Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Vogue: Women Manning the Toolbox

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Vogue: Women Manning the Toolbox

Article excerpt

When Karen Dale Dustman says she gets a "little charge" every time she installs a new light switch, she's talking about exhilaration, not electrocution.

The author of "The Woman's Fix-It Book: Incredibly Simple Weekend Projects & Everyday Home Repair" (Chandler House Press), Ms. Dustman grew up in a home where the family tool kit consisted of a hammer and a couple of screwdrivers.

"For anyone to pick up one of those tools was kind of a major event," she relates. Dustman shares this to explain a sea change she and other women are experiencing as they head to home-improvement stores, not simply in search of thumb tacks and shelf paper, but hammers, insulation, and lumber. Call it empowerment via power tools. Or by pliers, since in Dustman's book - designed to appeal to women with a glossary, less technical drawings, and scattered tips and cautions - the emphasis is on imparting basic skills, such as replacing washers, not whole new faucets. For the book's second and third printings, a starburst on the cover states, "Easy to use for men too." Targeting female readers, though, makes increasingly good sense. The National Retail Hardware Association reports that nearly half of home-improvement purchases are made by women. In an Owens Corning company survey, almost 75 percent of the women said they are as good as men at home improvements. Dustman says her own conversion to competent tool wielder was a matter of necessity. During the 1980s she owned run-down rental properties in Los Angeles. A lawyer by day, she got a crash course in home repairs at night and on weekends by talking with trade professionals and watching over a friend's shoulder. Despite obtuse technical drawings found in construction tomes, she discovered that household repairs aren't rocket science. "You needn't have learned any of it at your father's - or mother's knee," she concluded. …

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