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Ian’s DIY disasters

We enjoyed Ian’s self-deprecation about DIY so much that we thought his comment deserved some time in the spotlight. So without further ado, we’ll hand over to Ian.

The D in DYI

My DIY skills are very much on a par with Herod’s child-minding capabilities.

I have an impressive number of tools, including something called an ‘angle grinder’ (although how one grinds angles I have no idea, but it was useful for a few shelf supports); a ‘router’, which I used to render a perfectly cut and hitherto beautiful piece of timber into something that resembled a plank used by Blackbeard in a matter of seconds; a ‘Jig Saw’, which is utterly useless at making Jigsaws (I have tried); a chainsaw – now that’s a fun device; a power saw (less fun, far noisier, but it does have a laser on board!); and an assortment of spannery things, innumerable screwdrivers (why can’t they make all screws with the same head????).

I also have several magnificent (and still pristine) box sets of things called ‘bits’, which seem to be for drills, but the name of which I’ve appropriated for most of my tools. I even have tools for my tools, with some very odd-looking things that seem to be for fitting ‘bits’ into drill-things.

A life of their own

Despite the equivalent (over the years) of enough money to buy a small third-world country being invested in tools, the hammer remains the most useful, with – I swear – other things rapidly acquiring lives of their own as they spy me approaching.

Every power tool has a lead which conspires to wrap itself around itself and other things with more dexterity than a set of Borromean rings, and equally as implausible, drill bits delight in mocking my inability to drill a hole exactly where I want it, saws seize every opportunity to wander from the carefully drawn pencil line I’ve painstakingly measured out (power saws do that so much faster…).

Then, despite taking what I think is every precaution, hidden electrical pipes sneak furtively into places where they shouldn’t be, empty pipes fill with water and perfectly unassuming water pipes contrive to connect themselves to gas outlets. This means that when I buy a handy ‘self-tapping’ washing machine connector nothing but a stream of highly combustible propane emits when it’s turned on which, given the other topic on warranties, might possibly void the Electrolux’s guarantee.

Finally, even when taking every imaginable precaution to trace a lead pipe, ensuring I could locate both ends and that neither was connected, the amount of water that gushed out all over me as I tried to cut this useless and ‘empty’ piece of pipe down to take it to the scrap yard because of something called a ‘T’ piece, was enough to convince me that in DIY the first letter stands for ‘Demolish’.

This comment was originally shared by Ian on our DIY disasters conversation. Go and give him an ‘up thumb’ 🙂


Happy New Year.

I hired an electric hammer when demolishing a chimney breast. Heat had hardened the bricks and mortar so much that attacking it with a club hammer and chisel did more damage to my hand than the brickwork. The electric hammer was brilliant – I held it with a flat chisel snapped in and gradually, as I stood on the top of the steps, the bricks departed.

I now understand, from reading Jim Al-Khalili’s book “Paradox” (a Christmas present) a little more of the next event. He discusses Einstein’s theory on how time is not a constant flow, but can slow down. I have first hand testimony that Einstein was, indeed, correct. Because as I watched the demolition I saw the chisel slowly extract itself from the end of the hammer, curve up and then travel gracefully downwards with a twist as it descended. It clearly had intent and homed in on the cable, that powered the hammer, lying on the floor; it sliced it in two.

I swear (and I did) that I could have made a cuppa in the time it took – it was like watching a slow-motion film.

Back now to Jim’s book, where I am on the chapter discussing time travel. I’ll see whether I could have prevented the event after it had happened. Time travel would be a boon to all diy failures.

Compared with Ian, what I lack in the toolbox inventory I make up for with the attention to the finishing touches that are the hallmark of the gifted amateur and take a lifetime to acquire. Like Malcolm, I too have been privileged to experience the time delay phenomenon. A few years ago I was painting a front door in Oxford Blue gloss. I was doing the upper part so was on rung three of a set of metal steps. As I leant to the side to reach the top corner I found that the stepladder was heading in the opposite direction and the paint tin on the platform was determined to have a piece of the action. The three elements in motion hit the deck in timely succession. Galileo’s observations on falling balls travelling at equal speed do not apply because all three elements started their trajectory from different levels. However, time stood still, and I distinctly recall – and have the wound to prove it – that the stepladder collapsed in slow motion and slid underneath me; I, after the manner of a camel, executed an imperfect dismount from the twisting stepladder which after a rebound broke my fall before impaling me; and the paint can stood still in the air awaiting the best moment to flip a quick somersault and descend in the inverted position discharging its contents in all directions including up the brick wall and over the paving. I remember staring into the open end of the paint can as the final gloop emerged and went straight for the face and hair. As Malcolm’s ingenious experiment also demonstrated, any notion that inanimate objects have no capacities of independent or selective determination was comprehensively disproved. I didn’t wait for the judges’ scores but thought I might get a combined 4.7 for artistic presentation if nought for technical ability. Luckily the bruises were not too bad and I got on with clearing up the mess under the porch. After the application of gallons of paint stripper and brickwork cleaner the evidence gradually disappeared. The next day my bruises were acquiring a mottled Oxford Blue shade to complement my face and hair, the one on my left hip being especially generous, ripe and azure with tints of magenta and umber in the details. The good thing was that, with incredible presence of mind, the paint almost entirely missed the old painting sheet that I had put down otherwise it would have been completely ruined. All in all a memorable experience. It was good of Which? to ask.

In what must be the first Freudian slip of the year, I noticed the paragraph heading under the standfirst at the top of Ian’s article. Just brilliant. Mr Editor : Please do not change a thing.


Reg Prescott gave plenty of DYI tips – you can see some on You Tube. Just don’t try any of them at home.

Back in the 70s I was replacing the picture tube of a TV for a friend but found that the labels had fallen off two of the wires. I was impressed that the TV worked fine, except that the picture was upside-down.

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It was the wires on the scan coils rather than the tube base that were interchanged. No-one else will have a clue about what we are talking about, Duncan. 🙂

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DIY on appliances and equipment is getting more and more impossible, which might be just as well for safety reasons. We had good woodwork and optional metalwork lessons at my grammar school from the first year through to the fifth, including technical drawing, and this provided an excellent start to later life, not just for career purposes but for being practical in the home. It didn’t prevent a few mishaps along the way but at least you knew where you went wrong and how to get out of it. An important benefit was that the teaching gave you confidence in working with tools and using them correctly. I remember tiling my parents’ kitchen at nineteen years of age; quite a good result even if I say so myself.

There’s no doubt that it is harder to do DIY work on household electrical goods nowadays, but quite a lot can still be achieved. Care is needed with mains voltage, but many smaller items are powered by a a low voltage supply. If a faulty product is to be replaced, there is little to lose by trying to fix it.

But only if you know what you are doing, particularly with mains voltage. If not, don’t take the chance – there is a lot to lose.

As I said, care is needed. Whether you intend to explore the innards of a washing machine or use a chainsaw, you need to learn how to do a potentially dangerous job in a safe way.

It is a month since we last heard from Ian, who has been a regular contributor. I very much hope he has not had a DIY disaster.

He is active on another forum currently. One set-up when Which? closed the existing forums in 2007[?]. A large user group felt disenfranchised and built an excellent site. I was guided to it at the end of 2014.

It is called cafedillodotorgdotuk

Thanks DT.

Hello both, Ian is recuperating from an operation and when he is fully recovered he will join us again. He sends his best wishes to you, and we wish him a very speedy recovery. Thanks, Patrick

Thanks Patrick.