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General (Practical) Tips and Thoughts from Dad

My dad died before he could pass on any workshop knowledge… So, I’ve had to learn on my own. Some tips I’ve run across that have saved me pain (both physical and mental):

- measure twice, cut once
– beer can shims (from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)
– if you have to force it, you’re doing it wrong, and you’re probably going to break it. Stop and think.
– before putting all your weight on a wrench, consider what would happen if it were to slip, and adjust your position/direction of force accordingly.
– take the time to move the ladder/get the right tool/build the jig — it’s quicker than a trip to the emergency room
– spend the extra money on good tools, you’ll never regret it
– all that crap you collect is worth nothing if it’s not organized so you can find what you need when you need it
– if you haven’t touched it for 2 years, throw it out, or give it to someone who can use it (cleaning out the in-laws’ house made a powerful impression)
– if you borrow a tool and break it, go to the store, buy the next grade up in quality and return that. And if you can fix the old one, you both win.

and, from my mother:

never turn down a gift, someday you might get something you want (and you can always pass it on) -Ka1axy


1. Girls can use power tools, too.
2. Building it yourself is a heck of a lot more fun than having someone else do it.
3. It isn’t junk till it has sat in the shop for a few years, and even then, someone probably still wants it.
4. There is probably an open source version of that expensive software you have that is always breaking. -LizzinDC


“Don’t tell your mom.” -Gary Sanders


My dad always says that when planning a project, make sure you include time to clean up. -Taylor Hill


Hot glass looks the same as cold glass. -rrot


I knew I saved that piece for a reason! -Christian Restifo


If you want a solder joint to last, you first need to make a solid mechanical connection between the two things you’re connecting together. Solder only makes an electrical connection; it doesn’t provide strength. –Windell Oskay


My favorite is:

“Don’t put chips in backwards.”
As a rebellious child, I tried, once, just to test dad’s advice. After all, it does fit the other way in the socket. I learned my lesson. –bunnie Huang


1. Always draw a picture, even if you think you know what you’re doing.
– If you’re installing something in a room, do a rough sketch of the room and annotate with your measurements.
– When a picture isn’t enough, make a model.
– When a model isn’t enough, rethink the problem, ask questions, hunt down books, etc. More research is needed.

2. Measure to design; design to measure.
– In an ideal world, all your materials will be precise and all your cuts will fit perfectly. We do not live in a precise world.
– Over-designing structural, load-bearing elements is a good thing in prototype and one-off works.
– Symmetry only really matters for visible elements of the design. See previous “over-design structural elements” note.
– If it needs to hold 100lbs of books, load it up with 200lbs of weight when you’re done to see where it’s going to bow and/or break.

3. Unless size is an impediment, bring the broken part with you when seeking a replacement.
– The older the thing being fixed, the less likely you are to find an exact replacement.
– Measurements only get you so far if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.

4. Lift with your knees!

5. Hit the right nail.
– Corollary: Thumb nails do eventually grow back.

6. If a jackknife gets stuck in the wood you’re whittling, do NOT pull harder to get it unstuck. It WILL bite.

7. Always have a well-stocked first-aid kit (including a good pair of tweezers for pulling slivers of all kinds) and fully charged fire extinguisher at hand.
– You will eventually need them.
Replace what you use so it’s there for the next time.

-Andrew Plumb


If you ever have to shoot someone, make sure you empty the gun. That makes it look like you were scared. -Sam Murphy

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Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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