Ask This Librarian – DIY help

One of my friends got me started on this project by asking:

My question, if you don’t mind: I’d like to improve my DIY skills. I know how to use a screwdriver, drill, hammer, and other usual simple tools, but have very little hands-on experience. Can you point me at some simple and small handyman projects for practice, and/or references to read and learn more, that are just above the level of total clueless newbie?

My answer:

It depends a little on the kind of project you’re interested in, but here are some ideas:

1) Websites:
The following websites all have some useful projects with clear directions that might give you some good places to get started.

2) Book suggestions:

3) Volunteer
As I looked for information, I kept seeing the suggestion to try volunteering for an organization that does the kind of thing you’re interested in learning more about. Habitat for Humanity came up several times for learning house improvement DIY skills, and so did volunteering to help with sets and props for a local theater. Both have a pretty good chance of connecting you with people who like talking about this stuff, and can give some other great suggestions.

That should give you a bunch of places to start! If you want more help, just let me know some more specifics of what you’re looking for.

My process:

This is not a topic I know much about (nor one that’s come up in my previous work life), so I’m starting from square one.

Two starting places came to mind: one was to try Google, and the other was to try Ask.Metafilter.

Google is obvious – and I know my friend, who is an intelligent and thoughtful woman, will probably already have tried it, but it’s worth taking a look myself. I tried a few different search terms like

  • simple DIY projects
  • DIY home improvement
  • DIY home improvement easy

All of which turned up some links, but not anything that blew me away in a quick scan.

So, I turned to my other option. You might be more familiar with Metafilter from their link discussion area, but I’m a huge fan of the Ask.Metafilter area. There, people can post questions (no more than once a week) and other people answer them. There’s a one-time registration cost ($5) that keeps spamming down, and there’s reasonable moderation to keep questions focused on topics where advice from others is helpful rather than, say, pure opinions. (Jessamyn West, who is well-known in library blogging circles, is one of the moderators, which is how I got hooked in the first place.)

It’s become one of my favorite starting places for “How do I?” type questions, because it’s easy to skim a range of answers quite quickly, and because the site culture favors links to other resources, useful books, and other materials.

So, off I went, and tried a few different searches – DIY, projects, etc. and browsed the tags for a little bit until I found about ten posts that looked likely. I skimmed through those, opened up some related questions, and found a number of great resources.

By the time that was done, I felt I had a good starting place for an answer, but wanted a few more book suggestions. I went to Amazon and tried the same general search terms (DIY, simple projects, etc.) and browsed through the results, looking for books with good reviews (and ideally good reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, or other professional sources. )

I then went and double checked the relevant public library system to see if they had them – which they do.

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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

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