HOW TO BE HANDY-ER: A guide to be­ing a lit­tle more ca­pa­ble than you al­ready are.

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents - PHO­TO­GRAPH BY DEVON JARVIS ROY BY BEREND­SOHN

HOW TO BE HANDY -ER

THERE’S HANDINESS. AND THEN THERE’S HANDINESS. THIS STORY IS ABOUT HANDINESS.

EVEN WELL- MADE THINGS ARE, from the mo­ment they’re cre­ated, head­ing to­wards obliv­ion. Handiness ar­rests that process and makes those things right again, putting to work a well­stocked tool­box and giv­ing you the readi­ness to use it on small re­pairs and projects.

But sup­pose you’re al­ready handy. How do you go to the next level? First, you have to iden­tify what you need to get there. The next level of handiness (which we’re just go­ing to call handiness from here on out) re­quires a broad swath of me­chan­i­cal knowl­edge and the abil­ity to ap­ply it sk­il­fully in re­pairs, assem­bly, and small con­struc­tion projects. Ic­ing on the cake: It’s the abil­ity to do this work on short no­tice and, much of the time, un­der duress when some­thing is lack­ing, such as in­struc­tions, the weather, light, or time.

We re­mem­ber with af­fec­tion and thanks not only this well-ex­e­cuted work, but the peo­ple who did the fix­ing: the mom who fixed our bi­cy­cle, the neigh­bour who fixed the gate, the un­cle who fixed the leak­ing toi­let with noth­ing more than a pair of pli­ers, the dad who in­sisted that the un­cle not use pli­ers to fix the leak­ing toi­let. We watch and learn from this. Like the re­paired ob­ject, we’re im­proved in the process.

Handiness is not just mak­ing the fence post stop shak­ing when you shut the gate. It’s mak­ing sure it doesn’t shake for the next ten years. It’s not just re­mov­ing a stuck screw. It’s know­ing why it’s stick­ing. Handiness isn’t just fix­ing the squeak that’s com­ing up through the floor­boards. It’s about fix­ing it with­out mess­ing up the floor.

Handiness is a phone call from next door on a quiet au­tumn evening, when I was about 12. Our neigh­bours were out, and the mother-in-law was babysit­ting the kids. There was no wa­ter. The well had stopped. My fa­ther hung up the phone and said to me, ‘We have to go next door.’ And so I ac­com­pa­nied him. I was al­ways the flash­light man, the son re­spon­si­ble for hold­ing the light just above his shoul­der while he worked. It al­ways felt like surgery at the part in the movie when the doc­tor calls for a scalpel and some­one hands it to him. My job was sim­ple, but cru­cial.

We pro­ceeded to the base­ment. My fa­ther no­ticed the well’s cir­cuit breaker had not tripped, so there was power to the well. Then, while giv­ing me my first cau­tion­ary ad­vice about work­ing on live equip­ment, he re­moved the well switch-pump cover and with me hold­ing the light steadily over his shoul­der, he went part by part through the switch assem­bly di­ag­no­sis. As it turned out, the prob­lem was noth­ing more than some worn com­po­nent that had caused a jammed spring. With a care­ful flick of a screw­driver’s tip, he freed the stuck part, and the pump turned on and filled the well tank with wa­ter.

Handiness might in­volve lit­tle more than a few swings of a ham­mer and the use of some­thing as sim­ple as a putty knife. Master that, and move on to the next level, we say. If you do, you’ll be­queath to your chil­dren, neigh­bours, friends, and com­plete strangers some­thing good: a small but noble gift that sets a wrong world right.

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