Shop Smart: Know Your Way Around the Hardware Store


I’m usually good at keeping secrets, but one of my colleagues recently confessed that she often feels clueless and alone in the hardware store. And because of this, she has put projects on hold because she didn’t know what she needed to get the project done. She went on to say that she gets intimidated by the sheer number of products in the hardware store — she’s confused by all the tiny bins of fasteners, can’t tell the difference between the various kinds of finishes and she doesn’t know what all that stuff in tubes is used for. Does that feel familiar?

I assured her she wasn’t alone, that there are others who have faced the same dilemma, and that they, too, were often afraid to ask. In order to help her, I gave up her secret and told some of our other colleagues about her plight. They understood and agreed we needed to perform a hardware store intervention. After all, there are plenty of other DIYers who feel anxiety in the hardware store. (This can be especially true in the big box stores where the staff isn’t always as knowledgeable as you’d like.) Even seasoned pros could always use a refresher!Here are some of the questions we addressed:1. What the heck is the difference between semi-gloss, flat and satin paint? Unless you’re a house painter, most folks don’t remember the different sheens of paint and which one you use where.

2. Does the fastener aisle give you a mild panic attack? You just want to hang some pictures over your sofa and you’re not sure if you’re supposed to use a nail or a screw, should it be galvanized or stainless? And seriously, what is a toggle bolt? Follow The House Counselor Laurie March as she guides you through the hardware aisle.
3. Ever wonder exactly what the difference is between shellac, varnish, lacquer and polyurethane? Find out which one to use on an outdoor planter box and which one to use on antique furniture.4. Buying your first drill?  Not sure what you should get and what features you need?  And what about drill bits? How many do you need and how do you use them?That colleague of mine? She’s feeling better already and just stepped foot back in the hardware aisle. Check out our Hardware Store Intervention so that you, too, can feel empowered in the hardware store!

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About Jackie McGilvray 


When I'm not pulling together great projects and inspiring ideas as editor of, I'm watching my two adorable boys play whatever sport is in season. Or I might be ...

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