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Popular Mechanics Article - Americans losing DIY skills

by DrDirt
posted 04-11-2013 02:49 PM


27 replies so far

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Airspeed

425 posts in 650 days


#1 posted 04-11-2013 03:10 PM

Drdirt, that is so true! I raised my daughters to know how to do a lot basic things, it paid off because all of their boyfriends couldn’t even change a flat tire, once while my daughter was on a date they had a dead battery, they called one of their friends to come jump start the car, norther of the two guys knew how to connect the cables so my daughter had to do it. It’s very sad that parents don’t insist their kids know basic things like this. I can’t tell you how many kids I had to teach stuff like this because their parents were too lazy or never bothered to learn themselves. School kids these days don’t know anything, all their time is spent texting each other. Crap, I’m kinda doing that now! I better go build something!

-- http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v655/aaronhero/

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madts

1298 posts in 1088 days


#2 posted 04-11-2013 03:23 PM

Very profound and true.

-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

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crank49

3522 posts in 1719 days


#3 posted 04-11-2013 03:24 PM

Thanks for posting.
A good read.
And, I can relate on a very personal level, that this trend has been present since nearly 50 years ago.
When I was in middle school in the 1950s I used to get into the archives in the back of the library to find books about building boats and carts and steam engines and such. I loved this stuff. But I was the only person in there.

I still have old copies of Mechanics Illustrated and Popular Mechanics from the 40s and 50s and I still re-read them occasionally.

My kids share my interest in these things, but we are far from the mainstream, and getting farther away every year it seams.

About all the new magazines want to do is create a lot of fantasy with computer generated graphics. It’s sad, because the real thing is just as interesting, if not as flashy.

Reminds me of what a real cowboy once said about the “Urban Cowboy” types.
He said, “If you ask me, they’re all hat and no rope”.

-- Michael :-{| “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” ― A H

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Tedstor

1505 posts in 1381 days


#4 posted 04-11-2013 03:29 PM

We’ve reached a point in our society where parents don’t encourage their kids to develop trade skills.
- they feel using tools to build go carts and bike ramps is too dangerous.
- everyone wants their kid to become a software engineer or a lawyer. Vocational skills don’t fit into that plan.
I’m fortunate in that I’ve become a pretty handy guy. I intend/ demand that my three boys not be “that guy” that has to depend on AAA to change a tire or hook up a set of jumper cables.

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nomercadies

533 posts in 1087 days


#5 posted 04-11-2013 03:32 PM

I am in agreement. Check the website we host mentioned on my homepage here at Lumberjocks. I found the most wonderful talents hidden in students with special needs (possibly they should be renamed “special abilities”).

The four letter word that keeps popping up and stands in the way of most people embracing the wonder hidden inside is … “work.”

I met a wonderful mason/philosopher once. As he was repairing a chimney on my friend’s home he was chatting along about some of the most insightful things. I asked him, if there was one thing he would share with young people, what would it be? He said, “Tell them … not everything needs to be fun. You have to carry some bricks to make a beautiful chimney.”

The computer was supposed to fix everything. It does, as long as the world you live in is virtual.

Taking something from the bubbling mud in your mind and making it stand before you in reality happens less and less, I believe because there is no large group of people to watch as living examples.

Supposedly, computers are a tool, not a universe in which we live. I never would have read your words without my computer, and I truly appreciate that, but now I am going to stand up, go into the living room I turned into a shop, and work on a brand new way to attach wheels to a workbench.

Again, check out the quest I am on to reverse some of what we have discussed here. We are trying to create something truly wonderful to put the talents and drive of the so-called “graduates” from classrooms for students with special needs to (four letter word) work. You’ll find the web address on my home page.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

-- Chance Four "Not Just a Second Chance"

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Kaleb the Swede

1289 posts in 717 days


#6 posted 04-11-2013 03:58 PM

I like this. I am a high school music teacher, I sent it to the shop teacher where I work. I figured if anyone would appreciate it, he might. Thanks

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

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Hammerthumb

1497 posts in 723 days


#7 posted 04-11-2013 04:33 PM

This has got me to thinking about the changes as you have pointed out. I worked in electronics in the mid 70’s and would alway wonder how the evolution of technology would effect society. At that time my comments would be that technology had raced past the average consumers ability to use it (can’t even program a VCR). I think it was at that time that society started to catch up with the advancements in technology, and the hand skills and mechanical talents started to diminish. Why can’t we do both? It seems you are right, not only do fathers and mothers not pass down the knowledge of changing a tire or hemming a seem, but our schools and institutions are intent on teaching skills that require abstract thought and fuction over physical work skills.

-- Paul, Las Vegas

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DrDirt

2597 posts in 2490 days


#8 posted 04-11-2013 04:41 PM

I thought it interesting.

The above is why at the Home Depots, and LOWES and Menards etc there are all of these weekend clinics on how to lay tile, landscape, paint etc.

The folks that run the DIY home centers, are realizing that there are tons of new young homeowners, that have never used a screwdriver. So in order for their businesses to survive, they are trying to encourage and even train the next generation of homeowner to do work themselves.

-- "If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves." Edison

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BinghamtonEd

1593 posts in 1118 days


#9 posted 04-11-2013 05:38 PM

I think this is a great article, and I forwarded it on to my parents, my wife, and my in-laws. I was lucky growing up, I had a dad who pretty much did everything around the house, and included me when he was working. I consider myself pretty handy, and this is something I fully intend to pass on to my children.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

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BTimmons

2178 posts in 1233 days


#10 posted 04-11-2013 07:50 PM

In his book ‘The Demon Haunted World’, Carl Sagan wrote -

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

Granted, good old Uncle Carl was addressing heavy subjects like loosing our technological edge as a first world country, societal collapse and nuclear war in that book. Not exactly the same thing as not knowing how to swing a hammer. But the principle applies. Our ancestors made just about everything they owned and used, and here we are running to Walmart to buy a chair made of plastic, on the other side of the world, that’s just going to break in a year or two anyway.

It goes way back to the beginning of the Information Age and the decline of American manufacturing. We had an economy based on making things, that gradually shifted towards service sector work. Now, there’s nothing inherently bad or “less American” (whatever that means) about either line of work. But the fact remains that focusing heavily on either side will leave you lacking in skills and awareness.

I can’t help but think less of an adult that doesn’t know how to use a screwdriver. And I also can’t help but think less of someone that is computer illiterate and/or can’t write worth a damn. So in spirit, I’m neither white or blue collar, but somehow I have elitist feelings about both. Maybe a flaw in my own character. I don’t know, but there it is.

I was born in 1980 so I was raised during a time when vying for a service sector job (i.e. anything that had me sitting behind a computer) was the thing to do. Video games were present from early on. But so were Lego sets. I was much more inclined to art and music for the earliest parts of my life, but being in Scouts also allowed me to experience things outside of my suburban existence. Building fires, using an ax to cut firewood, archery, things you couldn’t exactly do in your back yard.

I get my soft spoken and introverted personality from my dad. He’s not the most alpha male guy, but I did learn a few skills from him as a kid. How to cut a board with a saw, drive screws, drill holes, hammer a nail, etc. Nothing really advanced, but it’s something. He never changed his own oil or taught me how to (which I swear I’ll do someday). But when I was a teenager and I was about to start driving, he did make me change a tire right there in the driveway. That, and being able to inflate your tires and jump start a car should at least be the baseline of mechanical skills for any driver. I intend to make my daughter do the same thing when she’s old enough. Potty training comes first, though.

-- Brian Timmons - http://www.BigTWoodworks.com

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Howie

2656 posts in 1671 days


#11 posted 04-11-2013 08:14 PM

Spot on. Thanks for the post.

-- Life is good.

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Bogeyguy

499 posts in 816 days


#12 posted 04-11-2013 08:39 PM

Well guys, it’s up to us to pass these skills along to our sons, daughters, grandkids. Someone needs to show them. That’s us. My dad wasn’t very handy and I would laugh when he would bring a tool home from Sears and mom would ask him what he was planning on doing with that?? Luckily I had Uncle Tom who was quite the handy man and I helped him out doing little jobs on the weekend. I passed alot of this “knowledge” onto my sons and I can see them passing it on to my 8 grandchildren. It has to start somewhere.

-- Art, Pittsburgh.

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madts

1298 posts in 1088 days


#13 posted 04-11-2013 08:58 PM

At the marina where I used to live we had a joke: “The worst thing on earth was a lawyer with a screw driver in his hand.” Needless to say there were several lawyer boat owners at this marina. Ever Monday morning I would get calls from these lawyers asking me to fix stuff that had been screwed with a driver or similar.

-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

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Elizabeth

811 posts in 1892 days


#14 posted 04-11-2013 09:55 PM

I wish my dad had been able to show me that stuff. Sadly, he was sick my whole life and died when I was a kid. I’d love to know how to handle myself with basic car repairs but never had anyone who could show me. What I know of woodworking I learned from middle school shop class, books, and my own experimentation – which is why I still don’t know how to use a plunge router – hard to get that from a book! My older brother taught me stuff like how to throw a baseball and a football but I think he didn’t pick up most of his practical knowledge till adulthood, and I’m still handier around most tools than he is.

I actually tried to join my local boy scouts when I was a kid, on the grounds that they were doing useful stuff and girl scouts was all about making leather bracelets and doing art projects. But of course they didn’t let me in.

Around my house I’m the one doing the repair jobs, which is great until we hit one that I don’t know how to do. Plumbing and wiring are my weak areas. Fortunately my husband has some electrical experience and is able to supplement me there, and we have a great electrician who gives free advice by email.

At least we can both change a diaper and balance equations; he can cook and build a wall and I can balance accounts and program a computer…we’re getting there!

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woodbutcherbynight

1311 posts in 1157 days


#15 posted 04-13-2013 03:23 AM

It is sad but true. Those that can fix things around the house with basic skills have become an endangered species.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

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splinter164

14 posts in 690 days


#16 posted 04-13-2013 11:43 AM

This issue hit home several weeks ago when I was out to dinner with friends. The group was comprised of several investment brokers who make 20 to 50 times my salary. The guys were talking about their “toys” and I was excited to share the news that my wife had purchase a new tablesaw for my birthday. After a few puzzled looks, one of them turned to me and said, “So,what is a tablesaw and what does it do?

I found myself explaining that this was a big upgrade in quality and performance, but I could tell this was very mundane to them as it simply made little pieces of wood from big pieces of wood. It was a bit deflating that they couldn’t relate to my news. However, they were fascinated when I showed them the Sawstop demo link on YouTube!

I guess that’s why I come to lumberjacks – to learn from and share with folks that have similar interests and passions as me.

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patcollins

1004 posts in 1613 days


#17 posted 04-13-2013 10:21 PM

I think some of it is romanticised. My grandfather could fix anything, but after he died I help clean out his workshop, house, garage etc and checked out alot of the things that he built. He was an aviation machinist in the navy during WWII and he had quite a few home made wood working tools such as a drill press and a lathe. He never really did alot of decorative woodworking, mostly stuff that many consider home repairs. Anyways back on topic, some things he built were crooked, the windows he put in the house himself had some gaps and werent quite straight. So I am thinking the skills of the older generation were definitely utilitarian but not so much artisian quality.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

12352 posts in 1854 days


#18 posted 04-15-2013 01:07 AM

Brian is right on with the advance of technology. Those of us who are pretty handy really run into a brick wall on most of the new devices that are linked to computer technology instead of mechanical or simple electrical devices. You can hardly get them apart with all the hidden snap fasteners and once you do, the circuitry is Greek or tied to a little integrated circuit . You cannot bird dog new stuff like we used to.
I guess that is because they want this to be a throw away world.

But it is true that the average person now does not have the ability to repair even simple things. I think if you grew up on a farm, you would have a better chance because your dad had to be handy to keep the farm going and you learned by watching. The current high schools have eliminated their shop classes in favor of computers for everyone. It also take a yearning or a curiosity to learn to repair things to get interested in the first place. I don’t see that in many young people these days!

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

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BentheViking

1755 posts in 1312 days


#19 posted 04-15-2013 02:56 AM

I don’t think its limited to current children. Other than friends I have met through work, none of my friends are all that capable of doing much. Granted we are young (mid to late 20s) and most of them have only rented and haven’t had a need to learn to do things and probably will learn some stuff once they do own, but they are still starting at a very low point and may find it to be a better solution to write a check than pick up a tool.

-- It's made of wood. Real sturdy.--Chubbs Peterson

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oldnovice

3868 posts in 2116 days


#20 posted 04-15-2013 03:15 AM

My oldest son is 40 years old and works at a big box electronics store as a digital camera specialist and sometimes when I pick him up at work (he is wheelchair bound) he gets in the car and says “I fear for the future of mankind” which he bases on his interaction with customers.

The last time was when the customer wanted a replacement battery for his camera and he asked for a lithium onion battery. Even after my son said lithium ion several times, without actually correcting the customer, he persisted that he wanted a lithium onion battery. This is just one of many examples on which he bases his opinion.

I also fear for the future as old knowledge is being pushed out of the bottom and into an abyss as the newer knowledge get laid on top.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

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Rick M.

4491 posts in 1128 days


#21 posted 04-16-2013 06:36 AM

Depends on your perspective I guess, I don’t think it has much to do with electronics. In past decades there was more free time, more working class people with little or no money, more people in rural areas with no money and less access to repairmen, manufacturing was less advanced, things broke more often. People fixed things themselves because they had to. In the 90’s I worked with a guy who was in his 40’s then and had never heard of a tire iron, I had to explain how it was used. The guy wasn’t a dummy but came from a upper middle class family, when a tire popped they called someone to fix it.

-- http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

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MrRon

2980 posts in 1991 days


#22 posted 04-17-2013 05:28 PM

Very true Drdirt, My son when he was 15, came across an expensive motocross bicycle sitting outside a house in the trash. Out of curiosity, he took a close look at it and realized there was nothing wrong with it other than a flat tire and some minor maintenance. The bike was valued at around $400, so my son went to the door and a=inquired about the bike. He was told it was put out for trash because the son couldn’t repair the tire or knew how to adjust the gearing, brakes etc. and he could take it if he wanted. He did just that and had it up and running inside an hour. He used it for a while, then sold it for $200. My son took after me in having the ability and interest to fix things. I understand there are people who make a good living going through the throw-a-ways in rich communities, like Beverly Hills; salvaging often perfectly good items, from clothes to tools, appliances, etc. These people don’t throw it out because they are rich and money is of no object to them. They toss it because they don’t know or want to know how to fix it.

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oldnovice

3868 posts in 2116 days


#23 posted 04-17-2013 06:58 PM

MrRon but there are also many things are made today that are truly disposable, specifically in consumer electronics. When I was in high school and Jr college I worked for a radio TV repair company and even back in those days Magnavox introduced a transistor based stereo that did not need the repair that the tube types did (did I just date myself by saying tube type?).

I have a digital camera which I dropped and broke the flash mount which I found out was going to cost me more to repair than the camera cost initially, so I fixed it myself as best as I could and it still works.

Many of the counter top appliances fall into that disposable category like a microwave oven. To replace a control panel cost nearly as much as the original and if you do replace it you always have to wonder how long the tube will last. That was my experience as I priced a control panel and, according to the distributer it is something I could replace myself as the panel was not in the microwave sealed area of the oven, but the control panel was $315.00 while the entire oven only cost $499.00!

Fortunately, mechanical things are still cost effective repairable as with your sons bicycle experience.

I think that people that don’t take the time to learn how to fix something do have something disposable, their income!

To me fixing something is a challenge which I relish.

Now for a good story! My son had a baby swing that broke. We took it apart and determined that three parts needed to be replaced and on Monday I called Fisher Price to get those parts. Of course they told me these are not consumer replaceable parts (safety issue) but instead, they said if I returned the seat and one leg (basically disabling the use of the original) of the swing they would send me a new swing which arrived today! You can’t beat that for customer service!!!!!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

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DrDirt

2597 posts in 2490 days


#24 posted 04-18-2013 09:16 PM

I agree that there is a disposable society.

But people should not be stranded with a flat tire….
They should have and know how to use a set of jumper cables.

Replacing the garbage disposal is also simple. (installing a new one is more challenging) but swapping out isn’t

Agree that also cars today are much less user friendly under the hood.

But minor repairs.
installing a dimmer switch.
Replacing a ceiling fan
putting in a toilet flapper valve, or a new wax ring

That should not represent a midnight emergency 100 dollar call out.

We should be able to replace the latch on the gate to the back yard.
Yet it seems when I drive in the neighborhood… peoples homes and property are crumbling. Maybe that is more than just an individuals lack of skills, and is instead a certain laziness, but people seem incapable of just taking care of things.

-- "If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves." Edison

View oldnovice's profile

oldnovice

3868 posts in 2116 days


#25 posted 04-18-2013 10:40 PM

DrDirt you are absolutely correct! But I don’t know if it is lazyness, fear of the unknown, just plain ignorance, or too much disposable income to be bothered by doing it themselves.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

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gfadvm

11509 posts in 1438 days


#26 posted 04-19-2013 02:16 AM

I knew we were in trouble when my 21 year old daughter called her mother when she and her boyfriend found a flat on her truck when they came out of the restaurant. And the worst part is that my wife went and changed the tire while they watched her! It’s a very good thing that I was out on an emergency when they called!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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Lwin

10 posts in 611 days


#27 posted 04-20-2013 12:18 AM

Thanks for the link. We had a story a while back here in the news. A guy bought an old burned out mansion and had his teenage son and friend completely rehab it while learning how to do EVERYTHING themselves from roofing, electrical, drywall, doors and windows, plumbing and on and on. It took them about two years, but the place was transformed from a dump to a gem. If I could go back in time I could not imagine a more fun and worthwhile thing to do as a teenager. Had plenty of energy that’s for sure, just nowhere to put it.

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