Zombies' Guide to Fixing and Making Stuff
Zombie Guides: Volume 2
In the first in this series, 'Zombies Guide to Cooking like Normal People', we covered some basic principles for cooking and, yes, life - learning and growing, man. Being skint is just like trying to manage financially in the heady days of WWII (without all the death). Obviously, it's nothing like that at all, but it's advice people relied on in the depths of rationing and in a world reeling from being squished and still sticky with the ichor of war which re-emerges whenever money's tight for all the poor people. It's then that those who have plenty tell those who live day-to-day to 'tighten our belts'. Three cheers, pip-pip! Rice and bread again, for QUEEN AND COUNTRY! Raargh!
Even patriotism can be bought in Poundland these days.
But the advice. Yes, yes. I'm getting to it. This is, after all, a guide book on fixing and making things on the cheap and not dying. It goes like this: Make do and mend.
Point Number 1!
Use what you've got, or what you can get for cheap, or free.
Point Number 2!
Don't borrow money you can't pay back. You'll only be in shit for the rest of your life.
Point Number 3!
Steal stuff, it's free!
Point Number 4!
Arm all revolutionaries and overthrow the oligarchy. Viva la revolution!
Erm. Nevermind that. I keep forgetting I'm not writing a manifesto in a Cuban period drama.
I'm making assumptions, too. You're not in the market for every tool going. You don't need every tool going. Invention. We're humans. We're inventive. It's one of our defining traits. That, and thumbs. But we invented thumbs, God damn it.
You ever see those memes on Facebook about 'Redneck' fixes? The general idea, I think, is to ridicule people with no money who create a perfectly functional, if ugly, solution to a problem.
To me, it isn't that these things look daft, or ugly. It works, ergo, it's fixed. The point of this series is doing what's needed. That extra £10 you've got isn't extra. You're going to need it somewhere down the line. Money really is a river and while sometimes it's high, it will run dry right down to the river bed again. Save your £10 for when something goes wrong you can't fix...if you're properly poor, though, you can't 'save' £10, can you? Because you need it for food. Food is more important than a new wing mirror. Easy to forget that when you've got plenty, isn't it?
Repair Level: 10
Sunglasses: Charisma +5
If you're going to build things, maintain things, fix things, there is a fairly high chance that you won't have something you need. The possibility of unforeseen complications is measured in numbers so immense they can't be quantified by numbers at all. Something will go wrong, at some point - but until you're forced to try plumbing under the sink by using someone else's severed arm, waiting for rigor mortis to set in so you can pose it at the desired angle and make it grip the wrench/spanner, then 'essentials' constitutes things you're likely to use more than once.
A bendy adaptable hexagonal key thingamabob, a spy-grade isolation and neutralisation device for the wires sparking in the ceiling...there's always something you need you haven't got. And at some point, those weird tools you buy to supplement your usual staples (staple gun, too), will be legion. Hence, first and foremost in this list: A TOOLBOX.
A TOOLBOX is a juvenile SHED. When your toolbox grows up, it will either be a shed or a garage and will resemble a very messed up version of a Russian doll, with lots of little tool boxes, and inside those, smaller toolboxes.
Figure #: whatever
This isn't a 'shed' is what I told my wife so I could build it. It's a 'den'. For the kids.
Well...right now. But kids leave home. Hopefully.
More on the 'den' later...and more on kids leaving home in 'Zombies' Guide to Coping with Small Humans'.
However mature your tool collection may be, somewhere to store odds and ends is very important. You ever see your granddad's or dad's shed, or garage? A load of old Christmas chocolate tins with weird things in? These are things to keep tools, and materials, in. The toolbox doesn't have to cost a fortune and be made from titanium.*
*Unless you're an assassin and want your scope's delicate calibrations to survive air travel.
Spirit level. Tape Measure. Pencil. Power tools
If it looks straight, it's close enough. If it looks wonky? Unless it's dangerous or your partner's watching, then call it good and get everyone drunk before they look at it, including yourself.
You can mark with the tip of pointy things - you will, too. At some point you're going to have yourself stuck somewhere uncomfortable and your pencil is going to be in another dimension.
If you're stuck and doing anything electrical, mechanical, or plumbical, the list becomes stupidly long. Wire cutters, pipe cutters, insulating tape and fuse boxes and a drill and a PTFE tape and plumber's mate and putty and the knowledge of metric and imperial measurements for STUPID FUCKING COPPER PIPES...and an awful lot of swear words.
This is about doing things on a budget, but the best investment for me is an electric screwdriver. I wouldn't be without it after building an entire shed out of pallets and putting all the screws in by hand. It was satisfying, yes, but satisfaction doesn't weigh more than ruined hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and souls.
PICTURED: A Carpenter. Dead. From all the carpenting.
I reiterate...this isn't a manual. If you want to know the specifics of wiring in a cooker, look at a tutorial on YouTube. There are a million jobs around the house and this is a short book. YouTube is a much larger book with moving pictures.
That said, the most important technique for fixing and making is NOT DYING. I would hope most of this is common sense, but:
Try not to aim things at yourself. This includes, but is not limited to; Nail Guns, Knives, Hammers, Chainsaws (any kind of power tool), Superglue, Support Joists, a Car.
Turn anything relevant off before you work on it. This is like anaesthetic for the DIY enthusiast. It stops things wriggling around while you work on them.
Try to think about what could go wrong. Can't reach? Hmm...those roller skates would make me a little higher...
Inspiration to a Generation.
I put this before 'fixing', because that's where is should happen. It should probably also happen after 'Making,' but once is enough because essentially, maintenance is really dull...but not as dull, perhaps, as fixing or making stuff just because you didn't look after the things you had.
My dad's dad was a carpenter, and when my dad died, I pinched some old tools. I'm telling you this because I mended a dining chair yesterday and to get the wood for the broken seat right I used a plane which once belonged to my granddad. The plane is around fifty years old and it's still good. It's good because it was good when it was new. It's a quality thing, made of wood and metal, and it will probably outlast me.
Makita™ Pepper Grinder:
This isn't my idea...but I kind of wish it was.
I never used to look after the things I had either, but I learned a lot about carpentry in Japan (as a carpenter) and from dad (about general handiwork, in passing, really. He'd just do that dad-thing and let me watch and figured I'd pick it up like some kind of knowledge-based osmosis).
And, one thing I have learned...power tools are ace, so forget all the other shit I've said so far.
1. Look after your tools.
2. Clean up at the end of each day.
That's it, and these two 'rules' are also top tips for 'Zombies' Guide to Making Out'.
So, that's a very short chapter, but it's a simple point. Why harp on?
Common problems round the house usually needs an adjustable wrench and something to seal leaks (plumbing), or a Philips screwdriver and pliers (electrics), or superglue and a blind eye (carpentry, textiles, ceramics). You might also want a knife and insulating tape nearby for anyone who takes the piss.
Also, if your wall just fell down and you have a gas leak, I don't think you should be sitting on the couch reading this. Just a suggestion, and I'm not the boss of you.
What most people will be doing around the house, though? Paint and decorating and making flat-pack furniture. You can figure that stuff out without a Zombies' Guide.
PICTURED: Not Supposed to be A FLATPACK.
This was a failed attempt at building a lean-to for our bikes. I do all this stuff on my own and my chair helpers proved ineffectual in holding up 300 billion kg of scrap wood for me to get some nails in.
Eventually, I finished it. One might say...wait for it...
And, also, shut up.
I find it a good idea to keep the kids out of the house, too, so I can swear with impunity. You might not have a vocabulary quite as robust as mine.
Woodwork doesn't really need fixing. If it's reasonable quality and indoors it'll last forever. Most furniture we own is either antique or second-hand. Why are rich people rich? Because the shit they own lasts forever. They never spend anything.
If your bog's blocked because of a poo which should be Christened by the Queen, then tickling it round the u-bend isn't really complicated. It's just suction, or a strong gag reflex. I despise plumbing. It's a bastard of a job because it's always in awkward, hard to reach places. I'd pay someone else if I had spare money. I don't. This is the reason I do anything around the house at all.
I enjoy woodwork. Everything else I hate with a passion.
Stuff you can't do
If you really can't do it, and you can pay someone who knows what they're doing - do that. If you can't do it and can't pay? Frankly, you're fucked. Sorry.
You're fucked. That sums up this chapter nicely, I think. Succinct, and to the point. Moving on? Moving on.
Most of the things I make are from wood. I like wood - I like the way it looks, it feels, the grain and the knots, and I find woodwork enjoyable. I actively despise all of the other things. I could learn some basics. I could learn about the history of Wimbledon, too. I don't want to.
Decorating, I suppose, is in some senses 'making', if only an upgrade or a fix. But mostly, Mrs S does that because painting's her forte, not mine, and I shake like a junky with the DTs.
Cheap treasure boxes for the kids. I made these from scraps and driftwood.
...and a shit load of beeswax because they're made from scraps and sea-poop.
If it's in the house, you probably want it to look nice. You can make even a crappy bit of wood presentable if you want to. This is what sandpaper, polish, beeswax, paint is for. Once you've built something, make sure it's not an eyesore and people won't get splinters in their arse - job done.
The Finished 'Den':
This is made from pallets, old beds, reclaimed decking, borrowed felt. I bought the feather edge board for the sides, and some off-cuts from the wood yard for the door. I still cost a fortune, broke me physically and spiritually, and wasn't worth it in the slightest.
(And yes, but shh - it's a shed.)
Looks a bit tatty? It's not. Whatever you build is not 'tatty'. It's rustic.
Making, for me, tends to be entirely utilitarian. It tends to be about storage...and sometimes storage for something specific. I make storage units for the tools I have to make things.
You might notice there's a chapter in 'Cooking like Normal People' titled leftovers. This isn't a mistake.
Save all the bits you don't use.
I've got a bin out the back full of scrap wood, and a load of curtain poles, fittings, old screws that are still good, hinges, clasps, pipes and some shit I don't even know the names for. I keep 'em all, and when I die the kids will inherit them and they won't know what they're for either...but they'll learn to keep all that crap god-damn it because YOU NEVER KNOW!
This is why I have a fifty-year old wood plane, and also a tin full of elastic bands.
There will not be a chapter on leftovers in 'Zombies' Guide to Making Out'.
Anything expensive (almost).
My wife has a subscription to a home and design magazine for rich people with no sense. Among many daft things I've seen in that one was a cupboard. Seven or eight planks of wood, joined, with a canvas covering. For putting clothes in. £700.
An 'Upcycled' pallet, painted, turned into shelves. Maximum it'll cost you to build is £10 and most of that is for paint since woad went out of fashion.
'Upcycled' is what people like me call stuff when we want to make money out of people who spend £700 on a canvas teepee cupboard.
A jigsaw, a circular saw, a power drill, an electric screwdriver, a nail gun...brilliant! They'll make life a whole lot easier - if you're going to saw up a pallet and make three shelves for the outdoor toilet? All that stuff is a total waste of money. The best things I own are still a good handsaw, a good screwdriver, and a claw hammer. Also a large tarp and a good shovel, but I don't think this is the place for that.
Like I said right at the start in 'maintenance': look after your tools. It will rain. Metal and water don't mix well at all. If you get a little rust, WD40 will get some off. Wire wool can get some off. But if it's more rust than metal, it's useless.
Last little word is an old carpenters' saying: Measure twice, cut once. It sounds ridiculously pat to say this, and hopefully unnecessary...but if you fuck up every single job and have to buy materials again, then doing anything at all on your nuclear bunker is going to cost twice as much. And if you screw up on your fortified post-apocalyptic settlement, you're not just out of pocket but dead.
Approach life like it's the apocalypse. No do-overs. No second chances.
It all sounds very bleak, doesn't it? Well, sure. DIY/home improvement is pretty dull. It can be hard, frustrating, disappointing. Often, I pretend I'm in The Walking Dead, scavenging pallet wood to make a shelter for my family while the dead roam outside and we sit indoors eating baked beans straight from the tin because we're preserving light and energy and we might need the candles if we're ever in a real pinch.
But it's so much fun. It's fun!
'Wait, kids? Kids? Mrs S?'
'Why is it so quiet? Is it just me? Guys? The bunker's starting to feel a little creepy. Guys?'