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American Women Flock to Home Improvement Stores for Do-It-Yourself Classes

Surveys indicate that growing numbers of American women no longer rely on a husband or a boyfriend or a professional fix-it man to take care of home repair and construction projects.

As a result, retailers are now targeting the female market by offering home improvement classes for women. The stores hope to make further increases in the $50 billion a year that women across America are now spending on hand tools, power tools and other equipment.

Instructor Bruce Spahr runs classes exclusively for women at a Washington, D.C., area Home Depot store. At one recent session, you could find him slicing a flat, wide piece of wood with a power saw, as Cindy Childs of Falls Church, Virginia, looked over his shoulder.

"Basically, we're going to cut it in half," he says. "You always want to put your hand away from the blade. We're going to make a 45-degree cut."

Ms. Childs is an enthusiastic student. "I love equipment," she says. "I do a lot of my own work in my house, and stuff like that."

Bruce Spahr motions toward his student. "She's wearing eye protection because you will have debris splinter up, and also wearing ear protection because these saws are loud," he says. "Okay, Cindy, why don't you try your hand at it?"

The power saw slices through the board. "Oh, that was really nice," says Ms. Childs.

At the nation's home repair stores, female customers have consistently outnumbered males in the last five years, according to studies by Home Depot and other retailers. The research reflects a broader social trend: more single women owning their own homes and doing their own repairs.

Among single women, "57% own their own home, either because of divorce or because of delayed marriage," says Home Depot spokeswoman Carol Luten. "So they are making a good income, and yet they're not married. They decide to invest in a home as opposed to renting an apartment. So I think all those reasons come into play when you look at a single woman and home improvement."

In addition, whether it's painting a room or fixing a leaky faucet, many American men nowadays never picked up the fix-it skills that previous generations learned as a matter of course. Other men are just not interested in what's traditionally been a man's job.

That gives many women the choice of hiring contractors -- which can be very expensive - or doing the work themselves. Cynthia Magazine -- who works with the nonprofit home-building group, Habitat for Humanity - says many female do-it-yourselfers find the work satisfying.

"Women tend to be very intellectual and get into jobs that involve their brains," says Ms. Magazine. "But working with your hands gives you another option for using a different part of yourself than you've ever used before. And that's very empowering -- to find out that you may have thought you were a klutz when you tried basketball, but…you really can use a staple gun or an air gun…that's pretty exciting when that happens."

Exciting, sure, but possibly dangerous. That's why Cindy Childs is in class at a Home Depot store. "Would you like to operate a nailer, just to test it out?" asks instructor Bruce Spahr. He hands her a nail gun and she follows his directions. "Yeah, all right!" she says. "It's really easy to use."

Home Depot spokeswoman Carol Luten says the number of women who've enrolled in her company's home repair classes has reached 250,000 nationwide in just two years enough perhaps, to call it the start of a women's home repair movement.