Women are learning tool talk

Not every woman longs to speed-drill pilot holes or guide a powerful circular saw the length of a plywood panel. But the evidence is growing that women are more interested in using power tools than ever before.

Although the development of women-friendly power tools is still "spotty," according to Nikki Krueger of Roto Zip Tool Corp. in Wisconsin, women already tackle more home-improvement projects than men.

Mandy Holton, a spokesperson for Home Depot, says the chain has noticed a rise in the number of women do-it-yourselfers cruising their stores.

While some come in with husbands, many have their own projects and others are single women looking for maintenance and repair advice.

In fact, single women constitute the fastest-growing segment of the home-buying market, and like most homeowners, they know that being handy is a way to save money.

"They want the real deal in tools," Ms. Holton says of female buyers. That translates to the same high quality as tools preferred by males, with maybe a bit more attention to ergonomics.

Interestingly, manufacturers are discovering that ergonomic design appeals to men, too. As a result, companies such as Black & Decker and Porter-Cable have focused on good gender-neutral tool designs, not pink-is-for-women gimmicks.

Daily Gist, an industrial designer at Porter-Cable in Tennessee, says that lightweight, portable tools have a natural appeal for lots of do-it-yourselfers.

Manufacturers and home stores are finding that tools with smaller handles that are more easily gripped by women and that may be operated intuitively are especially appealing to female buyers, who often are power-tool novices.

Roto Zip has discovered that the design of its spiral saws appeals to women. "They're less intimidating because there's no blade," Ms. Krueger explains. A bit replaces sawteeth.

The most popular power tools among women are cordless screwdrivers and drills, which are good introductory tools to build confidence because they handle familiar jobs with modest power.

Home Depot and other stores encourage female do-it-yourselfers by holding classes especially for them.

Having watched HGTV, surfed the Internet, and read the home and garden magazines, women enter stores already armed with a solid foundation of how-to knowledge, Holton says.

"Once you teach them how to repair a light fixture, and they get that first project under their belts," she observes, "they're ready to move to the next skill level."

And possibly another power tool.

One company looking to tap into this market is Tomboy Tools, a Denver-based online store targeted at female customers. The company sells hand tools at Tupperwarelike home parties, but it is also looking to expand into power tools.

One thing that stays the same, whether males or females are buying the power tools – both sexes are more interested in getting down to work than studying owner's manuals.

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