9 Home Improvement Proverbs from a DIY Dad

I’m a DIY kinda guy, in part because I enjoy working with my hands, but also so that I can save money. If I can do something myself, most of the times I will (even if I’ve never done it before), because it’s usually the only way I can afford it.

And I’m a big proponent of people learning to do and fix and build and customize things by themselves, even if they’ve never tried before, so I heartily encourage you to go ahead and take on those dream projects you keep putting off.

After working on a number of different kinds of home improvement projects of my own, plus a fair amount of time working on other people’s, I’ve come to learn a lesson or two about home DIY projects, and thought I’d share them with you.

Some friends, including these Shrewsbury based plumbers have given us a variety of tips for the article. These aren’t specific how-to tips, more like proverbs or maxims, and some of these may not apply to every project you do. And yet… I think that all of them do apply to every project.

9 Home Improvement Proverbs

1. Measure once. Measure twice. Cut. Measure a third time. If you assume that you’re good to go without a dry-fitting of the individual parts in your home improvement project, or without laying out the scope of the full project, you will generally end up severely testing your own patience and anger management skills. Even if you’re completely confident that your measurements and markings are correct, taking the time to fit the actual physical object into its place before assembly is always a good idea.

2. The right tool for the job is worth its weight in gold. Trying to unscrew plumbing fixtures without a pipe wrench. Using an ill-fitting pair of pliers to loosen a nut or bolt. Driving deck screws using a stripped and worn drill tip. Sound familiar? Got any wounds you’d like to forget now because of it? I’ve taken my share of knuckle-bashing, finger-slicing, back-straining, and toe-smashing in my home improvement journey, and aside from learning to keep my curses at a lower volume, I’ve also learned that having the right tool for the job is one of the most powerful secrets of a successful DIY-er. That doesn’t mean you ought to run out and buy the right tool (although sometimes you really should), but rather, find someone in your community or neighborhood who does have the right tool, and barter with them to borrow it for your project.

3. Plans are square and even and clean, but the real world is rounded and lumpy and messy. I’m great with making and using precise plans for my home improvement projects, and calculating materials and space is easy with definite, exact measurements and angles. But the reality of it is, unless you’re fortunate and have one of the rare homes that was built to the exact dimensions of the plans, chances are that your walls aren’t perfectly square to the floor, and the wall and floor studs aren’t exactly where they ought to be, and certain areas on the floors aren’t level. So when you try to bring your plans to life in the real world, you may find yourself doing a lot of ‘eyeballing’ of measurements and fitting, and making freehand cuts or other adjustments to the actual pieces. But once the project is finished and viewed in context, nobody will even notice.

4. Never go to the hardware store without a list. And to be more precise, make sure your list has all of the details on it. Don’t write “screws”. Write “2 1/2 inch exterior wood screws”. If you go to the hardware store without your list, you may end up with some of what you need, but you may also end up coming home with a bunch of stuff you don’t need. And if you go with a vague list, you may still end up with stuff you don’t need, because you bought the wrong length of screws or pipe or whatever.

5. Be wary of free advice. Or, ignore the peanut gallery and seek out someone who knows how to do it. We love to yak about what other people should do, and to dispense advice freely, even if we don’t really know what we’re talking about. So when you seem to be surrounded by people who think they know what to do (but have never done it), it’s time to go ask questions of someone with actual experience. I’ve found many professionals to be happy to help a DIY guy learn how to do something correctly, and it never hurts to ask.

6. Shortcuts are a waste of time. Let me repeat that: Shortcuts are a waste of time. Yes, shortcuts are tempting to take, but in the end, most of the time they will cost more time and money than was saved in the first place. That’s not to say that learning some basic shortcuts is a bad thing – there’s plenty of room for tricks and tactics for efficiency – but if you think you can save time by not fixing an underlying or related problem, and instead focus on just getting the project done quickly, it can really come back to bite you. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of having to take the long road of ‘do-over’ because I thought taking a shortcut would save me time or money.

7. Given enough time, you can use all of your cutoffs and scraps to complete a project. Given the choice between time and money, most of the time it’s worth the money to go ahead and buy new materials, and to buy more than you need. I’m a scrounger and a saver and a spendthrift, and if I have enough bits and pieces of materials already on hand to finish out a piece of a project, then I tend to do that. However, in the interest of my time, I’m now just as likely to invest in new materials to finish off something, because sometimes I’d rather spend the money than deal with the PITA factor of piecing something together using scraps.

8. Keep all of your receipts, lest you lose control of your project budget. Plus, returns. There will always be returns.

9. Buying top-end materials and tools rarely makes a big enough of a difference in the finished project to justify the additional expense. Conversely, buying the cheapest tools or materials rarely saves enough money to justify having to work with a shoddy product. There is a happy middle ground, and it usually has nothing to do with the packaging or marketing of the products.

What are some maxims you’ve learned in your own DIY education?

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

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