Trick of the Trade: Applying Teflon Tape There is a reason that “non-handy” people sometimes struggle so awkwardly with mechanical tasks. It’s because there is an entire playbook of simple, untold habits that so-called “handy” people have picked up. People like carpenters, plumbers, handymen, electricians, auto body workers, welding technicians – people who work with…
There is a reason that “non-handy” people sometimes struggle so awkwardly with mechanical tasks. It’s because there is an entire playbook of simple, untold habits that so-called “handy” people have picked up. People like carpenters, plumbers, handymen, electricians, auto body workers, welding technicians – people who work with their hands for a living (or a hobby!). If you tinker with things enough, especially from a young age, you get a feel for how to do things that it’s hard to learn any other way.
This leads to a communication impasse at times. A mechanically-minded person will delegate what they consider a straightforward task. But there are two problems – one, the engineering mindset may have left out some logical steps along the way, and expect you to fill in the gaps. For instance, “Go plug in an extension cord for me.” What you discover is that a) the extension cord lying right there is too short, and you will need to go get the other longer one from the garage. Second, there are no plugs nearby so you will have to run it through the window. And third, the breaker is tripped, so you will need to reset the switch in order for the power plug to work.
The second problem with delegating is that even AFTER the task is done, the handy person may come back and determine it has been done incorrectly. Yes, you may have attached the extension cord, but did you knot the two cords together so that, if pulled, they won’t dettach?
No? Then you did it incorrectly. Because the handy person doing the delegating may not specify all the untold habits that may come into play. I can remember clearly in my own household, “But you didn’t SAY that,” my mother will cry frustratedly.
These little tricks of the trade are also why experienced mechanics or carpenters or construction workers can almost instantly spot a novice’s work: the little things are off.
So, in this spirit, I’d like to share a few useful tricks, although I can’t take any credit for them: I’ve learned them from the mechanics in my own life. Today, how to apply Teflon tape.
Teflon tape is applied to threaded fittings so that liquid or air does not leak out of the threads. It’s a white tape, simply wrapped around the fitting. Not hard, right?
Teflon tape and fitting
But there’s a trick. You want to wrap that tape so that when you screw in the fitting, the tape doesn’t UN-wrap itself. Think about it: if you screw in a fitting “righty tighty, lefty loosey” you want the tape to be wrapped in the same direction so that it tightens on the threads as you tighten the fitting.
But it’s hard to think in three dimensions like that while you are standing there with a roll in your hand. So I learned to do it the same way every time. I’m left handed, so I hold the fitting in my left hand, threads out, thumb on top.
Hold fitting in left hand, threads out, thumb on top
Hold Teflon tape in right hand, twist fitting to the left as you wrap the tape.
Start tape holding in right hand, end under left thumb
Twist fitting to the right as you unroll tape
Following that procedure, the tape comes out wrapped the correct way every time. If you are right handed, adjust to make it work for you. You can use trial and error to figure it out the first time, since no matter what configuration you hold things, in the end your only two end results are tape wrapped counter- or clock-wise. The key is, once you find a way that works, stick with it!