DIY Skills & Techniques

11 Old-School DIY Methods for Modern Home Projects

Traditional ways to care for and decorate a home are more than just time-tested; they are often less expensive, more intentional, and better for the planet.
Theresa Clement Avatar
A person nailing roof sheathing on a kids playhouse.
Photo: istockphoto.com

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There’s been a growing interest in DIY lately, with the $890 million DIY home improvement market expected to grow to $1.43 trillion by 2029 and 73 percent of millennials claiming to be DIYers. Combined with the growth in sustainability interest, old school DIY methods that are easy on the planet are poised to become even more popular, too.

While beekeeping, raising chickens, and native plant gardening have gradually become more mainstream among homeowners, consider these other traditional DIY methods to fix, maintain, and decorate your home.

Dyeing Wood

A wet paintbrush and a plastic container of dark-brown wood dye sit atop a half-dyed wooden tabletop.

Photo: istockphoto.com

While paint is a quick way to add color to wood, and stain is a longer-lasting alternative, dyeing wood is a whole other method that penetrates even further into the wood fibers. You can use coffee or tea for a darker look. Choose herbs like turmeric or vegetables like beets to achieve other colors. And dissolve steel wool into vinegar to create black. For best results, use grounds mixed with water or the juice from the produce.

Mixing Paint

A paint mixer is attached to a drill to mix flour paste, sand, and natural pigment to create green natural clay paint.

Photo: naturalearthpaint.com

Yes, you can make paint for your home. You’ll need a bucket, a drill with a paint mixer attachment, and this recipe from Natural Earth Paint:

1. Mix 2 cups of cold water with 1 cup of flour to make flour paste.

2. Add 6 cups of boiling water and stir until mixture thickens.

3. Add 1 part of the flour paste to 1 part pigment and 1 part fine sand in a bucket.

4. Mix with the paint mixer attachment on the drill.

5. Add water until it is smooth and paint-like.

6. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of Borax per gallon.

Note: When adding pigment to the flour paste (step 3), you may need to add more or less of the pigment depending on the color you want to achieve. It’s best to add pigment slowly so you have the flexibility to add more.

Composting Waste

Carrots, a sweet potato, and a purple cabbage are resting next to a countertop compost bin filled with vegetable scraps on a wooden countertop.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether you start with a small automatic countertop composter or invest in a backyard compost tumbler or bin that needs regularly turning, feeding the compost pile instead of the garbage is an easy way to nourish your garden and live more sustainably. It’s best to include a mix of organic materials in order to achieve the richest compost. Include both brown materials like dry leaves and newspaper and green materials like grass clippings and veggie scraps. Learn more about how to start composting.

Hand Planing

A carpenter is using a hand planer on a plank of wood.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Power tools are great for getting projects completed quickly, but there’s something about hand tools that allow DIYers more control over the project and more finesse. It’s a personal approach to woodworking that can make a finished project more special. Using a hand plane like this one from Stanley to smooth the edges of a board or true an edge takes some practice and concentration. Check out our guide to how to use a hand plane to learn how.

Painting with Milk

Curdled milk is inside of a cheesecloth-lined red plastic colander that is placed in a kitchen sink.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Another traditional way to paint involves milk. A nontoxic coating that provides an aged matte appearance, milk paint requires just a few ingredients: skim milk, lime juice, cheesecloth, and powdered pigments. Find the full recipe in our article How To: Make Your Own Milk Paint. Also, using paint brushes instead of rollers will add an homemade authentic touch to a paint job.

Making Rope Rugs

A handmade jute rope rug lies on a black wooden floor.

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you are looking for a charming and durable rug for an entryway or mudroom, consider a rope rug. With just rope and glue, you can make a round rug of any size. Start by applying hot glue to the end of the rope, and then begin to coil the rope around and around. Add hot glue as you coil and press on a flat surface to make sure the coil remains level throughout the process. If you are interested in other ways to make a handmade rug, check out our article on DIY rugs.

Mixing Window Cleaner

A rattan basket with clean rags inside, a spray bottle, and a pair of green rubber gloves are on a windowsill.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Instead of spending money on a chemical-based window cleaner, make your own with this simple recipe. You just need a spray bottle, ¼ cup of white vinegar, and ½ teaspoon of liquid dish soap. If you want to add fragrance, try essential oils like lemon or peppermint. Learn more about this homemade cleaner in our how-to article.

Splitting Firewood

A person is splitting firewood with a splitting maul while wearing gloves and firewood is stacked in the background.

Photo: istockphoto.com

While you can buy logs that are fire-ready, it’s not the same as splitting your own firewood. Beyond being good exercise, it’s a way to save a little, too. Sitting by a fire that’s made with wood you split is also more satisfying. You’ll need a splitting maul, safety glasses, work boots and gloves, and a chopping block. Plus, learn how to safely split wood in our helpful how-to article.

Drying Clothes on a Line

Colorful clothes are pinned to a clothesline with colorful plastic clothespins.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Consider skipping the dryer and using the sun to line dry clothes. While you could use a collapsible drying rack for small loads, two posts in the ground with a vinyl-coated cord between can dry larger and more items at once. (If you use a regular rope, it could shed or hold water and rot over time.) Always wipe the cord with a clean rag before hanging a new load, just to be sure it’s clean. You’ll also need a bunch of wooden clothespins.

Mowing with a Reel Mower

A person is mowing their lawn with a reel lawn mower with grass clippings flying out of it.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Keep a lawn tidy without gas or electricity by using a reel lawn mower. These old-school push mowers are quiet, so you can mow at pretty much any time of day without disturbing neighbors. They are also lighter in weight and smaller than powered mowers, so they are easier to store. However, they are not the most effective at cutting tall grass, and from time to time you’ll need to either sharpen the blades or find a local blade sharpening service.

Hand Nail a Planter

A wooden flower planter box contains colorful flowers.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Instead of building an outdoor planter with an impact driver or attaching board and batten for a feature wall with a pneumatic nailer, reach for a hammer and nails. Old school hand nailing is a good workout and it can be a lot of fun to smash the nails into position on a rough carpentry project like a planter or framing for a backyard shed. For finish carpentry like board and batten or other trimwork, use finish nails or brads that have a slim head.