Archive for Sunday, May 12, 2002

Practice makes perfect when it comes to home improvement

May 12, 2002


My partner Shari Hiller and I often hear that we make everything seem so easy. If only you could drive by the filming site and hear the pleading, crying and general hair-pulling sounds that we make each week as we work our way toward another completed room.

Folks, it may look easy, but it's not. We often have the same frustrations and heartache that you feel during a project. But we have found a way to help us get through those tough times. Practice.

Usually the first time we try a project, we have a tremendous learning curve. What makes it all seem to work out is that we know that the process will go much smoother if we practice first.

Let me try to explain. This week I'm working on a new project a long shelf with crown molding attached. If you could see my shop, you'd see many trial and errors (more errors than success I'm afraid). I have a scrap pile that would make Fred Sanford jealous (for those of you who don't know Fred, please refer to the 1970s).

I've learned that I need to make a lot of practice cuts to get molding just right. I always start out with scrap material and try to figure out the best way to make the correct angles before I attempt to work with my finished stock. I've saved a lot of frustration and money over the years this way.

The same goes with painting and painting techniques. I always purchase only one quart of paint before I start painting a room. The color that Shari has picked may not look the same on the wall as it did on the color card. So take the time to paint out a small section before you buy all the paint to paint the whole room.

I once painted a whole house before the customer decided she didn't like that pale green after all. It didn't bother me after all if was her checkbook. But I think you get the point.

A practice attempt is always safer and cheaper. Do a sample board when trying a painting technique. I use 2 foot-by-2 foot Masonite boards so that I can use them over and over again, but brown paper grocery bags work just as well. This practice will give you more freedom to try different techniques, and you won't have to redo the base coat.

When trying anything new, don't be afraid to ask the experts.

I've referred to my library many a time to help guide me through a project. I don't think there are any truly original ideas anymore. Someone else has usually tried it already and written a book to boot. That class we all took in seventh grade on the card catalog search has finally come into use. And if you have access to the Internet, just type in a few words, and presto, instant knowledge.

I also make a lot of phone calls to local hardware stores and lumberyards. Better yet, for the best advice, just go on over and show them what you're working on. If you're like me, you'll get the information you need and more likely pick up a dozen or so new tools.

I could go on and on about practice makes perfect, and believe me, I don't think perfect will ever be an experience for me. I'm always making adjustments here and there to my projects. I do have the luxury of this being my day job, so I get paid to mess around the shop. But trust me folks, it ain't easy, so practice, practice and practice.

Matt Fox writes this column with Shari Hiller. They also co-host the Home & Garden Television show "Room by Room." For more information, visit

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