by Steven D. Johnson
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Many woodworkers are just plain overall "handy." In a pinch you can wire a new outlet, install a
water heater, build a deck, or put siding on a house, all the while building, turning, or carving a
masterpiece in your woodshop. I suspect there is a bit of "handyman" (or "handywoman") in every
woodworker. I also suspect that many who think of themselves as "handypeople" first and foremost,
are actually also quite adequate and perhaps even truly gifted and talented woodworkers. There are
woodworker/handymen, and handymen/woodworkers and I have great respect for all.
Then, there are "the others." The "unhandymen." While I intend no offense, it is important that
people occasionally self-assess their own strengths and weaknesses. The unhandyman is, fortunately,
a minority...but a dangerous minority. These unhandymen have convinced themselves, and sometimes
others, that they are "handy." They do things they should never do, or do things in a way that
should never be done. They are walking, talking safety disaster zones and code compliance scofflaws.
At a minimum, they need help, instruction, coaching, practice, or a mentor. Alas, some never learn
(or refuse to learn) though, and need their hammers confiscated and their toolboxes locked.
I would consider myself a woodworker/handyman, with the accent placed firmly on the word
"woodworker" and the word "handyman" spoken in a barely audible whisper. I know, all too well, my
Yes, I can install a faucet, repair a toilet, solder a copper pipe, cut and glue PVC, but I could
never, ever, make a living being a plumber. Every plumbing project I undertake takes at least three
trips to the store, guessing all the way which fittings and what bits and pieces I will need, and
usually I make the wrong choice. Much "colorful language" accompanies all of my plumbing jobs.
Anything too complex, I call a real handyman.
I can frame a house, and have, but it takes me four times as long as a skilled framer. I
measure, square, and level to the point of distraction, and "noodle" too much on angles, runs, and
rises. A skilled and successful framer once said to me, "Ah, an inch or two, here and there, really
makes no difference!" I still cringe at the memory of that conversation, hire professionals, and
look the other way until they are done.
Electrical work, for some reason, comes easily to me. I can plan and execute a complex wiring
job, install all manner of switches, lights, and other gear, but I stop short of the breaker box. I
know my limitations (and the limitations of liability on my insurance policy) and leave circuit
breaker connections to the professionals.
Changing the windshield wiper blades on a vehicle was a skill I only acquired after several
tries, but anything else "car-related" is a mystery. Once, in a paroxysm of self-reliance I tried
changing my own oil. I had to hike a mile down the road and get my neighbor, a very handy dairy
farmer, to help me get my vehicle reassembled. It is truly a mental block. Off to the mechanic I
In the past I have built too many decks to remember, I have constructed gazebos, room additions,
porches, finished basements, and installed wood flooring. I've done the trim carpentry in a dozen
houses, hung doors, kitchen cabinets, and crown molding. But, I know where to stop and what to
"hire-out" to professionals. There are also some things I know I could do, but I will do them so
slowly and so inefficiently, that it is much more cost effective to call in a truly talented
handyman or a pro. Alas, that is just me. I have deep respect (and a little jealousy) for all of
you who can really do all these things yourself, and do them well.
The problem is that small minority of "others." Those who think themselves handy, never seek
help, and never really do a very good job at anything. I'm sorry, I know that sounds a bit severe,
and I sincerely believe that everyone should have an opportunity to learn, grow, and perfect their
skills. I am not directing any ire toward anyone who lacks skills but is trying to acquire them.
No, my ire is directed to those who think they already possess every skill necessary, jump in, and
generally muck things up for the next guy (or gal). Do us all a favor...if you are helplessly locked
in "unhandyman" mode, either hire a professional, get someone to show you how to do things
correctly, or keep your unhandy hands in your pocket. A case in point...
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