Jenny Kohr doesn't really do power tools. However, over a couple of recent gray days, she mastered several of them — under the watchful...

Share story

Jenny Kohr doesn’t really do power tools.

However, over a couple of recent gray days, she mastered several of them — under the watchful eyes of Norma Vally, better known as the Toolbelt Diva.

Vally was in Seattle in September to tape a few episodes of her Discovery Home Channel show, “Toolbelt Diva.” At Kohr’s house barge in Ballard’s industrial area, the rambunctious Vally helped Kohr tear out a rotting deck and replace it with Trex, a plastic composite that includes recycled wood. During filming, Kohr cut wood with a skill saw, hoisted heavy pieces of Trex over her shoulder and learned to screw a deck together.

“I’ve never done anything like this,” Kohr said.

That’s where Vally comes in — she wants women to get over that kind of initial shock.

10 diva dos and don’ts

1. Don’t wear loose clothing while working on your home. It can get caught in power tools.

2. Do know where the main shut-off valves are for all your utilities, including gas, water and electric.

3. Don’t worry about lack of upper-body strength. Women can gain leverage for turning a wrench by adding a long piece of metal pipe over the wrench’s handle.

4. Do mark project materials, measuring before cutting them.

5. Don’t buy cheap tools. Good tools will save money in the long run.

6. Do know which direction to turn screws and other fittings. “Right tight, left loose.”

7. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help at home-improvement centers and hardware stores.

8. Do organize work space and keep it clutter-free. Clean up as you work to keep the area safe.

9. Don’t forget to bring along old parts when you go to the hardware store for replacements. If you can’t bring them with you, find a serial or ID number from the original.

10. Do unplug power tools when you’re adjusting a part or changing a blade. Turning off a tool isn’t enough.

Source: Norma Vally, Toolbelt Diva

“When you’re going into something and you don’t know what you’re doing, it feels scary,” Vally said during a break in filming.

So Vally, a former model and personal trainer who is in her fourth season as the Toolbelt Diva, is full of helpful suggestions on how to start home-renovation projects.

She recommends lots of preproject research. Don’t just fix your garbage disposal. Look online for information, or ask people’s opinions. Go to home-improvement stores and ask employees for assistance, she said. When it comes to tools, start small, with hand tools such as hammers, wrenches and pliers, and learn to use them before attempting even introductory power tools.

We asked Vally for some easy home-improvement project ideas for novices. Here are her recommendations:

Caulk your bathtub. Water-based caulks are now widely available, which means mistakes can be cleaned up easily with water. Advance to oil or silicone-based caulking once you’ve mastered your technique.

Hang your own shelves. Some kinds of hanging hardware don’t require you to find a stud in the wall, but you should still learn where studs are. Tap the wall to see if you can hear one. If you’re still having trouble, look for a lighting switch. They are almost always screwed into a stud. Once you find one stud, the next one usually will be 16 inches away.

5 must-have tools

Norma Vally’s picks:

• Multi-bit ratcheted screwdriver.

• Inch-wide tape measure.

• 16-ounce hammer with curved claw and rubber grip.

• Utility knife with a retractable blade.

• Tongue and groove pliers.

Plaster nicks and holes in the wall. If you can ice a cake, you can plaster a wall, Vally said.

For any project, Vally said, it’s important to fundamentally understand your home.

“You want to feel in control of your house,” she said. “You want to be in control of your reality.”

Learn basic maintenance of appliances such as the washer and dryer. Both have hoses that get gummed up with debris. If you clean them out, the appliances will work better and more efficiently.

Where to find Toolbelt Diva

For information about Norma Vally’s TV show on Discovery Home, DIY podcasts or project instructions, go to
. Discovery Home is Channel 201 on area Comcast digital systems.

To hear her radio show, tune into Discovery Channel Radio (Channel 119) at 4 p.m. Fridays on Sirius Satellite Radio (

Norma Vally also has a book, “Chix Can Fix: 100 Home-Improvement Projects and True Tales from the Diva of Do-It-Yourself” (Viking Studio/Penguin Group, $14.95); or

You also can learn basic plumbing tasks, like how to fix a drip or a running toilet. Remember that you cannot just dump everything down the toilet or into the garbage disposal and expect your plumbing to be happy. Those pipes respond to what you put in them, she said.

To keep advancing your home-improvement skills, practice on scrap lumber before tackling projects, and take classes involving power tools and more complex projects, Vally suggested. She honed some of her skills working on her own home.

Research is especially important for more dangerous projects, like electrical work. Learn the proper safety protocols and how to do basic fixes, and even you can do electrical work, she said.

With that kind of knowledge, she said, “When something happens, you know what to do. You don’t want to be the woman in hysterics.”

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or