1. How to Drive Stick
Every clutch is different. Some standard-shift cars have heavy clutches, clutches you can barely push to the floor without pulling a quad muscle. Others are so thin, the clutch so light and easy, they threaten to stall after you've let the pedal up no more than a few inches off the floor. Most are somewhere in the middle. But in the most important way, every clutch is the same, because every clutch has a sweet spot, that precise place as it travels up the floor where it catches, connecting the drivetrain to the motor to move the car forward. Before that moment, the engine is just on, spinning, idling. The clutch is the connector, but there is only one exact moment when it engages. Learning to drive stick is essentially training your leg to learn that moment.
Tell your driver this. The less abstract this all is, the more he will be able to visualize what's happening. Find a flat patch of pavement. Too much slope up or down and the car will roll on its own—probably uncontrollably into a ditch. Have the driver start the car. Clutch down, brake pedal depressed. Then, after releasing the brake, very slowly let up on the clutch. At some point, whether it's an inch off the floor or ten, he should feel the clutch engage. The car will move slowly forward. Let him get comfortable with that point. Cruise around the parking lot a little bit. Tell the driver he's driving. Say it with a little excitement in your voice, otherwise he'll think you're making fun of him. Then, after a hundred times, let him give it some gas. He's earned it.
2. How to Identify Tracks
Black bear: Similar to grizzly bear prints, but smaller, and with shorter claws.
Skunk: The hind foot (far left) appears similar to human feet, with claws that rarely leave an impression.
Dog: Not to be confused with a coyote—the track is more oblong with less prominent claws and a smaller hind footprint.
Deer: A walking deer leaves a print like this one. A running deer's toes spread at the top and look more like an upward V.
Turkey: Tracks can be as big as five inches wide, with three long front toes. A small one in the back occasionally shows up.
Train: Easy to spot and follow. Don't get too close.
3. How to Choose a Pool Cue
When you find yourself at a bar, picking a pool cue is about choosing the best of the worst. According to David Alciatore, author of The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards, the first thing you look at is the tip. You don't want one that's glossy or rubbed smooth, because you won't be able to rough it up with chalk, making you more likely to miscue. If the leather—the tip is leather—has been smashed flat, same deal. Also look for cracks around the tip. Even a small one can create a wobbly head, again leading you to miscue. From there you want the heaviest cue you can find. It gives you more power and a truer stroke.
Rolling the cue on the pool table to test its quality is silly. The table might not be flat, for one thing. It's better to sight down the cue as you turn it in your hand. If you notice exceptional warping, move on. But if none of the cues in the rack are straight, don't worry. Alciatore says a straight cue isn't all that important anyway, since a good player doesn't turn his hand while he shoots.
Bonus Sporting Tip! If you're at a bowling alley, choose a ball weight by dividing your body weight by 10. If you're over 140 pounds (which you probably have been since high school), stick with 14. Bowling alley balls are actually heavier than they say, since they're made of thicker material for durability.
4. How to Tie off a Boat
When you're out on a friend's boat coming in toward the dock and he hands you the line and asks you to tie it off, you need to know what he means. What he means is: Secure the boat to the dock by snaking the line around a cleat. There is a way to do this, and boat people tend to like things done the right way, because their vessel, and people's lives, often depend on it. First, leave a little slack in the line—you don't want to brace the boat to the dock so tight that it can't move with the waves. Wrap the line around the far side of the cleat. Do one loop around the base, then wind a figure 8 around the cleat's horns. Wind another figure 8. Finally, form a loop in the line, with the free end on the bottom. Drop that loop over a horn and pull it tight. If you did it right, the rope should grab the cleat and stay taught. Nice work. Now move to secure the stern. (That's the back.)
5. When to Use Safety Equipment
Use safety glasses when you are doing anything involving tools (except a manual screwdriver). Especially power tools. Even something as seemingly minor as driving a nail can send a splinter of wood—or worse, the nail itself—straight at your eye.
Use work glove when you are welding, cutting sheet metal, digging a hole for a fence post, collecting brush, or anything else that involves work that could cut, callous, or stick a bunch of thorns in your hands.
Use earplugs when you are operating any power tool. (A drill is probably okay unless you're particularly delicate.)
Use work boots when you are working on anything. Boots give you better traction and a lot more protection than sneakers. If you're on a construction site or happen to be particularly clumsy, get steel toes.
Use a dust mask when you are stripping, sanding, or producing airborne particles of any kind. And always open the windows for ventilation.
6. How to Tell Someone Off
The Internet has killed a lot of things. Road atlases. The yellow pages. Blind dates. But maybe the most lamentable casualty is the tell-off. These days if you want to give someone a piece of your mind, you text it or tweet it or Yelp it or post some passive-aggressive comment. It is faceless, anonymous … and totally unfulfilling. The whole point of the tell-off is seeing the stunned, speechless reaction it provokes. You are a reasonable person, sure, but you have your limits, and you are unwilling to accept it when those limits have been crossed.
It's all in the delivery. You needn't raise your voice or change your tone. The more measured and direct, the more powerful. In person, as in writing, a period is far more menacing than an exclamation point. "Get out of my face." Not "Get out of my face!" In fact, there are times when you don't need to say anything at all. Just a cold, hard glare that lingers for several excruciating seconds will do. —Sean Manning
7. How to Tell the Truth
Remember, it's not an apology; it's the truth. Don't explain. It's the truth. Don't tell stories. Don't be tempted by chronology and plot at all. Make a list in your head and use that instead. Like A, B, and C. Speak clearly. Don't prevaricate. Square up your shoulders. Raise your eyes. Take a breath. Begin. It's the truth.
8. How to Get a Stick Out of Your Arm
If the situation is serious, keep your composure. Calm people make better decisions. When you're truly out of your element, apply pressure and hope the EMTs don't hit traffic.
You got a Splinter: Tweezers usually work for big ones. But for the microscopic slivers you feel but don't see, make a paste out of ¼ tsp baking soda and a few drops of water. Apply and cover with a bandage. The baking soda swells your skin and brings the splinter to the surface. After twenty-four hours, it should be sticking out enough that you can remove it.
You were bitten by a tick: Petroleum jelly and nail polish cause ticks to burrow deeper. Burning just makes them release more diseased saliva. Instead, grab your tweezers—the same ones you used to pull out that splinter. Get as close to the tick's mouth as possible, then pull steadily outward so as not to leave any parts in your skin.
You were impaled by a stick: Dr. Evan Small, an emergency-medicine specialist, suggests removing the stick unless it hit an artery or pierced your chest or abdomen. (If it did, remove the protruding parts and get to a hospital.) Remove the stick and wash the wound with clean water. There will be a little swelling—that's okay. Apply pressure and get medical attention. Whatever you do, don't use a tourniquet. That starts a clock on your body. You have about an hour before you start causing damage.
9. How to Select a Christmas Tree
Ignore the ones already bundled up, leaning against the trailer. They're hiding something—a gaping hole, brown spots, a warped trunk. Instead look through the trees that are open, in terms of both their boughs and their flaws. Height is easy. The taller the better, assuming you've premeasured the ceiling at home and know it'll fit. What a lot of people forget is width. Most trees are trimmed at an 80 percent taper. So a ten-foot-tall tree has about an eight-foot-wide base. Keep that in mind. To test a tree's freshness, roll a branch in your hand. If needles come off easily, you don't want it. Firs have shorter, pricklier needles and strong branches that can hold up heavy ornaments. They also smell the best. Pines have long thin needles that don't shed, but their branches are weak. Spruces tend to lose their needles and dry out more easily. Cypress trees have a great deep-green color and don't seep sap. From there all that's left is to haggle. Always haggle. That's another good skill to pass along to your kids. —Matt Goulet
10. How to Explain Stuff
My dad was a good explainer. He also liked tripe. So it was a 50-50 proposition when we went to lunch at Roncone's in Rochester, New York, that his place mat would get used for one thing or the other. He'd sketch out how a cylinder lock works, or splash things with a little cow gut. I always knew we were getting down to brass tacks when he'd push aside his plate, turn the place mat a quarter turn in my direction, and start outlining what we knew to start. He was an architect and a poet who liked to make lists, draw floor plans, craft maps, and draw connections using a bunch of different styles of architectural arrows. This is why I've always believed you can explain anything—any secret, any mechanical process, any business deal—on one side of a paper place mat. If you need more than that, then you're making the problem too complex. In this way, my father explained human flight, why you sometimes need a rip-saw blade, carbonation, and suicide by gas oven. One sheet, at lunch. Now the best I can do is imitate him, but I'm not that good. I try to remember. Compress your thought. Make your lists. Learn as you go. Draw as you speak and laugh about it. Use the illustration to slow you down. Sometimes my dad would fold one of these place mats up and I'd take it home, only to lose it within days. Other times, we just left them on the table, our only record of what I had come to learn. Man, I wish I still had just one. That's what my dad and I did on Tuesdays at Roncone's, when I had a question and the special was tripe. —Tom Chiarella
11. How to Mop the Floor
I was arrested in college for stealing bacon from a supermarket. Inexplicable really. It is punishment enough to have to type that sentence decades later. But as part of my sentencing then, I was assigned to work for a local museum for twenty-five hours. The curator I reported to was a retired master chief in the Navy. He was either gristled or bored; I was too young to know the difference. The first thing he did was assign me to mop the new cement floor in the basement. He showed me where the mop was; I filled the bucket with hot water. Fifteen minutes later, I was done. When I told him that, he looked like he'd been hit in the head with a foul ball. He could not take the squint out of his eyes. He walked downstairs, looked around, then kicked over the mop bucket. Water spread to every corner of the floor. "Up," he said, and I must have given him a blank look because he then gave me a clarification, which seemed to exhaust him in the telling. "Mop it up." It took me an hour to get that water, soaked into the mop, then wrung out into the bucket. Blue-black and nasty. This time the master chief seemed to be able to condone my presence at the work end of the mop. But he wanted step two. "Now swab it down," he declared. So I got clean water, mopped in a semi-organized pattern till the floor reflected light, which was the idea, or so I thought. This time, the master chief seemed happy. So naturally, he kicked over the bucket once more. "Do it again," he said. And so the pattern of my twenty-five hours was set; I mopped for ten afternoons—up, down, again—until I'd paid my debt to society. On the last day, the master chief bought me a sandwich, which was the first time he treated me as anything other than a bacon thief. "At least you know how to mop," he said. Then he repeated the steps, throwing up a finger for each one. Mop it up. Swab it down. Do it again. That's never left me. Thebest instructions are easy to remember. The best lessons are hard to forget. I've taught a dozen others since then. Because I can really mop. —T.C.
12. How to Understand Racking and Bending
With almost anything you build, from a bookcase to a house wall, you have to account for racking and bending.
Racking [fig. A] is the tendency of a square or rectangular assembly to move into a parallelogram shape because of a sideways force. The nails that hold the lumber together can actually work as hinges, allowing the structure to shift to one side. To prevent that, you have two options. The first is to add a diagonal brace on one or both sides, as shown. For an even more rigid structure, cover at least one side with a piece of plywood fastened with evenly spaced nails or screws around its perimeter and to any vertical members, such as studs.
When it comes to bending [fig. B], of the many things that may cause it, there are at least two factors that are easy to understand: the bending force and the shape of the thing the force acts upon. You can't do much about the force being exerted on a structure, but you can do something about the shape on which it acts. For pieces of wood that are long and slender, such as a 2 by 12, orient the lumber with its edge against the force. That way, the force acts through the length of the rectangle, not the weaker width. This is why floor joists are always vertically oriented.
13. When to Expect Reverse Threading
Reverse-, or left-hand-threaded objects go against your righty-tighty instincts. They're used to keep nuts and bolts that rotate counterclockwise from working themselves off.
Lug nuts on the right side of the car: Typical on older cars, the reverse threading is intended to counteract the initial inertia of the lug nut against the rotation of the wheels. (The wheel moves, and for a split second the lug nut remains static, loosening by an imperceptible fraction of a turn.) It's since been proven completely unnecessary.
Lawn mower blade: If the blade spins to the right, it can slowly unwind itself each time the blade jerks to a start.
Toilet handle: Every time you flush, the handle rotates against the threads to tighten instead of loosen the assembly.
Left bike pedals: Using the pedal tightens instead of loosening it.
Propane tank: This is more of a safety feature, so that flammable gases can be used only with the appropriate regulators.
14. How to Toenail a Nail
Nailing at an angle is called toenailing. Some say that's because sometimes you use the toe of your boot to prevent the lumber from moving. Others say it's because the nail is driven at an angle at the foot of the stud. All you need to know is that it's useful.
Step 1: Place the stud a little to the side of where you want it to end up. You're about to hit it with a hammer, and it's going to shift a bit.
Step 2: Holding the nail about an inch above the end of the stud, tap it a few times, until the nail is parallel to the ground and seated ¼ inch in the wood. (If you don't have room to swing the hammer, hold the nail at a 60-degree angle. It will skid down slightly and into the wood, and then you'll be at step 4.)
Step 3: Use your hand to pull the nailhead up to a 60-degree angle.
Step 4: Drive the nail into the wood.
15. How to Pack the Trunk
• Gather everything in one area so that you know exactly what you're working with. Stare at the luggage pile for fifteen to thirty seconds, looking pensive.
• Is one of the items to be packed a cooler? If so, it is your cornerstone. Place it in the bottom-left corner.
• Work from the hardest luggage to the softest, the biggest to the smallest, the heaviest to the lightest. Stack heavy hard-case luggage horizontally.
• Work in layers, working your way up to the smallest, lightest, most fragile items. As you go, fill any gaps with odd-shaped or small stuff. No gaps. That's the goal.
• Take one last look at the trunk. If at all possible, put your wife's bag on top—better to keep things from wrinkling. Make sure she notices.
BONUS PACKING TIP! If the roof has rails but no rack—which is common—make one by tying 2x4s crossways across the rails. Tie them tight. Now you have a roof rack. Just remember: The built-in rails are stronger than your 2x4s, so fasten luggage directly to the rails. Safe travels.
*This article origionally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Seniorhelpline.