This a list of work and repair categories that will eventually be covered. I have no particular specialty, so this list looks like a bad case of untreated ADHD. The BOLD RED items are working. These Handyman pages are an extention of my Tractor website. More topics will be published as I have time or take time to create them.
With a little information anyone can fix just about anything, most of the time.
OK, that will be very optimistic for some, and extremely pessimistic for others. So What! It's important to approach repairs with the right attitude. What is the right attitude?
Fact-1 Whatever it is, it's already broken. We probably need a new one.
Fact-2 Any attempt to repair it may only break it more thoroughly.
Fact-3 A repair done poorly will soon fail.
Fact-4 Whatever it is, this is NOT a unique problem. GOOGLE IT !
Attempting any repair should always be a learning experience. Go on-line and find out what others have done right or wrong when faced with the same problem. The World Wide Web has become an incredible treasure trove of information as long as we are patient enough to weed out the mis-information. Some people like video clips. OK if that works for you, but when I filter videos out of my search (-youtube) reliable information can be found much faster.
Poor quality tools handled by people unaware of the damage they can do have doomed many repairs. Failures are part of the learning process. If there's a knack to doing repairs, it's taking care not to make the problem worse. Let's look at one of the simplest tools, the flat blade screwdriver. Is the blade rounded? Is it the correct size for the fastener? Failures are often caused by very simple things. A screwdriver that does not fit tight in the slot and closely match the length of the slot is the wrong screwdriver.
Doing work yourself is an excuse to buy tools! Start small, buy the best tools you can, learn to properly use them, and take care of them.
"Good Tools" do not have to be the most expensive. I often get very good service out of "homeowner" grade tools. I favor Craftsman and Stanley Hand Tools, Black and Decker Cordless Tools, Delta Stationary Saws and Sanders. These have all given great service, for the money spent. I apologize if your favorite brand isn't listed here. There are certainly some brands that are better quality. I don't dispute that. However, I cannot recommend more expensive tools when something moderately-priced, will work just fine for the typical weekend warrior.
This is particularly true for cordless tools. The battery is the heart of any cordless tool. It makes no sense to invest top dollar for a premium brand name, when the battery technology is no different from any other cordless tool. Batteries will last 3-5 years. Replacement batteries cost nearly as much as a new tool with the latest battery technology. I see no benefit to paying twice as much for premium cordless tools that might last longer.
Lithium Batteries: Yes, I recently upgraded some of my cordless tools to lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are smaller and lighter for the same power and they stay charged and ready to go without having to keep the batteries on trickle chargers. However, one huge disadvantage for me is the lithium batteries just quit with no warning when they get low on charge. This invariably happens with a hole half-drilled or a screw half-driven. The older technology batteries gave some warning. A driver with high and low torque settings could be switched to the slower high torque setting and drive a few more screws before having to swap batteries. Some lithium batteries or the tools now have a battery level indicator. That feature might reduce frustration by providing some warning that the battery is about to quit.
For corded tools (drills-saws) and air tools (grinders-nailers), a good option is used, contractor-grade tools. These are often sold at the end of the building season (late Fall-Winter). Many of these will look abused, but have plenty of useful life for personal use. This is the best way I've found to get great tools for about 1/4 what they cost new.
STEP AWAY from the cheapest tools. Cheap tools are always junk. You end up spending a lot more money buying and breaking tools. Not to mention the time lost when the tool breaks in the middle of a project.
Good tools come in all shapes and sizes.
Our 12 acres doesn't seem like much to most farmers but I have walked a lot of miles on it. I've made several attachments so the tractors could haul tools and firewood but our "new" 2005 4x4 Polaris Ranger is turning out to be much more fun and convenient. At just under 59" wide it can handle narrow wooded trails with ease. It has been upgraded with a full canvas cab enclosure and more lights. Of course the Polaris Ranger now has a dedicated web page, CLICK THIS.
Most homeowners will not have a decent socket set or wrenches, unless they do a lot of work on vehicles. At one time, "lifetime warranty" was rare. It now seems like there are many different brands that offer a lifetime warranty. Your first set of wrenches should be open and box end combination type in inch and metric sizes. The box end should have 12 points. If you can only afford one or the other, get the metric set. Metric sizes are closer together and may be "close enough" to work on many inch size fasteners in a pinch. Be careful, a wrench that doesn't fit tight on the fastener can round the corners off the fastener and bash your knuckles when it slips. The 12 point box end will fit and allow turning in smaller increments when fasteners are in tight places. A 6 point box end wrench is obviously better. It is nearly impossible to ruin a fastener with 6 point wrenches or sockets, but the 12 point tools will get into many more places that don't have enough room to turn a 6 point.
If you decide a socket set is something you need, don't buy junk. Get a decent set with inch and metric sockets. Most sets will come with an appropriate range of 1/4" drive and 3/8" drive sockets. Start with 12 point sockets. Add 6 point sockets if/when your budget allows. If you need socket sizes larger than 3/4" (19mm) consider getting 1/2" drive size. There are even larger drive sets with 3/4" and 1" drive sizes appropriate for things like farm tractors and large trucks. That's going a bit beyond normal handyman tools. Of course I do have a 3/4" drive set that has seen quite a bit of use on my tractors. A good impact wrench and impact sockets may be essential if rusty hardware needs to be convinced to come apart. I have a couple of air rachets that seemed like a good thing to have. None of those have been out of the tool box in many years. Manual rachets work fine for me and go plenty fast since I'm never working against the clock. Closer to the truth may be that manual tools slow things down so there is more time for me to think.
Rule No.1 – Locking pliers should not be your favorite tool!
Rule No.2 – Any hardware touched by locking pliers, goes in the trash.
Locking pliers are an absolute last resort. When proper tools will no longer work go for the Vice-Grips ®. It is always much better to use the proper size and type of tool for the fastener. The intent is to always remove fasteners without damaging them. Six-Point sockets and combination wrenches are far better than the 12-Point versions. Any fastener that is damaged, should be replaced with new. Mangled hardware just creates more problems. I do have some locking pliers. Sometimes there is no other alternative when someone has already ripped all the corners off a fastener. Make sure any locking pliers you buy are the original Irwin Vice Grip ® brand name tools. The cheap knock-off tools are useless.
If you must use an adjustable wrench, do yourself a huge favor and buy the Stanley 85-610 - 10" MaxGrip® Locking Adjustable Wrench.
This looks like a standard 10" adjustable wrench, with a lever added to the handle. Tighten the thumb screw to the nut, then clamp it with the latch. The combination of smooth jaws, and the locking clamp, grips firmly, and will not tear up fasteners like other adjustable wrenches, vice grips, or (shudder) Pipe Wrenches. Craftsman came out with a similar tool. The Stanley only comes in 10" size so I bought the smaller Craftsman version. Unfortunately the Craftsman tool had serated jaws. That was easily fixed. Open jaws to the correct size, then use a grinder to make jaws smooth.
An old saying goes something like, "measure twice, cut once." That may work for some folks, but I am fully capable of measuring wrong way more than twice. Whenever possible it is always best to remove all doubt. Why measure when the thing to be cut can be held in place and marked? Mark the cut line, then add a mark to indicate waste or if you need to cut "on the line" or "leave the line" for a proper fit. Yes, it does make a difference if the line you just made is on waste material or should be kept for a proper fit. It is much easier to decide if you want to take or leave the line while holding the material where it is supposed to fit. Another example would be to make a template out of some cheap material. The template can be patched, altered, or recut until it fits properly. I've even used a rough template to make a better one. Once the template is confirmed, trace around the template to transfer perfect cut lines to the expensive material.
A table saw (even a small one) is a very nice tool to own. Likewise, a compound miter saw can be almost essential if you do a lot of trim and cabinet work. Even though I have both of those and other power saws of various types, the saws I use most often are Japanese Pull Saws. These are hand saws made with a thin flexible blade that is wider at the far end than back by the handle. As the name says, these saws cut while being pulled thru the material. The thin blade removes much less material than a typical hand or power saw so pull saws cut very fast. Cutting on the pull also makes it much easier to control the precise path of the blade. A pull saw can make very precise cuts in a short time. There are single edge and double edge versions. Some have different pitch teeth on one side of the blade. The handle can be straight or similar to a typical hand saw. Either grip seems to work well and fine teeth seem to work best for most of the wood and plastic materials I've used them on.
This is possibly the greatest accessory for anyone who uses an extension ladder. Called levelers, the pair I bought are branded "Ladder Pro". Remove the useless floppy feet that came on your extension ladder, and bolt one of these to each side. Now, when faced with uneven ground, just press the latch on the high side or low side to adjust one or both feet. Now the ladder is standing straight, safe, and secure on two feet. For around $50 these are worth every nickel. The neck you save, may be your own!
Ladders are dangerous. There is the obvious danger or falling off. There is a slightly less obvious danger of soft or uneven ground. Even level feet can sink in soft ground, or slide if the ladder angle is too flat. One pet peeve of mine are the special hooks, slots, and holes provided at the top of my "A" frame latters for storing tools. These convenient features promote the habit of leaving stuff at the top of the ladder. That is a bad habit for people with short-term memory issues (like me). A hammer falling from the top of an 8 foot ladder could crack your skull. Wear a tool belt. Keep your tools on the belt.
We are often advised to take things to a "professional". By definition, a professional is someone who is paid to perform an activity or job. That's it, nothing about training, testing, or certification. Look it up. The word "professional" is more meaningless than "heavy duty". It is generally assumed that someone who earns their living in a particular trade would know what they are doing, and care enough to do a good job. Sadly, time is money, and profits are often more important than repeat business. Paying for service only creates an illusion of additional value for the gullible. We all want to believe we are getting good value for money spent. People claim professionals will have the right tools and better tools. This is often true. Better tools do not mean the results will be better. Give some people better tools and all they do is screw up twice as much twice as fast.
It is certainly possible to hire people who take pride in their work. They are usually not going to be the cheapest price. This is where seeking advice from family, friends and neighbors can lead to good choices or steer you away from bad choices.
We are generally much better-off looking for an amateur or hobbyist for advice and repairs on vintage vehicles and antiques. Many of the techniques used to trouble-shoot and repair older machinery are no longer in common use. The ability to listen, look, and figure out what is wrong, has become a lost art in many repair shops. Computers give technicians a list of parts to replace. If that does not work, they go back to the computer for a new list. Customers often pay to replace parts that were not broken. Those professionals will often say something cannot be repaired, and you need a new one. My usually silent response is "wanna bet". The truth is that many repairs will just take more professional time than most customers are willing to pay for. Vintage vehicles are worth more when they have original parts. Working on any vintage equipment is much more fun, and rewarding when we are able to restore original parts.
I've been taking things apart since I was a very small child. Many early lessons were learned the hard way. The mystery of electricity was made painfully clear by unscrewing a bulb and sticking my small finger in the hole, OooohhZIT ! Electricity is easy. Bulbs glow brightly because they are being tortured by electrical current.
Thankfully, my diagnostic methods and tools have improved over the years. I'm either older and wiser, or my fingers have been burned so many times, they are no longer sensitive enough.
I grew up building plastic and balsa model kits and built a few airplane and boat models from scratch. My first real car naturally led to car repair. I set-up my first differential ring and pinion gear at the age of 17. The special tools I needed were less expensive than paying someone else to do the work. That gear set was still working after several years of street use, and weekend drag racing. The same rear end was in my circle track race car for three years, and was still working when I sold that car. I still have the special tools today.
At one time or another I've disassembled just about every type of machine, device, or appliance. If it breaks, I'm going to take it apart to see what's in there and if it might be fixable. My success rate is far from 100%. That's perfectly ok, anything repaired is money saved. Anything that cannot be repaired is a learning experience.
DANGER lurks in many places when we start turning screws. By the time I pulled a microwave apart, I was already familiar with capacitors. Capacitors are typically small barrel-shaped objects with terminals on one end. Small capacitors 1/4" or so are often used in electronic equipment to stabilize current flow. DO NOT mess with these things until they have been discharged! Any charged spring or pressurized container has similar properties. They must be discharged or made safe before taking them apart. The microwave oven is mentioned above because that appliance had a truly impressive beer can size capacitor! This is basically "canned lightning", definitely not a toy!
MINITURIZATION has made repairs more difficult to accomplish. Computers and electronics have become more and more miniaturized. The first desktop computers had plenty of air around the various internal components. It was relatively easy to get in there and install upgrades. Every year they get smaller and more powerful, while manufacturer's seem to pay less and less attention to repair. I recently upgraded memory in my NetBook. Components had to come apart in layers. Getting all those circuit boards and microscopic screws back where they belonged was a trial.
While I have practically zero formal training in any specific field, I do have many years of practical, hands-on, experience at all sorts of repairs. Something I inherited is the ability to soak up practical knowledge first-hand, or from a manual. Now with the internet, the answer to just about any question can be found in a few moments. Do not waste time with YouTube videos unless you have a great internet connection and lots of time to listen to useless babble. A short, written description, with maybe a photo is a much faster download that can be printed and carried out to the shop.
Learn to filter internet searches using the minus sign (-) in front of things you do not want, (-YouTube) is one of my search exclusions. A few people have asked for videos to be added to this web site. Maybe one day, when internet access in the country actually allows uploading and downloading video in a reasonable amount of time. Then again, maybe not. I did set up a camera to record video a few times. For some reason the video camera caused my blooper rate to spike. My last attempt was recording video while operating one of my tractors. It was soon clear that the added distraction of the camera was causing mistakes. It seemed like a good idea to ditch the camera before there were worse consequences.
When taking anything apart, I learned to place each piece in the order and same orientation it came off. Then, when It's time to put things back together, the parts will be in the correct order and facing the right way around. Do not let some curious bystander start fiddling with your nice neat arrangement. Projects cannot always be completed the same day. Some of my projects have taken years to complete. When parts cannot be left in a neat arrangement as they came off, take pictures of everything. Thank the Lord for digital cameras! Once I started taking digital pictures, it was only a small step to posting them, and this web site was born.
Information is easier than ever to find. There are plenty of repair sites and forums on the web where you can get specific information for any problem. Search for make, model, year, and the problem you are having. Chances are your problem is far from unique. In most cases someone has already fixed it, and posted the procedure. People are great! The web gives us many ways to help each other. It is truly staggering to read some of the forums and realize how many people are spending hours of their own time just helping others.
The bad news is that free advice is often worth less than you paid for it, mine included. Hopefully not OFTEN, but I do not claim to be infallible. Most forums on the web are great places to get information, as long as you are patient, and stick around long enough to get the best advice. You don't have to read many posts to figure out which people are giving the best advice.
If you are doing any work on your home or out-buildings. Check your local building codes. In most cases you are required to pull a permit, even when you are doing repairs in your own house. Some localities require homeowners to pass a test before they can do work in their own house. You nearly always need a license and insurance if you are doing work for someone else. The exact process and fees for pulling a permit vary by locality. Depending on the type of work, and size of project, you may need sketches, drawings, or even engineering calculations.
Building codes and local ordinances are minimum standards. "Almost to code" is never ok. In many cases farm buildings are excluded from permit requirements, but that is no excuse for not making sure they are built to meet codes where applicable.
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