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Quake Repair: You Can Do It Yourself


Home repair is taking on a new urgency in post-earthquake Los Angeles, and even amateurs are taking a look at problems such as loose tiles and cracked plaster and wondering if they can fix it themselves.

A scouting trip to a bookstore could provide the answer.

Anyone who habitually tackles home-remodeling projects--according to the U.S. Census Bureau, that's almost half the home-owning population--knows there is no scarcity of information. Before the Northridge earthquake, do-it-yourself was already a major theme for the belt-tightening '90s. The most popular program on PBS is "This Old House," and today's brides are registering for power tools along with china and silver.

The surge of home-repair books, magazines, videos and TV shows presents a mixed blessing for the novice remodeler. Choosing the right reference source has become almost as daunting as wandering the aisles at the local builders' supply store with its acres of tools and materials.

Leading a parade of new home-repair books is "The Reader's Digest Book of Skills and Tools," a fat, colorful volume published last fall. It promises help for everyone from the novice who tightens screws with a butter knife to the artisan preparing to install parquet flooring.

The book joins a long list of Reader's Digest do-it-yourself titles, including "The Home Improvement Manual" and "The New, Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual."

The 360-page book has 2,000 illustrations, including 800 photographs of 800 hand and power tools and accessories and 1,000 detailed drawings of techniques.

"An empowering book," says Doug Dutton, owner of Dutton's Brentwood Books. "Going to a Home Depot is an overwhelming experience. You could take this book to the hardware store and point."

He thinks the tightened economy is only one reason for a booming interest in do-it-yourself books.

"In a time when we seem to have so little power over what's around us--we don't even know what's under the hood of our car anymore--this is one of the few areas where you can actually have a certain amount of control over what you're doing," he says.

"Skills and Tools" ($30) is one of four major new books offering an encyclopedic scope for home repairs and remodeling, he says. Others:

* "Bob Vila's Toolbox," $25, William Morrow, 235 pages. The well-known home renovator ("This Old House" and "Bob Vila's Home Again") who is also the TV spokesman for Sears, Roebuck & Co., offers a comprehensive illustrated guide to hand and power tools.

* "The Stanley Complete Step-by-Step Book of Home Repair and Improvement," $25, Simon and Schuster, 470 pages. The emphasis is on projects, from installing alarm systems to masonry. Replete with color drawings of tools and equipment and a bonus of $75 worth of coupons from the Stanley Tool Co.

* Ortho's Home Improvement Encyclopedia, $24.95, Ortho, 511 pages. Heavy focus on photographs, with some line drawings, of specific interior and exterior projects such as building a patio.

Television and home videos also are popular with do-it-yourself consumers.

Two PBS staples are produced at Boston's WGBH TV. "This Old House," now in its 10th year, focuses each season on the comprehensive renovation of one house. "New Yankee Workshop," which concentrates on woodworking projects, launched its sixth season in January with an emphasis on children's toys and furniture.

For do-it-yourselfers, both shows produce a line of videos demonstrating specific projects.

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