Like many men, I try to demonstrate power tool prowess from time to time. The “to” interval represents something like a quarter, so each “time” follows the preceding “time” by about three months. I’ve derived many of the following tips the hard way; that is, I have learned much of what I know from the thin prose and disconnected photographs in tool pornography magazines such as Handy and The Family Handyman. I haven’t actually completed many useful household projects, since I get my satisfaction from flipping through the magazines and dreaming. I am the son and grandson of remodeling contractors whose talents have apparently skipped a generation, but I have, up to four times annually, applied myself and my vast knowledge to improving my household. Ergo, I proffer advice appropriately to help you, too, turn a simple household project into an all-day affair.
Perhaps you’ve decided to put up surround-sound speakers for your home entertainment system. You just need to add a stereo outlet behind your entertainment center and run stereo wire through the walls to outlets for the rear speakers behind your sofa. It sounds fairly simple. Cut a couple holes in the paneling, run some wire between them. You could do it in an hour, right? Follow these tips, and your simple project will change into a life-transforming, all-day event.
- Always take shortcuts which don’t, in fact, save time.
Some people, such as those who excelled in shop class in middle school, might tell you to begin your work by measuring, diagramming, or at least thinking ahead about what you’re going to do to your den before you start. Balderdash! Planning wastes valuable time that you could better spend admiring your handy work and accepting the accolades of your family and friends. You’ve probably procrastinated this particular chore long enough for it to work its way into an Andy Rooney parable. Haste prevents wasted time, and once more make a breach, dear friends, once more.
Besides, you only need a couple of holes and some speaker wire.
- Don’t worry about having the right tools; use whatever you have at hand.
Civilization developed from Neanderthals who bound rocks to sticks as tools. Millennia later, we have screwdrivers and hammers. Either has innumerable uses, and combined they represent all possible combinations of tools. If you’re going to add a sunroom to your home, you only need a hammer, a screwdriver, and maybe a pocket knife. You waste money when you buy custom tools that you’ll only use once. You’ll then store them forever, or at least until a visitor to your estate sale tries to convince your disinterested heirs that your heirlooms aren’t worth two dollars each.
You can drill through the paneling in your den like a manic mosquito with a ½ inch with 3/8 inch reduced shank proboscis until you’ve got big enough bits to pass the wire through. You can fish in the hole with a bent coat hanger or a string to pull the cable. You’re set. Drill! Drill!
Except your drill holes don’t give you much room; you can’t fit a finger in to feel for a coat hanger or a string. Since you will cover the speaker outlet with a faceplate, you could cut a bigger hole. You need a special saw to cut into the wall. What do they call that again? Oh, yeah, a drywall saw.
- Make many trips to the hardware store.
Sometimes, I hate to admit, the trifecta of fom toolery listed above won’t serve your needs. If you’ve followed tip number 1, you’ll discover this when you have removed a number of panels and have disconnected power to the entire house (just in case). You’ll need an Allen wrench, one of the more exotic drivers, or a special tool for cutting wallboard or sheet metal—oddly enough, no tool cuts both well, not even that Swiss machinist knife you just sharpened.
You’ll need to trek to your local hardware store or home improvement supercenter. Personally, I find nothing compares to the self-assured manliness I enjoy in the hardware store when I know exactly what I need to perform a specific task. The experience puts me in touch with my ancestors and bonds me as an equal to burly men who even today have to work for a living by doing useful things.
Remember, both the cavernous superstore and the local, struggling family hardware store offer a particular time-wasting strength. The cavernous superstore makes the search for a particular grommet exceedingly difficult as you forage through acres of eight-foot high shelving for a couple dollars’ worth of plastic and metal. Even if you ask for help, the second-year high-school sophomore will need a manager, who has already committed to help another customer unlucky enough to find a teenage wonder-aboutkund.
If the family hardware store remains open for business when faced with the competition of the national super lumberyard-and-hot-dog-stand, it has only a sixty percent chance of stocking your grommet. Fortunately, though, a drywall saw is a fairly common grommet, so the family hardware store probably has one. Just one, though, so hurry before another reader gets there to buy it.
Whichever you choose, you face at least a half hour in your car and in the checkout line. When you get home, after you have carefully unwrapped the product from its box or blister wrap and have studiously ignored and lost the instructions, you will discover its power source requires charging or inconveniently-sized batteries.
- Innovate, adapt, or just try something different.
A true handyman is handy, and can adapt and jerry rig to obtain the desired result. Some might say that this displays a great degree of synthetic thought, where one applies experience and inductive reasoning together, but anyone who uses terms like “synthetic thought” and “inductive reasoning” probably hires a professional for his or her home upgrades.
In our project, we might discover that our new drywall saw doesn’t pierce wood paneling. You’re supposed to punch it against drywall and saw, but the tip bends on paneling. Still, you’ve got the drill; you can easily drill a large hole in each corner of the square you want to cut and connect the dots with the saw. However, trying this leads to a time-consuming process which yields a jagged, unpredictable cut. A jigsaw would speed the process, but that would require another trip to the hardware store and further expenditure.
On the other hand, you still have the hammer and screwdriver in reserve. Perhaps you don’t need the jigsaw. You can adapt your technique to the tools at hand. You can use the screwdriver to pry the paneling from the wall and run the wire that way. Like Hannibal Smith and MacGyver rolled into one, you love it when an innovation comes together.
- Throw at least one, preferably more, tantrum that sets you back.
It’s not uncommon to feel a little twinge of frustration after hours of futility in performing a simple task that you know a professional could accomplish in twenty minutes while intoxicated. Carefully devised shortcuts have failed. Innovations prove as troublesome as replaced, obsolete methodologies. Also, it doesn’t help that you’ve opened a gash in your finger that bleeds enough to make you want to save the blood in a can in case the hospital needs to put it back.
You’ve bent screwdrivers because you didn’t have a crowbar handy. You’ve gone back to the hardware store to purchase your brand new crowbar. When you pry with your new, label-yet-affixed crowbar, the wood panel doesn’t appreciate your deft, gentle, and soothing touch and splits. We, and by “we” I mean “at least I did, and I hope I am not alone,” might feel a little rage. Not murderous, but a pure rage worthy of expression.
Curse and tug with a final, gamma ray burst of strength. Revel in your own destructive capability as the paneling not only splits, but pulls free from the wall, tearing out the light switch faceplate, the light switch, and the telephone jack. The picture you didn’t remove (to save time, of course), crashes to the floor and sprays glass nuggets onto the carpet and into the chair in which you’d expected to nap. The thrill of proving your point instantaneously transforms into remorse; the speed of the transition creates a thunderclap, or perhaps that’s just further cursing. Also, don’t touch that sparking wire.
- Do what the professionals do.
At this point in my projects, when my cursing reaches other rooms and sweat obscures the tunnel of my vision, my wife appears to ask if there’s anything she can do, or perhaps to see what she can save. As she’s seen me in this state before, she knows what to ask. “What would a professional do?”
“Quit and get a retail job,” you might want to respond, as I often do, but the question has its merit. Take a step back from your current situation, reflect upon what you’re trying to do, and assess it coldly in the terms of dollars and sense. Imagine you were a kid fresh out of high school, a pierced-and-tattooed fellow with no military or college prospects who got a job and has to get up at six in the morning no matter how late the concert ended last night. Now imagine how his foreman would look at the situation.
A professional would only do as much work as needed to achieve the result required. To place surround sound speakers, the professional would understand that opening the walls would run the cost of the project up intolerably. He would simply staple the wires along the baseboard or crown molding and in the room’s corners to the speakers. Incidentally, a professional already owns the staple gun and would not have to make another trip to the Ace Hardware.
A professional moves confidently, partly because he’s done this at least once before. He won’t move with the heightened timidity from which we suffer, the gingerliness that leads to the sudden explosion of frustration. No, the professional is one cool customer. His calmness stems from the certainty that if he errs, he can fix the error, or at least cover it up cheaply. He can patch the unnecessary holes and somehow disguise the splintered break in the paneling, no problem. Smug bastard.
With that final insight, and with thirty minutes of draping wire like Christmas garland, you have successfully, relatively, completed a project for which you no longer feel any pride. Night has fallen, and clean-up operations remain, which include rearranging the room to mask any extra holes in the walls.
You have learned a valuable lesson from the experience, though. If you’re like me, you’ll remember how inadept you are at this sort of thing for at least two months. Fortunately, this schedule will minimize the damage you can do to your home and the number of times you must call contractors for catastrophic repairs. It certainly helps me.