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How To

The Mnemonics of Mnailguns

‘Tis the season for home renovation, but unless you have a degree (or years experience) in carpentry, a cheat-sheet is required for survival. Home-repair expert LLEWELLYN HINKES-JONES writes in with aids for the amateurs.

The art of home construction is a difficult one to master, and not to be approached lightly by anyone without advanced degrees or years of experience in carpentry, or, a handy cheat-sheet. This is where mnemonics comes into play—the next time you replace your kitchen floor, remember the following phrases and all will be on the level.

Righty-Tighty, Lefty-Loosey

The lynchpin that all other constructive skills rely upon. It’s the first requirement a site boss assumes of a day laborer, and the rule-of-thumb for sex in modern politics. You can hear today’s finest skilled craftsmen whisper it to themselves while approaching their task, but if cornered, they will deny ever using it.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

A complete lie. Nobody measures twice. Sure it’s a good idea, but who has the time? Instead, use this rule to your advantage: when asked how you managed to turn the last piece of Mexican Cocobolo rosewood into scrap, explain with confidence and a stern eye that you distinctly measured twice. After everyone has finished gasping, the finger pointing will turn quickly to other scapegoats. ‘Must be that damn chop-saw blade—I’ve been meaning to get that thing trued for a while now’ or ‘Hell, I’m amazed we can get any work done around here with this awful fluorescent lighting’ or ‘I never did like Phil.’

Shit Stinks and Water Flows Downhill

The plumbers union would have you believe there’s more to modern water storage and flow, but there isn’t, really. This plus lefty-loosey and your dream house is nearly finished.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

True, this cliché is used as frequently as ‘close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades’ or ‘good enough for government work,’ but to disagree with it would be ludicrous. For example, if you were to assume the opposite—that broken things should be fixed—you’d wind up spending your retirement gluing light bulb shards together and sewing up banana peels.

Instead, when asked why the light switch doesn’t work, think about what it really means for something to be ‘broken.’ ‘Broken,’ as in ‘split along its fibrous strands,’ probably not. ‘Broken,’ as in ‘no longer does what it was supposed to,’ then really, isn’t everything a little bit broken? Just because a light switch happens to turn off the neighborhood’s power grid doesn’t mean that it’s broken, only that its function is different than originally intended. Your spouse will comprehend this instantly and deeply.

Remember, adaptation is an acquired skill in this business.

What Accuracy Can’t Make, Shims Can Fake

History and VH1 tell us the six greatest simple machines are the wheel, the lever, the pulley, the wedge, the screw, and the inclined plane (those wire-pronged head-scratchers having just missed the boat). High school students may laugh at the wedge—they may call it ‘just a triangle’ to your face—but remember, they also huff gasoline, push over old ladies, and truly believe their generation is the first to have smoked pot from an apple.

If only they could recognize the delicate, pragmatic beauty inherent in the wedge then perhaps they could realize—as you do—that an invention can be simple, like a curved plank, a thin stick, even a batch of mail, anything that will fit in the gap left by somebody who didn’t measure twice.

Levels Are Only as Accurate as the Floor Below

Trying to define a solid reference point on which to build can make you dizzy. If the ground isn’t level, should the floor be level to compensate? If the floors aren’t level, should the walls be skewed to make up for it? Do you want to build a home where it’s easy to eat cereal without sliding, or one that will accentuate your vertigo?

Really, it can go either way. (Go with the cereal.)

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye—Then It’s a Sport

Everyone’s giddy the first day they nailgun their shoes to the floor and do the old leaning-in-the-wind gag from Harold Lloyd movies. Spray-foam fights are good fun. So is strapping a rope from somebody’s pants to a portable sander.

And though there is a good chance of physical trauma involved with these shenanigans, in all likelihood the real tragedy will be in letting these delightful events fade into obscurity.

So really go for broke and put yourself on the map of schoolyard lore alongside that kid who had a seizure in his locker. For instance, try hooking the grease gun up to the pressure washer before spraying it in your girlfriend’s hair. Or run electric power through the doorknobs while playing freeze tag, with drills. Arm wrestle on drywall stilts. Paint with sawdust.

Surely you can think of some more.

The Insurance Company Will Never Suspect a Locust Attack Was Intentional

Though most insurance companies are wise to the scams that occur to simple minds (floods, fires, fake tornados), they’ll never anticipate Armageddon. Find the strangest means to reduce your home to rubble, then use the insurance money for that special trim you crave. If you can time it to occur near the release of a natural disaster movie of the same theme, the waves of mass hysteria will carry you straight to the bank.

When in Doubt, Wander Around Home Depot

When stuck at some midpoint in the whole process, look for inspiration in your local hardware store. Now that you have a newfound knowledge of power tools (see #7), continue on your quest to finally build out Fort Awesome replete with trap doors, underwater bowling alley, and fun house mirrors. In place of a moat, a maze of screen doors could be used to stop any would-be intruders. Failing that, at least you can wander through the design showroom to admire what sort of Bolivian Teak cabinetry would go well with Tuscan furniture.