398 DIY Tips, Tricks & Techniques: Practical Advice for New Home Improvement Enthusiasts * Ian Anderson

Everything makes some noise, however small, so keep your ears open (is that even possible?) and really listen to stuff! Listen out for the ‘normal’ sounds your stuff makes when things are working okay. Knowing exactly how stuff should sound will make you more aware of new or unusual sounds. Treat any new sound as a warning, because inevitably it does mean there’s a problem. Remember each bump, creak, squeeeek, groan, tap, knock, squeal, and rattle means something. It means something’s changed and although change might be good for us, it’s terrible for most machines or physical things because it usually indicates a problem such as wear or even an impending failure.

Sometimes I really like to read something that isn’t fiction or fiction-related. This lovely book by Ian Anderson is a great gift for your practical people who like to have a hand in doing things on their own. With a great focus on safety, the book introduces people who never laid a hand on diy stuff on how to safely do so. As an enthusiast, I was happy to see that some of the things I’ve been doing were right (due to common sense and advice from other people) and was happy to learn a few new things.


Here are some of the tips I really enjoyed:

Touchy, feely stuff really works, and not just on your partner! BUT FIRST, think about what you’re going to touch, is it safe? I know it’s mostly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway, be especially careful around…

  • Electricity, even static or low volts (isolate or ground yourself). Hot things, elements, bulbs etc. (wait until cool).
  • Things that move or could potentially move (secure first).
  • Anything sharp and not just actual cutting blades etc.
  • Chemicals, including dry powders like cement, plaster etc.
  • Heavy or awkward objects or materials (support well).
  • Unstable, loose, or unsecured stuff.
  • Always tuck in and secure lose hair/clothing.
  • Angry or annoyed partners, because you didn’t fix that thing…

Good vibrations are not just for the beach boys, often the first inkling that something is about to fail, or break is a slight difference in the ‘feel’ or vibration. You might even notice a ‘missing’ feeling (as in misfiring or rapid on/off), or even a definite and distinct roughness in the running.

Always, always, always keep the brochures, guarantees and instructions that come with the stuff you buy. Especially keep any parts list or diagrams and exploded images as these become invaluable if you need to inside to make repairs. Keep them in a file or a ring binder with plastic inserts or pockets which are ideal for the little booklets many things come with.

Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely. Every little project will teach you a little more about what works or doesn’t work with each tool and material.

Practice until you can judge just how much force is enough for each tool and the task in hand. Too little and it won’t do the work, too much and the tool can slip as the force exceeds the grip of the tool, again especially important with cordless power screwdrivers (learn to judge what setting the safety clutch needs to be on, till it slips just right).

It’s essential the size of the hammer (thus force) matches the situation, i.e. small stuff = small hammer, bigger stuff needs, yup, you guessed it, a dirty great big hammer. Never use a large hammer lightly or a little hammer aggressively (you’ll look funny…).

Keep things clean; tape an open envelope beneath the hole on a wall or drill through a small plastic pot (aerosol top etc.) if the hole is on the ceiling to catch the dust, or best of all, simply hold a vacuum cleaner nozzle close by as you drill the hole.

The trick to avoiding DIY burnout during bigger projects, (or dare I say it, any boring bits), is to break the job into much smaller, more manageable tasks, (both physically and mentally). Don’t focus on the whole project. Focus instead on each small task, each step, each brick, each tile, or each coat of paint etc. At the end of each task look at it, saying ‘Wow that looks fantastic; I made a really good job of that.’ Then, move on to the next task and repeat. These small successes add up over time until one day it’s finished. Will Smith the actor once said, “don’t focus on the whole wall, focus on each brick, the wall will take care of itself”. Great advice.

Each day you plan to tackle a part of your project, it’s essential to choose a task that fits the time you have available. For example, if you only have 30 minutes one day, choose to do something that takes 30 minutes to finish. Don’t get 30 minutes into a job that’s going to take 4 hours to finish, because when you come back to it next time, you’ll waste precious minutes wondering where it was you’d got to. Save the 4-hour job for a day when you have the full 4 hours.

Producing great work comes from not compromising your craft…

  • It’s about following good working practices.
  • It’s about using the right fasteners or the right tool for the application.
  • It’s about not leaving something out because it’s inconvenient or because you want to finish quickly.
  • It means going back again and again, making small adjustments until it’s perfect.
  • Lastly, it’s having the resolve to stop, abandon that particular piece and start all over again, if that’s what it takes to get it right.

Drill a pilot hole in the timber you’re fastening into. Make it the same diameter as the screw shank (minus the threads) or a tiny bit less. This makes getting screws in easy and won’t split the workpiece.

Many sheet materials (think particleboard, chipboard, MDF and the like) often have a harder wearing surface and are softer in the middle. The tightest hold is when the screw head is exactly flush with the board top (where the board is hardest). Screw heads sunk deep into the softer middle part of chipboard for example, don’t hold nearly so well.

When wall plugs are too loose, (in poor or soft substrates like old crumbly bricks or blocks) glue them in place. Clean out the hole (important!), then using a ‘no-nails’ type tube adhesive, squirt a small amount as deep as you can get the nozzle into the hole. Then push in the wall plug and use something blunt to push the plug into the adhesive and down to the right depth. Wait 24 hours (I know, it’s a pain, but what can you do!) and then try again with the screw.

The Five Basics of Maintenance

  1. Keep stuff clean (dirt, grit, dust, and tired lube are bad).
  2. Lubricate vulnerable moving parts (lubricate and be free!)
  3. Make timely adjustments to stuff starting to wear (a few little tweaks go a long way to stave off failure).
  4. Replace service parts (service parts are designed to wear out over time to protect delicate or more expensive parts).
  5. Maintain finish integrity (rust, rot & oxidisation are bad).

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