Expired sealants and caulking: Check them like eggs.

caulking gun

We don’t think to look, but sealants (caulking) do expire so check the date before you buy.  Most companies will put an expiry date on the sealant itself.  When buying a loaf of bread or eggs, usually you can push the date a little if need be, but I don’t advise that with sealants or construction adhesives, especially with silicone.  Old silicone has the tendency of not curing properly.  What happens is after you apply the silicone, it is still “wet” and never cures.  Save yourself some trouble and dispose of old sealants. Usually the sealants are good for about 12 months or so.   Some other less expensive sealants like acrylic (alex plus is a good example) have a similar shelf life, however from my experience, you can push it a little longer if you expect little movement in your application as the acrylic tends to set (dry out) rather than stay wet as with silicone.

Buildingology lessons learned

  • Check the expiry date of all sealants
  • Don’t use expired sealants, or you will end up having to clean it up.

Drill driver bits: Robertson (Square shape), Phillips (Cross shape), and Slot (flat head)

I want to start off by saying that this is not a driver bit manufacturer comparision article.  I am not interested in whose bit is best, whether it’s a Bosch, Dewalt, Makita or some other manufacturer.  Rather this is an article to show you how to identify what a good bit looks like.

Continuously replacing poor quality inexpensive drill bits can ongoing battle that never ends.  If you are fastening (driving) a screw with a cordless drill with a poor quality bit, you will notice your Robertson or Phillips bit drive damaging the screws making it harder to drive the next screw.  Sometimes the screws damage the bit and sometimes the other way around.  It is very difficult to work with a bit that is damaged.  If by chance, you are using an impact driver instead of a cordless drill, the problem is exacerbated big time, as the impact driver “hammers” the bit rather than providing a continual push (turn) like a cordless drill.  Without going into metallurgy on why cheap drill bits suck, take my word that it wastes more time than it is worth.  Nothing is worse than putting together an Ikea desk with odd screw sizes, and your cheap drill bit damages the oddball sized screw which can’t be replaced by your local big box store. (They do have a wide selection of screws, but not all metric sizes, threads are carried).

If you like, you can buy a more expensive pivot holder (I have the yellow dewalt one in the featured picture).  Most manufacturers make pivot holders.  A pivot holder allows you to change out tiny 1/2″ long bits in and out of the holder (if you go through them quickly), and potentially saving you some money.  I pivot holders are good if you are driving alot of screws in a very short time, as you can replay the tips only which works well.

Using the pivot holder and replacing tips are most useful also when removing old screws from decking that are sometimes rusted and/or in hard to reach areas and/or the screws are damaged themselves, it is very helpful to have a bit that has a perfect shape.   New bits can help provide that perfect shape which only lasts for only a handful of screws if it is of poor quality.  I don’t like that throw away mentality, but sometimes there is no other choice.  If the bit is not properly seated in the screw, the process can destroy even the best impact resistant bits if you are not careful.  Sometimes sacrificing one cheap bit to remove a screw is worth it.

Stop buying these “40 piece bit set for only $5” deals at your local big box.  When a drill bit gets damaged, it is useless.  If you say, “well I have 39 more bits to go”, fine, I will not argue with that lifestyle.  Remember the difficulty is not just the bits being damaged, but all of the metal filings that damage the screws as well.  Honestly, if a big box store offered me a no name 40 piece bit set for free, I would not take it.

How to easily identify a good drill bit.

You will notice that the cheap bit is a six sided hexagonal shape from tip to tip.  Good quality bits  always have a round shape in the middle to the tip.  If you are driving screws in a tight corner, the six sided bit can damage wood easily by the rotating hexagonal shank shaped section.

Section of wood damged by drill bit
The six sided bit dented the wood. I only used softwood rather than a finished stained hardwood for the example, because I don’t want to ruin any of my finishes!


Round sections don’t damage your work like six sided bits do.  The roundness of the bit is not the only reason why it is good, it is just a tell.  A good manufacturer who cares about the quality of their bits will spend the extra money to tool them correctly.   For those Canadians out there who use Robertson bits, bits labeled  as “square” rather than “Robertson” are not the same.  The Robertson bit is square shaped, but it is also tapered unlike the “square ” bit, making it easier to unseat the bit.  Square bits sometimes get stuck to the screw, and I also find that the corners wear down faster.  The Robertson screw patent is now more than 100 years old and should be public domain meaning anyone can make it if they so please.  I usually try to not purchase “square” bits..  The Robertson screw is a neat piece of Canadiana.  Here is a neat video on the history of the screw.

Just a small list of my good bit experiences.

Milwaukee shockwave, Metabo, Vega, Dewalt “impact ready” for ruggedness.  The Dewalt standard size (2″ long) non-pivot holder impact ready bits are the only manufacturer of this group that are not round.  Why?  I couldn’t tell you.

There are many other great manufacturers out there.  Marketing today will usually tout their best bits as compatible with impact drivers.  Not all impact compatible bits brands are good, so do your research.

Buildingology lessons learned

  • Bits that have a round shank are more forgiving with mistakes than their six sided counterparts if your bit is driving very close to finished wood.
  • Bits labelled “square” should be avoided.  Use Robertson instead because of the tapered head.
  • Impact driver compatibility is a good indication of a quality bit.  If you buy these, stick to well known brands, and you should be fine, but they are a little more costly.  Impact driver bits use a different type of metal, and the dead giveaway is that they have a black colour on the tip.  The Milwaukee shockwave in the featured picture of this article (top left) is one example of a “black coloured tip”
  • Price is a good indicator most of the time.  Only some very well respected brands will sell their lower tier bits at higher prices.  A good single drill bit will cost from $2 to $4 (rather than $0.25 for a cheap bits).
  • Most well known brands make bits that are good enough for the homeowner.  Some of the lesser known brands (metabo, vega, many others) don’t necessarily advertise impact driver compatibility, so ask your clerk at the hardware store about the quality, and he should be able to tell you.



Tool Tips for Homeowners

I research tools and products for specific projects on a regular basis.  The category “Tool tips for homeowners” is devoted to providing tips before purchasing and for the use of various tools.

I find that much of the information available on the internet fails to distinguish what is best for the homeowner and what is best for the contractor regarding tools.  It is important to know when a homeowner needs to buy professional grade stuff to get the job done right. I am a believer in buying quality serviceable tools, but sometimes less expensive tools are preferred to get the job done.

Tip #1. “Contractor grade” sucks.  “Professional grade” is better

Know the difference between the marketing terms “Contractor grade” tools and supplies and “Professional grade”.    Yes it is just a marketing label, but I find for the most part there is quite a difference in meanings between these two.   Products with the “professional grade” stamp on it are geared towards a brand’s higher end product, which is true sometimes.  It may sound silly, but I find items with “Contractor grade” stamped on them are usually made with the intention of providing the bare minimum requirements of whatever it is you plan to do, and more often than not, I regret my purchase because of poor performance form that product…kinda like some contractors are.  I have learned my lesson, unless I know what the product is capable of before I buy it, I never buy anything with  the “contractor grade” stamp on it.

Tip #2 When to use cheap paint brushes

When using Alkyd paints (oil based), the cleanup involved is very messy.  Mineral spirits  are required to clean your brushes.  I am not going to explain the whole process, but that stuff is nasty, and extremely unfriendly to the environment.  After the brushes are cleaned you have to “air out” your brush, letting the mineral spirits evaporate.  You also have to store the wasted mineral spirits in a container for future disposal. You can’t pour it down the drain or throw it in the garbage.

So if you have to use alkyd paints, for smaller sized jobs like painting a bench vise or your metal shed, it is a good idea to use foam brushes or cheap china bristle brushes.  When you are finished painting, throw the brush in a glass jar (open lid) and let the paint ruin those cheap brushes.  After a couple of days, it will harden up.  When you consider the environmental factor, it is probably the better choice rather than using mineral spirits with the possibility of spillage, and the future disposal issue IMO.

As an aside, latex or acrylic paints cannot be substituted for some alkyd paint applications.  You can’t use those paints on metal.  It simply does not adhere properly.   I don’t care if the paint can says “exterior” on the paint can.  It’s not a matter of latex not lasting as long, it is more that those paints can’t perform all of the necessary painting applications we need as homeowners such as painting my old bench vise (in the above picture).   Alkyd holds up better to physical wear, tear and UV light, and I hope they are replaced with more environmentally friendly products in the coming future, but I will not hold my breath for them.

Buildingology lessons learned

  • Be wary of “contractor grade” products
  • Disposable paint brushes are good choice if the type of paint you use requires a messy cleanup