Gaining DIY Confidence

Posted on September 22, 2011 by Howling Hill

Please welcome today’s guest poster, Wolf.

$250 for a brake job. $350 for a pre-built chicken coop. Over a $1000 for a small porch. One day I stopped and thought to myself: Do these projects really need a professional or can I build/replace them myself? It turns out with a little help from books, the internet and good friends, I CAN do these things.

When Howling Hill and I decided to get chickens a few years ago, we started by reading as much as we could and talking to people who already had them. What are a chickens needs? Food, water and shelter. That’s pretty much it. Feeders and waterers are inexpensive, so no problem there. But the coop, that was a different story. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money to find out we didn’t like keeping chickens. So, I thought: Hey, I wonder if I could build a coop. But, how much will it cost to build? Would it actually be more cost effective to buy a finished one? I started by looking at designs in books and materials needed. It turns out that as fancy as some may look, they’re still built the same way as any other wood frame structure. I don’t know jack about carpentry, so on to the next book/website. After some deciding on the size, determined by the needs of the chickens, I sketched a drawing of a coop. Then I added dimensions. OK, so what about materials? I scavenged almost everything from work and the town dump, other than some hardware that I bought. All told I spent about $50. The finished project won’t win any beauty contests but it’s functional, wind and waterproof and provides security for the chickens at night. <a href=”I built the coop on my ownafter doing just a little research from free and abundant sources.

The porch was a slightly different story, though the way I went about installing the porch was virtually the same as the coop. Needs, research, materials. As there would be a lot of weight and foot traffic going up, down and across the stairs and porch, I priced new lumber. A friend helped me build the porch itself, as it was a 2-person job. I then hired a local handyman to help me put a roof on, another 2-person job. My friend helped me out for a meal and drink (plus he likes to build things, always a plus). The local handyman was looking for any kind of work (times are tight), he quoted me a reasonable price and it felt good to be able to help someone out. So while the porch wasn’t completely DIY, emphasis on the Y, I still did the majority of the project. Total cost of porch and roof, about $400 to $500.

It turns out my boss is quite the mechanic. He heard me pull in one day and said it sounded like my brakes were going. After a quick inspection, it turned out the brake pads in the rear were almost gone on one side and were completely gone on the other. Oops. He asked if I knew how to change the pads. I didn’t, and this was a job I couldn’t do at home, as I don’t have the proper equipment. Add the fact that we have a dirt driveway and it would have been a nightmare. He offered to show me how to do a brake job. All I had to do was buy the pads and drive the car to his house. The best way to learn is to do it yourself (I think), so he told me what to do and I did the work. He showed me how the brakes work after you step on the pedal. Now I have a better understanding of them and feel confident to do them myself next time. By the way, the pads were only $35.

All of this has led me to my latest project. I’ve gained confidence through learning and doing. Now I’ve taken on a real challenge. We’ve been looking for ways to cut down on our car fuel bills and I decided (right or wrong) that a motorcycle was the way to go. They get great mileage and I figured it would be cheaper to buy and maintain. By pure happenstance, a FREE bike fell in my lap. It didn’t run but it’s in decent shape. I declared I would get it running and my wonderful wife has backed me all the way. I found dozens of forums dedicated to that specific model of bike. I couldn’t believe my luck. These guys have been tinkering with their bikes for years and have posted their trials and tribulations for all to see. And ask questions. They even uploaded shop manuals. I also found a motorcycle salvage yard just 10 miles down the road to buy used parts to save money. So, with zero experience with motorcycles under my belt, I went to work. I began taking things apart, putting them back together, cleaning, inspecting and testing…and I got it running last weekend! Working on this motorcycle has been incredibly fulfilling and has boosted my confidence enough that I want to take on more projects that even a year ago, I may have thought “no way am I trying to do that.”

I apologize for the length of this post. I had difficulty figuring out how to start it but once I did, I was on a roll.

Kind of like a DIY project.

Follow Wolf’s DIY journey on Twitter. @Wolf_tribal


  1. I’ve always built the chicken coops I’ve had myself. They really don’t have to be fancy for chickens and because I live way out in the country and have plenty of places to basically block them from public view, they don’t have to be pretty either. I bought the treated posts for the pens and the chicken wire from the hardware store, but many of the boards in the frame and all of the tin and “rafters” used to finish pens are recycled. My dad tore down a collapsing horse barn on his property and I made use of that and he also hoards scrap lumber for his wood-working projects. This is one of those areas where being green is also MUCH cheaper than the alternatives.

    September 22nd, 2011 at 9:48 am
    Comment by Jacob
  2. Good Post Wolf. I think we’ve been told for years we can’t handle these kinds of things on our own. I remember my father telling me when I was a kid how complicated cars were getting and I’ve never really bothered to learn anything about them since then.

    I had a similar experience when my wife asked me to build a set of stairs for the back of our house. I sat down and started to research and design. Of course, it took me a year to build them, only because I’m a perfectionist. But when I put it together it was rock solid and perfectly level. My father the carpenter extraordinar was even able to give me some praise “Well you sure over engineer those stairs, they’ll out last the house.” Well I took it as a compliment.

    That sort of inspired me to start on my latest project, which is the RepRap machine that I blogged about earlier this year on the Greenists. Of course, I’m following the same model, over think, over engineer, and seeking perfection on the first try. We’ll see if it works out for me. The wife said to me the other day, at some point this machine better do something for all the money your spending on it. :) We shall see.

    September 24th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
    Comment by Jamison
  3. Good stuff. I’ve always enjoyed making things, and it can be way, way cheaper that way. I’m very impressed with your motorcycle project; let us know how it goes. I think it’s true that most things we defer to “experts” really don’t take a whole lot of know-how. Like installing brake pads or baking bread- you can learn how to do it by simply reading a paragraph or two and getting your hands dirty.

    September 25th, 2011 at 8:32 am
    Comment by mickey

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