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Sneaky uses for everyday things

You don’t have to be a secret agent to create and use unique gadgets. Anyone can learn a few simple tricks in minutes, using nothing but everyday items that are readily available.

Author Cy Tymony was a Boy Scout in Chicago, Ill., and he says he never forgot his Scout training in resourcefulness. Now, you can put his training to use. Just remember: Sometimes you have to be sneaky.


After a long hike, a hard workout or a long game, your muscles might ache. When they do, an icy gel pack can relieve the pain and swelling. Gel packs work to reduce swelling because they can be fitted around joints to cool them thoroughly. Save money by making your own version—a slushy pack.

What You’ll Need:

• Water
• Rubbing alcohol
• Watertight freezer bag, typically 6-1⁄2 inches x 5-7⁄8 inches


What You’ll Do:

Add 1-1⁄2 cups water and 1⁄2 cup rubbing alcohol to the plastic bag and seal it. Be sure the bag is not overfilled. Place the bag in the freezer for three hours. The fluid inside will not freeze solid. Instead, the alcohol keeps the water flexible and slushy. When needed, remove the bag from the freezer and apply it to the swollen area. To prevent frostbite or cold burns, place a towel or cloth between the plastic and the skin. Once you’re done, place the slushy pack back in the freezer for future use.


toycar2.jpgHow cool would it be to have a power door opener as seen in science-fiction and spy movies? This project will show you how to use a toy car to do the trick. A small wire-controlled car has enough power to push and pull a typical room door back and forth if you know the super-sneaky way to install it.

What You’ll Need:

• Wire-controlled toy car (not radio controlled, for better battery life)
• Velcro fastening tape, adhesive backed
• Screwdriver
• Pliers

toycar31.jpgWhat You’ll Do:

First, remove the body shell from the toy car with a screwdriver. Then remove the front wheel and axle.

Now, using the fastening tape, attach the car near the bottom end of the door. Using the remote control, see if it can push the door open or closed. If not, reposition the car for more traction. When you find the proper position, you will be able either to move the door with your hand or let the car do it.


toycar4.jpgOptionally, you can break off the entire front part of the chassis so that it takes up less space and cover it with materials for a more appealing look. Mount the remote control as desired.


Forget X-ray vision, heat vision and microscopic vision. In the real world, what counts is “see-behind” vision.

What You’ll Need:

• Small mirror or reflective material, about 1-1⁄2-inch square
• Duct tape
• Large paper clipsee-behind1.jpg

What You’ll Do:

Bend the large paper clip into the shape shown above and tape it tightly to the small mirror. If the edges of the mirror are sharp, tape them carefully. Then attach the mirror to a cap or eyeglasses with the other end of the clip. Note: To improve clarity, adjust the position of the mirror by bending the paper clip. You can use this sneaky vision device three ways: carry it in your hand, attach it to a cap or clip it to eyeglasses. Now you’re ready to use your see-behind vision for safety and fun.


Most experienced Scouts know how to start a fire without a lighter or matches. Do you? When lost in the wilderness, being able to make a fire can be a lifesaver, both to signal your location and to use for warmth and cooking. Here are five ways to start a small fire in an emergency.

Before you attempt to start a fire, you must have tinder and kindling materials available and understand how to use them. Many people fail to start fires even when they have good matches! A fire is built in stages. You first need to cause a small spark to ignite your tinder, small dry items like tissue paper, dead grass, twigs, leaves, lint or even paper money. Blow on the tinder carefully, so it stays lit and grows into a larger fire. Then carefully add kindling—sticks, branches or thick paper—to keep the fire going. Once the kindling is burning, you can add larger logs or other fuel.

fire_plow.jpgMETHOD 1: MAKE A FIRE PLOW

What You’ll Need:

• Hard stick with a blunted tip
• Flat piece of wood
• Tinder
• Kindling
• Knife or sharp-edged rock

What You’ll Do:

Using the knife or sharp rock, scratch a straight indentation in the center of the flat piece of wood about the same width as the blunt stick. Arrange the tinder so air can easily circulate, and set it at the foot of the piece of wood. Then, in a kneeling position, hold the flat piece of wood between your knees at an angle and move the stick rapidly back and forth in the indentation until friction ignites the fibers of tinder at the base. Mix in more tinder material and fan the smoke until a small fire starts. To keep the fire going, carefully add kindling material.


spark_generation.jpgMETHOD 2: SPARK GENERATION

What You’ll Need:

• Knife or steel
• Sharp-edged rocks
• Tinder
• Kindling

What You’ll Do:

Use this method with very dry tinder material in a secluded, non-windy environment. Depending on what items are available, strike two rocks together to create a small spark close to tinder material. If a spark catches the tinder, you will see a glow. Carefully blow on it so it turns into a small flame. Fan the material until it starts to smoke and burn. If you have an item made of steel, like a knife, scrape it against various rocks until a spark appears.



If it’s bright and sunny, it’s possible to use a lens to focus the heat of the sun on tinder material and start a fire.

What You’ll Need:

• Lens (from eyeglasses—reading glasses only, a magnifying glass, binoculars or telescope)
• Tinder
• Kindling

What You’ll Do:

With plenty of dry tinder available, aim the lens at it until it starts to smoke. Have other tinder material available to keep the fire going. When the tinder begins to burn, add kindling material.



What You’ll Need:

• A reflector from a flashlight or headlight
• Tinder
• Kindling

What You’ll Do:

Position the tinder material in or in front of the reflector for maximum absorption of the sun’s rays. With plenty of sunshine available overhead, and a little luck, the tinder material will get hot enough to catch fire.



When positioned properly, water can act as a lens and focus enough of the sun’s heat to ignite tinder.

What You’ll Need:

• Water
• Jar or bottle
• Tinder
• Kindling

What You’ll Do:

Pour about two teaspoons of water into a clear jar or bottle. Tilt the jar so the water rests in a corner at the bottom and position it so the sun’s rays shine through the water onto the tinder and ignite it.


If you’re ever lost, you’ll find a compass is a crucial tool. When markers or trails are nonexistent, a compass can keep you pointed in the right direction to get you back to a line of reference. A compass indicates Earth’s magnetic north and south poles. This project describes three ways of making one with things around you. For each method, you will need:

• Needle (or twist-tie, staple, steel baling wire or paper clip)
• Small bowl, cup or other non-magnetic container
• Water
• Leaf or blade of grass


What You’ll Need:

• Small magnet from a radio or car stereo speakermagnet.jpg

What You’ll Do:

Take the needle and stroke it in one direction with the small magnet, at least 50 times. This will magnetize the needle so it will be attracted to Earth’s north and south magnetic poles. Fill a bowl or cup with water. Place a small blade of grass or any small article that floats on the surface of the water. Place the needle on the blade of grass and watch it eventually turn in one direction. Mark one end of the needle so that magnetic north is determined.



What Else You’ll Need:

• Silk or synthetic fabric from a neckerchief, tie, scarf or other garment

silky.jpgWhat You’ll Do:

Stroke the needle in one direction with the silk material. This will create a static charge in the metal, but it will take many more strokes to magnetize it. Stroke at least 300 times. Once floated on a leaf in the bowl as in Method 1, the needle should be magnetized enough to be attracted to Earth’s north and south magnetic poles. You may have to remagnetize the sneaky compass needle occasionally.



What You’ll Need:

• Batterybattery2.jpg

What You’ll Do:

When electricity flows through a wire, it creates a magnetic field. If a small piece of metal, like a staple, is placed in a coil of wire, it will become magnetized. Wrap a small length of wire around a staple or paper clip and connect its ends to a flashlight battery. If the wire is not insulated, wrap the staple with paper or a leaf and then wrap the wire around it. When you connect the wire to the battery in this manner, you are creating a short circuit — an electrical circuit with no current—draining load on it. This will cause the wire to heat quickly, so connect the wire ends to the battery only for short four-second intervals. Do this 15 times.

battery21.jpgPlace the staple on a floating item in a bowl of water, and it will eventually turn in one direction. Mark one end of the staple to determine magnetic north.


If you’re stranded without a magnetic compass or the means to make one, all is not lost. Even without a compass, there are several ways to find directions in desolate areas. Here are two.road1.jpg


The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. Use this fact to find north and south with a watch.

What You’ll Need:

• Standard analog watch (with hands, not a digital watch)
• Clear day in which you can see the sun

What You’ll Do:

If you are in the Northern Hemisphere (north of the equator), point the hour hand of the watch in the direction of the sun. Midway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock will be south.



What You’ll Need:road2.jpg

• A clear evening in which stars can be viewed

What You’ll Do:

In the Northern Hemisphere, locate the Big Dipper constellation. Follow the direction of the two stars that make up the front of the dipper to the North Star. (It is about four times the distance between the two stars that make up the front of the dipper.) Then follow the path of the North Star down to the ground. This direction is north.


road3.jpgIn the Southern Hemisphere, locate the Southern Cross constellation (see Figure 3). Notice the two stars below the cross. Imagine two lines extending at right angles, one from a point midway between the two stars and the other from the cross, to see where they intersect. Follow this path down to the ground. This direction is due south.

50 Comments on Sneaky uses for everyday things

  1. Why not use a non-wired remote-control? You could open the door from farther away!!!

  2. timittordopode // June 18, 2007 at 2:07 pm // Reply

    play gameboy

  3. Old Scout 1960 era // June 17, 2007 at 12:25 am // Reply

    Fire Making:

    1. Philipine Fire Saw. Take a two foot (60 CM) long, two inch (5 CM) diameter piece of bamboo, and split it in half lengthwise. Cut a notch across one piece of the bamboo. Split the other piece of bamboo into two pieces lengthwise. Place tinder under the notch. Saw back and forth in the notch with the thinner piece of bamboo.

    2. New Guinea fire piston: Details may be found in “Bushcraft” by Richard H. Graves.

    3. Fire by Lens or Mirror: A four inch (10 CM) or larger should be used for best results. Try adding a small Fresnel Lens reading magnifier to your kit for such purposes. Radio Shack used to sell a Solar Cigarette lighter. See if you can find one on EBay. (Atomic Bomb designer and engineer Dr. Theodore Taylor once lit a cigarette with an old automobile headlight, a piece of wire to hold the cigarette and the heat flash of an open air atom bomb test. (“The Curve of Binding Energy” by John McPhee.)

    4. Bradford Angier and the Herters mentioned starting a fire by spreading a dry rag over the muzzle of a gun, pointing it upwards, firing a shot through the rag and fanning the smoldering rag into flames. This does not work very well, but may have worked better in the days of black powder, which produced more muzzle flame than smokeless powder does.

    5. Some Esquimos would start a fire by holding a piece of wood down with their foot over the tinder, while sawing a leather thong back and forth between hands.

    If you are Jewish (especially Orthodox Jewish) and want to astonish your Rabbi, you might want to practice these low tech fire starting methods and give your religion (Bar Mitzba) class a demonstration of how hard it was to start a fire 2000 years ago and why the Pentaluc forbided making fire on the Sabath. Note how this lead to Boston Baked Beans and New England Boiled Dinners and hay box slow cookers. ( Book to read for hay box construction:”Cache Lake Country” by John J. Rolands.) (Nope, I’m a gentile, a member of the Goyem.)

  4. the fire-making metheds were awsome, I can’t wait to try them out!!! And you really

    can make a compass out of a watch.

  5. I liked the fire plow.

  6. yackityyackerwhoyacks // June 10, 2007 at 7:18 pm // Reply

    That is so amazing! It makes me want to laugh.

    ~The yackityyackerwhoyacks

  7. Halo3 Fanboy // June 9, 2007 at 4:55 pm // Reply

    the sites pretty good but i didn’t find what i need ^_ ^

  8. They are the best thing on earth.

  9. some look harder to do than others but they all look creative and they will hopefully work when we try it.

  10. Old Scout 1960 era // June 5, 2007 at 11:38 pm // Reply

    Hot packs and cold packs:

    Why not use a sack of frozen corn or peas as a cold pack? Then re-freeze it.

    On one occasion I Microwaved a frozen burrito, used it as a hot pack, and then ate it.

  11. Old Scout 1960 era // June 5, 2007 at 11:32 pm // Reply

    Finding directions from the moon:

    The curve of the crescent moon always points at the sun. (Crutch: Diana’s Bow (the moon) is always shooting an arrow at the sun.) At sunset the waxing (growing) crescent moon points at the setting sun. Before sunrise the waning (shrinking) crescent moon points at the rising sun. This will work even on nights when you can not see stars.

  12. awesome. cool. love it. lol.

    bob is awesome. yo

  13. agent doolin, C.I.A. // June 5, 2007 at 1:52 pm // Reply

    good stuff!

  14. Man vs. Wild Dude // June 5, 2007 at 12:29 pm // Reply

    Cool!! Will use some of these!!!!!!!



    ~Man vs. Wild Guy (Bear)

  15. old crappy fisherman // June 3, 2007 at 3:03 pm // Reply

    i ate your book

  16. Mitsurugi // May 31, 2007 at 4:30 pm // Reply

    The jell pack one will come in very handy for after a soccer game. Thanks.

  17. Deathknight // May 31, 2007 at 12:38 am // Reply

    Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll think about building one for my spy club. 🙂

  18. Nathaniel // May 30, 2007 at 5:26 pm // Reply


  19. These suggestions/ideas are very useful. I’ll keep them in mind. THanks again for your awesome website, 🙂


  20. Awesome!

  21. I once made a clothes hanger strip line from ROKENBOK streang, from the stares to the closet door. I got the string through spaceses between my log stairs. Then opened the door [that was convenantlyat the bottom of the stairs] roled up the other end of the string and stuck it in lock hole. After I finished with that, I tightened the string then let it down though an other space in the stairs. I then got to test my idea out. Make sure the hanger is through the gap and hanging on the string. I tied the rest of the string around a stair [after I got it out of the gap I put it in] . Definition- ROKENBOK is a german building sistum you can drive little vehicles on.

  22. BL your awsome!

  23. I did the automatic door thing and my youth pastor stood there and kept opening and closing it over and over again.

  24. Wow! That’s cool. People can come up with some neat things. 🙂

  25. agent doolin, C.I.A. // May 18, 2007 at 1:33 pm // Reply

    Cool gadgets!

  26. I like the automatic door opener!

  27. it is great I can spy on my friends and family now Thanks

  28. Neat!

  29. Super !

  30. awsome

  31. just a bit pointless

  32. I didn’t know BL posted comments on their own comment page. 🙂

  33. // May 6, 2007 at 12:06 pm // Reply

    Guys: You’re right, the book we excerpted this article from IS cool. It’s called “Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things,” by Cy Tymony. Published by Andrews McMeel in 2003. Look for it, and its newer version, “Sneakier Uses for Everyday Things,” at your local bookstore or online booksellers. Just search for the author’s name and you’ll find it.

  34. NEAT!!!!!!!!!!!

  35. asome tricks

  36. Samurai 武士 // May 5, 2007 at 10:41 am // Reply

    I want that book!!!! where do you get it?

  37. Invisible Dragon // May 5, 2007 at 8:17 am // Reply

    I should get the book you never know when It’ll come in handy

  38. 225 SAPULPA WILLIE // May 4, 2007 at 11:55 pm // Reply


  39. wowowwowowowowowow // May 4, 2007 at 5:03 pm // Reply


  40. Jimmy's mom // May 4, 2007 at 1:21 pm // Reply

    Jimmy have you cleaned your room yet? Get your nose outta that book!!!

  41. I know Boys Life is for Bot Scouts, BUT I LOVE THIS MAGAZINE AND EVERYTHING IN IT! Ecspecialy the jokes n comics…. 🙂

  42. Anonymous // May 3, 2007 at 9:07 pm // Reply

    i GOt it

  43. i have the book

  44. only someone as cool as NIVEK // May 3, 2007 at 7:51 pm // Reply

    freakishly awesome!!!!!!!!!!

  45. Does anyone else have the book???

  46. I’m just kidding I really do have the book

  47. I think I’ve got the book!!


  49. This book redice talks about is SOOO cool!!

  50. I have the book they took these things off! It’s called: Sneaky uses for every day things!! you can even make a window door alarm with a disposable camera that takes photo’s of anybody who enters the house!! So that when it’s full you can check to see if any burgaler broke in!!!

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