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10 (of 100) Must-Learn Skills



I love articles that detail must-learn skills that every adult should know. Popular Mechanics recently posted “100 Skills Everyone Should Know.” Here are ten of those skills that certainly every maker should know.

Fell a Tree

100skills_1First, determine which way the tree will fall. (If it looks like a tossup, call in a professional; perfectly vertical specimens require ropes to pull the tree in the desired direction.) At a comfortable waist level, make a horizontal cut on the side where the tree is going to fall, stopping about a third of the way through the tree. Then make a wedge cut down to the same line. The notch should open toward the direction of fall. Make sure you have a clear 45-degree rear escape route before starting the back cut, aimed slightly above the V of the notch. When the tree starts to move, quickly withdraw the saw and retreat to safety. Yelling Timmmberrr! is strictly optional.

Hitch a Trailer

100skills_2To confirm that the hitch is secure on the ball, lift the rear of the tow vehicle a couple of inches with the trailer tongue jack. Cross the breakaway chains under the tongue to prevent it from dragging on the pavement in case of a breakaway. To save yourself repeated trips to the rear of the trailer to check lights, turn on both the running lights and four-way flashers simultaneously.

Set Up a Ladder, Safely

100skills_11Before stepping on the ladder, check that it’s set at the correct angle, 75 to 78 degrees. Stand with the toes of your work boots against the ladder’s base and extend your arms horizontally. The ladder is at a safe angle when you can just grasp the rung at shoulder level with arms fully extended.

Use a Sewing Machine

100skills_4One of the most elegant mechanical devices in the home, the sewing machine can be used on camping gear, light tarps, kites and myriad other manly stuff. To start, thread the bobbin and the machine. (Check your owner’s manual; machines have different threading procedures.) Once the needle is threaded and the bobbin thread pulled up from below, you’re ready to sew. Use the hand wheel on the right to raise the needle to its apex. Then lift the presser foot (the small slotted metal plate) and slide your two pieces of fabric underneath. Drop the needle down to just above the cloth, and lower the presser foot to hold the cloth in place. The two pieces of cloth should be pinned to hold them together. “Pin horizontally, perpendicular to the seam,” says wardrobe designer Marc Borders. “You break fewer needles.” Now hit the gas (gently) with the foot pedal. The needle will start bobbing up and down, and the feed dogs will pull the cloth under the needle. Press harder on the foot pedal to speed up the process. Keep one hand lightly on either side of the presser foot so you can guide the cloth along the desired line. Don’t push or pull the fabric, however. Let the feed dogs move it. To get the standard quarter-inch seam, keep the edge of the cloth even with the edge of the presser foot.

Secure Your Data

100skills_5Your old hard drive holds a treasure trove of info for would-be identity thieves. Simply deleting your files or reformatting the drive won’t truly blank the platters. “Formatting just kind of rearranges stuff on the hard drive,” says Art Costigan, an information security analyst with Global Network Security Consultants. “Anyone who knows anything about hard drives can unformat the drive and restore it to its previous condition.” Here are two surefire ways to zap your files for good. Charitable strategy: Purchase disk-cleaning software, such as Evidence Eliminator or cyberCide, that eliminates files by writing zeros over all the bits—yet still leaves the drive usable for others. That way, instead of clogging up landfills, you can help out those in need. The National Cristina Foundation donates old drives to schools and public agencies. Paranoid strategy: Nothing beats good, old-fashioned physical destruction. Government agencies use professional hard-drive shredders; you can approximate the effect with a 1/2-in. drill bit. Use a drill driver to puncture the platter in at least four places. Your hard drive will have taken its last spin. [Editor’s Note: One drilled hole is sufficient.]

Stick Weld

100skills_6Stick welding is one of the simplest and most inexpensive ways to get into welding,” Tocco says. (Some handymen prefer wire, or MIG, welding because it’s faster.) The first step in stick welding: Set the amperage for the electrode size and metal thickness. To strike the arc, brush the electrode against the workpiece as if striking a match. Hold the electrode at a 45-degree angle to the center of the joint and drag it along at a 15- to 20- degree lead angle, Tocco says. Maintaining a consistent arc of 1/8 in. or less, move the electrode slowly, so that the molten pool at the end of the electrode washes evenly into both pieces of metal.

Use a Spade Bit

100skills_7Fast and rough, these bits usually splinter the wood as they exit the hole. To make a cleaner hole, stop when the tip begins to break through the underside of the workpiece. Remove the bit, turn the workpiece over and place the tip in the exit hole. Complete the hole by boring in from the opposite side. TIP: Another way to avoid splintering: Clamp wood under the workpiece, then drill through it into the scrap.

Use a Chisel

100skills_8To make a vertical chopping cut (1), place the chisel at least 1/8 in. inside the cut line, with the bevel facing the waste side of the cut, and strike the tool firmly with a mallet. (You can use a hammer on chisels with metal end caps.) To remove the wood chip (2), hold the chisel with the bevel face down and take scooping cuts toward the vertical cut you just made. To finish the cut (3), pare vertically down to the line by holding the chisel like a dagger. TIP: Make several thin paring cuts rather than trying to remove the wood in one pass.

Hack Sawing

100skills_9It doesn’t respond well to pressure; use light strokes. On smooth, hard surfaces, mark the cut line with a carbide scriber (1) or file a starting notch. Use your thumbnail (2) as a guide to start. Apply cutting pressure only on the push stroke (3); lift the blade on the return stroke. Blades with 18 to 24 teeth per inch (tpi) are the most useful and versatile: Use 14 tpi for soft, thick metals (bar stock made of aluminum, copper or brass); 18 to 24 tpi for solid steel channel and pipe; 28 to 32 tpi for thin-wall armored electrical cable and sheetmetal.

Torque a Wrench

100skills_109Always torque clean parts, either dry or lightly lubricated. (Adjust the torque spec down slightly for lubed parts.) When tightening multiple bolts, use a scattershot pattern; tightening in sequence can cause poor seating. HEADS UP: With a clicker-style wrench, stop at the first click—don’t give it a few extra degrees just to be sure.

See the original article on Popular Mechanics for the other ninety recommended skills. There are a lot of essential skills that didn’t make their list and some that don’t seem that essential. What did they miss?

15 thoughts on “10 (of 100) Must-Learn Skills

  1. pcf11x says:

    It seems that today the only skill anyone needs is people skills. Once you have that you can get other people do to everything for you. That having been said I’ve done most everything on that list myself. I guess I’m just not using people enough?

    1. Chuck Norris says:

      Dale Carnegie’s book is still the go-to!

      1. pcf11x says:

        I assume you mean, How To Win Friends and Influence People? I need to write a book. I think I will tentatively title it, How to Completely Alienate the World. Sort of the antithesis of Dale’s book. Although I have to admit, sometimes I do enjoy manipulating people myself. But I already have so many time consuming and not very rewarding hobbies now. I honestly can’t devote myself to another. Not the way screwing over your fellow human being really deserves, at any rate. You really do need a passion for it. So many do today too. The field is just packed with wastes of skin skating through life on the talents of others. I feel my contribution there would be minuscule at best.

        1. Karan Trivedi says:

          I think you might be on the wrong website

          1. pcf11x says:

            Don’t try to think. You’re not mentally equipped for the task.

  2. Npkeith says:

    For destroying data on a hard drive, Thermite is the most fun, but for fast and low tech, you can’t beat handing the drive to a 12 year old with a 5lb lump hammer…

    1. DreadPirateZed says:

      My preferred method is to take the drive apart and harvest the rare-earth magnets around the voice coil. They’re scary-strong and make WICKED fridge magnets; generally the process of liberating them damages the platter badly enough to make it unreadable, but you can scratch or bash it too if you feel extra-paranoid.

      1. Karl Troll Rosenqvist says:

        Yeah, gotta love those magnets!
        I usually get the platters out safely enough to put them in my CNC router and make laser mirrors.

  3. Charles Haase says:

    A 12-inch drill bit might be a bit overkill. Maybe slash it down to 1/2″? ;)

    1. Karan Trivedi says:

      12″ bits are used for stump removing. I am trying to buy one to get a stump out of my back yard!

  4. Renaud Iltis says:

    The picture of the sewing machine is not the best choice : the way of the wire is not true, a step is missing and it could damage the wire. (See the picture.)

  5. TonyS says:

    Running the hard drive with the cover off and running a pin around it is also a lot of fun…

  6. Karan Trivedi says:

    I would love to learn to sew, dont have a sewing machine tho. :(

    1. Phlamingo says:

      Hit the garage sale circuit for a 50-year-old Singer. You can usually get one for less than $50, and they are built to run forever with reasonable care and maintenance.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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