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Money seems tight everywhere these days, but that doesn’t mean Murphy’s Law has taken a vacation. On any given day the car brakes might start squeaking and need new pads, the water heater could stop working, the check engine light could come on, or the lawn mower could quit. No one’s an expert on everything, but with a simple online search a Toolmonger can locate how-to websites or videos. There’s also Smartflix, a DVD rental Netflix service for the “How-to”er that Chuck wrote about a few years ago. I’ve found a number of these videos, websites, and forums incredibly useful in the last couple of years and can’t think of a better way to help get the job done on my own.

Streaming internet video is the norm these days for anyone with a computer. Most smart phones like a Droid or an iPhone even have the capability to stream YouTube videos through the phone’s 3G or 4G data package. For any project you can think of, odds are there’s a video tutorial to help step you through it. And the best part? It’s free.

Judging by the view counts on the videos and the sheer number of them available, it seems many new DIYers are getting value out of these. But what about more experienced Toolmongers — do you find these instructional videos useful, or are they usually a waste of your time? If you do use them, what are some of the most helpful sites you’ve found?


20 Responses to Hot or Not: Internet How-To Videos

  1. Sometimes helpful, but usually cover only the really basic stuff that you can probably figure out yourself if you know which end of a wrench to hold.

  2. Fong says:

    Seconded on “sometimes useful”. The problem is two-fold: the sheer number of videos available and the questionable quality of them. For the basics, most of us reading this site has figured or can figure it out on our own. For the more advanced stuff, most videos from big names like Lowe’s don’t cover it and random Utube videos are more miss than hit leaving us the alternative of scouring forums or asking people in hardware stores (old school).

    I make these comments as someone who makes these videos too. Though I’m new to the scene, I’m trying to cover all the details others gloss over. Still a work in progress but my motivation came from watching DIY shows on TV and realizing that no one can possible do these things based on the show alone. These crasher/flipper/crafter type shows don’t go into enough detail and are more entertainment than education. I miss shows like Hometime or New Yankee workshop.

  3. John says:

    I also think they are sometimes useful. They can be a quick intro to a subject you don’t know much about. But I don’t think that any one video, or series of videos will give you all the info you need. Forums, how-to pages and other resources often have the needed detail to finish a job.

  4. Jon G. says:

    Online videos can also be very useful as a diagnostic tool while in the middle of a job. I once replaced a radiator on a , only to encounter a new, previously nonexistent noise. So I went to the interwebs and searched ” engine noise”. picked through the vids until sounds matched up and found that my timing chain idler pulley was shot.

    Sold the truck the next day.

  5. Jon G. says:

    (repost, darn HTML tags…)

    Online videos can also be very useful as a diagnostic tool while in the middle of a job. I once replaced a radiator on my Nissan Xterra, only to encounter a new, previously nonexistent noise. So I went to the interwebs and searched ”VG33 engine noise”. picked through the vids until sounds matched up and found that my timing chain idler pulley was shot.

    Sold the truck the next day.

  6. ShopMonger says:

    I think Jon G. hit it right on the head, specific videos on very specific models, whether it be cars, appliances, computers, ect are great…they can give much needed insight mostly into re-occurring or known problems, or disassemble of said item, the generic ones are just ok..


  7. ted says:

    I found a tutorial on installing a complete racing exhaust very useful as there were a lot of quirks to the process.
    Because I followed the written instructions instead of watching the youtube clip I managed to permanently lock a tripod leg in place(a case of misaligning some washers who looked identical ) So for stuff with a need for that “special touch” a clip is needed,otherwise a simple instruction set or diagram is better
    In general I find most video tutorials useful and yes, there’s a need for well produced expert tutorials

  8. zoomzoomjeff says:

    How-to vids from corporations are worthless. Probably because the lawyers prevent them from going into too much detail that may get them sued later on.

    Usually it’s:

    1–pick out a new wall plate and switch to match your decor.
    2–flip the main 200 amp breaker to your entire house so you won’t kill yourself.
    3–remove the wall plate.
    4–hire an electrician to wire in a matching switch.
    5–feel enabled by putting two screws into the switch plate.
    6–flip on the power.
    7–brag to your accounting buddies at work and go buy power tools at lowe’s which will never get used.

    The best DIY vids I find are from actual people. Although you have to sort through quite a lot, much of which is missing the secret ingredient as noted above, but you’ll eventually find something.

  9. jeff_williams says:

    I find them incredibly useful but I’m watching the ones on professional sites like Fine Home Building or Woodsmith.

  10. JSFetzik says:

    Many videos, just like many web pages or books are either too basic or gloss over some important details. More specific videos can be very useful. Finding a video with the right amount of detail is the trick.

    The best video I found/used recently was the one I found that showed me exactly how to get to the insides of our washing machine. We were getting small amounts of water at the bas of the washing machine and I needed to get inside to see what was going on. Without the video I would have had no idea how to get in. Once I had things open the problem was obvious, a blocked hole for the bleach dispenser.

    Some things are really best shown on video. Particularly those things where you have to left and turn or twist a part to remove or install it. So when you find the right video you will get that light bulb coming on feeling of suddenly understanding things.

  11. Pembertonian says:

    The benefit of seeing your potentially fixed project completely disassembled (before you take out the first screw or bolt) can help you have an idea of what direction you should head with your methods. Not all videos are helpful but many times I find useful bits in many. good topic.

  12. BJN says:

    Some are useful, others not. The biggest problem is that most take a simplistic approach and show a specific solution. That’s covered in the manual typically. Where most people need help is dealing with atypical issues.

  13. rick says:

    Love the internet videos, a thousand times more useful than written descriptions!

  14. Jay says:

    Mostly useful.

    The beauty of the online videos is that there are so many and I get to kill the video if it’s unhelpful, so I can move on to find something better.

    Of course, any self respecting toolmonger that doesn’t follow Matthias Wandel on YouTube is out of touch. His videos are the absolute best.

  15. gary says:

    It would be helpful if some of these guys covered the same project from maybe three different skill levels. One size does not fit all.

  16. Brau says:

    Sometimes VERY useful and can save a lot of money. Sometimes useless, especially where they fear litigation (safety crazy) or are heavily involved in product advertising.

    I recently had the rad go in my 2001 PT Cruiser. The online forums all said the A/C pump had to be professionally drained and removed in order to do the job. One lone backyard mechanic called “bullshit” and posted a video of how easy it was to get the rad out without removing the A/C at all. One look at the video told me the truth – Chrysler is bilking millions on unneeded A/C evacuation and recharging. The video documented the whole process and saved me hundreds over doing it at a dealer.

  17. Les says:

    It’s a nice option to research, not always useful. I viewed the manufacturer’s video on YouTube before deciding if I wanted to tackle installing an attic ladder. Aside from the help, it gave me a warm fuzzy knowing I could handle the things I saw in their video.

    OTOH, I unscrewed an aerator from a bath faucet to clean recently, and have yet to find a good video that shows me how I should have put it back together- it keeps spraying water and I’m sure it’s something in the order I put those fiddly little parts back together, but no joy figuring it out yet….

  18. Fabian says:

    Great video.. but why are exhaust fans such a rip off..? I mean, its a FAN people. Any moderately priced panasonic fan is like 300 bucks? WTH?


  19. Ben says:

    anyone notice the use of duck tape. wtf.
    aren’t you supposed to use foil tape?

  20. Paul says:

    Corporate videos typically are junk, but there are some quality DIY videos. Ive seen quite a few related to alternate fixes and alternate methods for car repair. I used to have an old Audi, it required a blower motor, supposedly something like a 10 hour job. If you didn’t mind cutting a little hole that could be patched up when done it becomes a 1 hour job. Without VERY good photos or a video it would be quite hard to figure out the first time around.

    For something like plumbing, electrical… household stuff a code book or a “how-to” book is typically enough for me.

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