Free Stuff

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Why use Free Stuff?

  • Why travel out when you can make it in 5 or 10 minutes for free.
  • Finances are very tight for some people
  • Sometimes there's just no need to go & buy
  • Sometimes I can make better than I can buy


  • Skips
  • Freecycle & similar schemes
  • Leftovers


Tools from scrap wood

Many tools can be made from scrap wood, such as:


Ensures a straight cut with a circular saw. Improves cleanness of cut to some extent too.

See Sawboard

Sheet metal bender


Just 2 thin strips of timber screwed together. Or a metal mending plate can be used for one of the pieces.


  • A piece of 2x4
  • A lump of wood on the end of a stick of PAR.
  • Round the handle corners off
  • Its also possible to make fancy mallets from mixed colours of timber or ply, contouring the edges fluidly with a router


Mitre Box

Glue 2 strips of clear (knot free) timber onto a base sheet. Make an accurate 45 degree cut down through the sides, using a mitre saw if at all possible.


Japanese vice

Silicone Tool

Silicone Sealant smoother & profiler is made from feathered polypropylene


A screw with its head cut off makes a basic lathe for small parts.

  • Screw into the base of the item to be turned, cut the screw's head off, and put it in a drill chuck.
  • Tool the workpiece gently using very coarse sandpaper or an angle grinder & grit disc
  • Only good for little items.

Dust Catcher

An envelope stuck to the wall catches drilling dust

Card Tools

Printable paper or card tools:

Water Level

  • Pipe filled with water: water settles to same level at both ends
  • Any pipe can be used as a water level, eg hosepipe.
  • Clear pipe shoud be used, but it is possible to do it with opaque pipe too.

Plumb bob

Hanging a weight on a string only works correctly if the weight hangs symmetrically.

A4 Ruler

A ruler can be made out of a sheet of A4 paper. Best of all, it can be made on the spur of the moment anywhere, with no tools needed.

A4 is 210 x 297mm. This is 8.4"x 12".

  • Fold the paper in half and quarter in each direction.
  • Down the side the folds are at 3", 6", 9"
  • Across the top the folds are at 2", 4", 6" (or to be more precise, 2.1", 4.2", 6.3").
  • Halfway pen marks can be added by eye to give a mark every approx 1".
  • If you snip off (or fold over) a half inch before folding, the horizontal inches will be fairly accurate too.

Hand Ruler

Know your hand span. You now have a built in ruler.

Wood Ruler

Mark a piece of scrap wood in units of choice. Any item of known size can be used to get distance markings in the right place.

Screw ruler

If you know the size of the screw, you can use it to measure out small distances.

Kitchen Knife Saw

Big frozen meat cutting knives just about saw wood, and are usable for very short cuts.

Screwdriver saw

To cut a strip where a rough end is acceptable, whack the screwdriver in a few places along the cut line, and snap the wood. Quick & dirty.

Wood Drill

for wood & and other soft materials

  • Use a screw, turning it backwards with an electric screwdriver. Push firmly
  • Use a nail, hammer in and remove.
  • Use a screw or cuphook, screw in and remove
  • A little screwdriver bit makes a barely usable drill bit for one hole. Requires a fair bit of force to work, but may be less work than going somewhere when you forgot the right bit.

Masonry Drill

  • A cold chisel makes a lousy large masonry drill, but it does work. Rotate it a bit between each hammer blow, and test your patience. Adequate for one hole in soft masonry.
  • A screwdriver will drill aerated concrete blocks & soft bricks.
  • Even cutlery can be used on breeze blocks.


  • For aerated concrete & soft brick:
  1. Take steel tube, such as scaffold pole.
  2. Cut rough teeth on the end - shape and accuracy don't matter much.
  3. Hammer once, rotate a bit, repeat till done.


Knife. Make 4 cuts to remove the material.

Floor brush

  • Just grab a fistful of plant material. Almost anything with stalks will work as a temporary brush.

9v Battery Tester

  • Tongue. Apply battery to tongue.
  • Tongue is senitive to voltages over the 6v-10v range
  • Tongue FSD is under 12v, never test batteries of above 9v
  • Tongues are NOT rated for supplies connected to the mains, such as wallwarts.


  • People do make ladders from new wood or leftovers
  • They're very cheap & quick to make
  • Multisection ladders & multifunction ladder sets can be made this way at a tenth the price of a BS approved ladder.


  • A simple design or construction oversight can cause very serious injury, so I wouldn't be happy to recommend making one.


Half inch chipboard

Offcuts are common in skips. Not normally worth chasing, but if things are that tight its the one material you will regularly see in skips down south. Not so up north.



  • Matches - versatile, strong grip. Cram hole full of matches, tapping the last one in with a hammer. Insert screw, remove it, and pack more matches in. Now its ready.
  • Twig, & insert a match down the middle. Lousy plugs
  • Scraps of any slightly flexible plastic or wood, eg from kitchen bin
  • For bigger holes, fill hole with sawdust & pva and screw in once set


  • Plentiful in skips
  • Offcuts from DIY sheds


Many free additives can be used in mortar to reduce material cost. See Mortar Mixes

There are also some alternatives to cement mortar, such as:

Tyre Inner Tubes

can be cut & used as:

  • clamps or bundle ties
  • hinges
  • springs

Expanded polystyrene

  • Insulation
  • Stuffing beanbags
  • Use to make ultralight insulating polystyrene-concrete blocks


  • Most types of cloth can make curtains.
  • Natural fabrics can be bleached if ugly, and dyed with the few very low cost dyes available.
  • Used clothes yield cloth patches for applique, especially velvet, satin etc


  • A small strip of plasterboard makes chalk for marking (blackboard chalk is gypsum rather than chalk).
  • Crushed plasterboard can often be substituted for chalk dust, though rarely worth it.

Wallpaper Paste

  • Boiled flour & water
  • Adding alum makes it storable.
  • Not for cold damp locations where it may moulder


Lots of things can be used as effective fillers.

  • Lime & chalk
  • Lime & sand
  • Lime & mud
  • Paper, flour, water & alum, boiled
  • Toilet paper & glue
  • Sawdust & (preferably diluted) glue
  • Ground rice & water
    • dryish mix for a coarse bulk fill
    • wetter mix for a fine finish
  • Rice pudding
    • Rinse off the liquid, shake all water off, mash, add a dry filler.
  • Glue & earth
  • Glue & shredded paper

Sand can be incorporated into any filler to improve dimensional stability, but it makes it unsmoothable, so ok for bulk fill but not smooth surface filling.


  • Sheet Cardboard. Large sheets are available from many shops
  • 1" - 2" deep card boxes, eg biscuit or dry catfood boxes
    • Filling the boxes with dry leaves increases insulation value
  • Airbags from packaged goods can insulate around hot water tanks
  • Cardboard faced with foil is used behind radiators on external walls to reduce losses
  • Flammable insulation such as cardboard should be fireproofed.
  • Straw works, but its uses are restricted by its susceptibility to both water & fire. It can be fireproofed with borax or plaster.
  • See Insulation for more information.


Glass cleaner

  • Diluted vinegar.

Cistern Diaphragm

  • Vitalite margarine round tub lid, or similar.
  • These lids are thicker than the usual small marge tubs.

Roofing Felt

For a small temporary patch only. Apply a thick coat of gloss paint to the area, apply some synthetic fibre cloth, and paint all over the cloth.

Filler can be added to the paint when needed on a steep roof.


  • For glazing or filling wood.
  • Mix a very little household gloss paint with chalk powder or lime.
  • This needs to be a very stiff mix to avoid it slumping


  • Vinegar
  • Scrap battery acid
  • syrup from tinned fruit
  • tomato juice from tins

Putty Thinners

When linseed putty has become too stiff:

  • Linseed oil is the traditional thinner
  • Paraffin & white spirit can also be used. Its easy to add too much though, a drop or two is often plenty.
  • A few drops of water also works with linseed putty, despite the fact that linseed putty is oil based.


Broken tiles can be broken down further and used as mosaic tiles. See Low cost tiling

See Also

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