Book recounts origins of do-it-yourself ethic Making changes at home goes back many years

Home Work

gifts for a handy person

November 29, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

IT'S 2 A.M., you're standing on a shaky ladder with a screwdriver in one hand and screws between your teeth, and you start to wonder. How did this happen? Why am I up here installing this light fixture instead of someone who knows what they're doing?

Some of the answers can be found in "Do It Yourself: Home Improvement in 20th Century America," by Carolyn M. Goldstein (Princeton Architectural Press and the National Building Museum, 1998, $17.95). The book traces the origins of these impulses on the part of ordinary people to take up tools and tackle some "home modernizing" project to the turn of the last century, when the Arts and Crafts Movement made manual labor fashionable.

Manufacturers and retailers were not slow to recognize this vast new market, and magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, House and Garden and McCalls encouraged the trend with how-to articles and pictures of wondrous transformations. (Some of these transformations would horrify us today, such as the transmogrification of a lovely four-square Craftsman house into a fake typical Colonial.)

Magazines such as Popular Mechanics and Handyman encouraged such "home improvement" projects as paneling an attic, putting tile or linoleum on floors, and painting. With the end of World War II, the portable home tool industry took off, and handymen and handywomen never looked back.

The book concludes with the rise of the historic preservation movement in the '60s, when avid do-it-yourselfers began to reclaim neglected urban neighborhoods.

The book would make a great stocking-stuffer or gift for anyone who's every whacked a thumb with a hammer or painted themselves into a corner.

That's right: It's not too soon to start thinking about gifts for the handy person around your house -- even if that's you. There's a saying among people who do a lot of sewing: "She who dies with the most fabric wins." A variation for do-it-yourselfers might be, "Whoever dies with the most tools wins."

That very funny man Tim Allen, of TV's "Home Improvement," has just introduced a line of power tools to go with his previous line of hand tools. There's nothing funny about Tim Allen's Signature Tools; Allen was an industrial designer before he became a stand-up comic.

The new line, introduced nationwide this month at Target stores, includes three cordless drills, a jigsaw, a corded rotary tool and an orbital sander.

Allen's tools are noted for being user-friendly, and he donates a portion of the proceeds to educational and charitable programs for children.

Among tool aficionados, there is a faction totally devoted to their Dremels, a rotary tool that uses various attachements to perform an astonishing variety of tasks. If you have a Dremel fan on your holiday list, you might consider the new auto/cycle detail kit, a 22-piece set that polishes chrome and removes rust spots, among other things. The kit sells for $19.99 to $23.35.

Or there's the Dremel craft kit, with 56 of the most commonly used craft bits for such projects as etching glass, drilling holes in wood or nuts, punching holes in thin aluminum, or cutting the backs off of old earrings to recycle them into another use. The craft kit sells for $14.99.

Dremels and tool kits are available at home improvement centers, hardware stores and mass merchandisers.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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