Janet Combs (copy)

Janet Combs

Qualified builders earn licenses, indicating they have the requisite knowledge and experience to perform every task from foundation to roof to an exacting professional standard.

The problem is, we all had a Fisher-Price workbench as toddlers and we mastered its activities, blasting those wooden pegs into their pre-drilled holes until our parents wondered how they could have possibly thought the Fisher-Price xylophone might become irritating.

We likely emerged from that life stage thinking we were handy. But here’s the thing—it’s not as if our training continued. We didn’t get to graduate to the “nail-gun station” in nursery school, move up to miter saws in middle school and master the drill press in high school.

Every DIYer should be forced to watch that instructive film, “Pacific Heights,” before beginning any home improvement project. Don’t let me spoil it for you, but in the end, a nail gun is used as a firearm. And this is because it is a gun: it shoots nails. This film imparts an important safety message that will be hammered into your subconscious for future reference every time you use a power tool: pay attention, you are wielding a weapon.

I would argue that death by nail gun might be more excruciating than by handgun, though I’m not volunteering for that focus group. Such an uplifting humor column I am penning this week! But the fact is, I am inspired, because this past weekend was the first time I have ever used a "sawzall," which is exactly what its name implies — a power tool that will saw through all, unlike a "sawsome," which no one would ever buy. Its technical name is a reciprocating saw, which means the cutting happens both ways with a push-and-pull action of the blade.

When using a reciprocating saw, take care to keep the electric cord, as well as body parts you have grown fond of, clear and out of the way of the blade. It also helps if you have strong upper arm muscles. Before using the sawzall, I considered myself in decent shape from my conditioning regimen of hoisting Le Creuset casseroles of macaroni and cheese out of the oven, but I was mistaken.

You actually have to put some muscle into it, directing the oscillating blade. I had to take frequent breaks because my arm strength has not improved since I dropped to the mat after 10 seconds of the “flexed-arm hang” in elementary school, flunking the Presidential Fitness Award.

Fortunately for me, the flood vent we needed to cut into the foundation of our home looked like something that would be demonstrated in a beginner sawzall YouTube video. I volunteered for the task because my height is 8 inches closer to the ground than my husband’s, and I thought I could more comfortably crouch on the concrete — which makes no sense at all.

However, as a nonfiction columnist I regularly employ the power tool of streaming persuasive verbiage. My husband relented, measuring a perfect 10-inch square 3 inches off the ground in the back wall of a storage closet. It didn’t seem like the right time to let him know that I could never cut on a straight line with a pair of safety scissors in elementary school.

I assured him I had paid attention during the safety course he administered on site and sat on the ground and held the sawzall, which made a very impressive chainsaw-like roar on startup. I put the saw blade in the pre-drilled holes at the corners of our square and began carving in miniature the PyeongChang giant slalom course into the back of our home.

I think my husband was amazed at my skill because he was speechless. Fortunately, that miracle product, silicone caulk, filled the gaps — and the plastic vent frame covered the rest. My Olympic run with the sawszall is complete, and the Mikaela Shiffrin Commemorative Flood Vent is now operational.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer who lives in Pawleys Island. Her "Planet Janet" column is published weekly in the Georgetown Times. You can reach Janet at https://janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com/.