Welcome to Brighter Home Projects! In this series, we explore DIY home renovation, repair, and a variety of related projects by taking to heart this simple idea: you are capable of more than you realize. Each installment focuses on home improvement projects, information, and advice aimed growing both your skill set and your self-confidence.
When you venture into the wilds of the Do-It-Yourself world, you may feel as though you’re stepping out onto a tightrope without a safety net (because in essence you are), but that doesn’t mean you can’t stack some of the odds in your favor. Here are a few simple do’s and don’ts that just might save you a little trouble along the way.
1) Switch to Metric
English (also known as Imperial) units are the dominant units of measurement in the United States, but this doesn’t mean you’re married to them. When taking on a DIY project, you’re in control of the units you use, so I recommend you opt for the Metric system. All of the units are divisible by 10 (genius, in my opinion), which makes conversion easy and reduces the likelihood of errors.
2) Practice First
Before trying something new – especially when cutting odd shapes or attempting a repair – practice the basic techniques on scrap materials first. Unless you’ve done it (several times) before, do not rush in and make a mistake on the project itself. If you don’t have scrap materials laying around, make sure to get some.
3) Get Scrap Materials
Notice a theme here? Save your wood scraps, left over drywall, large pieces of cardboard, and other detritus from other projects. If you’re in need of scrap, or even raw materials to work with, take a look around your neighborhood on bulk trash days or check out the free section of Craigslist. Having scrap not only saves you money when you need to make small repairs, it’s also great to have around for that all-important practice I just mentioned.
4) Get Used to Your Tools
Trust me on this! Don’t rush into using your new power tool and don’t break it in on a project, especially on with high power tools. Not only can you irrevocably screw up your project by using a tool that you’re not familiar with, you can also end up with some pretty gnarly wounds. I’ve learned this through experience.
Sure, your new 15 amp or 18 volt gadget is calling out to you, but read the manual first. And if you think reading the manual feels silly, try explaining to your spouse why you just lost a quarter inch of skin from your finger. And be sure practice on that aforementioned scrap material so you don’t end up destroying what you’re trying to fix.
5) Use Protective Equipment
Speaking of feeling silly, sometimes people opt not to wear gloves, eye protection, ear protection, or breathing masks because they “get in the way” or “don’t look cool.” I’m here to tell you to do it anyway. Getting wood chips in your eyes from a circular saw or metal shards in your fingers when using a reciprocating saw is a real downer, not to mention the long term effects of dust in your lungs.
6) Buy Inspection Tools
While it may seem like an unnecessary expense, buy some inspection tools. This includes:
- A stud finder (one that also identifies wires behind walls)
- A digital inspection scope
- A non-contact voltage tester (to test for live wires)
- An outlet tester
- A good multimeter
Having situational awareness is a major contributor to success, whether you’re trying to diagnose a problem or doing the actual work.
7) Measure. Measure! MEASURE!
The old adage of “Measure twice, cut once” is wrong. Here’s a much better idea (though it doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue as easily):
Draw up a plan, measure twice, revise the plan, measure at least once more, and then cut!
Further to the point, if you’re still using English/Imperial units (Didn’t you read Tip #1?), make sure you’re not making a substitution error – for example, using 1/16” when you meant to use 1/8”.
8) Know When to Say When
No matter how much it may hurt your pride, there will come those projects when you need to not only ask for help, but you’ll need to call a professional. Calling a pro may feel like you’re giving up, but the reality is that the professionals spend years gaining skills and knowledge in a specific field you simply do not have. Calling a professional when you’re in over your head, or when you know that project is simply out of your comfort zone, is not a cop out – it’s a sign of maturity.
There are millions of great tips and suggestions for a successful DIY home career, so submit your favorite do’s and don’ts in the comments section. Share your hard earned wisdom with the world!
Stay tuned for our next installment of Brighter Home Projects. We’re going to start building things soon!