The Secret to do-it-yourself home repair

Our latest column from William Thomas

Look helpless. Act Reckless. Get out of the way!

I greatly admire men who are good with their hands. I stand in awe of these purveyors of sump pumps, the repairers of appliances, the restorers of furniture, the lamp fixers, the paint mixers, the chemists of household elixirs. They are homestead heroes these weekend warriors, these Home Depot deputies, — men who put the tread in Canadian Tire. Sadly, I’m not one of those guys.

Truth be told, I can get hurt just leafing through the yellow pages trying to find one of those guys. I’m not entirely useless, but if I had to put a match to a burned out pilot light in order to heat my house in the dead of winter, the title of that particular Tool Time episode would be “KABOOM!”

Lakeside living is fraught with perils of frozen pipes and flooded basements, breakwall damage and varmints under the cottage. When I bought my house on Sunset Bay the local handyman took pity on me and I quickly agreed to hire out his service at ten bucks an hour.

“I’ll help,” I said, “You know, carry stuff, hand you tools. It’ll save you time.” And, I’m thinking, him/time, me/money. So I helped him. Once. The second time he came to do a job he had a new fee schedule: “Ten bucks and hour, $15 if you help me.”

So I did my own home repairs for a while, which is to say the place was going to hell in a handbasket and the handbasket was held together with dental floss and Elmer’s Glue.

Then one day my neighbour, John Grant, showed up as I was about to start a small project. I was standing barefoot on the back lawn next to a pile of four by fours with a pencil behind my ear and a chain saw roaring in my right hand.

“What the hell are you doin’?” he shouted. “Cuttin’ these boards to size” I yelled back. “Drill some holes; place the boards against the bottom of the house. Air vents. Keep skunks out!”

“Stand over there.” he screamed, turning off the chain saw and taking it to his van. He returned with his tool box, used a hacksaw to cut the boards and attached a spade bit to his electric drill making holes two inches in diameter. He cut round patches of screen for the holes and let me pass him the tacks to attach them. The entire job took forty minutes as opposed to the two days I’d set aside to do it on my own. Plus, I cancelled my reservation at Port Colborne Hospital’s Urgent Care Unit.

So that worked well for 13 years. I’d invite John down for a beer and when he arrived I’d be standing there, looking confused, with some menacing tool in my hand and at a pile of hardware supplies some of which still had price tags on them.

“What the hell are you doin’?”

“This thing keeps cutting out. Must be an electrical short. I’m just going to go open it up and see if there’s a loose wire …” To which John would say: “Stand over there. No, way over there.”

Then he turned off the electricity (I tell you, these guys think of everything!), hooked up his circuit tester, found the problem, solved the problem, had a beer and went home. Two days later, after living in the dark and eating cold food, I phoned John Grant and he came over and turned my electricity back on. (He’s good. He’s just not perfect.)

Then John moved away but he comes back to windsurf off my beach and he always makes the same mistake: he calls before he comes. That gives me one half hour to lay out my latest household maintenance project in a heap on the patio and stand there looking menacing with a crowbar or a power tool in my hand just as John pulls into the driveway.

“What the hell are you doin’?”

“I’m going to stand over there.” I say, saving both of us a bit of time.

Vacuum cleaner belts got replaced, a dog ramp into the bed got built. Beach chairs were measured and designed, the TV and stereo fitted with ‘no-surge’ adapters.

Gradually, preferring windsurfing to working on my house, John seemed harder to conscript so the props needed to be more menacing. One time I was holding a hatchet and the next time an axe. The machete tied to my belt worked like a charm.

As the winds on Sunset Bay picked up this summer, John was focusing more on the water than the “Bill Project”! So I resorted to self-mutilation. Nothing serious, a cut here, a bruise there. Nothing worked. Today I stood in my driveway for an hour waiting for John, holding an X-Acto knife and staring at my baby toe. (I know, I know. I have to stop this nonsense soon.)

Last night’s news showed the X-ray of the American roofer with the four-inch nail lodged in his cranium. Somehow he managed to shoot himself in the head with a nail gun. The black and white skeletal photo shows the nail a hair away from puncturing his brain. He has no ill effects whatsoever and will soon have the nail removed. Doctors are calling it a miracle. I call it my next move. John, may it never come to that. Now get out here and bring a level.

For comments, ideas and copies of The Legend of Zippy Chippy, go to



Help Erie Media stay online with a voluntary subscription

Subscription Options