First Annual Black-and-Blue Thumb Awards

DIY blunders so bad, they're award-winning

TOH Awards
Illustration by Christoph Niemann
1 ×

 

We've all had our little homeowner snafus, our fix-it gaffes—you know, the time you splattered paint on the floor, or maybe short-circuited the house when all you wanted to do was change a lightbulb. But even we didn't believe the dubious achievements of the 13 "handy" folk gathered here. Take the guy who confused dog food with cement, or the fellow who nailed some very special equipment to the roof. To these and our other winners, we give the 2007 Black-and-Blue Thumb Awards. To you, we offer the comfort of knowing that however bad your blunders, someone else has screwed up worse.

1. Award for 'Best Stupid Human Trick'
Renter Steve Manes was sick of the big hole left in his floor by a plumber who'd replaced a leaky radiator pipe. The landlord wasn't responding to his complaints, so Manes decided to plug the crater himself. His choice for fill: two 60-pound bags of dry dog food, left over when his beloved pooch died two months prior. "I poured it in the hole, then topped it off with concrete," Manes said. "Problem solved." Problem caused: A year later the ceiling in the apartment below caved in, splattering the place with 120 pounds of "rusty-looking brown stuff." No doubt that got the landlord's attention.

2. 'Shallowest Thinker With the Deepest Conviction' Award
Henry Mora, convinced by a metal detector that there was a cache of gold buried in his yard, started digging. And digging. And digging. By the time alarmed neighbors called authorities, Mora was 60 feet in and had a pair of helpers hoisting buckets of dirt out of the unreinforced hole. "We told him, 'You're done,'" Montclair, California, fire Capt. Rich Baldwin told the Associated Press. "It's amazing no one got killed." Somewhat less amazing that no one hit pay dirt.

3. Award for 'Worst Use of a Power Tool'
Some mishaps make hammering your thumb seem like a good idea. Take 59-year-old August Voegl, who, while working atop a house, slipped and shot a 4-inch spike from an air-­compressed nail gun through his pants and into the roof—via his left testicle. Fortunately, the ­paramedics were able to pry him loose and airlift him to a hospital, where he recovered. For you, Mr. Voegl, in addition to the Black-and-Blue Thumb recognition, we have two words of advice: athletic cup.

We've all had our little homeowner snafus, our fix-it gaffes—you know, the time you splattered paint on the floor, or maybe short-circuited the house when all you wanted to do was change a lightbulb. But even we didn't believe the dubious achievements of the 13 "handy" folk gathered here. Take the guy who confused dog food with cement, or the fellow who nailed some very special equipment to the roof. To these and our other winners, we give the 2007 Black-and-Blue Thumb Awards. To you, we offer the comfort of knowing that however bad your blunders, someone else has screwed up worse.

1. Award for 'Best Stupid Human Trick'
Renter Steve Manes was sick of the big hole left in his floor by a plumber who'd replaced a leaky radiator pipe. The landlord wasn't responding to his complaints, so Manes decided to plug the crater himself. His choice for fill: two 60-pound bags of dry dog food, left over when his beloved pooch died two months prior. "I poured it in the hole, then topped it off with concrete," Manes said. "Problem solved." Problem caused: A year later the ceiling in the apartment below caved in, splattering the place with 120 pounds of "rusty-looking brown stuff." No doubt that got the landlord's attention.

2. 'Shallowest Thinker With the Deepest Conviction' Award
Henry Mora, convinced by a metal detector that there was a cache of gold buried in his yard, started digging. And digging. And digging. By the time alarmed neighbors called authorities, Mora was 60 feet in and had a pair of helpers hoisting buckets of dirt out of the unreinforced hole. "We told him, 'You're done,'" Montclair, California, fire Capt. Rich Baldwin told the Associated Press. "It's amazing no one got killed." Somewhat less amazing that no one hit pay dirt.

3. Award for 'Worst Use of a Power Tool'
Some mishaps make hammering your thumb seem like a good idea. Take 59-year-old August Voegl, who, while working atop a house, slipped and shot a 4-inch spike from an air-­compressed nail gun through his pants and into the roof—via his left testicle. Fortunately, the ­paramedics were able to pry him loose and airlift him to a hospital, where he recovered. For you, Mr. Voegl, in addition to the Black-and-Blue Thumb recognition, we have two words of advice: athletic cup.

2 ×

4. Award for 'Worst Use of a Hand Tool'

 

4. Award for 'Worst Use of a Hand Tool'

Illustration by Christoph Niemann
Association with This Old House doesn't exempt you from this competition. One evening after a full day of framing walls, TOH contributing editor Mark Feirer settled into his favorite chair with his hammer and a roll of electrical tape to repair a splinter on the handle. He wrapped a few turns of tape around and stretched it tight until...the tape snapped. "No close call has ever scared me so much as the com­pletely unexpected feel of framing-hammer claws sunk deep into the bridge of my nose," says Feirer. On the bright side: At least it wasn't a hatchet.

5. 'Snake Eyes: Not As Good in Idaho As in Las Vegas' Award
Lyman and Jeanine Hepworth were perfectly happy with the cozy eastern Idaho home they'd just purchased. That is, until the weather turned cold and a thousand or so snakes moved in. The Hepworths came to the realization they weren't alone after a triumvirate of events: one, when a snake fell on Lyman's head as he opened the door to the nearby pump house; two, when Lyman and Jeanine walked outside one morning and noticed that "the whole yard moved"; and three, when Lyman reached to turn on a light only to discover that the pull cord...wasn't a cord at all. Reportedly, the Hepworths have asked ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition to consider the house for an upcoming episode. Better their TV show than ours.

6. 'When the Vow Breaks' Award
Next time you're forced to take sanctuary on the couch for a night, think of Gayadhar Parida, who's been sulking in a tree house adjacent to his wife's home since he had an argument with her—50 years ago. Neither remembers what instigated the marital spat, but, says his wife, "he promised not to live with me and return home [until] his death." Parida seems to be a man of his word. He is on his second arboreal house, having built it after the first was destroyed in a storm.

7. The 'Duct and Cover' Award
Adam Klein of Gardner Hardware in Minneapolis was working the ­counter when a customer came in wanting a metal detector. (What is it with these guys and metal detectors?) Klein inquired as to what kind of treasure the man was looking for. "Ductwork," the DIYer sheepishly replied. He and a friend had installed air ducts in his new master bedroom, broke for a couple beers, then decided to move on to the next step: hanging the drywall. Problem was, Tweedledumb and Tweedledim neglected to mark where the cut­outs for the vents should go before buttoning the room up. They paid the ultimate punishment for a fix-it crime: having to confess their sin to the local hardware-store guy.

3 ×

8. 'Dude Descending a Staircase' Award

 

8. 'Dude Descending a Staircase' Award

Illustration by Christoph Niemann
While waiting for chemical paint stripper to work its magic on his staircase, TOH photographer Russell Kaye decided to do a little multitasking and install a new faucet on his claw-foot tub. "I turned off the water supply," Kaye says, "but when I removed the faucet, the valve hadn't closed all the way, and water starting pouring out onto the floor." He frantically tried to shut the valve, but the handle snapped off in his grip. He made a mad dash to the basement for the main cutoff. Already midair when he remembered the caustic slurry on the stairs, Kaye took a bumpy ride that ended at the newel post. "You can imagine the sore butt I had after I slipped and slid all the way to the bottom," he says.

9. 'If These Walls Could Text' Award
When your 4-year-old daughter asks, "Daddy, why are the walls ringing?" it can mean only one of two things: Either she's tuned in to a poltergeist or your cell phone's somewhere inside. Fortunately, the ghosts weren't baaack. Jay Nyffler had been hanging drywall that very morning and set his phone down on some blocking. It took several hours redialing on the land line to pinpoint the cell's position, but Nyffler finally found it. The home's levitating toys remain a mystery.

10. The 'Mr. Bubble Bursts' Award
After installing a new tub in his master bathroom, Steve Fisk decided to celebrate the last in a ­series of home improvements with a long, hot soak. Just as he slid into the suds, he heard his wife, Dianne, screaming from the floor below. "I tore down the stairs wearing nothing but a panicked look on my face," says Fisk. What he found: his equally panicked wife watching a river of water gush through a light fixture that hung from the brand-new ceiling in the freshly wallpapered breakfast nook. Cursing, Dianne headed for a neighbor's. Steve returned upstairs, where he discovered that he'd forgotten to connect the tub's overflow pipe.

4 ×

11. Award for 'Worst Free Throw Attempt'

 

11. Award for 'Worst Free Throw Attempt'

Illustration by Christoph Niemann
There's only one rule for handling a window air conditioner: Hold on tight. But Patty Collins and her sister lost sight of this as they balanced the unit on the window ledge of Collins's fourth-floor apartment. Each thinking the other had a firm grip, they dropped it out the window, where it landed in the middle of a pickup basketball game on the court below. Hearts pounding, they peered out to see a group of young men standing around the fallen unit. The women didn't relax until they heard one of the players exclaim, "Whoa! Cool."

12. The 'When to Call It a Night' Award
"I've reminded Eric several times that when he gets tired, he should just call it quits," says Laurie Bridges of her husband's round-the-clock renovating schedule. After a long day laying down some way-over-budget Marmo­leum floors in their kitchen, a very excited (but very weary) Eric insisted on getting started on their next project: installing new Cabinets. But before laying the cabinet doors down to drill holes for the handles, Eric needed something to protect the floor. He chose a nice solid piece of...cardboard. "I heard some loud cursing," recalls Laurie, who ran to the kitchen to find a hole in what had been their pristine new floor. "I said, 'What were you thinking, Eric?'" Our bet is, he wasn't.

13. The 'Don't Be a Mow-Ron' Award
There's nothing wrong with cracking open a beer or two after some backbreaking yard work. You deserve it. Just don't get wasted, fire up the John Deere, and go riding off for more. Dondi Bowles was arrested back in May when police found him riding his 20-horsepower lawn mower on the sidewalk about a mile from his home. When questioned, Bowles stood—albeit woozily—by his decision. "I didn't know you could get a DUI on a lawn mower," he said. "If I knew that, I would have walked."
 
 

TV Listings

Find TV Listing for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.