How to Be a Handyman

Have you ever felt powerless when faced with a vexing home repair problem? Were you left in awe by a handyman who capably did what needed to be done? You can be that awe-inspiring person. That's right, "person". You don't have to be a man to be a handyman.


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    Safety first! You want to be a handyman, not a dead man. Consider, for example, that many of the warnings that appear in manuals, on labels or on tools are rooted in someone else's misfortune or stupidity. Be sure to read and heed them. Putting safety first is your first step in doing the job right and presenting a professional image - even if it's just to yourself. "Safety first" will mean different things in different situations, but some basic rules apply to nearly every job. For example, a well-lit workspace is fundamental. It will help you see otherwise hidden or obscure dangers. You're also not likely to do well a job that you can't see well.
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    Have the right tools for the job. The first tools you need are those that make the job safe, such as a face-mask or respirator when working with insulation or toxic dust. Using the wrong tool (e.g., a shaky chair instead of a stable ladder) or using a tool improperly invites injury to yourself and can compromise the quality of the job you're doing. Get the right tools and use them the right way. Never buy a tool you don't need, but always buy (or rent or borrow) the tool required by the job. This makes for a simple solution to the question "What tools should I have?" It's the tools that you need to do the job safely and correctly.
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    Educate yourself. Learn all you can before starting a job. Go on-line (see below for helpful links). Go to the library. Read the instructions/the manual. Find people who have done that type of job and ask what they did right and what they would do differently if they knew then what they know now. Check with your local government's building permits office re any needed permits or other requirements. Just as "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", an hour of education is worth a day of doing it over.
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    Be open to new approaches. Never assume that you know the best way to do anything: arrogant people are closed to learning. Be open to ideas and insights from any source - including a spouse, a child, and a customer once you get to that point. The less experienced they are, the more likely it is that you'll hear something you would never have considered.
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    Allow enough time. The time you think the job will take is likely based more on your fond hopes than unforgiving reality. Jobs often involve complications that appear only once you're underway. On those rare and splendid occasions when the job goes faster than planned, you won't think that you misjudged - you'll be too absorbed in contemplating your genius. Having planned enough time, be sure to take it. Carpenters say, e.g., to "measure twice and cut once." What that really means is take the time to carefully measure.
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    Have a good work ethic. A job worth doing is worth doing well. It's also a requirement, as with the electrical code mandate that all work be done "in a workmanlike manner." Your name is going to be on that job, literally or figuratively, so make a good name for yourself. A good work ethic applies to every aspect and every stage of a job, and it always appears in the final results. For example, when hanging a framed picture on the middle of a wall, don't "gaze and guess" at the center point of the wall -- use a tape measure and pencil to mark it. If you're replacing a light switch, use a level to align the switch when tightening the screws so as to avoid a lopsided look once the cover plate is attached.
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    Clean up. The job's not over until the dirt is swept up, the tools cleaned and put away, and the trash removed. This is a hallmark of a real pro. Plan ahead to ease that clean-up by, e.g., using drop-cloths, clearing the work area of objects that may get dirty, sealing-off the work area to prevent dust from spreading, or using fans to ventilate airborne dust out the window.
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    Celebrate when it's over! You've done your best and your best deserves a pat on the back, even if it's from your own arm twisted over your shoulder. Was the job absolutely perfect? That's rarely the case. The point is, you did what amounts to a hand-made job, and hand-made is bound to have slight imperfections. So don't obsess or slam yourself for what may be apparent only to yourself. Also, "celebrate when it's over" implies not celebrating (with intoxicants) while you're working, which brings us back to the opening and most important point: Safety First!

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Categories: Home Improvements and Repairs