DIY Skills From a Dad to a Grad

A tool box with tools for a variety of repairs.

Father’s day and graduations have been lumped together by the marketers of family dinners and retail knickknacks, but as a dad of a recent grad, I saw the team-up as an opportunity for imparting some fatherly survival advice (or delivering what could be my last lecture). As you graduates leave the nest and have to fend for yourselves, there are a few simple tasks you should know how to perform so when problems arise you can handle them without paying someone to do them for you.

Just knowing you have these tools at your disposal will help you face unfamiliar situations with the confidence of your capabilities (and lower my stress levels too). Over the years, I’ve tried to impart these lessons to you, but after the pressure of finals, and your last spring break ever, it’s time for a refresher.

Fix a Dripping Sink

This can keep you up all night, and since your days of sleeping ‘til noon are now behind you, you need to stop that drip so you can get your rest and get to work. Fixing a leaky faucet is easier than you think. It’s such a common issue that there are repair kits available for various faucet designs and brands. The simplest thing is to get a kit that matches what you’ve got and follow the instructions. In fact, the manufacturer probably has detailed directions on their website.

DIY Skills From a Dad to a Grad, dripping sink, repair, faucet, Justin DiPego

Let’s say you can’t get a kit. Under the sink, turn off the valves so the water won’t spray out. Turn on the faucet so the last of the water comes out and then put a towel over the drain so you don’t lose anything down there. With the flat of a screwdriver, pry the “H” or “C” plate off the faucet handle. It hides a screw. Remove the screw and pull the handle off. There’s a big nut parallel with the counter. Unscrew it with the channel lock pliers I got you. Now you can lift out the valve stem.

Look at the bottom. There’s a screw holding a rubber washer in place. That washer is your problem. Remove the screw and replace the washer with a new one the same size. The screw might have fallen apart when you took it out. Replace it too with a new brass one.

Put the valve stem back in the faucet and replace the nut. Slide the handle back on, screw it in place and pop the cover back on. Make sure you didn’t drop anything in the sink, remove the towel and turn on the valve under the cabinet. Turn the faucet on and off to test it. You’re done.

Change a Tire

Everyone needs to know how to change a flat. (Especially you, as we all know how well you take care of your car.) First some precautions – get out of traffic. If you have to drive a quarter mile on your rim to get off the freeway, turn on your hazard lights and do it. Can that damage things? Yes. It’s better than getting killed. Find the safest, flattest spot you can, as far off the road as possible. And never get under a car that’s supported only by a jack. Okay, enough of that.

DIY Skills From a Dad to a Grad, flat tire, Justin DiPego

With the car on firm, flat ground, park it, set the emergency break and get the tools and spare tire out of the trunk. (I know you have these and know where they are.) With the car still on the ground, loosen the lug nuts on the flat. If you jack it up first you won’t have any leverage and the tire will spin as you try to use the wrench. When the lug nuts are almost ready to come off, now set the jack on the frame. Most modern cars have a little notch in the frame where the jack can safely sit and some even mark it with an arrow. Different makes and models have different systems, but usually the lug wrench fits into the jack or into a jack handle to make it more efficient.

Jack the car up high enough for the flat to spin freely and remove the nuts with your fingers. Pull off the flat and fit the spare in its place. Replace the nuts (all of them) and twist them finger tight, so the spare can’t wobble.

Lower the car and tighten the nuts with the wrench. Put all your tools away, along with the flat. That’s it. You’ve probably got a little doughnut spare. It has a max MPH printed on it. Do what it says. Your car is crippled now so drive with caution until you get that flat repaired or replaced (which should be soon).

Fix a Running Toilet

The tank in the bathroom is constantly hissing and filling and its driving you crazy, and costing you money.

DIY Skills From a Dad to a Grad, repair toilet, Justin DiPego

Chances are you have a problem with your flapper. It could just be dirty. Close the valve behind the toilet so the tank doesn’t fill back up and flush it. Take the lid off the cistern and clean the bottom of the flapper and the top of the drain with a sponge. Make sure the flapper and the gasket on the drain line up properly and there’s nothing in the way. Open the valve, let the tank fill and see if that worked.

If it didn’t (or if anything crumbled or otherwise fell apart as you cleaned it), time to replace the flapper. This is so easy. Depending on the model, you might not even need tools. With the valve shut off, remove the old flapper, usually by bending and unhooking it from the hinge. Take it with you to the home center or hardware store and buy one that matches. Install the new one according to the instructions.

Patch a Hole in Drywall

That friend of yours who I never trusted tripped over your laptop and put a knee through the wall. (At least that’s the story. Why was your laptop on the floor?) Now there’s a hole the size of a slow pitch softball in the sheetrock. There are a few ways to fix a hole in the wall.

DIY Skills From a Dad to a Grad, drywall, hole, Justin DiPego

If the hole was smaller, say no bigger than a golf ball, you’d cover the hole with mesh tape and spackle over it with drywall compound. Let it dry, do another coat to blend it with the wall. Sand it smooth and paint to match. A golf ball to baseball sized hole is too big for that. Mesh on the outside of a hole that size will sag under the compound and you’ll end up with a dimple. So get some more rigid mesh a little larger than the hole and tie a string to its center. Slide the mesh into the hole and hold it tight against the back of the wall with the string. Spackle the hole shut, holding tight the whole time and when it’s dry, cut the string off, even with the wall. Finish like you would for the smaller hole.

But that knee made a hole too big for any of that. You’re going to need some lumber. And you’ve got to make the hole bigger. With a keyhole saw, cut the hole into a square or rectangle so the edges are as clean and even as can be. You’re not making huge hole here, just expanding it to the point where it’s tidy. Now cut a piece of 1x4 lumber so it will extend 2 inches above and below the edges of the hole. Slide it into the hole and drive a few drywall screws through the sheetrock and into the board, holding it in place top and bottom. Buy a small sheet of drywall the same thickness as your wall and cut a piece the size of the hole. Put the patch in the hole and secure it with screws into the board. Fill the joint at the edge of the repair with compound and cover it with drywall tape (paper tape is better than mesh here) and then add another layer of compound. Let it dry, another coat, let it dry, sand and paint. If you really want it to be invisible, you have to paint the whole wall.

Replace a Broken Window Pane

This is another easy one. That same friend of yours tossed you a beverage when you weren’t looking and it crashed right through the window. Now what? First of all, you’re working with broken glass, so be careful. With gloves and eye protection on, remove all the broken glass from the window. Remove the old glazing points. You can pry them out with a putty knife or pick them out with pliers. Scrape all the old putty from the outside of the frame. This will take some elbow grease, especially if it’s old, but you’ve got to get it all.

DIY Skills From a Dad to a Grad, broken window, Justin DiPego

Measure the frame from outside. You’ve got to get the dimensions for the entire space the new pane will fit into, not just the size of the opening you’ll be able to see when you’re done. Buy a new pane of the proper size, along with a little tub of glazing putty and a package of glazing points.

Set the new pane in place and hold it in by pushing glazing points into the frame every few inches. Put the flat side of the point against the glass and use the putty knife to stab them into the wood.

Now take some putty out of the tub and work it in your hands until it’s easy to mold. Make a thin snake and push it into the angle between the glass and the frame, all the way around. Use the putty knife to smooth the snake so it’s at a 45-degree angle to the glass and there are no gaps, so the window is entirely sealed.

You have to paint the putty with exterior paint to match the window, but look at the directions on the container to see if you have to wait for the putty to dry or if you can paint it right away.

Bump Start a Stick Shift

This was going to be a list of 5 DIY skills, but since this one just came up… Honestly, this is a skill less practical than it used to be, because manual transmissions just aren’t that common anymore. But because I’m pretty cool, I taught you a long time ago how to drive a stick. And because you’re pretty cool, your car is a manual. But you left the radio on all night and now the battery’s dead. Even though you’re prepared with jumper cables in the trunk, they’re useless unless there’s another car around. If you’re parked facing downhill, you can do this alone. If not, get that buddy to help you.

DIY Skills From a Dad to a Grad, jump start, clutch, pedals, car, gas, brake, Justin DiPego

Put the car in second gear and depress the clutch. Get the car rolling either downhill or with a push. With the car in motion, release the clutch, crank the ignition and give it some gas all at the same moment. It might take a few tries to get the timing right, but when you do it will start right up. Remember to leave it running for half an hour or so to let the battery charge back up.

Do not try this with an automatic. Trust me.

With these 6 skills (and your new degree) you’re ready to take on the world. By the way, these lessons apply weather you’re a boy or a girl, but here’s an extra message for you male graduates: don’t try to grow a mustache unless you’re really, really ready.