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Tips for Easier DIY When You Work by Yourself

Don't let working solo slow you down. Here's how to get the job done without a helper.

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How to Handle Long Boards

How to Handle Long Boards

The toughest solo jobs are holding up a full sheet of plywood, supporting the top row of drywall, and securing strips of siding or long boards in exactly the right position while you fasten them. Sometimes you can stick a clamp somewhere to support long boards, nail in a block directly below the work or even pound in a couple of nails to rest the two bottom corners of plywood sheathing while you fine-tune the placement and do the fastening.

Occasionally you'll need to place fasteners through finished surfaces, but don't sweat it. Nails leave relatively small, fixable holes and drywall screw holes are nearly invisible. These little insults are pretty tame compared with the mess you can have with a falling cabinet that you're trying to hold up while fastening!

Big, cumbersome cabinets are easy to hang alone if you first screw a level 1x4 through the wall into the studs at the right height. Then you can rest the cabinet while you fasten it to the wall. Holding 10-ft. gutter sections for fastening is a hassle. But support the far end with a clamp attached to the bottom of the fascia and it's painless.

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Solo Fastener Driving Tip

Solo Fastener Driving Tip

Start nails or screws before hoisting the load. How many times have you tried to hold a board or sheet of material in place and start a nail or screw? When hanging drywall, plywood or even a rim joist (the board that ties a whole bunch of joist ends together), mark the framing locations and tack a few fasteners in the material before hoisting it. Then you can hold it with one hand while driving in the fasteners. Plus: Save your fingers with this nail-holding trick.
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A Helper Up High

A Helper Up High

Working up high with lengths of gutter or lumber can be tough, especially if you're working alone—or if you only have one ladder! To make the job easier, use one-hand bar clamps to quickly connect a sawhorse to two 8-ft. studs. Then use C-clamps to position a 1x4 cross member at the desired height. For the best holding power, set the C-clamps at an angle with the jaws up. You can use heavier material for bigger jobs, but be careful: Top-heavy loads are tippy! Plus: Plans to make your own sawhorses.
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Circuit-Finding Radio

Circuit-Finding Radio

Instead of running upstairs, let the Rolling Stones help you find the right breaker. Find circuit breakers by plugging a loud radio into the outlet you're working on. You'll know you have the right circuit breaker when the music dies. But don't assume the electricity is off in all the other outlets or lights in the room. Before doing any wiring, plug the radio into other outlets you plan to work on. Some duplex outlets can have different circuits running to adjacent outlets. To be safe, test both the top and bottom with the radio. For lights, turn the light switch on and off to be sure.

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Ease the Strain With a Panel Lifter

Ease the Strain With a Panel Lifter

Take the strain off your arms and upper body and make navigating tight spots easier with a plastic panel lifter (about $6), available at home centers. Just hook the panel lifter around the bottom of the sheet at the center point, tip the sheet up and lift, leaving your lifting arm fully extended as if you were carrying a suitcase. Use your other arm to balance the sheet, keeping the drywall close to horizontal. You'll be amazed—you can move drywall with half the effort. But it doesn't work on full flights of stairs. Get a helper for that.

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Heavy-Door Hanging Tip

Heavy-Door Hanging Tip

Use a lever and fulcrum. Ease the awkwardness of solitary door hanging. Get doors back onto hinges by levering the door into position with a 1x4 fulcrumed on a 3/4- in. block of wood. Line up the top hinge leaves, slip in the top hinge pin and then line up the other two leaves and drop in the other pins.

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Solo Drywall Hanging

Solo Drywall Hanging

Hanging that top course of drywall is challenging when you're alone. Make the job easier by creating a simple bracket between 1 and 2 ft. from each end of the sheet with a couple of 16d nails. Just sink them into the studs 48-1/2 in. down from the ceiling and about 1 in. deep. Hoist the sheet and rest the bottom edge on the nails. Push the sheet up against the ceiling with one hand and tack it into place with the other with a few prestarted drywall nails.

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Rent a Drywall Lift for Ceiling Work

Rent a Drywall Lift for Ceiling Work

If you have to drywall a ceiling, don't hesitate to rent a lift. It's well worth the daily rental fee and is by far the best way to get a ceiling up without back strain.

Drywall lifts break down into three parts and fit easily into a midsize car. After you reassemble it, release the catch on the wheel and crank it up and down a few times to make sure it's working smoothly. Then lock the lift and hoist one end of the drywall sheet up to the support hook—finish side down. Now lift the other end of the sheet up and slide it onto the second hook as shown. Lift slowly and smoothly—abrupt or jerky handling can pop the front edge of the drywall off the hook.

Tip the sheet so it's horizontal and lock it down. Then wheel the lift into approximate position. Lifts are stable and maneuverable, so you can fine-tune the placement when you raise the drywall. Then crank it tight. You may need to get up on a ladder to nudge the sheet into place. Put in at least eight screws before lowering the lift.

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Using a LeverFamily Handyman

Using a Lever

Lever posts out of the ground by wrapping a chain around the base of the post and slipping a long plank through the chain. Pry against a block resting on the ground to keep the lever from digging into the soil. Sometimes you'll have to excavate around the tops of stubborn concrete-embedded posts to remove some of the dirt trapping the top of the concrete.

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Bring Everything With YouFamily Handyman

Bring Everything With You

When you have a job to do in an attic, in a crawl space or on a roof, concentrate on assembling all the tools and materials you need to save trips back and forth to the truck or garage. For a roof repair, I'll pull up a 5-gallon bucket with the caulking gun, flashing, flat bar, roofing nails or whatever else I think the job requires. Undoubtedly I'll forget or need more of something, but at least I've saved a couple of trips down the ladder.