There's a whole lot of nonsense in the media about how traditionally masculine do-it-yourself skills like plumbing, grouting, and home electrical wiring are beginning to disappear, because today's men are "too soft." Ugh, way to reinforce those gender norms, guys. Why should men be the ones to preserve these skills? Why can't ladies do this stuff for themselves when the time comes to fix a dripping faucet, change a tire, or rewire an electrical system? After all: 60 percent of American women have said they do more DIY than their partners, and we spend 50 percent more in places like Home Depot and Lowe's than men do.
I don't come from what DIY-ers would call a gender-equal household. My dad mows the lawn and paints the bathroom, my mother cooks and does the groceries; it's just the way they were raised. Growing up, I frustratedly papered my dollhouse with wallpaper scraps, while my brother took apart a computer on the dining table and rigged his first house's doorbell to send IM messages. Coming from that (unintentionally) sexist environment has made me a loud, proud champion of DIY Skills For Every Woman, because I'll be damned if I rely on a dude, or an unnecessary professional, for anything I could do myself.
So if you're feeling deprived of DIY know-how and want to prep yourself (particularly if you're leaving home for the first time to go to college), here are 14 skills I believe every grown woman should have in their arsenal, and where to learn 'em.
1. How To Change A Tire
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: Being stranded anywhere with a blown-out tire is a recipe for frustration, inconvenience, and expense. Unless you're insured, you'll be stuck with a serious bill for roadside assistance.
Basic How Tos: The main thing with tire changes, as with many DIY activities, is that you need the proper gear: a wrench, replacement tire, and a jack for lifting the car. Keep all of this in your car for emergencies. Get your car as far off the shoulder of the road as possible, partially loosen the nuts on the bad wheel with a wrench, jack the side of the car off the ground, and do a simple lift-on lift-off. Your particular car make should have its own guide, and most models come with their own tools nowadays. Get the full how-to here.
2. How To Change A Fuse
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: Sudden lights-off moments should only be confined to horror movies. Knowing how to fix a blown fuse in electrical equipment and reset your house's circuit breaker will shorten the amount of time you need to spend searching for candles.
Basic How-Tos: Burnt-out fuses in fuse boxes need to be replaced with the power off. If it's a modern cartridge fuse, you just slip the old one out and clip in a new one between the holders. If it's older, it'll involve wire, and you'll need to delicately insert a new wire and wrap it between the terminals. Know what you've got in your house, so you can have the right stuff on hand. Get the full how-to here.
3. How To Fix A Hole In The Wall
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: This may seem like it's only relevant when you buy your own home, but emergency plastering skills can come in serious handy if there's a sudden hole and your landlord can't fix it until next Tuesday.
Basic How-Tos: There are actually a bunch of ways to fix a hole in your wall — some small ones can be fixed by just filling in with spackling paste (a disgusting word that is, in practice, a serious life-saving putty when decorating goes wrong), while bigger ones need to be dealt with by cutting a square hole in the drywall around the hole and replacing it with a new square entirely. Assess the depth of your damage before going all-out on a new wall. Get the full how-to here.
4. How To Jump-Start A Car Engine
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: Jump-starting is another skill that goes in the "very good in emergencies" box. Knowledge is power, and power is not being utterly stranded on a highway at 3 a.m. with a flat battery.
Basic How-Tos: Jump-starting is a pretty easy exercise requiring only two things — jumper leads, and another car with a battery willing to lend you some juice. Put both cars in neutral, link the two batteries using the jumper leads, and start the engine of the working car so that it charges your battery. The trick to making it work? Making sure you connect the leads to the correct parts of the battery: red is positive, black is negative. Get the full how-to here.
5. How To Fix A Leaky Pipe
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: Because water, water everywhere is neither particularly charming nor good for your furnishings.
Basic How-Tos: Your friend in this may just be simple Teflon tape. But don't make the mistake of using too much. You can also make a patch using rubber and tape, or try to tighten the joint if that's what's leaking — or replace a segment of pipe if it's seriously gone to God. And always, always turn off your water before you fiddle. Get the full how-to here.
6. How To Patch A Radiator Hose
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: A temporary fix can keep your car together until you find a mechanic if your radiator is leaking all over the shop. This is not a long-term fix, but it's worth it to stop the leak temporarily until you find a professional.
Basic How-Tos: This is a dangerous bit of DIY, so you'll need protective gear — rubber gloves and some kind of eye covers, like sunglasses. Let the engine cool, locate the leak, cover it in PVC tape (wrap the hell out of it, in other words), and check you've got enough coolant to get to a garage. Get the full how-to here.
7. How To Build A Fire
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: The dude on that camping trip is going to have to work a lot harder to impress you, for one thing. For another, it's a great survival skill to break out if the unexpected happens.
The Basic How-To: There are fires with matches, and there are fires without matches. Both need tinder (things that catch fire rapidly) and kindling (smaller bits of wood, twigs) to get them going, and on top of them a structure of larger fuel (proper firewood) to do the long slow burning that actually produces heat. There are a few ways to build a fire properly, from teepees to squares, but they should always be on cleared ground surrounded by stones. Get the full how-to here.
8. How To Fix A Flat Tire On A Bike
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: See above "not being stranded" reasons. Just because your trusty bike is eco-friendly and lets you be smug at motorists doesn't mean it won't get a puncture and let you down.
Basic How-Tos: All serious bike riders need a pump and a patch kit on their bike at all times in case a flat strikes. Whether you need to actually replace the tire or just patch it depends on what's happened — a foreign object, a pinch flat, or some other problem — but either way, you'll need to take it off the bike, pump it till you find the hole, and assess whether it can be covered with a patch. Get the full how-to here.
9. How To Stop A Toilet Running
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: There is almost nothing as annoying in this world as a toilet that will not stop flushing. Toddlers with insufficient sleep come close, but only just.
Basic How-Tos: The most common problem for toilets that won't stop running? The flapper — the bit inside the cistern that drops water into the bowl — is malfunctioning. Most other causes are within the cistern, so be prepared to fiddle around a bit to see what's causing that damn noise. Get the full how-to here.
10. How To Fix A Dripping Faucet Washer
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: OK, I was lying at #9. There is something as annoying as a toilet that won't stop flushing. It's this.
Basic How-Tos: There are a lot of different kinds of faucets in the world, so know which one you've got before you dive in; you'll need to buy a replacement washer. Turn off the water to the sink, plug the draining hole, and take apart the faucet, replacing the washer at the bottom. Top tip: keep everything together and know what order you took it apart, so no bits go missing. Get the full how-to here.
11. How To Wield An Axe Properly
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: Because the drunk boys at the frat party who are trying to chop wood are just going to injure themselves, and the firewood needs to be sliced. Also, it's charmingly retro.
Basic How-Tos: A lot of good axe use is actually about safety: don't wear anything that you could catch in your axe-swing, always use a chopping block below whatever you're chopping, and be seriously careful. Hold the handle low, keep your legs apart, and your arms straight.Get the full how-to here.
12. How To Unclog A Drain
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: Clogging a drain for those of us with significant amounts of hair is a recurrent problem, but even if you've got a pixie cut it can still come back to bite you.
Basic How-Tos: A drain cleaner from a supermarket is always your first bet, or a home-made cleaner made of baking soda and vinegar, plus very hot water. Otherwise, you'll need to break out a plunger for stubborn blockages, or, for serious problems, unscrew the pipes and grind through the obstruction with a plumber's snake. Get the full how-to here.
13. How To Catch A Spider
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: I'm Australian. In my country, you regard spiders with noble respect and leave them the hell alone. The rest of you, with your teeny non-vicious little arachnids, need to learn to put them outside without having a stroke.
Basic How-Tos: This is fairly simple. Get a piece of card and a glass, put the glass over the spider, slide the card underneath, and move to the nearest window or door. Don't throw it out a third-floor window — that's just cruel. Get the full how-to here.
14. How To Refresh Shower Grout
Why You Need To Know How To Do It: Getting your deposit back at the end of a tenancy at a rental property will be a whole lot easier if the grout in your bathroom is shiny and new. Mould eats away at your finances as well as your surfaces.
Basic How-Tos: This is actually a product-based DIY project — refreshing grout that's gone black and grim is going to be easy as pie, provided you pick up the right thing from the hardware store. A combined grout painter and sealer is probably your best bet; prepping the surface well and applying it with a toothbrush will make everything look gleaming new without the need to call a professional cleaner. Get the full how-to here.