Work smarter, not harder, on DIY projects

6 common-sense tips to save time, avoid mistakes

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6 common-sense tips to save time, avoid mistakes

Paul Bianchina
Inman News®

Do-it-yourself projects can be extremely satisfying, and the savings can add some much-needed cash to your wallet. But they can also be a lot of work, and they take time away from family and leisure activities. So why make them any harder than they need to be?

With that simple philosophy in mind, here's a list of suggestions to help you get your projects done more quickly and with less stress.

1. Set up some work tables: Having a place that's off the floor to gather all your tools and materials is one of the quickest and most helpful things you can do. It keeps everything in one place, makes assembly much easier, and puts tools like miter saws at a safe, comfortable working height.

One of the best ways to do this is with an inexpensive pair of folding sawhorses, topped with a couple of two-by-fours and a sheet or a half-sheet of particleboard or plywood. A couple of screws through the particleboard into the two-by-fours will keep things from tipping. These are easy and cheap enough to make and move that you can consider having a couple of them set up in different areas as needed. But remember: These are not for standing on!

2. Plastic is your friend: Pick up a roll or two of thin plastic sheeting, also called painter's plastic. Use it to cover your work tables, to hang over doorways, to cover furniture, and to protect anything else you don't want covered with dust, paint and drywall mud. It sounds like such a common-sense thing, but a lot of people don't do it, and the end result is hours wasted at the end of the job in unnecessary cleanup, not to mention the possibility of a ruined piece of furniture.

3. Gather what you need: One of the best things you can do to speed up the job and avoid frustration is to gather up everything you need before you start. Make a list of all the tools you can think of, and get them set out on your work table. That helps you avoid being right in the middle of something, and having to run out to the garage or down to the basement in search of the right wrench.

Also, try to figure out all your materials. Few things are more irritating than being partway through a project and finding out that some crucial piece is missing -- especially when the power's off or you're without water -- and you have to make a run to the home center at the last minute.

4. Buy some clamps: Bar clamps, especially the quick-grip type that can be operated with a squeeze of one hand, are surprisingly valuable to have around. They act like a second set of hands for temporarily aligning things while you fasten them, such as two boards or a couple of cabinet faces; they hold things in place temporarily, like your work table top to your sawhorses; they can pull stubborn boards together, or push them apart; and many other things.

Buy at least one pair in a couple of different lengths, along with some spring clamps, which are available inexpensively in a package of assorted sizes.

5. Read the instructions: Believe it or not, the instructions packaged with most items are there for a reason, and it pays to read them. The instructions give you a list of what parts should be included, so you can check to see that everything's there before you start. They also give you the proper assembly sequence, to avoid missed steps. Many of them also give you a list of necessary tools.

I recommend taping the instructions to a wall near where you're working, or attaching them to a scrap of plywood with some binder clips so they stay open and handy. When you're done with the assembly, label the instructions with the date of installation, the model and serial number of the item, and where you bought it, then file it for future reference. And don't forget to register the warranty.

6. Ask for help: If you don't understand how to do something, ask for an explanation where you buy your products or tools. Most home centers, hardware stores, paint stores, lumberyards and other retailers that cater to do-it-yourselfers have very knowledgeable sales staffs that can assist you with your questions. They can also help you gather up additional materials and tools that you might need to see the project through to completion.

On a related note, if a project calls for a second set of hands, ask for help with that as well. Exceeding your personal limitations for lifting and maneuvering something into place can not only result in a sloppy job, but it's also downright dangerous.

Remodeling and repair questions? Email Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com. All product reviews are based on the author's actual testing of free review samples provided by the manufacturers.

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