DIY – It’s Still Thriving?

For me DIY was something that emerged in the 1950’s era when Do-It-Yourself shops started popping up in just about every shopping area of town. Some were small corner shops and others were like small supermarkets. The man and woman team behind the counter cut strips of wood and hardboard to the size you wanted and people walked down the street with half a sheet of plywood balanced on the pedal of the bike. As this type of home work gained momentum and Britain gained more prosperity, roof racks became standard and 3×2’s and six-foot fence panels could be strapped overhead to get them home. The birth of DIY was born and people began repairing their homes because the discovered much of the work they had formerly paid “a man” to do could be fun to get involved in and you could save money doing it. Since then the big box stores replaced the DIY shops in the same way supermarkets took away most of the local shops and that has been a sad loss. The smells and camaraderie intermingling as we perused the shelves for new and innovative materials and products had its own sort of new-car smell we all now reminisce over.
I think often about DIY and as a professional craftsman with fifty years in the field I’ve seen many changes. One positive change is that people are less intimidated about having a go at doing it themselves. I was indeed one of the fortunate ones in that some of the learning curve was taken out of my learning skill by the fact that I apprenticed with people who knew their craft and saw it as a duty to pass it on to young people like me. Watching people take the plunge into DIY woodworking stands me in awe as I watch them walk the shelves of stores like Curtis Lumber and Ace Hardware and pick up what they need to build their chicken coop with or build their next dining table from. As I said, I was lucky. So, as I said to Joseph when he was 16 years old and wanted a new cello, why not DIY! He’s been doing it himself ever since and so have I. I think it’s worth delving into the Arts and Crafts movement of the last century to see that making is part of our makeup. It’s in our DNA to grow and bake and to build and make. Answering the call to Do It Yourself still rings very true for me and it will change your life.


  1. I think one more benefit of the “DIY” movement is that people who have given it an honest try are a bit more respectful of real craftsmanship and a bit less tolerant of cheap excuses. You’ve been there, done that, there’s dirt under your fingernails, a splinter in your thumb, scratches in your hide and sweat in your eyes. From then on when you see something that “just works” and lasts for generations you have a better understanding of what that takes. You also know that MDF isn’t “real wood” and a 16 penny nail isn’t the same as a mortise and tenon joint.

  2. Whenever I visit a new area in the UK, I search out old hardware shops. A few still exist, but they are disappearing. Often they have very old stock and you can still get things that are no longer made, or are better quality.

    I once fitted a gas fire, was told how to by a qualified gas fitter. Later when it was being serviced by a close to retirement old school gas fitter, he said, looking at how it was fitted he must have done it in the past. I didn’t tell him the truth, but it did make me feel good.

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