Mr. Fix-It

Red Green, Canada’s favorite fictional handyman, has a famous saying: “If women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” With home renovation now rivaling golf as a top recreational activity, TV’s duct-tape king is probably more popular with the ladies than ever. But where does that leave a guy like me, who barely knows the difference between a vise grip and a reciprocating saw?

Given the fragile state of the male ego, I could hardly ask one of my more mechanically adept buddies to fill me in-that’d be an invitation to some serious ribbing. Instead, I sought some advice from a less judgmental source: Mag Ruffman, who writes Tool Girl, a fix-it column that appears online at, and has hosted two similarly themed television shows (Anything I Can Do and A Repair to Remember).

Like any good handyman, Ruffman is incredibly practical. “Sometimes, I have friends who have split up with partners who used to do all the home repairs and I’ll buy them a toolbox full of the basics to get them through.” Ruffman’s gift box includes a screwdriver set, needlenose, hammer and linesman’s pliers, a measuring tape, nine-inch level, a speed square, bastard file, two “quick grip” clamps and a pair of safety glasses to protect your eyes from the inevitable rookie mistakes. The whole works shouldn’t set you back more than $175-even less if you live in a major city. “You can go to Chinatown in Toronto and pick up basic screwdriver sets for next to nothing.”

Once the basics are in place, Ruffman recommends fine-tuning your collection with these surprisingly affordable additions. Most are available at hardware suppliers such as Canadian Tire, Home Hardware and The Home Depot.

Zircon electronic stud finder
($15 to $50, depending on model)
If you’re a renter who’s lost your damage deposit following a messy attempt to hang a picture on the wall, then you need a stud finder. Dragged along the wall, this gadget lights up when it detects the wood framing that supports your drywall. That way, you can pound your nails into a part of the wall that will actually hold the weight of your picture, instead of punching a useless hole in a hollow spot.

DeWALT Random Orbit Sander
($80 to $120)
DeWALT power tools have a well-deserved reputation for durability, and even though the pros use ’em, they’re available to plebes like you and me. With this all-purpose sander, you can sand down your bedroom floor or refinish an antique table. Features holes in the sanding disc which suck up dust into a small bag, helping to keep debris out of your eyes and nose.

Ryoba pull saw
($44.50, Lee Valley,
Don’t let the flimsy-looking blade fool you. This nifty Japanese saw is designed to cut on a pull stroke, enabling you to power through two-by-fours in seconds.

Black & Decker Workmate
Although any table will do as a work surface for most simple repairs, the Workmate makes things easier, especially because it’ll hold your projects in place with four built-in clamps. Much cheaper than buying clamps separately.