The Dirt on Driving Screws

Drill and screws
Okay, so let’s be honest: How many people out there have a tough time driving screws with a drill? Driving screws is a basic skill, required to do many home improvements. However, I have to acknowledge feeling somewhat challenged in this area.

I should mention I have owned various drills over the years. And certainly I have managed to use drills to do things like hang prints or mount window blinds. However, I have always felt that my drilling technique was rather clumsy.

Here’s the problem: when I drive screws, the drill bit constantly slips out of the screw head. It might take several attempts to drive just one screw. And, if the drill bit slips out, it can damage the drill bits, the screws and the material you are working on… not to mention that you could get hurt, too. Sometimes it can seem like using a drill is more of a hindrance than a help.

Meanwhile, you see trades people on TV shows and they have no such trouble. The professionals drive screws with one fluid movement – no starts and stops – and often they do this one-handed. ‘What am I doing wrong?’, I wondered.

This past summer I decided to build a deck, and I knew it would involve a lot of drilling. So — bracing myself for some unkind snickers — I asked around to see if there was a special trick to drilling. You might be surprised to hear that most of the responses were vague at best. This made me suspect other people may feel less-than-expert with drills, too.

So without a whole lot of helpful hints, I proceeded with my deck project. Eventually the time came to apply decking to the joist structure. I planned to screw down the decking, since screwing was considered to be superior to nailing. I started with the decking, and for whatever reason, I had even more trouble than usual driving the screws. There was a lot of resistance against the screws and my progress was quite slow.

I got frustrated and phoned the guy at the hardware store. He hinted I might need a different type of tool. (I had already bought a drill, a circular saw, and a reciprocating saw for the project, and I was not particularly open to buying more tools.) I decided to soldier on with my trusted drill even if it did take longer.

The deck is 20 foot by 14 foot, so that left me with a lot of screws to drive. At first, the work continued to go slowly. However, gradually the pace improved. It turns out that drilling is a skill that takes practice! Who would have thought? My deck project provided me with enough practice time so that I could develop a better feel for drilling. Eventually the drill even became my friend.

Some of the things I learned along the way:

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Does one renovation lead to another?


When I tell people I am planning some home improvements, I often hear cautionary tales: ‘You know, you will get into it, and end up having to do way more work than you think.’ Or: ‘Sure, but you can’t do one part of the house without doing the rest of the house, too.’ And so on. You get the gist.

I started thinking about this and I wondered if all of the commentary was accurate. Is it possible to do just one remodelling project? While my instincts tell me that personality plays a role in this — I suspect obsessive, perfectionist types like me are more susceptible to the reno-bug — I have indeed found that one project leads to another… And I have a few ideas why.


Excitement can get the better of you, and entice you to add to your project. Excitement triggered a recent painting project of mine. The project began life as a single task on my weekend to-do list: replace caulking around back door. (Yes, you read that right.) However, I saw that the paint on the back door trim was peeling and I decided to fix that, too. The fresh paint had such a strong impact that I started to think about other areas that needed painting. Before long my weekend to-do item morphed into a full-blown project. I ended up repainting the house exterior.

The ‘Unexpected’

Sometimes an unexpected situation crops up that adds to your workload. I got a taste of this during the painting project I described above. I needed to paint a wooden window box that protrudes out over the roof of my garage. This required that I get out on the roof, something that I don’t do too often. (Heights bother me.)

While out on the roof I noticed three things:

  1. The caulking around the windows was shot.
  2. The eaves trough along the edge of my garage was clogged with ‘gunk’.
  3. There was a row of exposed roof nails along the base of the window box.

photo, worn out caulking

Caulking on its last leg

photo, clogged eaves trough

‘Gunk’ from the eaves trough

These are not the type of things you should leave unaddressed, particularly with a Canadian winter on its way. Grudgingly, I added these items to my work list.


Interdependencies between elements in your house sometimes make it difficult to divide work into separate projects with clear boundaries. For example, the flooring on the main floor of my house needs replacing. Unfortunately the main floor has an open concept layout. The dining area, kitchen and living room are essentially one big room. If these areas were separated by walls I could easily remodel one area without doing the others. However, the open concept makes it difficult to do only one area because it will be immediately obvious that the other areas are unfinished, the old and new color schemes may clash, etc.

So, yes, home improvement projects do tend to grow in size and number. However, is that really such a bad thing? I mean, provided you are managing the budget side of things? If you improve the market value of your home, that’s good. If you save money by doing the work yourself (DIY), that’s good, too. And if you discover things that need repairs, well, at least you found out before the problems got worse and more expensive to fix.

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