How to Hone Your DIY Skills

Frugality and a “do-it-yourself” attitude go hand in hand. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to improve my own DIY skills for a variety of reasons – so that I can keep things in working order longer, repair rather than replace, and come up with homemade solutions to avoid a costly off-the-shelf alternative.

Unfortunately, I’ve run into quite a few problems that I have little experience with (remember that clogged air conditioner drain line?). When that happens, I turn to a variety of resources in the hopes someone else has had a similar problem and has shared a solution.

The Internet offers a wealth of information on DIY subjects, as does many offline publications that have been around for years. And of course there is the old-fashioned, but often most effective approach of simply asking a friend or neighbor for some help.

5 Valuable Resources to Build DIY Skills

1. YouTube. It’s amazing the types of how-to videos you can find on YouTube. In the last couple months alone, I’ve watched videos on installing laminate floor, changing your own oil, and repairing a garbage disposal. For me, this is a huge benefit of having online videos. I am the type of person who can read about repairs, look at diagrams, and follow instructions well enough, but being able to actually watch someone repair or install something makes it so much easier to translate to my real-world problem.

2. DIY Magazines (and their Websites). My grandfather subscribed to Popular Mechanics magazine for as long as I can remember. He used to save feature articles like this one, 100 Skills Every Man Should Know, in a folder in his file cabinet and refer back to them often.

These days, Popular Mechanics, and other publications in the DIY genre maintain informative websites with these types of articles just a click away.

3. Repair manuals. In terms of automotive repair guides, you can’t go wrong with a Haynes Repair Manual. I have one for each model of vehicle we own. I’ve found these repair guides to be the most handy tools when working on vehicles – especially older ones (for example, here’s the repair manual for my old 1991 Chevy G10 Van). Chilton also makes a good repair manual, but I’m partial to Haynes because it’s the manual my grandfather always turned to when he had trouble with that old van.

There are plenty of good household repair guides, too. Reader’s Digest has long put out an excellent book on household repairs, the Fix-It-Yourself Manual: How to Repair, Clean and Maintain Anything and Everything In and Around Your Home.

4. Repairmen. It seems obvious that a repairman would be an excellent resource for fixing things, but the problem is you have to pay them for their expertise. Often times you can learn from them simply by watching them make repairs.

Now, after talking with a few friends in the business, few people like to be hovered over while they make a repair. But as a homeowner, I believe you have a right to watch someone perform a repair on your property. Assuming you are up-front about your intention to learn something, and stay out of the way, most people won’t have a problem with it.

We recently had trouble with our refrigerator not cooling and I had to call someone from a local appliance repair shop. The individual walked me through several troubleshooting methods I could try on my own next time, as well explaining the importance of maintaining our refrigerator (keeping the coils clean, checking door seals, keeping it adequately stocked for more efficient cooling, etc.). His visit was well worth the knowledge I gained, but I would have missed out on it had I simply sat in the next room watching television.

5. Community/Technical colleges. Growing up, I didn’t have many opportunities to work on cars, so I’m not much of a “car guy.” I know enough to perform simple maintenance, but large repairs are still intimidating to me (even armed with my Haynes Repair Manual).

I’ve decided to look into attending an automotive repair course offered by a local technical college. Most of the attendees will ultimately be looking to add to their credits towards becoming a certified mechanic. I’ll be the guy looking to make basic repairs in his driveway to avoid a huge repair bill.

Of course, no matter how much DIY knowledge we hope to learn over time, we could never account for every scenario. Knowing when to swallow your pride and call in a professional is also a valuable skill. For this, I’ve found services like Angie’s List to be invaluable because I’m able to read through others’ experiences with a particular contractor or service professional. If I am able to find someone with several positive reviews, chances are I’ll also have a good experience if I hire them.

How are your adding to your own DIY skills? Any resources you’d like to share with fellow readers?

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