book review

M ost books on home repair don't give much detail, but the better ones will tell you the name of whatever's broken, so at least you can tell the repairman something more than "It's broke!" They're really only good for giving you an overview of the subject; for complex tasks like laying ceramic tile, building a deck, or doing electrical work, there's much more to know than you'll find in any of these "complete" books.

The Ultimate Home & Property Maintenance Manual
by Joe Beck

U nlike other books on this topic, this one is meant to be read from cover to cover. It tells you basic stuff your dad should have told you, starting with "How to Use a Hammer." It covers tools, plumbing, roofs, tools, walls and doors, floors, windows, siding, decks, tools, shrubs, tools, tools, and tools, all at a very basic level. A few things are wrong, like an antenna attached to a chimney (really bad idea, although the author didn't put it there). This book is an okay place to start if you're a lady whose largest construction project so far has been repairing a broken nail, or if you're a first-time homeowner who has just discovered the horrible truth about owning a house: you can't just call the landlord anymore. I did learn a few things from this book. But if all you know is what's in this book, you may find you still can't fix much.

Black & Decker Complete Guides


T his series of softcover books is distinguished by outstanding photography--and lots of it. Most pages consist entirely of pictures and captions. Each book is about 300 pages, is printed on glossy paper, and shows you step by step what to do. No personal anecdotes or unneeded words here. The book is exceptionally well organized; for example, the Home Plumbing book spends 45 pages on tools and materials, followed by about 80 pages on installing new plumbing and 80 on repairing existing plumbing. One problem: the books don't always tell you what they've left out. Although the plumbing book shows you how to install a tub, it doesn't mention greenboard (which is essential), while Bathrooms does. So you have to buy 'em all. That brings us to the second problem: many topics (and photos) are replicated in different books. Even so, these guides are more useful, and more complete, than the "complete" home repair manuals.

Better Homes and Gardens New Complete Guide to Home Repair & Improvement


T his 600-page book is mistitled. It doesn't really cover home repairs so much as typical installation and construction projects, like laying a brick wall and installing doors. Although many details are omitted, it would be helpful in getting a homeowner oriented. The biggest section is on "basics you should know." The tasks are accompanied by a series of small cartoons that illustrate the task.

The Stanley Complete Step-by-Step Book of Home Repair and Improvement


T his one does cover home repairs, but tries to cover everything, so at only 468 pages it's way too short to do anything in much depth. It has sections on tools, materials, internal repairs, external repairs, and "systems", which includes plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning. The lack of depth will get you in trouble sooner or later. For example, it only has four pages on ceramic tile, and numerous critical details are skipped. And trying to describe how to finish an attic in two pages is just ridiculous.

Reader's Digest New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual


T his oddly-shaped book starts by teaching basic skills, like shaping sheet metal, making dovetail joints in wood, and laying bricks. It has clearly-drawn diagrams, but occasionally leaves out critical details. For example, what about valve seats in bathtub faucets? They have them. If you use just this book, you will learn about them too--the hard way. Likewise with window screens. This book recommends corner brackets, which give a much cheesier result than the more professional way of using internal angled corners. But for most simple tasks, this book is probably okay.