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Women armed with power tools take on DIY projects in growing numbers

| Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, 9:16 p.m.
Michael McParlane
Female fixers Illustration by Michael McParlane
Home Depot employee Jackie Mitchell demonstrates a drill to Sara Gardner (center) and Barb Carpenter in West Mifflin Thursday, January 2, 2013. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Sara Gardner tries out a multi-tool at Home Depot in West Mifflin Thursday, January 2, 2013. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Sara Gardner tries out a multi-tool at Home Depot in West Mifflin Thursday, January 2, 2013. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Sara Gardner tries out a multi-tool at Home Depot in West Mifflin Thursday, January 2, 2013. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Home Depot employee Jackie Mitchell tries out a multi-drill in West Mifflin Thursday, January 2, 2013. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Sara Gardner tries out a multi-tool at Home Depot in West Mifflin Thursday, January 2, 2013. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Sara Gardner tries out a drill at Home Depot in West Mifflin Thursday, January 2, 2013. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

Sara Gardner of Cranberry bends over a plank and concentrates as she uses an electric multitool to chip away at the wood.

Through her safety goggles, she checks out the crevices she quickly and effortlessly made with the power tool, which she was trying out at a Home Depot.

“That's pretty neat,” says Gardner, 27. Her husband gave her a pink tool bag for Christmas, but there's no need to be distinctly girlie with Gardner. She is a handy woman who likes her power tools as much as the man of the house.

“We kind of cross function with the tools,” she says.

Power tools, once tagged exclusively for men's work, are drawing more and more female buyers and users, industry observers say. Many women, just like their male counterparts, love and swear by their power tools, and the do-it-yourself projects they can complete with the tools.

Because so many women are home-owners today — there are nearly twice as many single-female home buyers as single-male buyers, according to 2011 data from the National Association of Realtors — it's no wonder that many are tackling household projects themselves, say Rob Marguriet and Kevin Siedl of The Home Depot in West Mifflin, where about half of the employees in the tools and hardware department are female.

Today's power tools — electric drills, screwdrivers and saws — are more user-friendly, lighter in weight, stronger and longer-lasting, Siedl and Marguriet say.

Many female customers will watch a how-to YouTube video for a project, then come in to the store to buy the tools after trying them out at demo stations and realizing they aren't as scary as they thought, says Siedl, the store manager. The women come alone, or with their husbands and/or kids, or maybe a female friend.

“They're just becoming much more educated and less intimidated by it,” Siedl says.

Hanna Rosin — author of “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women” — says that women's increasing interest in power tools reflects their increasing self-reliance in society.

“A lot more women are homeowners,” says Rosen, co-founder of Slate's Double X blog. “With a lot of single women, the reliance on a man to fix the broken sink is a lot less obvious than it was.”

Calling a professional to fix household problems can cost a lot of money, and for homeowners — male or female — learning how to fix things themselves makes good financial sense, Rosin says. Also, cultural trends have led to growing acceptance of women doing aggressive, physical activities, like playing sports, Rosin says.

Do-it-yourself projects have a gender-neutral feel to them, she says; think of Martha Stewart, the female face of DIY household projects.

Jackie Mitchell, head of the tools and hardware department at the West Mifflin Home Depot, says she sees a lot of single moms shopping for power tools — and she is one of them.

“I can't afford to hire somebody” to work on the house, Mitchell says. “A lot of stuff that needs done around the house is small.”

Do-it-yourself projects are not only inexpensive, but gratifying, she says.

Female power-tool enthusiasts don't fit any stereotype, say Mitchell and Rosin. They could be tough, muscular and jeans-clad, or they could be soccer moms in a skirt.

Some handywomen just do their own jobs around the house, but others have made a career out of it. Corri Pranevich — a Finleyville handywoman who calls her business “Fixin' Vixen” — works mainly as a concrete contractor, but does a lot of fix-it jobs, especially during the winter. Pranevich enjoys doing projects with power tools around her own house.

“If there's a tool that Home Depot has, I probably have it,” says Pranevich, 39, who is the fourth-generation concrete worker in her family. “You name it: drills, drill drivers, impact guns, jackhammer.”

The tools aren't scary to Pranevich, but some of the bigger ones — like a brick cutoff saw or table saw — are “downright dangerous,” so you have to know what you're doing.

“You've got to have a clear head,” she says.

Pranevich sometimes amazes observers, who may not be used to seeing a woman do the heavy-labor tasks.

“It's pretty common now for women to be carpenters and know their way around certain things,” she says. “When I'm on a machine, they say, ‘Wow, you know what you're doing.

“I think it's become more acceptable,” she says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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