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Tom Weber recently asked Wall Street Journal readers, “Are dads less handy around the house?”  Tom admitted that he can connect up a stereo system or set up a wireless network, but can’t install shelves or unclog the toilet.  Some readers agreed, suggesting that their spare time is better spend with their kids than on home repair, but others disagreed.  In fact, some readers indicated that both adults in their household were “handy.”

What about you?  How good are you at handling basic home repair work, and does that come at a price for you?  Can you hook up your stereo and 802.11 as well?

(Thanks for the tip, Robert!  And thanks to Clownfish for the great CC-licensed photo.)

Are Dads Less Handy Around The House? [WSJ, The Juggle]


30 Responses to Are You Less Handy Around The House Than Your Dad?

  1. false_cause says:

    My father has always been a better carpenter than I, though I have him beat on most everything else. I get the feeling that my grandfathers had us both beat on everything except the modern electronics and computers they never saw.

  2. Michael says:

    I’m a dad and I’m really handy. I install shelves, rewire outlets and switches, paint the exterior, build furniture and toys, have installed 3 garbage disposals (happy meal toys mess them up) and I don’t know how many ceiling fans.

    Just finished a bathroom remodel (don’t try this with teenagers in the house) cut the old TV antenna off the roof and am getting ready to do the kitchen remodel. I have an office job 9-5, but a lot of the handy stuff is just fun.


  3. Kyle says:

    I agree that handy stuff is fun. I’ve recently become obsessed with all things DIY. I’m a computer programmer, so its not a huge reach. I started with finishing off a room upstairs, and its just kept piling on. All the information you need is out there. Its getting to the point where I have a hard time paying someone to do something I can do myself, unless it is artsy (drywall), or just boring (painting). I just bought a guy’s workshop (table saw, planer, joiner, etc.), and now I want to try my hand at doing some built ins and cabinets. I’m sure the first one will look pretty bad, but why not try it?

  4. Dan R. says:

    Having worked construction as a summer job while in architecture school, I beat the pants off my father in almost all things handyman. He used to drive me crazy insisting on do things his way.

  5. Hmmm. I figure I’m about as handy now as he was at my age. The problem is that he keeps learning new things!

    That said, there are one or two things I know a bit more about than he does. He called me when he was setting up a home theater, for example, but I consult with him on cabinetry.

  6. Chris Byrne says:

    Sippican cottage (a great blog for people interested in furniture and architecture by the way) and Popular Mechanics are talking about this today as well.

    I’m pretty handy, though not handier than my dad.

    I’ve got a bit of an unusual background here. I’m an aerospace engineer by training, and an Information Security Consultant by trade; but I build my own furniture, fix everything around the house that doesn’t require a license etc…

    My dad on the other hand is a master stonemason with 35 years in the trade. I’ve got him beat on electrical and electronics work, and carpentry, but the rest I couldn’t touch.

    I managed to acquire the skills the old fashioned way, in a manner of speaking…

    My first real job was in my uncle Carls furniture restoration shop; where I learned cabinetry, finish carpentry, and finishing.

    When there wasn’t enough to do in the finishing shop I worked on my cousins (and I’ve got a lot of them) framing, drywalling, painting, and electrical job sites.

    I was never going to be a tradesman (I started engineering school at 16, went from there to the Air Force; and then into information and physical security consulting); but it was a good collection of useful skills that I enjoyed; and that earned me good money for a teenager.

    Thing is, I’m a typical Boston Irish Catholic. My father is a master stonemason. My cousins and uncles are roofers and framers and painters and electricians. The rest of my family are lawyers, cops, teachers, and criminals.

    I learned at their feet so to speak; and it has stood me well, in building everything from furniture, to significant portions of my own house.

    I guess a lot of folks don’t have that same opportunity anymore though; which is too bad.

  7. Fred says:

    My Father and I are differently handied, though there is a lot of overlap. In the normal trajectory of these things, Dad was a machinist and I am an engineer.

    Dad had the full skill set of make it, make it do, or do without that goes with growing up in the depression. My handiness is guided more by possibilites than necessity. There is enough abundance in my life that failure IS an option. I can try things that are rather experimental without serious loss if things don’t work out.

  8. Kurt says:

    I’m with some of the others here. I’m a computer programmer by trade, so I like to tinker a lot. I’d say that in just the past few years, that I’m on par with my father in terms of ‘handiness’ but he still edges me out in just plain experience. But I’ll fix a toilet, install shelves, build a table, etc…

    And stereos and 802.11g? No problem. I’ve got my own data center and music studio to boot. I’ve got 5 Battery backup units so most of that stays up even during a power outage.

    I still think my dad has me beat on general woodworking design. I tend to over-engineer things.

  9. I disagree with the characterization that spending time “with the kids” and “on home repair” are mutually exlusive! What better way to spend time with the kids than teaching them a useful skill and ensuring that they won’t go through life ignorant of how things really work?

  10. ambush27 says:

    My dad was never much for mechanical things, he hasn’t even ever changed the oil in his lawnmower, but he did build a fence, deck and porch and he did do a lot of other renovations to the home, so I guess we’re just different that way. I’m into fixing things a lot more, whereas he was into improving things and architecture and design.

  11. TL says:

    The two areas where my dad has me beat are cabinetry finish work (sanding , staining, etc) and anything to to with landscaping / gardening. He’s far better at finishing (or refinishing) cabinetry than anybody else I’ve ever met because he has the patience to keep rubbing until it’s perfect. His skill with landscaping is so far beyond mine it makes me sad. For most general home repair work (putting in a new wall, plumbing, painting, etc) we are fairly equal.

    Where I think I have the edge is in anything automotive (he hates working on cars), electrical (he’s never studied the theory side of things so he ends up intimidated), or nerd based.

  12. Michael W. says:

    My dad was (he unfortunately is suffering through Alzheimer’s currently) much handier with coding, locksmithing and circuit design.

    I’m much handier building things and repairing things (from umbrellas and computers to houses and furniture).

    I think it really comes down to interest with us.

  13. Fong says:

    If it wasn’t for the physical resemblence, I’d swear I was adopted. Besides biology, we have nothing else in common. I learned everything through formal education, friends (and their dads), books, and now fellow toolmongers and bloggers.

  14. Kaos.rox says:

    Dad taught me all that I know about repair, building, working on cars, and I expanded on that by adding computer and electronics technology elements as well. I’d have to say that Dad probably would be good at that too if he had the opportunities I had. I call it a tie.

  15. Old Donn says:

    We weren’t poor when I was a kid, but there wasn’t a lot of money. Certainly not enough to pay somebody else to fix basic stuff around the house and garage. I was usually at the old man’s elbow, drafted to “help” ( read hold the flash light). As I got older, I learned to pay attention when dad helped me with basic electricity, plumbing, car repair etc. He’d been there, done that many times over. He was better than me when he was younger and healthy. As he got older, I caught up. The irony? My brother is the complete opposite, couldn’t care less. Pays other people for everything.

  16. Patrick says:

    Dad’s got me beat plan and simple. Even worse, my little brother’s got me beat too. I can only win on ideas (whereas they will only build something or work on something already made, I like to build new things) and and the ability to communicate – I teach what I know to the kids I work with. Around my house though, I’m the handyman with anything mechanical…and my gal does the electronic work. She’s an electrical engineer.

    I will say this though. According to my mother, I know more than the old man knew at my age; but as already stated, the old man keeps learning new tricks. I can’t seem to keep up. And he has all the cool toys. I just have a circ saw.

  17. Rick says:

    I think it’s a toss-up. Echoing a lot of sentiments already expressed, Dad was probably about as handy as I am at my age. He’s got the unfair advantage of having a few years experience over me. Also, his core competencies are a bit different from mine. He started off as a mason’s apprentice when he was 16. But ultimately ended up working at a GM Plant here in NY for the last 34 years of his career. That said, he really expanded his skills set when he bought the house they are in now (about 35 years ago). He learned the hard way – trying stuff, redoing it, etc. He says if he knew today what he knows now (and what I also have the benefit of knowing early on) he would have saved himself a lot of work and a lot of time.

    That said, our interests are also different. Where he would rather pay someone to work on his car, he does all his own landscaping – even about to hit 70 this year, he still does all of the plantings around the house, etc. etc. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had neighbors tell me how nice the house looks, etc.

    On the other hand, I’d rather wrench on my own car than pay anyone to do it – but landscaping – forget it. I did a stint a few summers in High School and never again. Hate it. So I’ve tackled some stuff he hasn’t dared on my car – and he’s tackled stuff out in the yard that I won’t go near.

    Neither one of us is much into the furniture making, etc. But I am hoping to get into that with some time.

  18. Rick says:

    Oh yeah, and Stereo/802.11 installs and all of that – I got that covered as it’s my career. My dad just knows how to click on links and check his email.

  19. William says:

    Like someone else point my dad has the advantage of a few year head start in this competition. He’s been a professional plumber for as long as I’ve been alive, so I’ll never be as good at naming the brand of stem on site or quickly taking apart a toilet to fix it and putting it back together. But my dad doesn’t know much about computer or electronics. I learned most of what I know from him and benefited from the education. I think I will always be asking his advice on how to tackle a new project around the house and occasionally asking his help if its something I know he’s good at. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to smooth concrete like him.

    He’s got the lead today, but I think over the long run I will be more handy as long as I work at it.

  20. Charlie says:

    I feel fortunate to have spent my early car-guy years working for the family business: an Auto Repair Shop. So, there was a time when I could fix damn near anything.
    Now that I’ve moved away from home (and all the cool toys, er, tools of my dad’s), I’m finding myself to be a little more inventive in how I go about fixing things on my cars.
    My father has taught me how to make “specialty tools” out of what we already had in the box, and if it didn’t work/broke, we could trade it when the candyman, er, Snap-On Rep came around.
    Everything else that has to do with being handy, I have him beat. Although, fortunately, I haven’t had to BE that handy (yet…), I have the theory part down like mad. What worries me is the practice part.

  21. Andrew says:

    I find it very interesting that a few software programmers have already commented that they’re also fairly handy. I’m a software engineer, but after a stint in stage construction during junior college, I discovered what I really like is building things, whether it be a wall, or a computer application. Anyway, I am surprised, though I shouldn’t be, that others seem to be similarly inclined towards building, whether it be electronic or carpentry.

    To the question at hand, as I get older and fix stuff around the house, I’m catching up with Dad a bit, but he still beats the pants off me in knowledge (and the ability to fake it when he doesn’t know).

  22. Ivan says:

    Growing up on the farm with my dad I learned a lot. Therefore, I’m very handy and also willing to do anything myself rather than paying someone. It sounds bad but I’m more detailed than my dad but I give him the advantage of metal work.
    On the other hand, like so many on this blog, I’m Computer Science involved during the day and so know how to stand my man on the electronics side as well.

    Well, thanks dad for the given knowledge!

  23. T says:

    Hmm. My grandfather had us both beat with cabinetry and woodworking. Dad was better at me with electronics, but he never moved over to digital. On other stuff, I ‘d say we were about equal. Now? He’s got Alzheimer’s and is doing good to remember what the different tools are. I learned a lot from him, but not enough. Too late now.

  24. David Culberson says:

    My dad got a degree in accounting, spent his time in business, moved on to get his doctorate in divinity and being a preacher. He did work around the house, but it was mostly an exercise in frustration for him. Rewiring phone jacks would take hours. Nowadays, he calls me if he needs help with that stuff.

    It’s not that he’s incapable of it – it’s just that I actually enjoy it and find it relaxing. He would be seething after a few setbacks, and I’ll be saying “I wonder what’s causing that!”

    Different folks, different interests. I’m sure my grandfather (who owned a trucking company and had an awesome basement workshop) would’ve put me to shame.

  25. ScaryFast says:

    I’m more into technology stuff but whenever my dad and I combine forces to build something I find that he just doesn’t take time to think about things properly. He just wants to get things done quickly (nothing he’s ever done has ended quickly) while I try to think about the end results and the methods we use to get the job done.

    Installing a shower in a basement bathroom? build a base out of 2×6’s to keep the piping above the cement floor, place the shower base on top and get it all centered, then realize the basement ceiling is so low that the shower walls are too tall and even if you cut down the height, your head would have to go between the floor joists so you don’t hit it. luckily there’s no ceiling down there 😛

    And the new “wall” behind the shower where the piping goes is built out far enough that you lean against its edge when using the sink. But that’s okay. we’ll cut down the wall and stick the shower head pipe through the shower wall at about knee height and since we have some hose here we can run the shower head up to the top.

    That shower never got finished. The copper piping was partially completed, but the last time I went to empty a cooler into the shower so the ice could melt and drain away I discovered the water leaking out from under the wooden base and had to mop it all up.

    Some people should just admit defeat and call in the professionals. When I finally buy my own house I’m going to remember things like this and make sure my basement bathroom has a shower already or at least is tall enough to accomodate one.

    And electrical wiring. hoo boy. most electrical outlets are placed low on a wall, I assume to hide the outlet and cables behind other not-so-tall objects that may be placed there. My father prefers the outlets at chest height. It saves a few feet of wire and means less crouching when installing them. 😛

  26. Tim says:

    I’d call it a toss up, my father grew up on a farm without power in the 30’s and 40’s and to this day doesn’t mess around with electrical. I’ve rewired half my house. He knows nothing about computers and isn’t much into working on cars 2 things I’m good. He much better at wood working than I am. One thing for sure is for most things around the house neither one of us pays someone else to fix it, except for him with electric.

  27. Stuey says:

    When it comes to stereos and computers, everyone in the family comes to me.

    My grandfather likes to bust my chops about not being capable of fixing pipes or faucets or regular household tasks of that nature. The thing is, I never had to do those things before and there’s no way to learn the skills until they’re needed.

    I like to think that I’m somewhat handy. Breaking and ruining things is part of the learning process, right? =)

  28. TTF says:

    Both my dad and I do a lot around our houses, including building from the ground up. My kids help me with projects, and I think the cycle will continue.

  29. dave says:

    There is no point asking this question on a site called “toolmonger”, you’d have to get a random sample of people to get a reasonable idea if it were true on *average*, though I suspect that it is true because we now have all the illegal immigrants not only providing cheap labor but also forcing everyone else to reconsider labor rates to stay competitive. The more labor is devalued the more sense it makes to pay someone else to do a job and spend your own time either earning more money or on a hobby you prefer… which to some people IS being handy around the house.

  30. Richard says:

    I am sixty-one and am more handy than my father (everything plus the wireless network and server setup). It was a point of pride with my father that his children know how to mend and sustain. Teaching children how to fix their stuff is the most valuable time you can spend.
    It reduces the video games and TV. They get to know and often teach their dad (see WIFI and server above). It saves money, time, and worry. It teaches conservation in a throw away society. It gives them pride. It may even give them a well paid occupation.

    I never hold a tool that I don’t remember my dad.

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