Basic DIY Skills Anyone Can Learn

person installing wall mount for shelf

With the amount of DIY projects available, it can be overwhelming if you're just starting out. Maybe you've recently bought a house, or want to take control of doing your own repairs.

There are endless projects, forums, articles, and ideas out there to provide inspiration, but the best thing to do as a beginner is to work on something simple. Smaller projects are excellent ways to get used to different tools without stressing you out.

It's not always in the budget to get a complete tool set to get everything done that you want to, either. Don't overwhelm yourself by taking on everything at once, instead try out these simple projects to hone your basic DIY skills that anyone can learn.

Hang Your Own Pictures and Wall Fixtures

woman and man hanging pictures

Hanging things like art, pictures, and mirrors on the wall may feel daunting to anyone that hasn't done it before, but once you get the hang of it (pun intended), you'll have gained a skill that you can use for the rest of your life.

This job mainly requires patience and good measuring skills, so take your time, and have a tape measure handy.

Whatever wall item you're hanging, look at the back and see what kind of fastener it needs. Some items have specific holes already in place for screws, while others may have a thin wire, or can be hung from the lip of a frame.

The weight of the item is also important when considering how to hang it safely.

For anything heavier than a small picture frame, you'll need to provide extra support to any screws in the wall with drywall anchors. Lighter items can possibly be hung with stick-on wall hooks, but make sure they can handle the weight, and won't damage the wall.

Unless you are screwing directly into a stud, simply screwing it into the drywall won't be strong enough to hold anything heavy.

Measure the distance between the screws holes, or the middle part of the frame or wire, and translate it where you want it hung on the wall, keeping in mind where this is in relation to the frame (the screw holes may be a few inches lower than the very top of the frame, for example).

If drilling two screw holes, use a level to create a straight line between them. Make your marks with light pencil, and then make the holes for the anchors either using a hammer and awl or a drill and proper size drill bit according to the fastener.

Gently tap the drywall anchor into the hole with a hammer, and make sure it's a snug fit. If it's loose, it won't hold a thing, and if it's too tight, it will end up bending or breaking as you try and force it in.

Once the anchor is firmly in place, you can drill or use a screwdriver to fasten the screw to whatever depth necessary to attach it to the back of the item.

Wall fastening kits are handy at giving you the right combinations to help take the thinking out of this job, but this is a great project to get the hang of various tools and basic measuring skills. Even if you "screw" up, remember that a better measurement just a half inch higher can hide your mistake.

woman cleaning drywall

Drywall Repair

On that note, whether you've inherited someone else's screw holes in your walls, or want to re-arrange what's currently there, you can go around fixing imperfections in the drywall to prep them for paint, or a new wall arrangement.

Tiny holes can be filled with a product called Dex, which you can apply with your finger and wipe smooth instantly.

Larger holes that are bigger than a normal screw size should be filled with drywall mud.

This product can also be used for scratches or dents in the plaster. You want to fill them using a drywall knife or trowel, wiping away the mud so that you get a smooth finish raised ever so slightly over the blemish so that it can be sanded down to blend in with the wall.

For even worse abrasions, you may need to either cut out a section and repair with a new drywall piece.

For filling large gaps, a tougher product called joint compound comes in a powder, sets faster (different ones harden between 20, 45, 60, or 90 minutes), and dries harder.

Drywall mud can be sanded down to a nice finish, whereas joint compound is more difficult to sand, so it's better to use it to fill most of the hole, let it set, then finish it with drywall mud for smooth sanding.

One or two different sized drywall knives and a drywall pan to hold the mud is all you need to get started, plus some various sandpaper blocks.

vinegar and spray bottle

Make Your Own Cleaners

Commercial cleaning products are often terrible for the environment, cause excess plastic bottle waste, and are expensive to boot. Making your own DIY, eco-friendly cleaners are a cool way to circumvent inflationary prices while taking more control of your cleaning methods.

This is another project that can be daunting at first because of all the options and recipes out there. Keep it simple, as often one formula made properly can work for the majority of your home.

Water and vinegar is an excellent, environmentally friendly combination that can cut grease, disinfect surfaces, and eliminate odors.

Combine 2 cups of water with a 1/2 cup of white vinegar. You can add essential oils for different refreshing smells and for more cleaning power, as you like. Re-use spray bottles you already have around the house and fill them up as needed.

If you have foam hand soap dispensers, these are also great to keep around and refill with your own mixture.

A watered down solution with dish detergent works great, or make your own with 3/4 cups of water, 1/4 cup of Castille soap, and approximately 20 drops of your favorite essential oil.

While this might not seem like an interesting DIY skill, getting used to making your own solutions and following measurements is a great way to get your mind to start thinking in DIY ways, versus using conveniently pre-made, and more expensive products.

gloved hands working with pipes

Plumbing 101

Basic plumbing skills are important for anyone that owns a home or wants to do their own repairs.

The great thing is, it's not rocket science and anyone can learn a few DIY plumbing tricks to do things like change out faucets and shower heads - just don't go trying anything that needs a permit or requires a licensed plumber to do.

It's always a good idea to know where your water shut-offs are, including the main water supply coming into the house. The main supply can be shut on and off with a lever or knob of some kind and will come in handy if there's ever a leak, repair, or emergency.

Other places that should have their own supply shut-offs are under any sinks (one for both the hot and cold water), as well as toilets. Toilets only have cold water running to them, so it's just one lever usually behind and to the side of the tank somewhere close to the ground.

Knowing how to shut these off is important before doing any work, and to stave off potential disasters.

Shower heads and tub faucets can often be simply screwed on and off, or even snapped on. For screw-ons, plumber's tape will help create a non-leak seal.

Changing out a vanity faucet is a little trickier as you have to get under the sink, but once you're there, a wrench or pliers can detach the faucet from their water lines.

Sometimes there is a line of clear silicone caulking you have to cut carefully with a utility knife, allowing you to then simply remove the faucet and replace it with another one.

No ABS cutting or plumber's glue needed for these simple, DIY-friendly plumbing jobs, and each one can save you $50-200 in labor costs.

gloved hands working with wires

Electrical 101

Just like with plumbing, a few tricks can easily get you started on tackling some easy DIY electrical projects. As with your main water supply, you should know where your electrical panel is, how to access it, and what its components are before doing anything.

Panels are often downstairs or in a garage, but accessible enough so that you can flip breakers on and off as needed. A good panel should be labeled correctly, but often with older homes, this isn't the case.

Even if something is labeled "hallway light", make sure when you flip off the breaker that sends power to the hallway light, that it actually turns it off.

Having a partner can help make this job go faster, or you have to go into the room and see that power has been turned off to the specific fixture you want to work on. Use a voltmeter to be absolutely sure as other currents can sometimes be running to the site.

You can turn off power to the whole house if you aren't confident about locating the power source, but keep in mind this turns off everything, including refrigerators and emergency systems.

A ladder and screwdriver are all you need to change a light fixture, plus following the directions on how to safely disconnect the wires and remove the old unit. Usually, it's as simple as reversing the process to put the new one on, but don't fret if it isn't as easy as it sounds.

Twisting wires into tiny thimble-like connectors or "marrettes" can take practice, especially when working overhead with something heavy.

Thankfully, removing and installing new switches, outlets, and their covers is a lot easier, and upgrading these elements can be a wonderful way to fix a broken switch or refresh and contemporize your home in just a few hours.

Just remember, if electrical DIY feels scary to you, hire a professional and work on a different task.

corner moulding

Install Corner Round

Corner round or shoe molding is a great starter project to introduce you to trim carpentry. You don't need fancy tools for this job, but it allows you to try out your measuring and cutting skills with a project that is somewhat forgiving.

You need a room that actually needs corner round, but you can apply some of these tips to other trim projects you might have around the house, too. A powered chop saw is going to make things go a lot faster, but a miter box and saw can easily tackle these basic cuts, as well.

Measuring from one corner to another, start with a 45-degree "angled" cut that will go into another 45-degree "angled" cut on the other end. Angled cuts are used whenever two pieces of trim meet in a corner, or when you come up to a doorway.

For corners, two 45-degree angled cuts should fit together nicely enough unless your walls are really out of whack.

Even still, some caulking and DEX can hide minor imperfections with walls that aren't perfect right angles. If you have walls that have odd angles, you'll need a sliding bevel to find it and translate onto the trim piece.

If there are doorways in the room, measure up to where the corner round would meet the beginning edge of the door trim, and make an angle cut that goes away so that it diminishes back towards itself. This gives it a clean, finished look, rather than a bulky flat cut.

If you were installing baseboard, this cut would be flat as it butts up against the door trim. Corner round and shoe molding stand out more prominently from these flat surfaces.

Once you've cut the piece of trim to length, and it fits snugly to each end, nail them to the floorboards with either a brad nail pneumatic gun, or a hammer and brad nails, hitting them so they go in on a 45-degree angle into the wood subfloor.

Remember to make your angle cuts so that your overall measurement is from the back of the trim piece, not the front. Don't mark the front of the corner round to make an angle, but mark the back, as that side will fit snugly into the corner.

Fill the holes with DEX and apply a bead of caulking along the top to prepare the trim for painting.

hand painting wood

Learn to Paint the Right Way

Painting always looks easier than it is, but when you do it right, you get professional results every time. It's also an excellent first time DIY-er project as it helps you develop hand-eye coordination and to pay attention to detail.

Painting is all about the prep, too, which is another important DIY skill. If you want to hit the ground running too fast without preparing the space, you'll be tripping over things, or cleaning up after mistakes. This also means having the right supplies.

You need paint and a paintbrush, but also a paint roller, tray, lid opener, rags for quick spot clean-up, drop sheets, painter's tape, and most likely a ladder. Clear the room as best as possible. While you may not be able to move a bed, remove dressers, chairs, tables, and other bulky things to allow for a clear space to move around.

Lay drop sheets across the whole room, and put them up against the baseboard.

Tape around any trim if you aren't good at cutting, but try and hone this skill rather than slapping paint all over the tape; you'll still end up with a better line with paint that isn't laid on too thick in these areas.

Have patience when rolling. Start left to right, and move in full up and down swathes, painting a few passes to fully cover each small area. Don't paint over the same spot too many times except to blend the paint into the next row.

If it looks like it isn't thick enough, a second coat will be better than trying to paint the area again as it gets tacky after a certain amount of time.

Learning basic DIY skills is something that anyone can learn with a little patience and a lot of practice.

Don't fret if things don't come easily at first, as every attempt will improve your hand-eye coordination and empower your DIY mindset. Start with a project that excites you, and don't overwhelm yourself.

You'll be a pro in no time.