Mike Rowe on His DIY Skills: ‘I’m Really Not Handy’

Family Handyman recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of our favorite proponents of hard work and handiness, Mike Rowe.

Mike Rowe is a very cool guy. He’s affable, unpretentious and legitimately funny.

He spent nine years getting down and (ahem) dirty in 300 of the most inconceivable work environments in the world as host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs. And he spent the last few years exploring the motivations and missions of people passionately drawn to their work as host of TBN’s Somebody’s Gotta Do It.

As the unofficial ambassador of DIY Nation, Mike Rowe is a lot of things. Surprisingly, handy isn’t one of them.

“People see me doing things that look a lot like work and therefore assume I am some sort of expert … dare I say, a family handyman,” Rowe said with a laugh during a recent interview with Family Handyman associate editor Mike Berner.

“I’m really not [handy],” Rowe continued. “I’m a perpetual apprentice. I try anything I can, and I’m usually working alongside an expert. Over time, people see that dynamic and assume I’m much smarter and, in fact, way more talented than I am.”

Growing Up Hopefully Handy

Rowe says he’s not “completely incompetent” at DIY projects. But he does think the DIY gene is a recessive one that unfortunately skipped him.

“My grandfather could build a house without a blueprint,” Rowe said. “He only went to school until the seventh grade, but by the time he was 30 he was a master electrician, steamfitter, pipe fitter, architect and all these things.”

Rowe wanted very much to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, but he accepts that he got dealt a different set of cards than some other men in his family. He says working as a tradesperson in the traditional sense never came easy to him, and his dissatisfaction turned into frustration and disillusionment.

“It was my pop who ultimately said, ‘Look, you can be a tradesman, just get a different toolbox.’ So I got into the entertainment business,” Rowe said. “But I tried to approach my vocation the way [my grandfather] approached his — project-based and skills-based.”

The Importance of Self Awareness

Despite a rocky relationship with DIY, Rowe recognizes the importance of people trying new things, working hard and accomplishing what they set out to do. He appreciates the army of DIYers out there willing to “roll up their sleeves and do it themselves,” and he extols the skilled experts who build and repair our homes and workplaces.

“I’m always interested in the space between the aspiring expert and the actual expert,” Rowe said. “When do you actually run the electric wiring into your own house? How up to speed do you need to be before you start handling electricity? In my view, pretty up to speed.”

Expert craftsperson or lifelong DIYer, Rowe says there’s a place for everyone.

“It’s not like I chose not to be handy, but once I learned enough to understand my limitations, I didn’t pretend to be something I wasn’t,” he said. “Figuring out who you are, with regard to your own expertise, is an important life lesson and an important lesson in your industry.”