If someone has made a product that is freely available to you and will work better than any tool you plan on building, then go get that product and learn how to use it. Save yourself the time of reconstructing everything again – it’s usually not worth the hassle.
If you’re looking to understand how something works, digging through the manual is a good place to start before you take anything apart. Taking something apart is a great way of learning how something works, if you’re careful and study each piece. Know how you took it apart and where all of the pieces go so you can put it back together again. Try to follow the train of logic for putting things together.
There is no better way of understanding best how something works than trying to make it yourself. After all, necessity is the mother of invention, and creativity improves construction. When you need something, you’ll know what it is for.
When you try to build something yourself, look for the tools to do it. It’s usually very time consuming if not difficult to build a tool, whereas learning how to use someone else’s tool has the advantage of ensuring that if something isn’t working, it’s probably because you’re not using the tool correctly and not that the tool was constructed poorly, although these days the latter can still be very common depending on what tool you are using. Sometimes constructing a tool yourself will ensure the tool is exactly how you want it to work, and if you are capable of doing that, then go for it. Just remember that building the tool may be a very time consuming process, and you should consider how often you will use this tool and how much easier it will actually make the job.
Know your tools and know how to use them! Sometimes you will have more tools than you will ever be able to use, but at least try to get a general idea of what does what. That way, when the necessity for such a tool arises, you at least have a plausible option.
Build with the future in mind. If something isn’t going to be important in the future, why put in the effort? If you aren’t going to use a product or a tool more than once, weigh the effort of constructing it versus the ease of outcome. Furthermore, consider how you are going to use the product or tool in the future. If something will be difficult to use or hard to adapt to scenarios, you might need to redesign it. Granted, certain custom jobs sometimes require a specialized solution, but try to design this solution in such a way that it is possible (and hopefully easy) for you to put together using the tools and techniques you have.
Design and follow the blueprints/process. Designing blueprints/process just means coming up with a plan that lays out what you are going to do and contains implications for how you are to do it – it can mean actual blueprints and drawings; methods and techniques for construction; and step by step procedures. Many projects are completed best when you have these blueprints written or designed before you begin construction, though sometimes this isn’t always possible. Nevertheless, try to keep things according to the blueprints. Deviating from your blueprints will often lead to more work with unsatisfactory results.
Learn from the experts. Books can have really good advice, but if you don’t want to commit to reading a book, then look on the internet. Browse forums – many people have already asked the same questions you have and found answers. Note, you need to ask the right questions and sometimes the first answer you find isn’t the best one. To ask the right questions, familiarize yourself with the lingo. You know the project, so look it up and browse around to find keywords and phrases that look important or pop up here and there. When you find these keywords and phrases, look them up. This will lead to more keywords, which you should also look up. Scan articles for tidbits of information that may be useful in identifying what something is and how it may be helpful in your project. Item not helpful? – Move on.
One last thing: if you want to put your name on something, put in the effort and make the time commitment to do it right. Doing this gives you a good name and people will go back to you for service. If this is just a personal project, you’ll thank yourself later when you can look back on it with pride and it doesn’t break or look sloppy.