By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Apr 02, 2008 at 9:04 AM

The mechanically-inclined among you may commence laughing, but I'm laying it out on the blogging table as an admission of my home-repair haplessness -- and how I ultimately triumphed against something that shouldn't have been too tough in the first place.

Over the years, I've changed more locks than one would think is reasonable. From new door handles to replacing broken deadbolts, I must've changed a dozen or so in my six years of homeownership, three years of cabin ownership and one regrettable year as a landlord.

So by now, you think I'd be pretty good at swapping out locks. And, when the door has been properly drilled, I'm not bad at it.

This weekend, however, brought a new challenge I feared would be both time-consuming and frustrating, and sure enough, it was: I set upon the task of not only installing a new deadbolt, but drilling out the back door to accommodate it.

See, the old lock had stopped working, as it was this unusual latch-style thingie that looked like it was designed for prisons. I'd been hankering for some sort of keyless alternative for a while now, and figured now was the time. The only problem was that a modern deadbolt wouldn't fit into this cockamamie pre-drilled hole in the door jamb, so I bought a lock drilling kit Sunday afternoon and got to work.

The first half wasn't rocket science. Just a lot of clamping and drilling. Creating the hole in the jamb, however, involved precision measuring and chiseling -- two skills I don't excel at. It took about two hours and lots of sawdust to get it right.

Installing the fancy, electronic deadbolt should've been easy, but something seemed wrong as soon as I opened the package. It looked as if it had been returned once, and even after following the directions to the tee, the bolt would only turn if the key was in the door. But at 8 p.m., five hours after I began the project, I threw in the towel and packed up the defective lock to return it Monday.

Yesterday, I brought the deadbolt to Home Depot and began to exchange it for the only other $100 keyless deadbolt they had. But even the customer service clerk noted that this one had been visibly worked over, and asked if there were any other models I'd consider.

I told her there was a nicer one available, but it cost an additional $40. She told me she'd match the price of the less expensive one to keep my business. Stunned, I thanked her profusely and headed back home.

This time, I installed the lock almost effortlessly. Within an hour, I was opening and closing the door, sans keys. My wife knew I was done when I ran through the house, singing, "We Are the Champions." Neither Velia nor the dog seemed impressed, but I felt great.

Drilling and changing a deadbolt is not exactly like wiring a hot tub or building a garage. But with each of these experiments, I learn to control a little more of my domain. These projects aren't fun, but they prove that slowing down, reading the directions and keeping a level head is the key (pun intended) to home improvement.

Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.