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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

10 Things You Should Be Able To Do If You’re a Handy Homeowner

I’m not sure I can take much more of this.

I’m enthusiastic about people becoming interested in what I’ve always been interested in: making things with your hands. It’s not the people hungry for knowledge I’m disappointed with; it’s the people who are telling you what it means to be “handy.”

Part of this appeal is that people that work in the mines of intellect long for the touch of a lump of real handwork coal from time to time. In a world where division of labor has become so incrementally small that many never see any one thing through from start to completion, the appeal of making a thing out of raw materials as a balm for the soul is growing. But man, the people peddling this stuff have no idea what they’re talking about.

Remember Norm and Bob? They once stood on a scaffolding hanging off a decrepit Second Empire dump in the city of my birth and banged on the thing until it was livable. Fantastic. Norm is still banging away, but only at furniture, and still worth looking at. But his old, original haunt has degenerated into advice on how to interview consultants you can hire to hire designers to assist you in finding feng shui necromancers who will aid you in finding a personal shopper to help you pick out fourteen gold faucets for the powder room off your conservatory turret. Jaysus, make something, will you?

Our internet friend the Instapundit champions this cause, and good on him for it. But he linked yesterday to Popular Mechanics’ advice on how to “be handy,” and I didn’t know whether to laugh, or cry, or what. It reminded me of so many customers I’d seen in construction, desperately trying to convince their wives they were good with their hands, too, after their wives looked out the window at the addition being built on their house, and saw the sidewaller with his shirt off.

Popular Mechanics telling you you’ll be “handy” if you change the handle on your shovel, or learn to solder a circuit board. Priceless.

By the way; the “shovel” pictured by PM would never be called that by anybody that wielded one. It’s a spade. And if you worked for a living you’d buy another one because a new one is cheaper than a handle. The handy part is digging with it properly, and knowing how to sharpen the nose with a file, and what kind of linseed oil to put on it in the fall so it doesn’t rust.

OK, enough carping. Here’s what you need to be able to do to be handy.

Ten things you should be able to do if you’re a handy homeowner

10. Crosscut and rip a board
Think of the board as Anne Boleyn. If you want another, skinnier wife, that’s ripping. If you want the same wife, only shorter and suitable for replacement by Jane Seymour, that’s crosscutting. They are two different things in cutting wood, and it used to make a great deal of difference which of them you were doing. Old fashioned dudes had one hand saw for each. You likely need to know how to rip on a table saw, and crosscut on a sliding miter saw. You also need to figure out how to make enough money to purchase those tools.
9. Order a piece of lumber at a real lumberyard
Note to my new handy friends: Home Depot is not a lumberyard. It is where you pick out window treatments if you don’t mind a concrete floor. A lumberyard is that place where there’s a mysterious chainlink yard behind a steel building with a grumpy man behind a counter in it that says: What do you want? and then stares at you. You need to know the species, grade, nominal and actual sizes, and shortcut nomenclature for raw wood components. Hint: a 2×4 isn’t.
8.Paint a straight line
It’s the most important skill any person can have in your home, and you stink at it. If you’re using tape or any gadget, you’re doing it wrong. You need a good brush, the proper paint pot, and a lot of rooms with bad lighting to try it enough times to get the knack of it. Also, the reason the painter has paint all over him is that he’s worn the same clothes every day for fourteen years. He never gets paint on him, really. If you’re making any kind of mess, you’re doing it wrong. You can make a mess of the rolling later. Learn the “cutting in” first.
7.Wire a convenience outlet
Spare me the danger thing. You work with electrical outlets all day, every day. If you can’t learn how to wire a 15 amp branch circuit to a box and install an outlet in it, I don’t see what good it’ll do you to learn to solder things that you’ve got no place to plug in. Learn how the electrons flow, handy dude or dudette.
6.Plant a shrub
I don’t mean dig a hole with your… hee hee… “shovel,” and water the rhody ’til it’s dead. Watch a real landscaper prepare a hole for a shrub and plant something, and you’ll know how to go outside and be handy. If you can do that, you can grow pretty much anything.
5.Hammer time
There’s actual advice on nailing technique in that PM article. Trust me: Nobody nails nothing no more. At least not with a hammer. You break metal strapping off bundles with the claw end when you’re not mashing things flat, but you need to know how to safely use a pneumatic nailer and compressor to nail things now. They’re as cheap as dirt, and safer. I know people who have lost an eye hand-nailing spikes way back when. Hand nailing is fine. It just never comes up.
4.Fell a tree
It’s hard to do safely, and unwise to try on anything you can’t get your arms around easily, but you really should know how to cut a pie-shaped notch on the side where you want it to fall, and a slice slightly lower on the opposite side to get things moving. You need to know where to stand, which is generally: somewhere other than where you are. Chainsaws are a blast. They’re safer than imported Chinese food, too, so never fear. I cut down a tree every Earth Day, to keep in practice.
3.Plumb a sink and toilet
If you don’t know how to make the finless brown trout go away, you’ve got no business calling yourself handy. And if you can’t make water come out of a sink to wash your hands after, just call the plumbers and go back to flower arranging or crossword puzzles or whatever.
2.Lay some ceramic tile
It’s easy, really. It’s as close to a truly permanent installation as anything you’ll ever do in your house; which is why you’ll always pick out the worst tile to install. At least you’ll know you can replace it yourself. Rent a wet saw like a pro has. You can cadge backrubs from your significant others real easy off this one.
1.Build a piece of furniture
Look, a table is just four vertical poles, four little pieces of wood connecting them, and a cutting board on top. You need to make some sort of this thing. It will be hideous, misshapen, poorly proportioned, rickety, and you’re bound to paint it a color you’ll tire of in a year or stain it with the color and uniformity of the contents of a sick baby’s diaper. So what?

What are you waiting for? If you ask nice, I’ll send you a plan for a table if you need one. A handy man will answer any request, generally, unless you’re foolish enough to refer to them as ” a handy man.” That’s generally when you discover they’re good in a fight, too.

6 Responses

  1. Oh ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a comin’….

    …Montgomery Ward’s sent me a bathtub and a crosscut saw!

    We’ve got trouble, right here in Swamp City.

  2. Should one feel safe suggesting the use of saws and tampering with electricity to the “Paris Hilton generation”?—-All dangers aside, I firmly agree with your views in this post. I watched my own father do everything needing to be done in the house while growing up thus making me feel like a heel when I have to call a plumber.

  3. Wolf- Two things: I hire people to do things for me all the time. The idea that you’re supposed to be able to do things is not the same as the idea that you must do everything yourself. It’s easier to hire things out if you know what’s supposed to happen.

    Your first point intrigues me, because it touches on the central theme. It takes nerve and pluck and skill and intelligence to do many of these things without wrecking everything and maiming yourself. People who think it’s too scary or difficult should leave it to others. There’s no shame in that. It’s shameful to tell people that changing your shovel handle is the same as stripping concrete forms or reshingling your roof.

    Patrick from Stubborn Facts comments here sometimes. He’s a very bright guy and an attorney. He got interested in making things, got some tools, asked some questions and got some information, and built some furniture.

    He’s the real version of the imaginary handy guy PM is talking about. More power to him, and every body like him.

  4. About planting a shrub or a tree, the old timers used to say, ” Put a $20 tree in a $100 hole.” Sounds good to me, as I’ve planted many.

  5. You are far too kind to me, my friend. Among other failings, I freely confess that I am incapable of painting a straight line…

    I have installed light fixtures, switches, and even ceiling fans, however.

    P.S. 1 1/2 x 3 1/2 just doesn’t have the same ring to it…

    Oh, and I finished an actual set of bookshelves with my little brother recently.

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