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