I'm trying to get my mechanical hubris back after yesterday's debacle, so I thought I'd dig back through the old shop bag of tricks for a post.
Today's tip is the legendary Homemade Poker/Scraper Tool. I can't take full credit for it since I got it from Paul, my head mechanic when I wrenched in Iowa City. Paul was a hidden legend -- nothing mechanical seemed to faze him, from epicyclic hub overhauls to adding grease fittings to the ski-tuning equipment. He was also doing off-road single-speeding back in the mid-90s before it had dawned on anyone else. The guy could shred all of us on a junked-out warranty frame with one cog and a homemade chain tensioner.
The poker/scraper is one of the simplest homebrewed tools ever. One: Find a broken old spoke. Two: Cut off the elbow (assuming it's not already gone). Three: Lay one end on a flat metal surface and whang on it with a big hammer until a couple inches have been flattened. Four: Sharpen the other end to a point (a bench grinder is the quick way, but a Dremel or file will do the trick too). If you're feeling extra fancy, bend the resulting tool until it has a little loop in the middle for pegboard hanging... or you can just store it by poking it into a pegboard hole.
It seems simple to the point of useless, but you'd be surprised how often a flattened and/or sharpened hunk of spoke can help out while wrenching. The poking end is great for opening up the liner in a freshly-cut piece of brake or derailleur cable housing. The scraping end can get gunk out from between cassette cogs (proceed with caution, however, as the poking end can bite). Dirt clogging up your cleat bolts? Shard of glass stuck in a tire casing? Need to toast a marshmallow for s'mores? Reach for the poker/scraper.
(Hubris sidenote: Today's 20-mile TTT -- Touring Time Trial -- was delightfully creak-free, so it would seem that yesterday's debacle paid off and the teflon plumber's tape performed as expected. Either that, or it was a coincidence and I accidentally tightened up the problem bolt while I was doing all that disassembly and assembly. Either way, I'll take it.)