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10 Tools for the Non-Handy Person’s Toolbox

10 Tools for the Non-Handy Person’s Toolbox

10 Tools for the Non-Handy Person's Toolbox

    I’m not handy. I wish I were, sometimes – I’d love to craft a bookcase, patio bench, or computer hutch with my hands, or even fix a busted electrical outlet. But I can’t – somewhere along the line I missed out on developing that talent, and at this point in my life learning to be more handy is simply too far down on my list of priorities to be very likely.

    Still, work must get done. It’s neither practical nor even possible to call in a specialist every time I need something done – not to mention the cost! Most of the time, I can figure things out given enough time and the room to make a few mistakes – whether it’s a toilet that runs all the time or a set of shelves that need mounting on the wall.

    Having a broad set of tools helps. If you’re not particularly handy and rely more on trial-and-error than on know-how to get things done, having a bunch of different tools can be helpful simply in suggesting things that might work. And of course, that one tool that you might never guess you’d need might well save the day!

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    Below are some of the tools I have in my tool chest. They’re the “extra” tools – that is, not the basics that everyone should have. If you don’t have any tools, you’re going to want a decent hammer, at least two screwdrivers (one each, Phillips head and flat head), an adjustable crescent wrench, a handsaw, and a couple pairs of pliers (needle-nose and adjustable). Once you have those, look into adding these to your collection. They’re listed roughly in order of usefulness – but of course, that’s subjective.

    1. Power drill

    Mine’s a Black and Decker 18-Volt rechargeable drill, and it rocks. It’s easily the most useful and more often used tool I own. It cost less than $50 and runs for quite a while on a single charge.  It came with a handful of accessories – a few bits and some screwdriver heads – but I also picked up a huge set of accessories for around $20: a range of drill bits but also concrete bits, torx and hex screwdriver heads, socket wrenches, and so on. I’ve used it to install shelves, build a work surface into a walk-in closet, hang curtains, and replace a smashed rear view mirror, among other tasks. Once you have a power drill, you’ll start looking for tasks to do with it – there’s nothing more satisfying!

    2. Laser level

    Laser Level and Stud Finder

      Another tool I use all the time – far more often than I would have expected, is my laser level. Mine’s the Black and Decker pictured here – it’s actually a combination laser level and stud finder, but I rarely use the stud finder. The laser level is awesome, though – it comes with a pair of pins you push through the center hole to hand the unit on the wall, allowing gravity to pull the lasers level; twin lasers come out of either side and trace a line along the wall (and around corners for a short distance). Then you just hammer your nail, drive your screw, or measure out your mark along the laser lines. It’s so fun, it almost feels like a toy!

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      3. Dremel rotary tool

      A Dremel is a rotary tool that relies on speed to cut, grind, drill, and polish (unlike a standard drill, which relies on power to do it’s thing). I’m not proud of how I decided to get one – I saw one of those late-night infomercials singing its praises and went to a Wal-Mart the next weekend and bought one. But I’m glad I did – I’ve used it to trim closet rods, cut too-long nails or screws down to size, de-rust tools, sand the inside edge of holes, and cut drywall. One quirk I’ve found is that, because the head is spinning so fast, it’s almost impossible to cut in a straight line; my cuts always veer in the direction of the spin. But for tight jobs and a whole range of sanding and polishing jobs, it’s really the best. Some people even use them to cut their dogs’ nails! This is another one that once you own it, you’ll find yourself seeking ways to use it.

      4. J-B Weld

      Dangerous. Powerful. Toxic. Messy. What could be better than J-B Weld? J-B Weld is an epoxy adhesive that comes in two tubes – you have to mix it together to activate it, and then it dries as solid as steel. It’s awesome – it bonds to just about everything and hardens water- gas-, and oil-proof.

      5. Socket wrench set

      A good solid socket wrench set will save your life. That’s in the Bible!* You can likely share all the wrench and screwdriver heads with your drill, but a socket wrench fits places that are totally impractical for a power drill, like tight corners of your car’s engine compartment. Very useful to get leverage on a stubborn bolt that’s too stuck for your power drill’s motor, too.

      * Not actually in the Bible.

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      6. Leatherman Multitool

      Although a Swiss Army Knife takes pride of place in my pocket, I have three or four Leatherman Multitools – one in the kitchen drawer, one in my tool chest, one in my car’s glove compartment, and one in my desk drawer. Two are knock-offs, and one is one of the baby ones, but the concept is the same – sturdy, solid tools folded into a portable form. This way I have some basic tools handy when I’m feeling too lazy to take down my big tool box and dig around for something.

      7. Tape

      Duct tape, of course, but also electrical tape (for quick and dirty wire splices), plumbing tape (which isn’t really tape, but a kind of plastic gauze that goes around a pipe fitting’s threads to create a leak-free barrier), painting tape (for masking off areas you don’t want to get oil or WD-40 or anything else on), and whatever other kind of tape you see around. Tape is cheap, and you’ll almost always find at least one job that you can take care of with whatever kind of tape you’ve wisely stocked up.

      8. Putty Knife

      Putty Knife

        Intended, as the name suggests, to spread putty (for example, while sealing a bathtub), putty knives come in various shapes and sizes. I like to keep one or two handy for things as random as spreading spackling over a screw hole in the drywall to scraping stickers off of glass. They’re cheap, so grab a couple.

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        9. Precision screwdriver set

        A set of tiny screwdrivers (like this one) is a must-have accessory for geeks, who often must remove dozens of itsy-bitsy screws while changing a hard drive, opening a PDA, or swapping RAM into a laptop. They’re also super-useful for tightening screws on glasses!

        10. Silver marker

        And finally, folks, the silver marker. Not just for teachers, teenage girls, and scrapbookers! In fact, the silver marker is perhaps the single most important piece of equipment available to today’s Homo technologicus for one simple yet vital reason: AC adapters are almost always black. And they’re almost never marked in any useful way to show you which one goes with what gadget! Silver marker shows up on black, and is permanent, which means you can mark each and every wall wart, power convertor, and adapter with the name of the gadget it goes to. I also mark the top side of black USB cables so I can tell which side goes “up” when I plug something in. I’m sure there are dozens of other uses for silver markers – throw a pair in your toolbox and just see how many uses you come up with!

        So those are the 10 tools that round out my tool box. What tools do you rely on?

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        Last Updated on January 21, 2020

        Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

        Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

        Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

        This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

        The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

        The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

        Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

        Curiosity

        Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

        People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

        Patience

        Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

        When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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        Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

        A Feeling for Connectedness

        This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

        A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

        The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

        How to Self-Taught Effectively

        With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

        1. Research

        Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

        Learning the Basics

        Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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        Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

        What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

        Hitting the Books

        Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

        Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

        Long-Term Reference

        While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

        My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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        2. Practice

        Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

        A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

        Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

        Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

        3. Network

        One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

        These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

        Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

        Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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        4. Schedule

        For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

        Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

        Final Thoughts

        In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

        If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

        At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

        More About Self-Learning

        Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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