Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

I kit you not!
Putting together a beginnerís set of power tools
By MAG RUFFMAN, Special to QMI Agency

The power tools every beginner and weekend DIYer should have, according to Mag Ruffman.

I always feel happy when someone comes up to me in the hardware store and gives me a hug, usually punctuated with, ďBecause of you, I installed a new toilet!Ē

Itís not the legacy everyone would want, but to be Canadaís Most-Thanked Toilet Encourager is a position Iíve loved for the 12 years since my fix-it show A Repair to Remember first aired.

Kit for tat

With the ever-swelling ranks of new homeowners and hobby DIYers, the tool market is changing in a great way. Manufacturers now make tools to fit the hands of DIYís fastest-growing group of enthusiasts: women.

And it turns out, a lot of pros prefer the smaller, more compact power tools, which make overhead and repetitive work less annoying.

However, one area tool manufacturers have ignored an obvious need is in power tool combo kits for beginners.

Traditional combo kits offer a great price break but the wrong selection of tools for a beginner: circular saw, reciprocating saw, drill and usually an inexpensive add-on like a flashlight or radio.

The drill is an obvious necessity for a beginner, but most beginners are unfamiliar with circular saws and may even be scared of them. A reciprocating saw is a tool for demolition, used during renovation to remove doors and windows, but of little use to a weekend DIYer. And the typical add-on is really just a space filler to beef up the perceived value of the kit.

The kits are all right

So what would be in the ideal beginnerís kit?

Well, the core would be a lightweight, compact cordless drill that makes you feel so proud you sleep with it under your pillow.

The second component would be a jigsaw. Itís quiet, easy to use and cuts both curves and straight lines, giving it an edge over the circular saw in versatility, control and unthreateningness (although the cuts take longer).

The third tool would be an electric sander for refinishing (a great DIY entry point for beginners). It should be either random-orbit (a circular spinning disk that removes material very quickly) or a finish sander (a vibrating plate thatís less aggressive).

Want to throw in something extra? Okay, letís include a cordless screwdriver for small jobs, like replacing all of the screws in your switch plates after painting a room.

Smart start

Now weíve designed a fantastic kit that equips a beginner with all of the tools necessary for those first delicious years of DIY. Is there a kit like this on the market? Nope. But you can build your own.

The Smart Select line from Black & Decker aims to take all of the guesswork and beginnerís jitters out of the power tool experience.

Instead of numbered dials and gauges, Smart Select tools (cordless drill, jigsaw, sander and cordless screwdriver) have pictographic dials that help you select the best power, speed and torque settings for a job.

In the drill category you can choose from three sizes - 12V, 14V and 18V ($60-80). Instead of a numbered clutch, the chuck graphics show different-sized screws to guide your clutch selection. Higher up the dial are graphics of various drill bits, so you choose more torque for tougher jobs.

The Smart Select jigsaw ($60) has a similar graphic dial for increasing the aggressiveness (speed and orbit) of the blade depending on the material youíre cutting. It also has a holster for the included Linefinder pen, with which you draw your cut lines. When illuminated by the onboard black light, the line becomes a fluorescent cutting target thatís way easier to follow than a pencil line.

In the sander category, Smart Select offers one model with three interchangeable bases ($60): random orbit, finish and detail sander. The best thing about the sander, besides the multiple bases with graphics, is that thereís no dust, thanks to the cyclonic filter that capture dust like a mini-vac.

Finally, the cordless screwdriver ($40) is lightweight and surprisingly peppy. It has the familiar graphic dial for different screw sizes and includes a selection of driver bits.

At present, Smart Select tools are available separately. Cross your fingers that theyíll put them together sometime soon in an even more economical all-in-one BeKiSu (Beginnerís Kit Supremo).

Mag Ruffman appears weekdays on Real Life on CTS. Visit her online at

Renovation archive

What do you think is a reasonable price for a kitchen renovation?
$10, 000
$25, 000
$50, 000
$100, 000