Posts about frugal living. At RC Creative we love solving problems with intelligence, ingenuity, and raw materials other than money!

Rugged Stair Treads Using Butterfly Keys

Decorative Stair Treads Made From Cracked Oak with Butterfly Keys

What do you do if you have the perfect piece of lumber for a project, but it’s strength is compromised by a crack?  Or what if that crack is just what you’re  looking for in a natural or “worn” project, but the lumber must be stable for your project to function? Butterfly keys are the perfect solution!

Unfortunately this post is not about how to cut a butterfly key. That’s coming up later.  This post exists exclusively to gloat about my first project that incorporates a butterfly key: the steps leading into my master bathroom. The steps are made out of three 4/4 oak slabs I found covered with dust and dirt in my basement when I first moved into my house.  A few trips through the planer rendered some gorgeous red oak, but two of the three slabs had a pretty serious crack.

My first inclination was to cut out the compromised section and glue it back up, but then the idea occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to try out a woodworking technique I’ve been itching to try: butterfly keys.  A butterfly key (or bow-tie key) is a piece that’s basically just a piece of wood shaped like a bow-tie. If you want to be all geometrical about it, it’s two trapezoids that mirror each other.  The butterfly key is then inlayed into the primary workpiece, right across the crack you wish to secure.  The shape of the key locks the two sides of the crack in place and provides a pretty significant increase in stability for not a whole lot of work.

Or course the video above won’t show you how to do any of that.  I’m just gloating because I’m so thrilled with how my butterfly keys turned out.  But I will be doing a tutorial video on how to cut butterfly keys in the near future.

A bunch of fence pickets that I offered on Freecycle.

Giving Your Trash a Second Chance

Those of you that follow my website and my YouTube channel know I’m all about reuse: I save the scraps from my big woodworking projects to make little woodworking projects. I use my sawdust to mulch my garden and as bedding for my worm farm. I feed table scraps to my worms or throw them on my compost pile. Then I turn around and use my worm castings and compost to feed my garden. Basically I try to make my life as much as a closed ecosystem as I can and I produce very little trash. What little trash I do produce can almost entirely be recycled via my local single-stream recycling program.

Maximize Reuse By Thinking Beyond Your Own Necessities

So what about the stuff that doesn’t fit your own needs? What do you do when you have some item or materials that have absolutely no value to you but might be useful to another like-minded person with a different set of needs, projects, or priorities?

Now I’ll admit it: things that I want to get rid of that still has monetary value I’ll usually try to sell first. And why not? Living a life without money is at worst impossible, and at most completely impractical for the average person.

I’ve tried offering items to my friends and family, and that’s fine provided you limit the offerings to items like clothing, appliances, and furniture, but beyond that unless your friends are as nutty about reducing trash as I am, they might not respond, and might actually think you’re flat-out strange for wasting so much effort on keeping things out of the trash can.  I know mine do!

The CraigsList Option

You might try listing stuff on the free section of your local CraigsList, but I’ve had very little success with this. First of all my local CraigsList’s “Free Section” is where pallets and pianos go to die, and where people try to con you into cutting down trees they don’t want. In the past when I’ve listed things on CL’s free section I’ve received more spam and scams than legit replies, and those that did reply never showed up.


A bunch of fence pickets that I offered on Freecycle.

A bunch of fence pickets that I offered on Freecycle.

Fortunately I found out there is a pretty large like-minded community interested in giving and receiving free stuff. I started with Freecycle, which I think started off on Yahoo Groups. Basically it was a group, or a series of geographically dispersed groups of people who would post “Offers” and “Wants:” basically things they wanted to give away, and things they needed.

Unfortunately I never had much luck with Freecycle, mostly because I have issues with the website, which are still, apparently, ongoing, and group admins are quite picky about how you word your posts.

Fortunately a website came along that streamlined the entire process of using Freecycle: it’s called Trash Nothing. Trash Nothing is basically an interface to Freecycle that lets you easily post Offers and Wants in a way that isn’t going to upset a anal group moderator. It offers other cool features like integration with Facebook so your friends automatically see your offers, email notifications when a user posts an item, notifications when a user posts a specific type of items (I have notifications for “wood” and “books”), and they even have an iPhone app. When I’m working around the house and run into something that needs to go, I take the picture with my iPhone, and in 30 seconds I can have it posted to Trash Nothing.

Trash Nothing is fantastic for three reasons: the first is, obviously, it’s free. The second is that it’s members-only, and the third is that it’s moderates. So unlike CraigsList, spamming and scamming is minimal.


There’s another online resource that I’m keeping a close eye on called Earthineer. Earthineer is basically a social network for homesteaders, but it’s geared toward sharing information and resources, and less towards bitching about work and begging for Farmville cows. Earthineer is still pretty small and it might be hard to find a lot of folks in your area, but the people who are there are precisely the kind of folks that might be interested in giving, taking, or bartering for things you no longer need.

Glue applicators cut from wood scrap.

Making Glue Applicators with Scrap Wood

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Are you a woodworker? Are you (like me) too cheep to buy high-end glue brushes but also adverse to applying glue with your fingers like some sort of filthy macaroni artist toddler?  Well do I have just the project for you: glue applicators made out of wood scrap.

What you need is a piece of scrap 6″ long or longer in the direction of the grain. Don’t make your applicators by cross-cutting (cutting perpendicular to the grain), and don’t use MDF or plywood scrap either. These materials will be too brittle at the thickness we’ll be cutting to be useful.

I cut the applicator by clamping a block of wood to my band saw about 1/8″ away from and parallel to the blade then repeatedly running the scrap through until I have a handful of 1/8″ thick strips. I suppose you could do this on a table saw too, but cutting strips this thin between the blade and the fence of a table saw is asking for either trouble or injury.

Once you’ve cut all of your pieces vacuum, air spray, or wipe them clean so you don’t get saw dust in your glue when you go to use them.

Ode to Kirby

Kirby: Generation 2 Look at this picture.  What do you see?

Most people see a relic housekeeping past that belongs in an old folk’s home or museum.  This is a Kirby Generation 3.  It’s as old as I am, yet it’s outlived about a dozen other vacuums.

The Kirby was given to me by my mom and dad.  Not because they bought a better vacuum but because this veritable floor cleaning tank was just too heavy to carry up and down stairs.

That’s definitely the only downside to owning a Kirby: it’s heavy. When my ex girlfriend lived with me she hated it because of it’s weight, so for the upstairs we used her old bagless vacuum from her apartment.  That one choked on every cleaning, so her parents bought her a brand new bagless vacuum. I’d have to disassemble that one about every other time it was used because it would clog with pet hair.

Unless you run over something massive the Kirby doesn’t clog, but I have seen a penny get stuck in the roller just the right way to jam it.  You turn the vacuum off, dislodge the penny, and go back to business.

And despite the fact that it’s older than I am, you can still buy bags and other accessories you’ll need at a variety of online retailers.  Personally I still prefer vacuums with bags. The canisters on bagless vacuums are never as easy to empty and clean as they should be, and the filters quickly clog with fine dust  and rip or need replaced.

You might be asking yourself what I have to gain from promoting Kirby?  Well, they’re owned by Berkshire Hathaway now so I was hoping Warren Buffet might surprise me with some free company shares.  But other than that? Not a damn thing.  If you see one of these vacuums at a yard sale or auction I highly recommend picking it up.  It will outlast a dozen modern vacuums you might find at Walmart.

Here's the brush I started with. It's hard as a rock.

Cheapskate’s Guide to Reviving a Dead Paintbrush

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Good paintbrushes ain’t cheap, which is why you should wash them right when you’re finished using them.  But every once in a while laziness makes fools of us all, and we find ourselves with a good brush gone bad. This is the process that I use to bring a brush back from the dead.

1. Soak a Stiff Brush in Boiling Vinegar

If your brush is encased in dried paint or stain, never fear! You can use good old-fashioned white vinegar to loosen it up. You’ll probably be doing this in your kitchen, so make sure you have a fan in a window of otherwise ventilate your space as well as you can.

It’s probably best if you find an old pot or pan that you don’t plan on cooking in again since you’ll be removing some pretty nasty chemicals form your brushes.  Fill the pain with an inch or so of white vinegar and bring it to a boil.  Let the brush soak until it begins to loosen up, then begin to swish it until the dried material loosens up.  Eventually the bulk of gunk on your brush will flake off. Once the bristles of your brush bend freely in the pan, you’re done with this step.

2. Scrub with Wire Brush or Painter’s Comb

Now that your bristles are soft enough, begin scrubbing the brushes with a wire brush or painter’s comb parallel to the bristles. When there’s no chunky residue left, you’re finished with this step.

3. Soak in Brush Cleaner

Make sure you use some common sense and wear goggles and gloves when handling these cheminals. Put enough brush cleaner in a mason jar or metal bucket to submerge the bristles but not the metal band. Let it soak for a few minutes, then gently begin swishing the bristles so the liquid can soak in between them.  Eventually the bristles will regain the flexibility they had when the brush was new.

4. Comb the Brush

In a sink under warm water, use a painter’s comb to remove any remaining material from the bristles.  Make sure to get deep into the center of the brush.  The bristles will eventually regain their flexibility and original color.  Make sure to take your time on this step so that you remaining crud dries in your clean brush and ruins your next finish.

5. Spin Out the Water

Companies make tools to do this, but I find that if I keep on the gloves from the last steps and rub my palms together with the handle of the brush between them, I can spin it fast enough to shake the bulk of the water out.

6. Wrap Brush and Let it Dry

Finally, wrap the brush with a sheet of printer paper or newspaper and tape it shut. As the bristles dry they’ll dry straight.


Fixing a Broken Chalk Line

The clip from my chalk line fell off and disappeared, so I replaced it with what I had available: a tab from a soda can.

My MacGuyvered Chalk Line

As I gathered my tools to begin working on a built-in bookshelf, I found that the clip on the end of my Irwin Chalk Line was missing and the string itself was receded back into the reel.

Getting the string out is a no-brainer.  On most chalk reels you just remove a few screws from the back (make sure you’re holding it in such a way that the chalk doesn’t fall out), untangle the line, feed it through the mouth of the reel, and re-tighten the screws. But what do you do about a missing clip?

I searched the Internet and couldn’t find replacement clips, so I had to Macguyver a solution. What construction site/remodel doesn’t have a few beer or soda cans sitting around?  I snapped the tab off a can, bent the wider end into an “L” shape, and knotted my chalk line through the hole on the other side.  I’m not going to say it works just as good as the original clip, but it works well enough that I’m not going to replace my chalk line for a while.

Hey Rocky, Watch Me Pull a Shelf Out of an old Pallet

I’ve had this pallet sitting in my driveway for months, ever since the hardware store gave it to me a few months back when I came home with a metric crap-ton of Quickcrete in the back of my Civic.  It hasn’t served a purpose in months other than providing a certain pauvre blanc appeal that I try very hard to maintain (unfortunately I can’t afford cinder block yard art…. yet).

So today I decided to do something with the pallet. Just burn it you say?  If only the township would let me.  Fortunately I have far more elaborate and time consuming plans for this thing.

May I present to you, my Shallet… or Pelf… I’m really not sure what to call it. Anyway, it’s made from a pallet and it holds shit.

The good news is I’m very good at buying power tools. My DEWALT DW744X Table Saw was the workhorse of this project, outfitted with a dado set for cutting the grooves for the shelves. I used my DEWALT Finish Nailer to tack everything into place once I had it glued and clamped.

The bad news is, this is my first time building anything that required any sort of precision. Plus the fact that the parts I reclaimed from the pallet were irregular and warped to begin with, well… this shelf will never be accused of being perfect. But according to the country home magazines my mother reads, people apparently pay good money for stuff the looks old and folksy.  I might have a new career on my hands, people.

Anyway, enjoy! Apparently there are other people who have done equally creative and far more attractive things with their old pallets. Check those out too.

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Don’t Buy Disposable Swiffer Wipes: Use a Washcloth!

I found this excellent tip on /r/LifeProTips the other day: instead of purchasing the rather expensive Swiffer Refills, use a regular washcloth or rag instead.  They fit, the corners tuck snugly into those creepy Swiffer sphincters on the top of your mop, and oh yeah, you’ve probably got a dozen crap washclothes and rags sitting around, just waiting for something to do.

I tried a regular washcloth on my Swiffer mop as instructed by Reddit. Works Great!

A washcloth on a Swiffer vs. my doghair infested hardwood.

Does it work? You betcha. Another user on reddit suggested using a microfiber cloth and Endust to replace the disposable Swiffer Dry Mop refills. I haven’t tried it so I won’t vouch for it, but the damp washcloth picked up all sorts of magical treats on my floor as you can see in the image.