Use Pivot Points and Balance with Long Ladders
The longer the ladder, the harder it is to control. Here's how to handle the longest ladders alone.
Anchor the feet of extension ladders against the base of the building and 'walk' the ladder up to raise it. The solid wall keeps the feet from kicking out as the ladder's raised. To lower ladders, move the feet back against the building and reverse the process. Extend the ladder while holding it vertical, and roll the top of the ladder to walk it sideways.
How to Snap a Chalk Line By Yourself
Everyone knows how to pound in a nail to hold the end of a chalk line when they're alone, but what do you do on a basement floor? You use a brick to anchor it down, that's what. That's simple, but here's another trick that's a little tougher to master. When you have less-than- 4-ft. snaps and you don't want to fool with or damage the surface with a nail, learn how to snap lines by holding the handle on the chalk box with the line extended past the mark. Hold the line tight and tip the box down so you can pluck the line with your thumb and index finger.
Use Balance and Grip to Haul Heavy Plywood
Lift sheet goods by placing one hand under the sheet, slightly in front of center, and your other hand at the top, slightly behind the center. Hoist it so that the middle of the sheet rests on the ball of your shoulder. Your shoulder and back handle the bulk of the weight while your hands only need to balance it. Bonus: You'll be able to see where you're going, thread through doorways and even navigate up and down stairs.
Use Sturdy Scaffolding
Working alone on ladders can be inefficient and dangerous, especially because you'll be tempted to overextend your reach and carry too many tools, paint cans, shingles or lumber when no one is on hand to pass you things. Nothing speeds up high, solo work like the spacious elevated work platform scaffolding provides. You'll be able to keep materials and tools at arm's length and safely reach a wide area without constantly moving ladders.
The scaffolding doesn't have to be anything fancy. When you have a job less than 10 ft. from the ground, set a couple of solid, crack-free, 2x12 boards (avoid large knots) over a pair of sturdy sawhorses for a platform you can move around on. Just make sure your setup is on even ground to keep the horses from collapsing, and avoid 'walking the plank' by remembering that there are no safety rails. Keep plank ends close to sawhorses or they'll flip up when you step on the ends, like they do in slapstick movies (only it won't be nearly as funny in real life).
For higher jobs, like painting second-floor eaves or replacing windows or siding, go to the rental store and examine your scaffolding options. You can rent long, lightweight aluminum planks with various styles of jacks to support them and the same platform 'section style' scaffolding you see the pros use on big construction sites. Tell the scaffolding supplier about the job you're planning to do and how high you'll be working to get help choosing the best scaffold. Most scaffolding can be carried in a pickup, but rental stores will deliver too. You'll forgive the cost when you see how your productivity increases.
Extend Your Saw Table
It's not always easy to find a willing helper to hold up long boards when you're ripping on the table saw. Here's a setup that you can rig in just a few minutes.
Lay 2x4s perpendicular to sawhorses to support the lips of the saw table. Screw the 2x4s to the tops of the sawhorses. Lay a sheet of plywood directly behind the saw and lock it in place with 1-5/8-in. drywall screws.
Bar Clamps Can Be Your Third Hand
Bar clamps are ideal for working alone because they tighten with one hand, leaving the other hand free to hold up the board. They're available at home centers and hardware stores in a variety of lengths.
When you're soldering pipes, tighten a clamp across two floor joists for temporary support. Use the same trick to support drain-pipes, ducting or framing members while you work on them.
These clamps come in handy for all sorts of framing tasks too. For example, you can clamp a board to the bottom of deck joists as shown to support the front joist while you nail it on. Keep a set of clamps handy when you work and you may not even miss having a helper.
Use a Cleat to Hang a Cabinet
An old carpenter's trick is to level and screw a temporary 2x2 cleat to the wall to support wall cabinets while you attach them. Prestart screws in the cabinet to hit the wall framing and make sure the drill is within easy reach. Then hold the cabinet against the wall with one hand while you screw it to the studs with the other.
Screw On a Cleat to Hold a Board
A small plywood cleat screwed to the top of a joist will hold it up while you nail the opposite end. Plus, it will hold the tops flush while you nail on the joist hanger. Use scraps of 3/4-in. plywood rather than boards for small cleats. Plywood won't split when you drive screws into it.
The Helper You Wear: A Tool Belt
If you've got someone helping you, it's easy to say, 'Hey, grab me that cordless drill, would ya? My hands are full.' But if you're working alone, a tool belt is like having a helper with you all the time. If you think ahead, the tools and fasteners you need will be right at hand whenever you need them. And once you get used to wearing a tool belt, you'll work twice as fast, just from the saved steps. This helper is just about perfect: He doesn't whine, likes the same music you do and never gets tired out.
Put tools that you grab with your dominant hand on that side of the belt, and fasteners on the other side. Also, have a fixed spot for your most-used tools so you can find them instantly.
Use an Appliance Dolly
If you need to move a stove, dryer or other heavy, bulky item, don't forget your local rental store. Appliance dollies and other special dollies are available to move everything from trees to pianos.
Appliance dollies like the one shown have straps to secure the load and rollers on the back to assist in going up and down stairs. The strap mechanism can be confusing, though, so ask the rental salesperson to show you how it works.
Load the appliance onto the dolly by pushing against the top to tip it away as you slide the lip of the dolly underneath. Then wrap the straps around the appliance and tighten them. Be careful, though. Properly tightened straps exert a lot of pressure, so make sure they're underneath and away from handles or other parts that could be damaged.
Now brace the bottom with your foot and pull back on the handles of the dolly to tilt the appliance off the ground and roll it away. It's easiest to roll backward over bumps or rough surfaces. Get help if you have to go up or down stairs. To set the appliance down again, brace the bottom with your foot and hang from the top of the handles. Let your weight do the work as you gently lower the appliance to the floor.
Tip It Into a Wheelbarrow
We all know how easy it is to move heavy stuff in a wheelbarrow, but what if you can't load it alone? Use the technique shown here to avoid having to lift heavy stones, bags of potting soil or shrubs up into a wheelbarrow. Just tip the wheelbarrow on its side and roll the object into it. Then push on the top edge while you lift on the bottom to right the wheelbarrow. Be careful when you reach the top not to tip the wheelbarrow over in the opposite direction. Balance the load in the wheelbarrow and you're ready to roll.