The Underrated Handyman Skills Test


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Alistair Berg / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Whether you own or rent, there's no getting around one thing: It's a good thing to have at least some home-repair skills. Plumbers and electricians aren't cheap (nor should they be), and you can't always wait for an expert to have an opening in his or her schedule, for example, when it's the toilet that's not working!

There are also times when proper home maintenance and repair can be a matter of life and death -- or, put less dramatically, at least of safety. Such situations include almost anything involving electricity, certain things involving plumbing and water, or the correct installation of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. When you're taking on projects in these areas, you have to know what you're doing. Of course, the opposite is also true. There are times when you should admit you *don't* know what you're doing, and hand off projects to a licensed professional. That's for the best sometimes, for your own safety and that of the people who live with you.

So, are you ready to start your own side hustle as a handyman-for-hire? Or do your skills need a lot of shoring up? We've got a quiz to help you find out. Let's go!

What's the common nickname for a plumbing auger?

Have you ever heard of someone "snaking" a drain? They're extending a jointed metal hose down a clogged drain. The metal spiral on the end of the hose will either push the clog through to a wider part of the drain, or grab onto the clog and pull it out when the snake is retracted.


Someone accidentally used a pressure washer indoors! What will you use to clear the standing water?

A "wet vac" sucks up standing water, allowing you to empty the tank outside, where it's safe. It's a handy thing to have in case of emergencies.


Which of these repairs is most dangerous to a handyman?

Generally speaking, electricity is the most dangerous thing a handyman can work with, causing potentially fatal shock or the outbreak of fires. Bear in mind, too, that the risk can be to other people after the repair is finished, so sometimes it's important to say, "You should call an electrician for this."


Is emptying a septic tank a handyman job?

This is a difficult job that's best tackled by a specialist. Among other things, you'll need to have a place to take the septic sludge once it's out of the tank, one that meets federal and state safety regulations.


What is the "claw" in a claw hammer usually used for?

The claw is shaped like a very narrow V, and hooks around the shaft of the nail, just under the nailhead. Then, using the hammer like a lever, you can pull the nail out. This doesn't work as well when a conscientious carpenter has sunk the nailhead below the surface of the wood for aesthetic reasons.


Which of these tools is closely related to a clamp?

A vise is a kind of tabletop clamp, operated by a screw. Most often, you'll attach it to your workbench, and use it for holding small object in place while working on them with both hands.


Which of these is rated by its "grit"?

Sandpaper, commonly used for smoothing wood, is rated by grit. The higher the number, the finer the "grit." You'll often start with a low number and move higher as you're close to finishing a woodworking project.


"C," "corner" and "bar" are all types of what?

Clamps are very useful in handyman work. Often, they'll hold two objects together while the adhesive between them dries, for example.


Where in a house would you find a P-trap?

The P-trap is found right under your sink's drain, whether it's a kitchen sink, bathroom, or elsewhere. The reversal in pipe direction traps a small amount of water, which keeps unpleasant sewer gases from rising up into the home.


You want to take the insulative coating off a wire without damaging it. What do you need?

A wire stripper is especially made to do this job, removing coating without scratching or kinking the wire. Be careful, though: Bare wires, obviously, can relay electric current.


A drill with its own stand is called which of these?

A drill press requires less effort to be guided by the worker. It also tends to have a more powerful motor than those found in handheld drills.


Once you've caulked that bathtub, how long should it dry?

While silicone caulk (the most common kind) can feel dry to the touch as quickly as within 1 hour, it needs 24 hours to fully cure. This might vary depending on the humidity where you live.


Which of these is NOT a handyman tool?

Kitchen shears are sometimes called "poultry shears" or "game shears," and they're used for cutting meat, especially at joints. They're a cook's tool, though handymen will probably enjoy them if they take a similarly craftsman-like approach to cooking.


Which of these is not actually an adhesive?

Measuring tapes, like a tailor's "tape measure," aren't sticky. In this case, a "tape" is something that scrolls out, measures a length, and can be retracted. An electrician's "fish tape" works much the same way, except it is used to route wiring.


Time for some yard work! You pull out your string trimmer ... more commonly known as what?

"Weed whacker" is the common term for a string trimmer (some people spell it "wacker.") But the real name is "string trimmer," and it really is a lowly string, powered at very high speed, which serves as the blade.


Which of these saws is good for making curving cuts or patterns?

The term "jigsaw" is falling out of use, maybe because the name was co-opted by the puzzle, then by a series of horror movies. The more common term today is "scroll saw."


What might you use a pressure washer to clean?

A pressure washer gets every last bit of dirt or grime off exterior walls, patio surfaces, driveways and gutters. It's not for indoor use.


Which of these gets "caulked"?

Caulk is a waterproof sealant, often used in bathrooms. It's usually dispensed with a "caulking gun," which isn't as violent as it sounds.


Which of these simple tasks can make electrical work much easier?

One key to making a safe electric repair is shutting off the electricity at the box. And that goes much faster if you label the circuits! That way, you're not going back and forth from the box to the site of the repair, checking and re-checking whether you've finally found the right switch.


Why do you remove hinges from doors before painting?

In general, getting paint on items like door hinges, outlet boxes and smoke alarms looks sloppy. In addition, when paint dries it acts as a light glue, preventing ease of motion or removal.


A small plastic sheath for a screw is called what?

This makes sense -- the plastic piece is holding the screw in place. Otherwise, the weight of the object being screwed in can easily cause malformation of the hole, over time, leading to a loose fit.


"Liquid Nails" is a brand name for what?

Construction adhesive is a many-purpose glue. One of its advantages is that it can be used inside or outside -- it isn't prone to breaking down when exposed to weather.


Which of these would you use a joist detector for?

Studs and joists are related things -- they're timbers in the frame of the house. But joists are horizontal while studs are vertical, so if you're doing any of the above tasks, you need a stud detector.


What is the name for short-bladed, powerful shears?

These are also called "tinner's snips." They are usually made of carbon steel and should be used with great care.


Which of these materials would you sandblast?

Sandblasting is also known as "abrasive blasting." It's a harsh process that you wouldn't use on more delicate materials like linoleum.


Which of these fasteners is often applied with a "gun"?

A nail gun makes quick work of carpentry projects. Do we need to remind you to be careful? Probably not.


What is the difference between a screw and a bolt?

Screws and bolts are similar, but not the same. Both are threaded, but a screw is tapered and embeds in the material it's forced into, while a bolt is cylindrical, emerges from the other side and is fastened with a nut.


When sawing down a tree, which of these - other than a chain saw - is useful?

Tree removal is a potentially dangerous job. You want safety gear including a hard hat, goggles and gloves, and an escape path (in the opposite direction of the falling tree). The wedge is to hold the cut you're making open and thus keep the weight of the upper trunk from pressing down on the blade.


True or false: When using a palm sander (a small power sander), it's important to push down on it from the top.

While this might seem like a good idea, pushing down can cause scratching. If you're not getting the effect you want, try changing out the sandpaper for a fresh piece first


Which of these has a "felling sight"?

Chain saws are commonly used to cut down trees. Hence the word "felling" - a "felling sight" is a visual guide to where to make a notch in the tree trunk, an early step in cutting down the whole tree.


Proper lifting techniques, handling of tools, and other strategies that prevent work injuries are known as ...

"Work injuries" in this case includes gradual and repetitive strain. Ergonomics covers the prevention of such injuries for both office workers and for manual laborers.


An "A-frame" can be a ...

Handymen will often reach for an "A-frame" ladder to reach ceilings, high points on a wall, et cetera. It's possible that they're also working in an A-frame house, as well -- that's a home with a high, center-pointed roof.


If the water in a toilet "bounces," what might this mean?

The slowdown in the pipes might not mean a clog, but water is not flowing efficiently. You'll see a sign of this in a "bounce": the water level goes down, then rebounds before the flush is complete.


What might you soak brushes in to remove dried paint?

Plain water will break up some of the dried paint. However, for real progress, veteran handymen recommend vinegar on a stove top.


About how often do septic tanks need to be emptied?

Fortunately, the septic tank doesn't need attention that often. Liquid, non-toxic "graywater" is allowed to leach out, steadily making room for waste that doesn't break down as readily.


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