DIY tips I learned from my veteran dad – 5 things I learned as a chip off the old block

These five DIY tips have helped my dad build and add to several parts of my childhood home himself – here’s why I swear by them

(Image credit: Taiyou Nomachi via Getty Images)

Growing up, I was always called a ‘chip off the block’ as I always spent my time with my dad in his shed. I got my first tool kit in preschool and was helping to repaint rooms by the time I was in kindergarten.

Growing up in a very practical family meant I picked up a lot of DIY tips from my veteran dad that I still swear by today when renovating furniture pieces I pick up from online marketplaces or trying to decorate my small rental home.

These five essential tips have helped us add to my childhood home, create fun home decorations, and craft practical pieces to help with everything from school projects to home organization – here’s how they help.

DIY tips I learned from my veteran dad

Following each of these five tips when renovating or decorating a home is one of the best ways to make sure you finish your DIY projects and don’t end up burning out or getting stuck.

Someone using a brush to paint the side of a house white

(Image credit: ftwitty via Getty Images)

1. Always take care of your tools

In order to do DIY well, you need to gather an arsenal of essential DIY tools every home improver should have. This kit acquired, it is then vital that you maintain it, my dad always pushed. As an ex-military man, he was always a stickler for care and precision.

This means making sure your power tools' batteries are always charged, they are cleaned after every use to prevent rusting or damage, and sharp tools are regularly sharpened or replaced to keep them functioning and safe to use.

It also helps to organize DIY tools so you can find everything you need quickly. My dad’s shed has hundreds of mismatched drawers, all hand-labeled, to help him keep his masses of supplies neat and tidy, proving that it doesn’t have to be pretty, so long as it is practical.

2. When drilling a hole, start small and work up

Whether you are hanging a heavy mirror, securing furniture to a wall, or completing big home renovations, drilling is a fine skill to get down.

When making a hole with a drill, my dad always starts with the smallest drill bit before working up the sizes to the one he needs. Not only does this help to create the perfect-sized hole without damaging the surface you are drilling into, but it can make tough drilling tasks, such as drilling into stone or brick, a lot easier both on you and your drill.

3. There is no such thing as over-planning

When starting a DIY project, it can be easy to jump right in – full of fresh motivation and a vision in mind. However, having done this many times myself, I can promise it is a one-way ticket to failure.

‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,’ my dad often repeats. When approaching DIY projects, it is essential to come up with a plan first – even for something as simple as painting a room. The plan should include any measurements, a list of supplies required, how much time you have allocated for the task (always add more time than you think), and if you need to do anything to prepare first, such as moving furniture.

This will allow you to start to project with everything to hand so you can breeze right through.

4. Almost anything can be repurposed

My parents are incredibly sustainable at home. Wood and fabric scraps are always kept in storage ideas ready to be used for that ‘perfect project’ whenever that pops up.

No, when I do my own projects, I always think about the best ways to cut any wood or fabric so that they leave significant enough offcuts that can be used later down the line. Similarly, before starting a new project and shopping for supplies, I will check my stock first. Not only is this a far more sustainable way to update your home, but it can also help to save you money on home renovations and DIY projects, too.

5. “Do it properly, do it once”

I have never had much patience. Any project that takes longer than a few days to complete, with lots of waiting around for paint to dry, or glue to set, really tests my self-restraint. When I start a project, I want it finished and ready to use ASAP.

This has resulted in a lot of projects that don’t stand up to the test of time and do not look anywhere near as good as they could do. My dad’s work, on the other hand, really shows mine up – and it isn't just the experience. It turns out that rushing isn’t the best idea after all.

One of his favorite phrases when I was growing up was “Do it properly, do it once,” – and now that I am older, I finally appreciate just how useful that phrase is. It saves me time, money, and energy on everything from my DIY projects to cleaning tips to organizing and decluttering my home.


One of the best ways to get better at DIY is to practice, trying out different projects and different techniques to test your skills. Watching online videos and taking online courses will help too – you might also be able to find local classes and groups that can help you to develop your skills.

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.