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If It's Broken, Fix It!

Last weekend, while I was out at a conference, my thirteen year old son fell and cut his hand open. It's quite a bad cut, about an inch and a half long at the base of his palm, and it needed stitches. My husband took Matthew to the hospital, and when I arrived, they and the doctor were chatting and joking with each other as his hand was sewn. Matthew was more interested in the process and thrilled that he finally "had stitches!" than upset by the pain.

What had he cut his hand on? On the landing of our stairs, an electric baseboard cover had fallen off and was lying on the floor, brackets up. Matthew came pounding up the stairs, tripped and fell with his outstretched hand on the metal cover.

Several years ago, when Andrew (who is now 18) was just eight months old, we went to visit my in-laws. They lived in a large rambling house built into a hill so that the ground floor at one end of the house was two stories up at the other. A second floor balcony reached by sliding glass doors off the dining room was in the process of being repaired. Most of the boards had been removed sometime before, and all that remained were enough boards laid across the joists for the eventual work crew to stand on while they put down new boards.

Andrew crawled through the glass doors that had carelessly been left open and fell through a gap in the boards. Actually, he slipped through feet first, dropped ten feet and sat down hard beside a pile of cement blocks, thereby cementing my belief in guardian angels. He had fun, I was hysterical.

In both cases, something left unrepaired caused a potentially serious accident and injury (I twisted my ankle as I raced screaming around the house to where Andrew had landed.) People trip over loose carpet on stairs, cut themselves (or worse, step) on broken glass, electrocute themselves with loose plugs, or frayed wires, and scald themselves with loos handle pots, thinning pot holders, and too hot a setting on the hot water tank.

An important part of preventing and preparing for emergencies and accidents is ensuring that everything in your home is in good repair at all times. As stewards of our homes and families, we are responsible for making sure that this gets done. We can do it ourselves, or hire someone more skilled and qualified than ourselves. I can rewire a lamp and fix a leaking tap, but I hired someone to install my new diswasher.

There are a mazillion books available at the library, bookstores and Amazon.Com (see below) to show you how to do any particular job. There are simply too many household repair jobs to cover them all here. But, anyone, with a little preparation, time, good instructions, and their tongue held in the correct angle, can patch a wall, replace a plug or fuse, fix a leaky tap, unplug a drain, lift a toilet off the floor and remove the Fisher-Price action figure, or glue a chair back together.

As a beginning, every home should have a basic tool box (locked, or hidden if the house is full of light-fingered young ones) and every home steward should know how to use the tools contained therein. A plastic or metal fishing tackle box with a lid will keep your tools from 'wandering away', a plastic bucket is sometimes easier to load. Always bring the tool box to the job, not just the tools you think you might need. You'll save a lot of trips back and forth, and you'll make sure that your tools end up back in the tool box when you're finished.

Children may do terrible things to your tools when you're not looking, but they also can make great helpers and apprentices when you are working on a repair job. They can hold the book and read to you, hand you tools, and best of all, learn to do the job. They will soon feel as competent as you do!
My copy of 'Superwoman' by Shirley Conran, unfortunately out of print, gives the following list as a recommendation of what to keep in your tool box. Some of the items are unorthodox, but sensible when you think about it.

Essential Good to Have Optional
Gloves: rubber for electrical work, leather for tough jobs Carpenter's bubble level,
18" long. Essential for hanging shelves
Folding carpenter's ruler
Bandages, ointment for burns, Band-Aids Center punch, nail punch. To sink nails without marring wood C-clamps in various sizes, to hold things while glue sets, or while sawing.
Adhesives: white glue, rubber glue, contact cement, epoxy glue, latexbased glue Chisels, 1/2" cold chisel to cut through nails and screws, 1/2" and 1" wood chisel to chip out wood for hinges, etc. Battery powered continuity tester, to test appliance cords and lamp wiring.
String, elastic bands, clear plastic tape, nylon tape for pipes, picture wire, duct tape. Combination square, for measuring 90 and 45 * angles, and leveling small things. An electric voltage tester, to check for current before you begin working.
Box of matches, flash light, extra batteries 3/8" reversible electric drill, with assortment of bits, for drilling holes, and driving screws Masking tape
Spare curtain hooks A funnel Miter box for cutting angles
Faucet washers in various sizes. Roll of 2 wire lamp cord Small and large pipe wrench
Fuses for electric appliances and fuse box. ALWAYS use the correct amperage. Flat metal file and round file for shaping wood Vise
16 oz claw hammer. Paint scraper and putty knife Circular saw
Assorted nails: finishing nails, common nails, molly bolts, toggle bolts. Plastic wood filler, and plaster  
Penetrating oil in a spray can. Lubricating oil for all machinery Portable work lamp, also called a 'trouble light'  
Penknife for sharpening pencils, and shaping slivers of wood to fill old screw holes. Pry bar or crowbar  
Pliers: slip joint pliers, long nosed pliers, vise type pliers. Sandpaper in assorted grades  
Rubber plunger Scissors, wire strippers  
Saws, 24" crosscut and rip saw, keyhole saw and hacksaw for cutting metal Soft lead pencil and eraser  
Screwdriver with assorted bits Heavy staple gun and staples  
Screws in variety of heads and lengths Sharpening stone, either oil or water  
Steel measuring tape, at least 16 ' long Adjustable wrench  
Utility knife, and replacement blades for cutting linoleum and plastic.    

Buy the Book

The following books will help you learn how to be your home handyman as well as steward.

Renovating Woman : A Guide to Home Repair, Maintenance and Real Men by Allegra Bennett.
This is a highly rated and amusing book giving information and inspiration (it's all in the Attitude!) to women everywhere.

The New Fix-It-Yourself Manual by Reader's Digest.
These Reader's Digest books are like the Bible of Home maintainance and and repair. Big, good and basic. Covers everything you could possibly want to know.

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