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?


  1. If you’re a techie, there’s LifeHacker’s tutorials and overnight school. Extremely useful to get the hang of the basics.

  2. I’ve had great luck with Youtube videos, especially for things like plumbing, tiling and so on.Not so much with tech colleges. I wanted to learn some programming, went to the local tech college and basically just wasted a bunch of money and time. Better off using youtube for that too!

  3. Don’t forget appliance repair boards. There are plenty of folks on there who love to share their knowledge.

    I paid an appliance repair man one time and one time only – it was the day before Thanksgiving and I had 50 people coming the next day. My freezer smelled like something was burning. My husband was at a funeral for a colleague’s husband who’d been hit by a car.

    Repairman tells me nothing’s broken – freezer just needs to be cleaned, $80 please. My husband stopped in quickly from the funeral on the way to the office, pokes his head around the freezer for about 30 seconds and pulls out a blackened, charred icemaker.

    We fix our own appliances in our house – I’m usually not so helpless, but um, I had 50 people coming the next day and no time to worry about details like a burning smell from the freezer.

  4. We have a home warranty plan which we pay for annually, but feel it is well worth it. Other things we do ourselves. I learned how to sew and can repair just about any clothing. Most appliance manuals are now online so we frequently follow those for minor repairs. Does anyone know of a good self help group message board? I am trying to learn how to use a weed eater.

  5. One of the best DIY skills one can have is to know how to sew and do simple repairs. Hen a pair of pants, shorten sleeves, take in a waist band fix a zipper. Read a pattern. All of this can be learned and it is a skill that takes practice. I have two college degrees and I stay home and run a sewing shop. I make more money and have more freedom. It is really worth looking into if you are a stay at home person.

  6. Great post! I’m always looking to improve my DIY skills. I don’t mind paying someone when I have to-I just don’t like to have to! I’ve used all the resources on your list. Youtube is by far a favorite. I’ve fixed garbage disposals, RO water filter issues, and a sewing machine this way. I’ve used manuals and online sites to fix a riding lawn mower engine. A couple of resources I’ll add to your list are a good basic manual for home repair book which has saved us tons of work. Someone’s blog post taught me how to paint an old wooden bed simply and beautifully and it looks far more expensive than the $8 I bought it for. And I straight out ask people. When I have to have a plumber to my house I hover and ask questions. I ask endless questions at Home Depot or Lowe’s when I’m there. And I always try to think of who I know who might know someone who can advise me (I changed out a cord on a dryer this way). My biggest problem is knowing when and where it is beyond what I can figure out how to do! Any advice on that?

  7. Great article! I’ve been a DIY guy for the last 50 years and there are some secrets involved. Attitude is #1. The finest tool one owns sits atop your shoulders. I placed a sign at work that simply said “Don’t just do something, stand there (and observe and think).” People too often rush out and do things without prior thought, and the result is disaster.

    Several years ago I wanted to be able to work on the “closed system” in air conditioners (the freon system). This involves what is called silver soldering. I signed up for a class at a local community college just to learn how to do that. Two years later I had an associates degree and learned all about not only air conditioning, but high efficiency furnaces, automotive, refrigerators, freezers, and commercial systems as well. However as I already work as an electrical engineer this education provided only extra info for my home use. What I also found at the school is most of the students were on various government training programs and had no real interest in learning. Some of these guys are probably fixing ACs for a living today (see the $80 freezer/burned up ice maker story comment).

    I have rebuilt several car and tractor engines, but find “short blocks” are cheaper than I can buy the parts and machine shop work for. Still I check the bearing clearances using Plasti-gage before I do the final assembly as some Chinese worker may have installed the wrong bearing! I had it happen. Double checking is cheap insurance.

    The guy that lives next door wanted to know if I could recommend an electrician. Instead I taught him about home electrical (wire size vs breakers, GFIs, etc). I created a monster and over the past 10 years I think he rewired his whole house and back yard.

    Tools are important, but one can often find workarounds or make tools. Not only hand tools, but a welder and power tools are also nice to have. Some years ago I bought a metal lathe and a few books. I don’t know how I survived without one for so long.

    Start slow, and buy tools as you can afford them. And as the article recommends, buy manuals/books as they save time and headaches.

    It’s time to put down the mouse and go fix that leaking bathroom faucet! Spend the $50 you saved, by not paying the plumber, into a few new tools. You can do anything!

  8. Two weeks ago my 14-year old son and I used Youtube videos to help repair an Xbox 360 that wouldn’t read discs due to a frozen drive spindle.

  9. On the topic of automotive repair manuals, the official shop manuals (or copies either zeroxed or on disc) are often available on e-Bay for a reasonable price. My Harley-Davidson manuals are invaluable, and include lots of stuff that the Haynes or Chilton manuals don’t cover.

    Like most men I have accumulated tools my whole life. I started with a basic set, and every time I need a new tool to do a job, I add it to my collection. I now need a bigger garage.

    their forum is so so wonderful, and everyone is very helpful! I have conquered many a “dishonorable” appliance with thier aid and guidance, and saved a pretty penny to boot!

  11. I have been a do-it-yourselfer since I was a kid to save money. I built an electric mower from scrap when I was 16. I decided to build our own earth shelter house in 1985 when I couldn’t find a contractor that had built one. It does not require energy for heating or cooling due to the 72 degree ground temp. here. Cost $10,000 in 1987 dollars for materials plus 3,300 hours labor. Another neat feature is that if something needs attention, all of the tradesmen live here! Used bookstores have quality books on most anything, and they work without electricity! More DIY at

  12. I like MakeTV for learning DIY projects. also some humorous, dare I say, slapstick, stuff, but some seriously useful stuff too.

    Oh, I found you due to an article about things our grandparents did without. I want to comment on that: no air-conditioning, and I want to know how they survived heat waves like today’s, except part of it was they were partly used to it, and built breezeways and big porches on their houses; and instead of Ziplocs, wax paper bags worked fine, and try finding them these days, if they use beeswax they’re probably the eco-solution to Ziploc.

  13. Trading skills isn’t a bad way to go either. My dad is super handy. I tried to get him to do a website (and I’m still trying!) to share his knowledge with more than just his friends. My husband is handy too, but more in computers. So they trade stuff. We call Dad about cars, houses, lawn mowers, etc. and Dad calls my husband about his computer stuff. It’s been a very good trade that’s saved lots of money.