How Impressive Are Your Handyman Skills?



By: J. Scott Wilson

7 Min Quiz

Image: [krisanapong detraphiphat] / [Moment] / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Whether you're more like Bob Vila or Tim "The Toolman" Taylor, you've likely tried your hand at home projects and other handyman endeavors. Every homeowner likes to think they can handle small issues that pop up around the house, but some of us are a little more cut out for the handy life than others.

Take plumbing, for instance. If you've got a toilet that won't stop running or a kitchen faucet that won't stop dripping, do you know what to do? Tackling these projects without sufficient knowledge could lead to wasted time, flooded floors and possibly harsh language in the presence of your kids. Sure, there are how-to videos for just about any home project online, but not all of them are giving you useful information. Do you have enough basic savvy to know the good info from the bad?

You can save yourself a ton of money if you can handle home repairs yourself, and then there's the pride that comes with having done things with your hands instead of sitting behind your desk at work. There's just something about a properly painted wall that gives more satisfaction than the most detailed PowerPoint presentation.

So, how are your handyman skills? This quiz will tell you whether you're qualified to handle things around the house or whether you need to call in the pros!

You've got a toilet that seems to stop and start filling constantly. What's the first thing to check?

The flapper is the little rubber thing that comes up when you push down on the flush handle, allowing water to rush into the bowl and make the toilet flush. When the tank empties, the flapper should fall back down and seal the tank, allowing it to fill until the next flush. If it doesn't seal all the way, water will seep around it and the tank will need to be refilled.


Which of these might be the cause of the flapper not sealing properly?

Sometimes, small bits of debris can get into the tank and get stuck either on the flapper or in the drain hole. Also, over time, the rubber of the flapper will show wear and tear and eventually begin to fall apart. Finally, the chain or rod between the flush handle and the flapper can become kinked or bent, keeping it from falling back down properly.


What do you call the vertical boards that give a wall stability between corners?

The studs are the "bones" of your house. There are very specific regulations on how close together they must be, since spacing them too far apart will weaken the overall structure.


You're hanging a picture, and you want to make sure it's not leaning to one side or the other. What tool do you need?

A level is a must-have tool for any handyman's toolbox. The best are a couple of feet long and have bubbles in clear glass tubes that will show you how close you are to level. Often, they have marks on them that let them double as rulers.


Oh no! You were moving a table and the corner gouged a bit out of the sheetrock in your dining room wall. What should you use to fix it?

For a small gouge or other marks, spackling paste and a putty knife is all you'll need to restore the wall to its unmarked state. Then paint the spackle with matching paint to hide all evidence of your furniture-moving mishap.


What piece of metal holds a door steady in its hinges?

Did you know you can remove hinge pins very easily to take doors off for painting? Use a flathead screwdriver to pop them loose at the top and then pull them out by hand (or tap them gently with a rubber mallet if they're stuck). Be sure you have someone hold the door steady while you do this!


Your screen door lets out an awful squeal when you open and close it. What can you spray on it to lubricate it?

Believe it or not, WD-40 is NOT a lubricant, although we've all used it for that purpose now and again. It stops squeaks temporarily because it cleans the squeaky parts and lets them move more freely. Use it first, THEN use the lubricant. (Note; the oils CAN be used but shouldn't be.)


On a standard claw hammer, what is the claw end used for?

The claw end of the hammer can serve as a very short pry bar in a pinch, but it's primarily there to pull out mis-hit or improperly placed nails. It's sometimes called the "eraser," because it removes the evidence of nail-driving incompetence.


You want to hang a heavy picture, so you need to find a sturdy spot to mount it. What do you use?

Think of a stud finder as a handheld radar that can see through the sheetrock in your walls and find out where the studs are. You'll still want to drill a test hole or drive a nail in the make absolutely sure, but the stud finder will give you a pretty accurate picture of where you need to be.


You have a heavy picture to hang, and for whatever reason, there's simply not a stud in the right place. What's the next best thing?

A drywall anchor is a plastic sheath that is driven through a pilot hole in the wall. Once through the hole, it mushrooms out and becomes a secure holder for a mounting screw. The idea is to distribute the weight of whatever's hung over a larger area inside the drywall.


What is used to seal crevices around windows, plumbing fixtures and other small spaces?

Caulk is something of a magical substance, used to seal around a multitude of things to keep air out, water in or for any other sealing purpose. It comes in colors and in various compositions for different jobs such as very wet or very hot environments.


You're installing a new shower head. What should you put on the pipe coming out of the wall before screwing on the new head?

Teflon tape, also called thread seal tape, is a very thin tape that prevents water from penetrating into the threads of a plumbing fixture. It's the sort of thing you won't miss at first, but six months later when the threads are rusted and water sprays sideways from them, you'll wish you had used it.


Which of these is not a common type of screwdriver?

There are actually six types of commonly used screwdrivers, but the most popular (and ones that should be in any toolbox) are the flathead (or slotted), Phillips and Torx. The Torx head is shaped something like a rounded-off asterisk.


When hanging wallpaper, what do you need to look for so the finished job looks seamless?

Any wallpaper with a pattern, no matter how simple or how intricate, has a point at which the pattern starts and stops. That point is the pattern repeat, and keeping the width between them consistent as you go across the wall will leave you with a good-looking end product.


If your house is built board by board, rather than using pre-made or prefabricated sections, how do you refer to it?

If you've ever watched an apartment complex being built or been around a big housing development in progress, you've likely seen flatbed trucks loaded down with pre-built roof rafters and walls. A stick-built house is one that was done board by board, the way structures were built for hundreds of years.


The angled boards that support the roof are called what?

The rafters are just like studs, except they're supporting the roof of your house. For this reason, they also have very demanding specifications governing how close they have to be, how they are attached and various other factors.


In what field of handyman work would you be most likely to use PVC?

PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is the white plastic-like material that is used to make most of the plumbing pipes in your house. It's cheaper than copper and can be made in a tremendous number of diameters and shapes.


What vegetable can save the day if a lightbulb breaks off in its socket?

Cut the potato in half, clear any remaining broken glass out and press the cut side of the potato into the socket. Twist counter-clockwise and the potato should grab the remainder of the bulb and unscrew it from the socket. Warning: Do NOT eat the potato after doing this.


MDF, or multi-density fiberboard, is basically made of wood fibers and what?

Particleboard, which you've seen most likely in cheap pieces of dorm furniture, is made of sawdust and a glue binder. MDF is a step up, using wood fibers instead of sawdust. It's still not as strong as real wood, but it's got a multitude of uses.


A GFCI is part of what system in your house?

A GFCI is a ground fault circuit interrupter. If you've ever seen an electrical outlet with a reset button in the middle of it, that's a GFCI. Think of it as a circuit breaker in a socket, which is designed to cut power immediately if a short is detected.


What can you use to fill the grooves in wood paneling before painting over it?

Applying and sanding joint compound are two of the dirtiest but most common jobs in interior construction and remodeling. After the compound is applied and allowed to dry, it must be sanded to leave a smooth, finished surface. The sanding produces tremendous amounts of dust, so breathing protection is recommended.


How often should you change the register filter on your HVAC system?

The simple answer is that you change the filter when it's dirty, and that's also where the problem comes in. The amount of dust and debris that a filter collects varies depending on the season, how many people and pets are in the house, how often the doors to the outside are opened, etc. Some modern systems have a sensor that will tell you when the filter is dirty.


If your home is too cold in one part and too warm in another during the summer, your A/C system needs what?

Sometimes, especially if a house has had rooms added or the interior layout changed by remodeling, the air conditioning system will need to be balanced. This involves redirecting ducts, using baffles and several other techniques to change where the air goes.


You can extend the life of your water heater by doing what?

Over time, sediment and minerals will settle at the bottom of your water heater, clogging the main element and making it work less efficiently. There are very good online guides on how to do this. By the way: Don't refer to this appliance as a "hot water heater." Why would you need to heat water that's already hot?


"Green treated" wood has been treated with what?

While you might think "green" has something to do with being environmentally friendly, in this case, it refers to the color that appears in the wood when the copper in the preservative is exposed to sunlight. There are different grades of treatment depending on what the wood will be used for.


If the coils on your air conditioner are covered with frost, which of these is the likely culprit?

It might seem counter-intuitive to think that a lack of coolant could lead to something freezing up, but that's exactly what will happen with an air conditioner. This will also happen if the blower fan isn't working properly and moving air across the coils fast enough.


Which of these should be reversed between the summer and winter?

Your ceiling fan should spin clockwise in the winter and fall to draw the cold air up to the ceiling and force warm air down. It should spin counter-clockwise in the summer to keep a "pool" of warm air from forming near the ceiling and heating up the room.


To resolve a clogged toilet that the plunger won't budge, try using what tool named after a creature?

The toilet snake is a hand-cranked or, in the cases of big jobs or professional plumbers, motorized tube with a rotating claw on the end that is threaded down into a toilet or clogged drain and spun to destroy or dislodge a clog. We're not sure what a toilet badger might be, but we don't want to meet one. Ever.


The layer of material that goes on the floor before you put down laminate flooring is known as what?

Underlayment provides a bit of insulation under the laminate, and it also cushions the flooring, which makes for more comfortable walking and also guards against flexing and cracking. It's a mandatory item under most building codes, so don't forget to budget for it!


Which of these is not a common type of home insulation?

Lipid is another word for fat, which while it insulates you and helps keep you warm, wouldn't do such a great job for a house. The pink rolls in your attic are fiberglass, blown-in insulation is usually cellulose and foam is usually used to seal potential air leak spots.


What does "low-e" coating reduce when referring to windows?

Low-e, or low-emissivity, refers to glass that's treated to reduce infrared and ultraviolet light coming into your home. It doesn't cut down on the amount of visible light, so you'll still need curtains, and its insulation properties are up for debate depending which window installer you're talking to.


You're trying to remove a screw, and the head snaps off, leaving a bit of the screw shaft sticking out of the hole. Which tool should you reach for?

You might be tempted to try to use the claw on the hammer to pull the screw out, but you might not get a grip on the small bit of remaining screw, and trying to pull the screw straight out instead of turning it could damage the wood ... or your face if it comes loose abruptly. Grab the nub of the screw with your needlenose pliers and twist it free ... then buy better-quality screws.


Which of these is NOT a potential cause of a leaking kitchen faucet?

The aerator is that little screen that the water passes through on the way out of your faucet. While the dripping water is, indeed, coming through the aerator, that's not the cause of the problem. If you try to diagnose and repair this problem yourself, be sure to turn off the water to the sink first or you'll end up with a far more expensive repair than you'd planned.


Cutting a board lengthwise, as opposed to "cross cutting" across the grain, is called what?

It's a violent term for what's usually a fairly precise operation. If you've got a four-inch by one-inch board, and you need two boards that are two inches by one inch, you'll "rip" the existing board using, most likely, a table saw. You can do this with a circular saw if you are a real expert at making straight cuts.


Architecture and layout of buildings that's designed to accommodate people of all ages and ability levels is known as what?

The concept behind universal design is that rather than having specific rooms designed for those with physical challenges of various types, all places should be accessible to everyone. This covers everything from plumbing design to door widths and things like ramps to make doorways accessible.


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