Gaining DIY Skills

There are levels to DIY competence. How do you start at all? Read on for my story, and my 4-step plan!

Maybe not these tools, though

Maybe not these tools, though

My victory last weekend was using the jigsaw successfully for the first time. And when I say “successful”, I mean I managed to cut wood to approximately the right size with the power tool. No blood was involved. I don’t even think there was any cursing!

I’m fairly frightened of power tools. I’m getting more comfortable with drills and power screwdrivers, to the point that I even CHOSE to swap out a bit to be able to use the power screwdriver the other day. Saws, though? I’m way happier just using a hand saw - and even then, I’d prefer to back away slowly and say to Jeremy, “Hey, I think you should do this.” I know that power tools save time and frustration; I also know how fast they can turn a small project into something nightmarishly big when you screw up.

We were finishing up the flooring project in the house. Our system for the bulk of it was a flawless (mostly) operation of teamwork. Jeremy would lay a plank, tap it into place, nail it, and move to the next one. I’d follow along, drilling pilot holes and screwing in the screws. We basically kept pace with each other.

It took a few “lines” of planks for me to get comfortable with the tools. I did wind up using a hand tool to get the final little bit of the screw right where I wanted a few times, but by the end it was power tool all the way.

Could confidence be a natural by-product of drilling 1500+ holes and installing the attendant screws? Hmm.

The last couple of lines of flooring can’t be done with power tools in the same way as the tool doesn’t fit against the wall. Those are done with nails and an old fashioned hammer, plus a punch to sink the head of the nail under the surface of the plank. Jeremy was doing most of those, while I sat in the closet and looked at the 3 missing planks. I’d watched him measure and mark. I knew about leaving space for expansion. Come on. It’s the closet. If it is really bad, who will see it?

They needed to be cut to size. Tapped into place. Drilled and screwed. Could I do all that myself? I’d watched him measure and mark. I knew about leaving space for expansion. Come on. It’s the closet. If it is really bad, who will see it?

“I’m debating cutting the closet pieces.” Did I say that OUT LOUD?

“Go for it.” He smiled at me and went back to measuring the planks that needed to be ripped on the table saw.

I gathered the planks, checked the orientation of the tongue and groove. I measured, marking with a pencil. I carried the wood downstairs and took a deep breath when I saw the jigsaw.

I did it. I cut the plank, installed it, drilled and screwed. I measured the next one and had learned enough from the first to use a vice to hold the second plank on the makeshift table before pressing the trigger for the saw. I installed that one and measured the third, tweaking my measurement and my saw technique.

The floor looks amazing. It looks more amazing because I know I helped.

Closet planks. Ahhh.

Closet planks. Ahhh.

When I shared my victory with friends, they were happy for me. “Congratulations! I always have a hard time cutting straight with a jigsaw!”

Through laughter, I responded. “I never said it was straight!!!” (The trim hides many issues.)

Straight or not, it was still a success.

And now I have goals for the next time I use a jigsaw. Getting the cuts straight!

How do you gain DIY skills?

  1. Observe and ask questions.

  2. Having an encourager helps.

  3. Take a breath and start doing. It helps (at least it helps me) if it’s not a place that matters much - cutting the closet planks from leftover pieces we couldn’t use elsewhere made more sense than cutting a fresh plank that would go in a high-visibility area.

  4. Review and reflect, then set the goals for the next time.