From the archives


You can fix anything with duct tape . . .

My dad was a jury-rigging genius. (joor'-ē-rĭg v. to creatively solve a problem using unconventional means or methods. Not to be confused with rigging a jury.)

The body of our 1957 Chevy was held together with pop rivets and coffee cans. Most of the hoses on the car were wrapped in duct tape to seal leaks. And on a trip, he fixed a broken fan belt with a pair of Mom's pantyhose.

He built my brother and me a really cool go-cart from the dump and the scrap bin at Kelloggs. (I miss dumps! Before landfills covered everything with a foot of dirt each night, you could go to the dump and find all kinds of stuff to drag home and use to create go-carts, robots, nuclear reactors--all kinds of things.)

Give Dad a roll of duct tape, some baling wire and Vise-Grips and he could fix anything.

Duct tape

Currently, there's a roll of duct tape in our laundry room as a lint remover. One of the vertical blinds panel is held on with duct tape. And the previous owners of our house fixed a leaking window on the sun porch with the great gray tape. (It seems to be working fine, so there's no real incentive to replace the window.)

I carry a roll in my luggage for not only lint, but pant hems that tear loose, sealing boxes of books for sale, and podiums that don't have a good ledge for my notes (duct tape a pencil horizontally to the top of the podium and you have your notes at just the right eye level).


For years we used Vise-Grips to turn the knob on our washing machine. (Actually, the knob was long gone, so we turned the stem with this versatile tool.)

Right now one is clamped on the track of our garage door since the opener is broken, so this keeps the door from opening form the outside.

Baling wire

The entire exhaust system on that '57 Chevy was held in place with baling wire.

Currently, it's keeping a swag lamp at just the right height above the dining room table,

I'm glad my Dad taught me the fine art of jury-rigging.

While traveling in our motor home back in the 70's, the defrosters went out during a sleet storm. Having been inspired by Apollo 13's jury-rigging crew, I duct-taped the sewage hose onto one of the furnace vents and created a super-charged windshield defroster. (Okay, the smell wasnt exactly spring-time fresh, but the windshield was defrosted almost instantly.)

Just this week I attempted the simple task (watch out for that phrase) of installing track lighting in my office. I usually figure how long a project will take by making an initial estimate, then multiplying by three. It looked like a three-hour project and sure enough, NINE hours and two trips to Home Depot later, it was installed.

The roof has an extremely low slope, so I couldn't work on it from the attic, so had to feed the wiring from below over into the middle of the attic with a coat hanger. There were no easily accessible junction boxes, so I replaced an outlet near the attic stairs with a plate for outdoor lighting and some electrical fasteners. I didn't want to mess with feeding wire for the switch down through the hall, so simply fed the wire through the wall into a closet and up into the attic.

(Housing inspector, please note I used number-12 wire and everything is safely in junction boxes with wires secure with plastic nuts and electrical tape. My Dad also taught me to jury-rig not only creatively, but safely.)

Unfortunately with everything becoming computerized, jury-rigging could become a lost art. For instance, I can't find a file that I know is in my laptop. Duct tape and baling wire probably won't solve the problem, but I'm tempted to reconfigure its hard drive with a good whack with the Vise-Grips.

© 2005 James N. Watkins

Note: You say "jury" I say "gerry." I originally used the word "gerry-rigging" in this column until alert reader Ryan Long pointed out that the correct word is "jury-rig tr.v. jury-rigged, jury-rigging, jury-rigs To rig or assemble for temporary emergency use; improvise: The survivors of the wreck jury-rigged some fishing gear" (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition). Another alert reader, MaryLou Redding pointed out that "gerry-rig" was an insulting term used in World War II concerning the fleeing Germans who kept their broken down tanks moving by improvising repair parts. Another reader thanked me for not using "[rhymes with 'rigger']-rigged" which is a racial slur. Finally, one reader thought I should use "jerry-built" which is " a structure built of inferior and inexpensive materials; poorly built." Nope, I meant "jury-rigged."

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