

Gadgets, Gizmos, and All the Best Kitchen Tools

Gadgets and gizmos are useless to the person that doesn’t need them. If your chef can slice and dice with a knife faster than a manual food chopper, you can leave that off your shopping list. Although these tappy choppers can be very efficient for a novice, they may slow down a more experienced cook.

How do you know which gadgets and gizmos might be great and which ones will flop? You could always ask them for a list, but that may be a futile gesture as they say, “Surprise me.”

Watch them when they are not in the kitchen. Take a walk in the kitchen section of a department store. See where they stop to gaze longingly. What items are making them drool? Do they want an Instant Pot? Did that new French Press grab their attention?

What cooking shows do they watch? The celebrity chefs always have a favorite tool they use on almost every show. That new set of spoonulas might make them smile with joy.

The best gadget may not even be for cooking. With no sous chef running behind them to clean up, every chef needs products to make cleaning up easier. You may want to consider stocking stuffers to make clean up easier:

As you can see, kitchen gadgets aren’t always related to food prep. Check with your chef. If they aren’t helpful in providing you a gift list, watch them for a bit. They will reveal their “perfect gift” to you.

Pots, Pans, and All the Basics

Pots and pans are available in sets or as individual pieces. The price difference is going to be a big point. Sets are designed to create a larger ticket-item and provide the convenience of easy selection. For most day-to-day kitchen enthusiasts, they are a great solution.

Unfortunately, for more advanced cooks, standard sets are often lacking in versatility. Some people like T-Fal cookware sets, some people prefer OrGreenic cookware. While these contain a classic selection of popular sizes and configurations, many advanced chefs are dissatisfied with sets.

The best way to find out is to ask your cook if they have a preferred manufacturer. Otherwise, you may be filling up their cabinet with items they will never use. Some of the more popular brands include Calphalon, Cuisinart, All-Clad, and Paderno.

While each brand has its sales pitch, they range from inexpensive to requiring a second mortgage. Some are stainless steel, and others have non-stick ceramic surfaces. Hammered Copper is yet another choice.

Because of the differences, we recommend asking your chef a few basic questions:

  1. Do you have a favorite finish (stainless, non-stick, copper, cast iron)?
  2. What sizes and styles of pots and/or pans do you want?
  3. Is there a particular brand that you prefer?
  4. Would a gift card be better so you can choose your own?
  5. If a gift card, do you have a preferred store or online outlet?

Once you get your chef talking, making your gift list should become more manageable.

Chefs and Their Favorite Kitchen Tools

For essential tools, culinary schools recommend starting with three knives: the paring knife for small jobs, a chef’s knife for chopping, and a bread knife for sawing. Although many chefs will have 10 or more knives in their sets, you can accomplish all kitchen tasks with the 3 essential knives.

Other non-negotiable items, according to most chefs, include:

  • Cutting boards
  • Non-stick pans in a variety of sizes
  • Cast iron pans and Dutch ovens
  • Stainless steel pots and pans in various sizes
  • A blender and an immersion blender
  • Food processor
  • Wooden cooking utensils
  • Wire whisks (or silicone whisks)
  • Silicone spatulas
  • Vegetable peeler

Honorable mention goes to the Salad Spinner, Instant Pot (pressure cooker), digital thermometer, and a Microplane (very fine grater). While you can live without many of these items in the kitchen, having them does make the job of meal preparation much more effortless.

When it comes to working chefs, simple items reign, as the three items Chef Katie Button cannot do without, are all manual. She likes the KORIN Japanese Can Opener (Ganji Kankiri) to open any shape can. Her other go-to items are Joyce Chen Scissors and the Atlas Pepper Mill.

If you ask TV chef Rachel Ray, she will always say that the one must-have item in her kitchen is a large cutting board. The bigger, the better. Italian chef Giada De Laurentiis swears by her wooden spoons. Several chefs require a good mortar and pestle in their kitchen.

Stocking up your chef’s kitchen doesn’t mean grabbing the biggest, most expensive gadget on the shelf. Depending on their needs, it might just mean a stocking full of handy little items that make the overall chore of meal preparation easier.

Back to the Future or Already Gone

When it comes to electric gadgets and gizmos, there is a vast array that promises everything to the moon and back. So the question becomes, should you strap yourself into the DeLorean with Biff’s millions and go to the future in search of a nitrogen bath for instantly freezing your ice cream?

In most cases, the answer will be no. Your favorite home chef probably has much simpler desires. Unless your home has a commercial-grade kitchen with almost unlimited storage and prep area, you probably want to pare your list down to items that will fit in drawers or cabinets when not in use.

Although futuristic gadgets make good viewing on timed kitchen shows, they aren’t always practical around the home. A shortcut gadget that is used once a year is nothing more than a dust collector. To assist with kitchen cleaning duties, avoid things that won’t receive frequent use.

Sticking to everyday items will also allow you to gift more than one huge, expensive item. You can stuff a stocking and also make your chef open 52 gifts from under the tree while you laugh at their frustration.

Breaking Down the Kitchen Tools

Because there are so many products out there, we couldn’t possibly review or list them all. We looked at a wide array of products in price ranges from five dollars and up. Professional and celebrity chefs have recommended the products as their go-to kitchen items. While some serve a specific purpose, others are universal and have a variety of different applications.

We split our choices into four primary groups:

  • Slicers, dicers, and choppers
  • Garnishing tools for a decorative touch
  • Slow cookers, crock pots, and Dutch ovens
  • Instant Pots, air fryers, and other speed cookers

We’ve already covered the importance of knives, pots, and pans. Since those are often a more personal choice, we left them out of our final discussion of handy kitchen tools.

Dicing, slicing, and keeping your fingers

Knives, peeling gadgets, slicers, and dicers are among the kitchen’s most dangerous tools. Their first hazard is that they are, of necessity, very sharp. Secondly, they are often used in a manner they weren’t designed for. Who hasn’t tried to speed peel 15 potatoes using their mandolin slicer?

If your cook is a shortcut taker, investing in a chain mail glove to help with slicing and dicing chores might be a wise choice. They may never use it, but your conscience will be clear as you sit in the emergency room with them awaiting stitches. Additionally, it will offer you a lifetime of “I told you so” argument-winning one-liners.

The more straightforward way, though, is to invest in safer tools for your chef. Rather than that old plane-style mandoline slicer, get them one with a safety guide, adjustable cutting depths, blade storage, and versatility. Many mandoline slicers offer slice, dice, and shred features, making it one of the most used items in the cabinet.

If electric is your chef’s go-to rather than using manual kitchen tools, consider an excellent all-purpose food processor. Many have features that perform the same tasks as mandoline slicers and are much quicker with a skilled user. They are heavier on the clean-up task list, though, so remember this warning if you do the dishes.

The largest of the kitchen problems is often not how sharp a tool is, but how dull. If your chef prefers to do the chopping, slicing, and dicing with a knife, consider a knife sharpening kit or tool. Available in electric or manual models, these will keep your chef’s knives sharp and accurate all year.

Oooooo — Fancy art or just a carrot?

Lavish food creations can decorate a festive table or frustrate a perfectionist chef. While it does take some time, patience, and lots of carrots, a garnishing tool kit might be the right item for your kitchen artist.

For the simple embellishments, a small stocking-stuffer set of utensils. Kits are available from small, to mid-grade, to will they ever use all those things. For the more advanced artist, a multi-tool all-purpose kit with everything to make a beautiful table display.

If your artist wants to try their hand at ice sculpture carving, standard tools are usually available in the hardware department rather than kitchenware. But you can protect their hands with some super grippy insulated gloves.

Whether your kitchen artist does pumpkins, watermelons, carrots, or cucumbers, having the right tools for their passion is a big plus. Use care in selecting tools and make sure they come with adequate directions or add a book to the package. Exploring techniques and cool little slices that magically turn into a rose is a fantastic way to display food.

Dump it in and walk away

We’re not going to delve deeply into this category. Most chefs already have an idea of what they want here, including a favorite brand or style. Crockpots and Dutch ovens are easy to use. If you want something to dump an entire meal into and walk away, then a crockpot is the way to go.

Dutch ovens are a little trickier but are suitable for use on the stovetop, in the oven, or even on an open fire. That allows for more versatility than a crockpot (which requires electricity). Dutch ovens are traditionally cast iron, but some are heavy-duty ceramics. They can be an excellent addition to a kitchen.

Does it really cook that fast?

This is another category where a cook normally has a specific brand in mind. If they gave you a make and model number on their list, stick to that. The features can vary from one to another, and this category is not one to scrimp and save a few dollars for the cheaper version.

Yes, Instant Pots and air fryers really do cook food that quickly. The Instant Pot is a pressure cooker, meaning that trapped steam’s stored energy aids in the cooking process. The air fryer uses forced air to circulate through the cooking area. Both methods significantly speed cooking times.

Wrapping It Up with a Purty Bow

After researching, exploring professional chefs’ favorites, and checking all the kitchen gadgets out there, we arrived at one startling conclusion. Most professional chefs do have a go-to gadget or utensil. The surprising part was that many of them swear by the items that fall in lower price ranges.

Our parting bit of advice to gift shoppers looking to enhance a chef’s collection of tools is to keep it simple. Look at the types of foods your cook prepares and get tools and equipment that will make their tasks easier. If a potato peeler is needed, a fancy air fryer won’t help complete the task.

If you enjoyed this discussion about kitchen gadgets, drop us a line in the comments. What is your kitchen go-to?


The Best Callahan Brake Parts for You and Your Vehicle

Any discussion about Callahan Brake Parts invariably brings great historians out of the woodwork.

Mention Callahan brake parts, and some self-proclaimed genius responds, “There’s no such thing, man. Callahan was the name of Tommy Boy’s dad’s business in the movie.”

Truth or fiction? A bit of both. While Callahan Auto Parts was the name of the fictitious business in Sandusky, Ohio, that employed 300 people, Callahan Brake Parts is a real-life manufacturer in Illinois.

Although the logos have a similar appearance, the two are unrelated. While Tommy Boy fought against the odds to save the family business, Callahan Brake Parts is fighting the disinformation campaign about their seeming non-existence.

Or perhaps, they are riding out the popularity of the movie to garner sales?

In fact, Callahan is among the best of U.S.-manufactured brake parts available. Parts arrive ready-to-install with no cleaning or preparation necessary.

Exploring the History of Callahan Brake Parts

Brakes are an integral part of a vehicle’s safety system. Although most professional mechanics will instruct you to use Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts, aftermarket parts are still a huge business.

Callahan Brake Parts fall into the aftermarket category. While they conform to OEM specifications, they are significantly less costly. The goal was to produce a quality, American-made product that will outlast many OEM parts.

With a singular focus on producing great braking products, Callahan has achieved a healthy balance in the brake world. They have managed to remain viable in an aftermarket world full of competition.

Despite the confusion with the more famous Callahan Auto Parts of Tommy Boy fame, Callahan Brake Parts has carved a niche in the industry.

They are thriving and have a reputation for affordable quality. They offer a complete line of brake parts, including wheel bearings, rotors, calipers, and pads.

There is little-to-no information on when Callahan actually began producing brake parts. With the original filing for the trademark in 2012, we can ascertain that they have been around at least that long.

The only company profile we could find states they have been in the brake parts business for 20 years.

The Company Behind Callahan Brake Parts

Power Stop, LLC (formerly Brake Business, LLC) in Bedford Park, IL, which owns Callahan, is not as elusive when searching for company information.

We discovered that Power Stop, LLC is a manufacturer and distributor specializing in (surprise) brake parts. They have been doing business in the brake industry since 1995 under various names.

Owner and CEO Arvin Scott has managed the company under its various names for the duration and remains in charge at this time.

Power Stop was acquired by Sterling Investment Partners, LLC, in 2015. As an investment firm, Sterling acts as a partner to promote business growth.

The trademark for Callahan brake parts was renewed in 2019 under the Power Stop business name.

In comparing the looks of the two product lines, (Power Stop vs. Callahan), they appear very similar. The packaging for Power Stop is fancy, while you don’t see much focus on that with Callahan parts.

The pricing on the two products’ two lines is noticeably different, with Callahan being much lower in almost every area.

The largest difference in their caliper lines appears to include a powder-coated finish on the Power Stop calipers.

Callahan calipers have a lower-level finish, which doesn’t affect the calipers’ operation but does cause them to look ugly quicker. That would also account for the pricing difference.

Quality Assurance for the Stop

In life, it is the little things that matter the most. At Callahan, they do one small thing that other brake part manufacturers don’t. Clips.

Simple little clips for your brake pads make a huge difference, which sets Callahan (and Power Stop, too) above the rest of the crowd.

What are we talking about? When you change the brake pads on a vehicle, the pads are held on with a simple clip made of thin metal.

Most low-end (inexpensive) brake pad kits neglect to include new clips, so you usually reuse the old ones. No one ever thinks to order new clips when they purchase new pads. It’s an oversight that most home mechanics are all guilty of.

But at Callahan Brake Parts, they know that the best brake pad replacement should include installing new clips. They know that most mechanics neglect this small little detail.

The simple inclusion of this one small item in Callahan pad kits puts them ahead of the crowd.

Callahan appears to have all the same quality measures as Power Stop products without the fancy paint and pretty boxes. Callahan has rightfully earned a place in the industry based on its own quality, customer ratings, affordability, and reliability.

Looking at Callahan’s Product Line Up

Because brake products differ for each vehicle on the market, we review the type of product rather than a specific model.

This allows us to rate the product line rather than each part. Callahan specializes in braking components and wheel bearings.

ALWAYS verify that a part will fit your vehicle prior to purchase. Most online outlets that sell or distribute brake parts have a search engine feature that verifies part numbers against vehicle model numbers.

While our review may focus on a set of calipers and pads for a Toyota Camry, we look at several different models and use only one focus product or kit.

Kits for the different vehicle models will contain the same individual parts, quality, and quantity. The difference is only in sizing and configuration.

CRK11228 FRONT Brake Disc Rotors, Ceramic Pads, Clips

The CRK11228 Front Brake Disc kit contains all the parts needed to do a complete rotor and brake pad change.

This kit is specific to 2003-2008 Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Corolla and the 2003-2006 Toyota Matrix. Kits for your specific vehicle should include the same basic components.

The rotors in this kit can go right from the box onto your vehicle. No additional machining or preparation is necessary. Made to G3000 specifications, this rotor set conforms to SAEJ431. The design produces vibration-free stopping.

Also included in this kit are ceramic brake pads, which produce less dust and noise than standard metallic pads.

The ceramic material increases heat dissipation along the rotor’s surface for better overall braking action and longer life. Just like the rotors, these pads are ready to use right out of the box.


  • Better than OE parts
  • Reduced dust and noise
  • Ceramic pads more durable than metallic pads
  • Includes stainless steel hardware


  • Poor wear reported by some users

CCK02479 REAR Caliper Assembly Set

This rear Caliper Assembly set is for Ford Super Duty trucks in various model years. Please verify the correct part numbers for your vehicle.

These are remanufactured calipers. That means the main body receives reworking, but the internal, working components are all new. This caliper set will offer a quieter ride and has a 12-month warranty.

Calipers receive pressure testing after remanufacture to ensure quality and consistent braking. As with all Callahan parts, these are ready to install right out of the box with all of the hardware.

If you do a lot of off-road driving, spray them with a rust-proof finish before installing.


  • Includes all stainless steel hardware
  • Lower pricing than OEM parts
  • OE quality remanufactured parts


  • Lack of paint can lead to early surface rusting

CCK11013 FRONT Brake Kit

Another complete kit, CCK11013, includes rotors, calipers, pads, and all hardware to rebuild the front braking system.

This is an aftermarket kit for older model Honda vehicles with a rotor measuring 9.45 inches (240mm). Please verify the correct fit for your vehicle.

The calipers in this set may be new or rebuilt to OEM standards. All parts receive pressure testing (new and remanufactured) prior to shipping.

When calipers are rebuilt, they include new springs, bleeder screws, bushings, seals, and all hardware. The only “old” part is the caliper body.

Drilled and slotted rotors combine with ceramic brake pads for great stopping power. The slots and holes in the rotors aid in heat distribution.

Ceramic pads offer a quiet ride, less dust, and a longer-lasting pad. As with other Callahan products, this kit includes a 12-month warranty.


  • Provides excellent braking ability
  • Pricing is good
  • Perfect fit right out of the box


  • Poor design around mounting bolt holes

CDS02589 FRONT/REAR Rotors, Brake Pads, Hardware

Made for Chrysler and Dodge vehicles, this CDS02589 brake kit includes rotors, pads, and hardware. This kit contains metallic brake pads which achieve maximum stopping power with no break-in period.

The rotors are drilled and slotted for better heat dissipation, which also adds to the stopping power. You should experience quiet braking and lower dust with this set of rotors and pads.

The front rotors are 336 mm, and the rear rotors measure 352 mm in diameter. Eight metallic brake pads and all necessary hardware are also included in this complete kit. 


  • Perfect fit for specified vehicles
  • Excellent wear
  • Great value for the dollar


  • Inventory parts on receipt (some kits missing components)

Callahan 513084X2 FRONT Wheel Hub Bearing Assemblies

If you hear the unmistakable hum of failing wheel bearings, this hub assembly will be music to your ears.

The Callahan 513084X2 wheel hub assembly is for older model Jeep vehicles (1990 to 1999). It includes many vehicles in the Cherokee, Comanche, Grand Cherokee, TJ, and Wrangler lines.

These hubs are complete assemblies that include wheel bearings. They are a sealed unit pre-lubricated with high-temperature grease.

As a fully assembled unit, these are fairly easy to install for the average home mechanic. When replacing front hubs, you should always do both sides.


  • Complete sealed unit ready for installation
  • High-temperature grease sealed in the unit (preventing dirt)
  • Available for older model vehicles


  • Problems with lug studs stripping out
  • ABS sensor not high quality or reliable

Callahan CCK03884 REAR Caliper Pair

As with all Callahan kits, the CCK03884 Rear Caliper Pair includes all necessary mounting hardware. These are remanufactured calipers with new springs, seals, bleeder screws, hardware, and bushings.

The kit contains both right and left rear calipers that have been inspected for quality and safety. All refurbished caliper sets are pressure tested against leaks.

This part number fits on GM vehicles including: Chevrolet Captiva Sport (2012 – 2015), Chevrolet Equinox (2007 – 2017), GMS Terrain (2010 – 2017), Pontiac Torrent (2007 – 2010), and Saturn Vue (2008 – 2010). Be sure to verify the suitability for your vehicle before purchase.


  • Calipers are painted (but not powder-coated)
  • Universal fit on specified models


  • Paint chips easily, allowing rust to develop

Callahan CRK02410 FRONT  + REAR Brake Kit

The CRK02410 Brake Kit has all the components for a complete front and rear brake replacement. Although this kit is for various models in the Mitsubishi Outlander line, Callahan offers similar complete kits for other makes and models.

This kit includes ceramic brake pads, which produce less dust, vibration, and noise than metallic pads.

The rotors are precision balanced to create vibration-free stopping. Both rotors and pads are manufactured to OE specifications.

As with other Callahan kits, this one contains all the required hardware to ensure installation success. Quality stainless steel hardware means you won’t have to reuse any old nuts, bolts, and clips.


  • Kit includes all new hardware for installation
  • Front and rear rotors and pads included
  • Ceramic pads create less dust


  • Limited in vehicles it will fit

Come to a Complete Stop with Callahan Brake Parts

Whether you found Callahan Brake Parts because of the movie or looking for a great bargain, you will appreciate the value for the dollar you receive.

Callahan engineers every part for peak performance without the performance price tag.

To repeat our earlier warnings — ALWAYS ensure that the parts you are buying are the correct parts for your vehicle.

Auto parts stores and online outlets maintain databases to verify this information before you make a purchase. Installing incorrect parts on your vehicle can lead to very unsafe driving conditions, even if they “fit.”

For home mechanics with a lower budget, Callahan provides top-quality brake system components at an affordable cost. As the “budget” version of high-performance Power Stop brake products, Callahan holds its own in the after-market product world.