Learning Guides

With so many electric appliances these days, it's a wonder what we ever did before coffeemakers and toasters? And while variety is the spice of life, electric appliances come in many different shapes and sizes to perform many different functions. This section will help to simplify all the different electric appliances so that you can find the one that most suits your needs.

But while these houseware items certainly make life easier, they should not be used haphazardly. By following just a few safety tips like not yanking on the cord to disconnect a plug from a socket, replacing worn and damaged cords and turning off an appliance before unplugging it, accidents in the home can be avoided.

Since quality is important, many manufacturers are putting an increased focus on professional tool grades. There are many factors that separate high-quality hand tools from their inexpensive counterparts. The materials used to construct a tool, the manufacturing process, the engineering of the tool and the tool's comfort and ease of use all play a big part in the quality of the final product.

Product quality goes hand in hand with safety. Many tools, when used improperly, can pose a serious risk of injury to the user or others in close proximity. Videos, booklets and charts that teach hand tool safety are available through the Hand Tools Institute, (914) 332-0040.Tool advancements continue to focus on ergonomics. Some manufacturers have developed hand tools specifically designed to meet the needs of seniors and female DIYers.

Heat must be generated from a fuel source-coal, wood, electricity, gas, etc. It must then be transferred to the objects or areas to be heated. This happens in a combination of three ways, with one predominating.Conduction heat moves from warmer to cooler areas through another material, such as glass or metal. Convection heat moves as part of another substance, such as air or water. Radiation energy is collected and emitted as heat from one surface to be absorbed by another, such as from a hot stove surface to a human being.

Cooling a home involves drawing warm air outside and dissipating it. Many consumers purchase alternate heating appliances-including wood-burning stoves, kerosene heaters and electric space heaters-to supplement their central heating system. Homeowners may also use zone heating, in which unused portions of the home are shut off and only the spaces in use are heated.

Depending on climate and energy costs for the central system, many homeowners have found that alternate heating methods do provide substantial savings on their energy costs.

Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are common alternate heat sources, but their energy efficiency must be considered. Energy efficiency is defined as the percentage of energy generated by a heat source that is converted into usable heat.According to The Wood-burners Encyclopedia, stoves average 40-65 percent energy efficiency. Standard masonry fireplaces average 5 to 15 percent energy efficiency when burning, and -5- (a 5 percent heat loss)10 percent energy efficiency if the fire is dying out and the damper is open.

More recent developments in fireplace construction are improving these energy efficiency ratings. In addition, there are heat-recovery items such as heat extractors, heat exchangers and glass enclosures that aid energy efficiency.

Likewise, in the summer, consumers buy alternate cooling methods such as floor and window fans, ventilators and attic fans to supplement or reduce the burden on central air conditioning.

This section provides a foundation for understanding important, life-saving products such as smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors. Choosing the right types and amounts of alarms and extinguishers will help keep your loved ones and home safe. Rely on manufacture literature to learn the specifics of products.

Equally important are the types of locks chosen for your home. Whether you select a deadbolt, bored lockset, keyed lockset or nightlatch, this section will help you understand the difference between different types of locks and allow you to make the most informed decision for your home.

Lawn and garden chemicals raise special concerns. While the active ingredients remain the same in many cases, new pesticides are available that are faster acting and easier to apply. Make sure to follow proper instructions on how to safely apply, use and dispose of fertilizers and pesticides. Also be familiar with state and local regulations regarding lawn and garden chemicals.

The backyard has turned into American homeowners'newest showcase. People are building huge decks and patios and adding a decorator's touch to the landscaping. Benches, trellises, sundials, birdbaths and lawn art are used to supplement the flowers and plants, as the backyard beautification trend picks up steam. For many people, the backyard is their retreat from the hectic pace of everyday life.

Mulch is now viewed as both a decorative and functional product, with a wide variety of options now available for homeowners looking to make statement with their landscaping.

While lawn maintenance is often viewed as a chore, gardening has long been one of the most popular hobbies in America. In addition to an interest in European-style gardening, more people are taking part in organic gardening, growing herb gardens, composting and augmenting their landscaping with water ponds.

With so many electric appliances these days, it's a wonder what we ever did before coffeemakers and toasters? And while variety is the spice of life, electric appliances come in many different shapes and sizes to perform many different functions. This section will help to simplify all the different electric appliances so that you can find the one that most suits your needs.

But while these houseware items certainly make life easier, they should not be used haphazardly. By following just a few safety tips like not yanking on the cord to disconnect a plug from a socket, replacing worn and damaged cords and turning off an appliance before unplugging it, accidents in the home can be avoided.

As the weather turns warmer, most people's thoughts turn to the outside. Picnics, barbeques, camping and swimming are a summer past time. But with all the outdoor fun comes the outdoor work - mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, landscaping, etc. This section focuses on all the equipment you will need for your outdoor lifestyle to help you cut down on the work time so you'll have more time to enjoy the great outdoors.


Power sources for lawn and garden equipment fall into three categories: gasoline engines, electric motors and battery-powered electric motors.For smaller equipment, the convenience of cordless operation is a major feature. Not only has extended battery life contributed to the popularity of cordless tools, but lightweight gasoline engines on products such as string trimmers allow users to move about freely without the fear of cutting an electrical cord.Starting cordless units powered by electrical motors is easy, and battery charges will usually last through most typical yard jobs. The unit can be recharged between jobs. Increasingly, electric motors are being used in a wide range of outdoor power equipment and starter motor applications.Larger power equipment is primarily gasoline powered.


Recoil starters are most widely used, but battery-powered starters have grown in use over the years.The batteries for electric starters can be recharged either with chargers that connect to electrical wall outlets or with electrical chargers built into the engine, which recharge the battery while the engine is operating.Battery voltage may be 6V or 12V, and the number of starts possible depends on the battery amperage rating and the output of the engine charger.The convenience and reliability of electric starters are features. Electric starters may add $50 or more to the retail selling price of a walk-behind mower and as much as $150 to the price of a tractor.


Gasoline engines are available in two- and four-stroke cycle constructions. The four operating functions are intake, compression, power and exhaust stroke.In two-cycle engines, compression and power are combined in one cycle, and exhaust and intake are the second cycle.A four-cycle engine uses valves and a two-cycle engine utilizes intake and exhaust ports.Lubrication for two-stroke cycle engines comes from the oil being mixed with the gasoline. The four-stroke cycle uses a reservoir.Two-cycles are easy to start, but speed regulation is usually limited. Some models have fuel primers for easier starting.


Failure to use the correct plug, or substitution, could result in poor performance or engine failure.Engine manufacturers specify spark plugs for specific requirements and best performance. Some of the considerations made in specifying spark plugs include heat range, size, sealing features, materials, depth projection (position of electrode) in the cylinder head and electrode shape/design.Original equipment manufacturers can supply data on the specific plug needed for individual power equipment engines. Manufacturer representatives can also supply information such as charts and brochures on use and interchangeability.

Decorative finishing is growing in popularity as more and more people are becoming interested in a wide range of products such as faux finishing and stenciling. This section helps to decipher all the different paint and decorating products whether it be caulk, spray paint, wood stain, etc.

Always be sure to check your state and local regulations when dealing with paint and use the up-most care when dealing with lead-based paint and solvents.

Plumbing supplies have certainly evolved with the times and no longer follow the concept of "form follows function". As a result, do-it-yourselfers can have everything from plumbing products that emphasize fashion styles to the tools and parts needed to install them.

Safety features are another important part of plumbing. Anti-scald faucets and grab bars help to prevent accidents in the home, while water-saving devices are beneficial to the environment.

Though most consumers are hesitant to tackle plumbing projects, this section will provide information on the right tools, materials and project knowledge to turn any do-it-yourselfer into an amateur plumber. Just be sure to follow your community's local plumbing codes before starting any projects.

When tackling your household to-do list, most projects can be done using simple hand held tools. But for many DIYers, often simply swinging a hammer won't cut it. Adding a few power tools to your collection will help speed up any home project, from hanging a shelf or some blinds to repairing a hole in your drywall.

Power tools are typically classified as portable or stationary and can be used for drilling, cutting, sanding, grinding and much more. Portable power tools are extremely versatile and can be used for a wide range of household tasks. Stationary power tools supply more power than their portable counterparts and are used for more substantial home improvement projects such has framing a room or building a deck.

There are many options to choose from when adding power tools to your home workshop. Here we will take a look at some of the more common types:

Common Power Tools


Power drills are a fundamental part of a toolkit for use in any apartment, home or job site. One of the most frequently purchased power tools, a good drill can be used for a variety of projects both big and small. When choosing a power drill, you will have two options:

  • Cordless drills : These are battery powered and a popular choice because they are easy to use, portable, and extremely versatile. When choosing a cordless drill, consider a variable speed drill which gives the operator control over the bit speed. This allows for use on a variety of materials including wood, metal and masonry.
  • Corded drills : This type of drill is more powerful than its cordless counterpart and can be used for a variety of heavier drilling tasks including concrete drilling and even paint mixing. Because they need to be plugged in, electric drills are great for use in home workshops and eliminate having to wait for a battery charge. Since electric drill power is measured in amperage, make sure the drill has enough amps to meet your needs.

In order to get the maximum use out of you drill you need to use the right drill bits. Drill bits are available for just about every occasion. Whether you are drilling through steel or soft wood, choosing the correct bit will make any drilling task easier.

Impact Wrenches and Drivers

When tackling automotive repairs in your garage, impact wrenches can be used for tightening and loosening bolts on car tires. Impact wrenches are considered "high-torque" power tools and are essential for removing "cemented" on or corroded vehicle and motorcycle tires or bolts. Impact drivers give you that extra force needed to drive a fastener into a hard surface. Impact wrenches and drivers come in both cordless and corded models. Similar to drills, the cordless impact wrench is popular due to its portability, while the corded version tends to add more power thanks to the constant power supply.


Another helpful tool for your collection is the power grinder. Available with a variety of accessories, angle grinders can be used to cut through steel, remove rust, and even polish or buff your car. A hand grinder can be used to remove paint from an old door or cut tile for your bathroom. The options for your grinder usage are endless!

Accessorizing your angle grinder with different types of grinding wheels makes it a versatile tool. Using a sanding wheel, the grinder is a powerful sanding machine for serious material removal. A masonry grinding wheel will easily cut through stone and concrete, while a metal grinding wheel will make weld seams flat and smooth in no time. This tool is great for cutting, shaping, grinding, and sharpening all materials from concrete to metal.


Power saws take all the effort out of cutting wood and other materials, and, when used correctly, they can be safer than hand held saws. Power saws can make a large job more manageable and will help you get your job done quickly and efficiently. Since there are several power saws to choose from, let's focus on some of the more common models:

  • Circular Saws : These saws are one of the most popular power saws on the market. They feature a powerful circular blade used mostly for cutting wood. A circular saw can make many types of cuts such as crosscuts, rip cuts and bevels.
  • Reciprocating Saws : A great choice for demolition, reciprocating saws can saw through most any material. Used primarily for rough cuts, their powerful blade is perfect for easily cutting through plaster, drywall, metal and other surfaces. Consider a cordless reciprocating saw if you need more maneuverability. Add different attachments/blades to buff, scrape, brush, cut and file the material you are working with.
  • Jigsaws : With a jigsaw you will be making precise straight and curved cuts. A bit of finesse is required when using a jigsaw to make intricate cuts through wood, soft metals, tile and stone. While a corded jigsaw offers more power, a cordless jigsaw allows for portability.
  • Table Saws : When you need to cut larger pieces (and amounts) of wood, look no further than a table saw. Because their blades are adjustable, table saws work well for precisely cutting plywood sheets and different sizes of lumber. Consider using a saw guide to ensure cuts are to your exact measurements.

A router is used to hollow out, shape or "route", an area in a piece of wood. Routers are commonly used by woodworkers for cabinetry and other custom furniture. Available in both handheld and table top models, routers use a variety of router bits and attachments to hollow and shape wood to create beautiful patterns and edges.


A sander is an essential part of any woodworking shop. Sanders offer a flawless finish to your woodworking projects in a fraction of the time it would take using a hand sander. There are a variety of different sanders available that are appropriate for various tasks. Here are some of the more common types:

  • Belt Sanders : A belt sander uses a continuous loop of sandpaper to easily smooth rough spots or remove paint from old wood. Belt sanders tend to move pretty quickly, so choose one with a variable speed switch to have better control over your sander. These are designed for fast material removal.
  • Orbital Sanders : An orbital sander is a hand-held sander that works great for sanding right to the edge of a surface. Orbital sanders can be either round or square. Another category of orbital sander, the random orbital sander, sands in a completely random orbit leaving behind a smoother finish. These sanders spin at speeds of up to 25,000 rotations-per-minute (RPMs) and are used for larger areas.
  • Detail Sanders : A detail sander is designed for fine sanding and getting into tight areas. It uses triangular-shaped sand paper to help the operator maneuver into compact spaces with ease.

A planer is used to level a piece of wood by shaving layers off of its surface. A portable planer is great for smaller jobs and produces smooth cuts. Planers with a depth stop give you the ability to choose how thick your layers will be cut. Look for planers with a dust bag to contain any spun off debris.

Multi-Tool Kits/Oscillating Tools

A multi-tool kit can include two or more of these common power tools in one kit. There are also several oscillating toolkits on the market that streamline usage through a single tool with multiple attachments. These interchangeable attachments are typically used for scraping, sanding and cutting tasks.

Having access to multiple tools at once gives you the ability to complete your project without having to run out to purchase each tool separately. Consider the type of work you will be doing, to determine the type of multi-tool kit that will best serve your needs.

Power Tools Buying Tips

While power tools can be relatively easy to operate, it's important to take several factors into consideration for the best experience. "Should I get a corded or cordless power tool?" or "What types of batteries can I choose from?" are just a couple questions you should ask yourself when buying a new power tool. Following is a closer look at some of these common considerations:

Corded or Cordless Power Tools : The choice between a portable or electric power tools comes down to your personal needs. While electric tools provide more power, you are confined to areas that have a power outlet. If you need to be able to maneuver and get into tight spaces, a cordless power tool may be the better option.

Power Tool Battery Types : If you decide to go with a cordless tool, you will need a battery. When choosing a battery for your portable power tool, there are three options: nickel cadmium (NiCad), nickel metal hydride (NiMH) or lithium ion (Li-Ion). Here's a closer look at each:

  • NiCad : Nickel cadmium batteries are the original power tool battery. They are considered to be the most reliable of batteries since they gave a high recharge cycle and can be charged over and over for a long period of time. NiCad batteries are not temperature sensitive and therefore can be used in all climates.
  • Li-Ion : Often found in cell phones and cameras, Lithium Ion batteries are significantly lighter and run longer than NiCad's. Li-Ion batteries also hold a charge up to 18 months and get more charging cycles than NiCad batteries. Electronic signals between the tool, charger and battery insure the tool is running most efficiently for the job application. Li-Ion batteries are also more environmentally friendly than other battery types.

Power Voltage : Most cordless tools are measured in volts ranging from 3.6 to 36 volts. The key thing to remember here is the more volts you have the heaver your power tool will be. A 36 volt cordless drill could weigh up to 10 lbs.! Consider what you will be using your power tool for and choose based on your findings. Tools that are 12 and 18 volts are the most common and work well for every project or job, small to large.

Power tools offer speed and ease of use unparalleled by traditional hand tools. Choosing the correct power tools to meet your needs is fundamental to efficiently completing all your household tasks. Using this buyer's guide will help you better navigate the power tools aisle.

Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors.

Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in these documents.