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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Best How-To and DIY Sites

Looking for answers, tips, or instructions? These Web sites have them. They can show you how to do just about anything.

Even if you never actually constructed that handsome maple spice rack, whipped up the twice-baked sweet potatoes, or painted the Canadian lake scene, there's no denying that how-to TV can be engrossing. These days, scores of Web sites aggregate both user-generated and professionally produced how-to videos and articles from across the world—your next-door neighbor just might be the next Bob Vila, Bob Ross, or Bobby Flay. Here's a look at our eight favorite how-to and DIY (do-it-yourself) Web sites.


Instructables is like a worldwide science fair. There are the offbeat projects like a K'NEX sniper rifle, and then some more practical projects like the ATX-to-DC power supply converter. The site is massive and varied, both in subject matter and instructional depth (text, photos, video, or a combination of all three). It also features an "answers" section with a forum for questions of all shapes and sizes.
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expert village

With a total 131,362 how-to videos, Expert Village is not only prolific but well organized. From guitar lessons to Google calculator tips, the site has top-notch instructional videos, which, the site points out, "are professionally created and researched." The "video series" lists are especially helpful (like "related videos" sidebars, but more specific). You can also browse videos by category and popularity, and peg your favorites on a playlist.
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Like Wikipedia, wikiHow is a collaborative project that can be written and edited by anybody. Pessimists might turn their noses up at a boundless how-to manual, but the 55,506 thorough articles speak for themselves. wikiHow is more text-heavy than a lot of DIY sites, but the format and quality of the entries are consistent, with neatly partitioned sections for steps, warnings, things you'll need, and so forth.
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Howcast just might be the future of online how-tos. The site has plenty of community DIY videos, but the impressive pieces are those produced by Howcast Studios and Emerging Filmmaker, of which there is a surprising plenitude. These videos feature labeled jump dots on the duration bar so you can skip right to "Step 3" if you feel like it. There are warning, fact, and tip dots as well. You can also print off an accompanying "Easy Steps" page with condensed instructions and thumbnails.
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The "Life Videopedia" features tens of thousands of instructional videos spanning arts, video games, parenting, and everything in between. Despite the "5min" moniker, the videos vary in duration (and include a 15-second ad per video). Everything plays through 5min's Smart Player, which can directly post to 24 different social sites. You can also use its customizable VideoSeed to seed relevant videos to your own blog or site.
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Culling from over 1,700 Web sites, WonderHowTo has gathered a whopping 225,000 videos so far through human- and auto-selection. On the one hand, you've got a mammoth collection to peruse, but on the other, there are a few duds floating around. In any event, the site is neat and tidy, so the occasional overabundance of videos and their differing media players should not be an obstacle in your pursuit of mastering any given subject.
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The days of hopelessly wandering the Home Depot aisles without a clue are over. is an invaluable resource for home improvement and repair, with thousands of DIY articles with comprehensive steps, schematics, and some videos. You can also chat with savvy homeowners on the forum, shop for materials (the site provides dealer locations), and get free contractor estimates for your more unwieldy projects.
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eHow's database houses over 500,000 articles and videos. The site is clean and consistent throughout, with concise, numbered steps and a difficulty rating so you know what you're getting yourself into. Self-described as "How To Do Just About Everything," it's got articles for anything from "How to Question Witnesses in a Custody Case" to "How to Win Every Time in Monopoly." You can also contribute by submitting your own video or article.
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How-to tip:
There are plenty of smaller niche sites, such as, so do some digging if you have specific themes in mind. Searching "DIY" and "how-to" on larger sites—say, YouTube, Metacafe—will produce some good options, as well (Kip Kedersha, or user Kipkay, has quite a tech/prank-DIY following on YouTube, for example).