This guide contains 15 awesome hints and tips to help improve your DIY skills. We’ll cover DIY in your house and garden.
We’re all spending a lot more time at home right now which can be a blessing and a curse. Many of us have taken to DIY to alleviate boredom and brighten up the house. After all, if we must stare at the same four walls every day, they should be damn good walls!
To help you achieve all of your DIY projects dreams, we’ve put together this bumper guide.
It will take you through the DIY process from start to finish, offering tried and tested advice. With a little bit of patience, practice, and protection, you’ll be a pro DIYer in no time!
Plan Your Project
Before you get trigger happy with a hammer or drill, you need to take the time to plan out your DIY project. My school teachers always preached the 7 ‘P’s mantra; proper planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance.
It’s a good adage to keep in mind when you’re doing DIY. If you don’t do the planning and preparation first, your project is not going to turn out the way you want it.
So how do you plan and prepare for DIY?
Well, read on. The rest of our list takes you through the planning and preparation stages. You should do each step every time you start a project. Don’t get cocky after you paint your first cabinet and assume you can build a whole shed on a whim. It won’t end well.
Always remember your 7 ‘P’s.
The first step in your preparations should always be safety. Think about it, you wouldn’t start your car without your seatbelt. You shouldn’t start a DIY job without safety kit.
Now, the kind of safety kit you need will depend on the project you are doing. Sometimes you’ll need to be protected head to toe, other times you’ll only need minimal protection. To establish what kit you need, you need to evaluate the potential hazards of the job.
DIY hazards can include:
Some of these hazards are mitigated by following safe working practices, others require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE.)
Let’s take a look at what we can do to limit the hazards.
Ventilation - If you’re working with toxic chemicals or materials, make sure you have plenty of ventilation. This could be as simple as opening some windows or it could mean using a respirator mask.
Don’t forget that ventilation isn’t just about gases and chemicals. If you’re working in an environment with lots of dust, sawdust, or small particulates, you need to wear a mask or respirator.
Always read the manufacturer’s guidelines or instructions before using a product. They will usually tell you how much ventilation you need.
Protective gloves - Protective gloves can protect against lots of different hazards.
We start out at the most basic level with latex or vinyl gloves. These gloves are as common in DIY settings as they are in medical settings.
Vinyl or latex gloves protect your hands from irritants, bacteria, and chemicals. They allow you to maintain tactile function. Consider wearing these when painting, varnishing, or applying anything you don’t want on your hands.
I'd also recommend wearing protective gloves not just when applying paint, but more so if you're attempting to remove paint from wood. Chemicals used to remove paint are pretty harsh, and you certainly don't want to spend the afternoon in the emergency room with a chemical burn.
Vinyl or latex gloves do not protect you from sharp objects. For that, you’ll need cut-resistant gloves. These can be made from a variety of different materials including Kevlar or chainmail.
If you’re working with heat or naked flames, you’ll need flame-resistant gloves. It’s important to remember that these gloves are not fireproof. They can only handle so much damage!
Other safety gloves to consider include grip gloves that help with holding things and anti-impact gloves. These can help protect your hands from a bash with a hammer or heavy objects.
Ear defenders – These are perhaps the most ignored PPE item when they really shouldn’t be.
Ear defenders should be worn if you’re working in noise levels over 85 db. Knowing which tools put you over that limit include drills, saws, and sanders.
This CDC list contains the decibel level of different tools by brand.
Safety glasses – Safety glasses should be worn anytime there is the potential for flying particulates, dust, or splashing liquids.
It’s important to remember that even though some safety goggles look like normal eyewear, they are significantly stronger. It’s not ok to just wear your normal glasses as protection.
If you’re dealing with dust or smaller particulates, you’ll want glasses with side protection as a minimum.
Safety goggles offer the fullest protection against particulates, but some people find them difficult to wear.
If you’re working with tools that give off lots of heat and optical radiation, you should be wearing special goggles. These goggles filter the UV and infrared light that can cause significant damage to your eyes.
Overalls – Overalls or coveralls are designed to protect your clothes as well as your skin. For instance, if you’re working with insulation, you’ll want to wear coveralls to stop the fibers irritating your skin.
Another great thing about overalls is the fact that they keep all lose articles hidden out of the way. This is important because you do not want to get hoodie strings or long sleeves caught in blades or spinning implements.
Keep things clean – To avoid trips or spills, make sure to keep your work area clean and organized. If you’ve got tools plugged in, try not to drag cables across walkways.
Always unplug tools when you’re done with them to avoid accidentally tripping or turning them on.
Have a spotter – This is important when you’re working at heights. If you’re going up a ladder or on a roof, make sure someone is around to hold your ladder or spot your falls.
While we’re talking about working at heights, make sure you set up your ladders safely. Always place them on flat surfaces and make sure stops and latches are in place.
Be Safe, Know Your Limits.
One of the best things about DIY is the fact that it challenges you. You get the satisfaction of completing a challenging project and the benefit of a snazzy new bit of furniture.
However, you need to recognize your limits. Taking on a project that is too technically advanced or difficult can cause injury.
There’s no shame in admitting that a project is too difficult for the moment. Just take some time to practice, maybe get some tuition or lessons, and do some research. Eventually you’ll get there.
Decide if it’s a Professional Job Vs DIY Project
Linked to the last point, when you’re planning and evaluating a job admit that you might have to call in a pro. We know that you’d like to save money and get the job done yourself, but some things require specialized skills.
As a general rule, if there’s a specialized trade dedicated to the craft, leave the job alone. For example, plastering should be left to plasterers, plumbing to plumbers. However, all rules are meant to be broken. Some smaller jobs requiring little skill can be done yourself.
Unless you’re qualified, don’t mess with electrics, gas, or structural works. These jobs can cause catastrophic failure when they go wrong. Jobs that require certification like installing boilers, or most electrical testing, should not be completed by yourself. Get a professional.
Another thing to check is your homeowner’s insurance. Some jobs may be specifically listed in your insurance schedule. These must be carried out by a professional or your insurance will be void.
Research Thoroughly First
So, you’ve selected your project, you’ve got your safety kit, now can you start bashing and drilling? Unfortunately, not quite.
You need to take the time to research the project you’re thinking of completing. Your research should focus on what tools are needed, how to do the task, and how to care for or maintain your finished project.
Try to think about this stage as pulling together a recipe for your project. You’ll need an ingredient list which covers your materials and tools, the recipe section with instructions, and then the serving suggestions which are your aftercare and maintenance.
When you’re looking for instructions, make sure you understand every step. This might mean researching additional terms and techniques, but that’s not a problem.
Sometimes, instructions assume a level of skill that might not be present in a complete beginner. It’s so much better to research a term or skill before you accidentally mess up your project.
Remember that research doesn’t just mean reading books or instructions. Watch videos, take lessons, or ask a pro for advice. Whatever works best for you, that’s the way to go.
While you’re researching, take some time to look at other people’s work for inspiration. You might already have a clear image of how the final product is going to look but sometimes, you’ll spot an even better idea.
Sometimes, it can help to create a mood board of inspirational pieces. That way you can pull elements that you love from lots of different places. You don’t have to get out the PVA glue and glitter. Make your mood board digitally on Pinterest or Instagram.
The final bit of advice I have for this section is to pay close attention to the materials being used. Not all paints are created equal, for example. If they recommend a particular kind of material or tool, it’s usually because it has properties that make it suitable for the job in hand.
Substituting branded for non-branded products is often ok. For example, you could switch Dulux feature wall paint for a store brand wall pain. However, switching out different kinds of materials should only be done when you understand the properties of your materials.
If we go back to the paint example, using gloss paint where the instructions recommend matt paint will change the look, feel and functionality of your project.
Make Sure You Have the Right Tools
One of the things that can be off putting about DIY is the fact that you need a raft of different tools. Sometimes, a job demands a tool that you’ll never use again. This can be super annoying because it feels like a waste of money.
If you’re anything like me, you end up putting off that job just because you don’t want to buy a new tool just for that job.
However, you don’t actually need to buy these one-off specialized tools. You can do a few different things to bring the cost down and avoid needless buying
Rent a tool – the first thing to do is check out your local hardware or tool store.
Often, they have rental schemes that allow you to borrow large, specialized, or hard to find tools. Sometimes, they even let you borrow your average Joe tools.
Renting is great for two reasons. Firstly, it’s usually a lot cheaper than buying a tool. Especially if you’re only using it for a day or two. Secondly, you don’t have to worry about storage!
Tool storage is a massive bone of contention in our house, so renting tools is usually the preferred route for us.
Family and Friends – Similar to the tool store rental option, you could try to borrow from friends and family. This option is even cheaper than renting from the hardware store. Usually, a bottle of something yummy covers a few days of tool use.
Of course, this route is only available to people with handy friends and family members.
If you have the option and you’re certain you’re not going to damage or break their tools, definitely consider the family loan option. Just remember to return it as you found it and replace like-for-like if necessary.
What Do You Need - Essential Hand and Power Tools.
Having told you to rent tools to save money, I’m now going to tell you to buy the following tools.
The thing is, it’s all well and good renting specialized or unusual tools that you’ll use once or twice. Renting tools that are going to see frequent use will just cost you a lot of dollars.
If you’re going to get into DIY you need to have a tool kit at home. This tool kit should be versatile and useful across the whole house. It should contain tools and items that you’ll use on lots of different jobs.
Luckily, most of the essential tools are pretty affordable. You can pick them up for a few dollars each at the hardware store.
Let’s take a look at these essential tools.
Hammer – Useful for everything from hanging pictures to building fences, a good quality claw-hammer should be a staple of your toolbox.
You’ll want a medium weight type of hammer so something between 16-20 oz would be ideal.
Lighter hammers don’t have the power you need for knocking things into walls.
Tape measure – Retractable tape measures are super handy to have around the house. They’ll help you measure materials for DIY projects, and they can be used to measure the height of your little ones!
A 25-foot-long tape measure is suitable for pretty much every job around the house.
Screwdrivers – In theory, you only need two types of screwdrivers.
One flathead and one Phillips head screwdriver should serve you well.
If you’re only getting one of each, choose a medium size. Personally, I advocate getting a set of screwdrivers in a variety of different sizes.
In particular, you want to get a set of small screwdrivers that can be used on small electronics like toys and remotes.
Pliers – Get yourself a set of pliers that includes needle point pliers, grooved pliers, and wire cutting pliers. You’ll probably use needle point pliers more often than the others, but grooved pliers are handy for pulling nails and staples.
Level- A level is often left out of amateur toolboxes, but it is an invaluable tool. If you want straight pictures, shelves, and furniture, you need a level.
Ideally, you want to choose a level that has a few different planes of use. This means that you can make sure things are level horizontally, vertically, and diagonally.
Nails, Screws, and Wall Plugs – Most of the time, shelves and furniture come with the hardware necessary for installation. However, it’s always a good idea to have a selection of screws and nails in your toolbox.
They come in handy if you need to replace nails or screws or if you’re building from scratch.
Electric Drill – This is probably the most expensive tool in your toolbox but boy is it valuable! An electric drill is used to create holes in walls, wood, and other materials. It is also used to quickly drill in screws.
Where possible, get a cordless drill. They are less powerful than corded drills, but they are so much handier around the home. Not having to worry about electrical sockets means that you can use the drill around the house and garden.
Spanners and Socket wrenches – I can’t count the number of times that I’ve needed a spanner and never had one on hand.
Please, make sure you have a spanner and socket wrench in your arsenal.
A set of spanners and socket wrenches will prep you for every eventuality, but an adjustable wrench will also do simply fine.
Utility knife – A utility knife is useful for cutting different materials, wires, and fabrics. You should look for one that is comfortable in the hand and has a blade that folds away safely.
Tape – A variety of tapes are available to purchase in your local hardware store. It’s important to recognize that different tapes do different jobs.
Duct tape is a strong adhesive tape that can be used to fix all manner of ills! Definitely include some duct tape in your toolbox.
Painter’s tape is less sticky and usually has a paper-like backing. This is used to protect surfaces from paint.
Electrical tape is made from vinyl and is used to insulate wires. Available in a range of colors and patterns, electrical tape can also be used for organizational purposes.
Paintbrushes and rollers – The final thing to have in your toolbox is a decent set of paintbrushes and rollers. You want a variety of sizes in both brushes and rollers.
Quality is important when it comes to paintbrushes and rollers. If you want an evenly applied coats of paint, make sure you have good quality painting supplies.
Try a Small Project First
As the old saying goes, don’t run before you can walk. As a beginner DIYer, try not to get ahead of yourself. When you’re choosing your first DIY project start small, like even attempting to make a small room look bigger.
This project should let you learn and practice your new skills without pushing you beyond your limits.
If you’ve got a project that you want to complete, say painting the shed, try scaling it down first. So, before you try painting the shed, try painting a garden chair first. This will let you practice your technique and get used to the paint too.
Similarly, if you plan on building yourself a bookcase, try building and installing a single shelf first.
The trial run project not only lets you try your hand at the skills, but it gives you a bit of a morale boost. Approaching a daunting project with some success already under your belt makes you feel capable.
Try and Use Repurposed Materials
Upcycling is all the rage now but even if it wasn’t, you should try to use repurposed or recycled materials in your DIY projects.
There are two reasons for this. First and foremost, it is much better for the environment. Using recycled materials means that there is less demand for the creation of new materials.
This means that fewer trees need cutting down, fewer toxins and chemicals are used, and waste is reduced overall.
The other great thing about using recycled materials is that it keeps your costs down. Repurposing floorboards for shelving or using old tiles for a new tabletop significantly reduces the cost of your project.
There are limits to repurposed materials, of course. The materials need to be in good condition and meet your projects dimensions and requirements.
It’s particularly important to check the integrity of repurposed materials that are going to be holding any significant amount of weight.
Another thing you’ll want to do before you dive into a project is carefully calculate the cost. You don’t want to get part way through your project and realize that you can no longer afford to buy the materials or tools.
Believe me, I’ve been there. I started renovating my stairs, pulled up the dry carpet, fitted new floorboards and then realized I couldn’t afford to get the paint and varnish to finish things up. It was a rookie mistake I have never lived down.
When it comes to making a budget, you need to first create a list of materials, tools, and safety gear. Include absolutely everything you might need, this includes the small things like screws, glues, and string.
When you price up materials, you’ll need to estimate how much you’re going to need. Get out your trusty tape measure and make accurate measurements.
Don’t forget that often, you can’t buy just what you need. If, for example, you’re painting, you have to buy paint by the tin, not just the amount you need.
I also recommend that you plan for some mistakes and budget for extra materials. This gives you some wiggle room just in case. Another thing to remember is the cost of delivery. This can get quite expensive when you’re ordering heavy materials like wood, brick, or cement.
Once you’ve planned out the cost of your project, take time to evaluate your personal finances and work out whether you can actually afford the project right now.
Remember that you can reduce the cost by borrowing tools, using repurposed materials, and browsing for discounts.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout your project. If you’re not sure what a particular tool is for, or how to make a named cut, call up your knowledgeable friends and family members.
If they’re unsure, or you’d prefer professional advice, just ask for it. Your local tradesman might be able to offer free advice, but they may request payment.
You can also try your local hardware or tool store for advice when it comes to using tools. They should be able to recommend settings, tools, and techniques that can help your project.
Another way to get advice is to go to the forums. Look for sites that have lots of responses from professional tradespeople.
If you do use forums, make sure you are selective about the advice you follow. Often, anyone with internet access can make an account and reply to questions and queries. This might mean you get conflicting or contradicting advice.
While we certainly don’t advocate the use of your phone while you’re working, we do suggest you bring them out during breaks.
When you start a project, take the time to snap a picture of the space or item without doing any work. This will be your before picture.
Throughout your project, take time to take a few pictures of your work. This will help you see the project with a bit more perspective. This can help you spot errors and anomalies. It can also help you identify the great parts of your work.
Taking photos at each step also gives you proof of your accomplishments. A lot of people don’t realize how much time and effort goes into even the simplest DIY projects. Your progress photos can help highlight this.
Having progress photos also lets you compare and evaluate your skills across multiple projects. If, for instance, you’re having trouble with varnishing wood shelves, having a collection of images showing how your varnishing has progressed can be invaluable.
You’ll be able to notice where you are improving and what still needs work. Your finished piece photographs are handy if you’re going to try to market or sell your skills or products. They will form the basis of your portfolio.
When taking your final pictures, you want to take pains to ensure the photo looks good, especially if you’re going to sell your products.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you have adequate lighting. You may have built the dresser in your dingy shed, but you’ll want to photograph it in natural light where possible.
If you’ve lost the daylight, look for diffused lights. This could be a shaded lamp or a soft spotlight. Try to avoid flash or harsh lighting because they are not flattering.
Another thing to keep in mind is how steady your hand is. Blurry photos do not show off your hard work!
If your hands are a bit shaky from using tools all day, try a tripod. You don’t need to splash out on a professional grade, extendable tripod. A small, tabletop tripod is more than effective.
For more photography tips, consider checking out this article by Time Magazine. They have lots of tips from pro photographers.
Start Early Never Late.
If you’re DIYing on your weekends, you might be tempted to sleep in and start later in the day. However, doing so can cause a raft of problems you just don’t want to be dealing with on a Saturday or Sunday.
The first problem you’ll run up against is shut shops. If you leave your DIY till later and you run out of something, you might find it difficult to get hold of what you need.
Again, I’ve done this myself. I ran out of paint at 6pm on a Sunday which meant the shops were shut and I couldn’t buy more.
It wasn’t a total disaster, but it did mean I had to dedicate another weekend to painting rather than finishing the job in one week.
So, my honest advice is to start things early. You don’t have to be up at the crack of dawn but give yourself enough time to run out for extras and essentials if necessary.
Another thing about starting later in the day is that you will eventually lose the daylight. This isn’t an issue if you have an indoor space to work in. However, if you’re working in the garden, it’s a problem. You don’t want to be building a privacy fence by torch light.
The final thing you need to be aware of is the noise levels. Your neighbors might not appreciate you breaking out a hammer drilling or high-powered type of saw on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. But one things for sure, they’ll appreciate it a whole lot less in the evening!
Remember that just because you go to bed later, doesn’t mean your neighbors or their kids do too.
In many places, there are laws or guidelines in place about noise levels at night. Often, you are required to stop loud noises before a specified time or face fines.
If you live in a homeowner’s association, you definitely want to check the noise regulations. They tend to be particularly stringent.
Allow Enough Time Don’t Rush.
This is linked to the last tip in a sense as starting late can make you rush to finish. Try to remember the old adage ‘good work is done with dignity and there is no dignity in rushing.’
If you rush you get sloppy. This brings down the overall skill level of your project. Don’t do yourself and your work a disservice by rushing through things.
In the beginning, your projects are going to take longer to complete and that is totally ok. As you become more confident and skillful, you will get quicker.
As you get lots of practice in, you’ll discover shortcuts and tricks that speed up your performance. Sometimes these shortcuts will reveal themselves organically, other times you’ll learn from asking for help.
The key thing to remember is to do the process in full first before using shortcuts and tricks. Honestly, it will make you a better DIYer. You have a better understanding of the craft and the materials if you do it by the book.
Take Care of Your Tools and They’ll Take Care of You
Once you’ve finished your job, take time to inspect, clean, and safely store them in a well-organized tool chest. They are tough but they’re not indestructible!
The first thing you need to do is wipe down your tools. Use an old rag to clean off any dust, debris, grease, or oil. These things might seem fairly inconspicuous but as they build up, they can cause problems.
While you’re wiping, take time to look for any faults, defects, or damage. Even small nicks can cause catastrophic failure under lots of stress.
If you do notice any damaged tools, you need to assess whether or not the damage is critical. This can be difficult to do as a beginner. I recommend taking any damaged tools to a hardware store and asking for their advice.
You might be tempted to continue using damaged tools as a way of avoiding paying out for new tools. This can be super dangerous. Even if a tool seems strong in your hand, a blow from a hammer can shatter previously solid steel.
If you have wooden handled tools like hammers, chisels, or saws, you need to inspect the wood. It should feel smooth in your hand.
If the wood feels rough or sharp, you’ll need to sand it down. Rough wood can cause splinters and cuts. You don’t want that pain and aggravation while you’re trying to work. Use a medium grit emery cloth to smooth out any rough patches on your handles.
Tools that have moving parts like adjustable wrenches, pliers, and shears should be given regular coats of lubricants like WD-40. This will prevent the joints from seizing up.
When you spray lubricant, you need to wipe away any excess. This is because the lubricant can cause your tools to slip unexpectedly on your materials. In terms of storing your tools, you need to make sure that they are stored in a cool, dry, environment.
Moisture and metal tools do not mix. In fact, moisture is the antithesis of metal tools. It causes rust which can be the death knell for your tools if not treated.
Rust is a chemical process called oxidation. It happens when iron is exposed to oxygen in the presence of moisture. Of course, this means that if your tools are made from anything other than iron or steel, they won’t rust.
However, most metal tools contain at least a small amount of iron. This is because the metal is dense and powerful.
Metal tools are also prone to cracking and weakness when exposed to extreme temperatures. This comes into play when you store your tools in an unheated environment such as a shed.
Exposure to extreme cold and then warmer temperatures can cause metals to crack unexpectedly.
Our recommendation is to store your tools in a temperature controlled, dry environment like a heated basement or a garage with insulation. This generally means that you can keep the tools at an even temperature throughout the year.
Never leave your tools overnight in your car or van. This will not only expose them to wild temperature changes, but also to thieves.
DIY is a hugely rewarding hobby. Personally, I always advocate for a basic level of DIY skills in adults. I passionately believe that adults should be able to do basic DIY tasks like learning how to find a wall stud, changing a light bulb, or even replacing a door handle.
You’re never too old to learn how to DIY. If you can lift a hammer, then you’re good!
With the internet disseminating information like never before, there’s no reason not to give DIY a go. I recommend supplementing your internet instruction with in-person lessons from professionals or handy family or friends.