Jan 24, 2011

Handy, man.

Adaptive Curmudgeon is starting what sounds to be a pretty good tale of furnace woes. I can understand; even relate.

Reading that, combined with my own ongoing de-/re-construction efforts, I have reached the following conclusion: Everything is easier with the right tools - and even more so if you know how to use them.

I don't think everyone needs a fully-equipped machine- and wood-shop in their basement or garage. Goodness knows it would keep the ER's and Ambulance Drivers busy. I do, however, think that every single home should have a minimum of essential tools, and at least one person that knows how to use them. If you live alone, you are nominated by default.

None of these need to be expensive. In fact, I'll bet that you can acquire the vast majority of this list for under $200 total - and that's buying quality tools, not from the $0.99 bin at Walmart.

First bit of advice: spend the extra money for better tools. Craftsman (Sears) has a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty on their hand tools. Break it, they replace it. Period. It's worth the extra few bucks to get that warranty. Kobalt (Lowes) also makes pretty solid hand tools. If you're feeling wealthy, I suppose you can look to Snap-On or Mac, but there's really no need. Power tools? I fall squarely in the Dewalt camp. They take a heck of a beating; there's a reason you see yellow tools on construction sites.

So. Bare minimum you need to have:
- a set of screwdrivers. Flat and phillips, a couple different sizes. Buying a pre-compiled set for $10-15 is worth it.
- a hammer. A plain old 16oz claw hammer. Bet it costs you $8, maybe $10.
- a slip-joint pliers. Nothing fancy here.
- two crescent wrenches. One 6" and one 8".
- a 12' tape measure
- a drill/driver of some kind. Cordless are convenient but only if you remember to keep the battery charged. Corded are less convenient but cheaper and never have dead batteries.
- a set of drill bits
- a 24" spirit level
- duct tape

That's it. That's the bare minimum. You can do 90% of home projects with those tools. I'd strongly suggest adding to the list, though.

- a set of allen (hex) wrenches
- a socket set, with SAE and metric sockets
- needle-nose pliers
- water-pump pliers
- wirecutters (dikes and/or lineman's pliers)
- another 6" crescent wrench, and a 10" crescent wrench
- a 16" cross-cut saw
- a hacksaw
- a drywall saw
- a chalk line
- a combi-square
- a set of box or combination wrenches (SAE and metric)
- electrical tape

Now that wasn't so bad, was it? Only one power tool in the bunch! If you want to start adding power tools, I'd hold off until you have a project in mind that actually needs them. My most-used power tools are my drill and my circular saw, with the jigsaw being a distant third, and the nailers way down the list.

Of course, even if you have spent the money for "one of everything, please", that doesn't mean a damn if you can't USE what you have. Learn to use things properly and safely. Use the right tool for the job. Eye and ear protection is critical, and gloves aren't a bad idea.

Once you've got all that ... dig in. Don't be afraid to screw up. I've ended up chucking plenty of materials by making mistakes. It's not the end of the world, so long as you learn from what you're doing. I get cranky when I screw up. It costs money and time. But I don't make the same mistake again, either.

Of course, there will be times when it's time to call in a pro. In my case, 90% of the time, that means calling my father. I learned the vast majority of what I know by watching and working with him, and I can't ever thank him enough for letting me "help" as a kid.

Last week I had to replace a valve in our bathroom, which should have been a relatively simple project. Since I had to shut off water for the house anyways, I decided to add in a shutoff for just that room while things were down. I ended up not being able to get the joint to sweat properly, and after I tried several times, I gave in and called Dad.

He came over, looked over what I'd done, figured out the problem, and was also unable to correct it with what we had on-hand. One trip down to Lowes later, we had the parts we needed, and things were back together. I learned where my mistake was and what to do in the future, and got to spend a bit more time with my father. Win-win-win.

Be a handyman. Be willing to take on your own problems. And be willing to admit when a problem is over your head.

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