Producers and editors can call Steve directly for an interview:  212-683-0355, or email

Steve Ettlinger has done literally hundreds of interviews over a career that started in 1988 with appearances on The TODAY Show and LIVE with Regis and Kathie Lee, celebrating the first edition of this book.  ABC Nightline even did an entire feature on him and his latest book.  He is now the author of seven books – his most recent, on artificial food ingredients, is Twinkie, Deconstructed.  More about Steve and his other books can be found at


About the e-book Edition

This book was first published as a hardcover in 1988, by Macmillan, and re-published in various formats almost every five years since then:  trade paperback, revised paperback, special hardcover editions both giant and miniature, and revised, mass-market-like paperback.  This is the first electronic edition of the book.

Book Dedication

This book is dedicated to all of us who have ever walked into a hardware store, home center, or lumberyard and asked for a whatchamacallit or thingamajig.  Doesn’t this include just about all of us? 

Hooks, Angles, and Pegs

The following notes might be helpful to producers for planning an interview, no matter what the media:  

- Father’s Day Fashion Show:  Items might include a nail apron, hard hat, work gloves, etc.   (in studio or on location)

- Father’s Day or Christmas Gift Ideas:  What’s new as well as classics. (in studio or on location)

- What’s new: Electronic items; energy-saving items, environmentally sensitive items, new kinds of paint, etc.

  1. -A guided and fun tour of a large home center or a favorite old hardware store.

- A quick back-and-forth going down the “Amazing Highlights” list on the previous page.

  1. -So thorough, this book even has a listing for invisible hinges!  Also listed are some pretty intriguing things such as a bone wrench, a window zipper, oakum, a cat’s paw, a pig’s foot, and of course, saw horses. 


Sample for excerpt

Please check out this page.


This book was actually inspired by a specific incident when I started work on my newly purchased, 100 year-old house in Brooklyn, NY--the bungled purchase of a cat's paw (what’s that? Look it up!).

A carpenter walking through my work site saw me struggling to remove some old floor boards and said something akin to, “Get yerself a cat’s paw, son, and you’ll have those boards ripped up in no time!” 

I wanted to see what one was before I tried to buy one, but I could not find one listed in any of the big, heavy DIY tomes that I owned.  But armed for once with specific professional guidance, prepared to ask for a tool by name rather than as a whatchamcallit or its intended use, I strode boldly into my neighborhood hardware store and asked, with a rare display of self-confidence, for a cat’s paw. 

“Cat’s paw?  CAT’S PAW?” the clerk replied sarcastically.  “Whadya think this is, a butcher shop?”  Rolling his eyes, he demolished my newfound self-assurance, and started the game of 20 questions.  “Ripping up floor boards, eh?  Ohhhhhh—what YOU want is a pry bar!” Which I bought, and with which I quickly grew very frustrated, because it was useless for pulling out deeply embedded nails, something the cat's paw is specifically designed to do.

I was angry and started thinking, “Someone oughta do a book that just LISTS the blankety-blank stuff I need!”  I madly sketched out a page of what I thought I wanted, and, amazingly, the finished book actually looks just like that sketch. 

By the way, that was in 1985, and I got a contract to write the book in 1987.  It’s been in print in one form or another since then! I’m tickled to present in an electronic format, something I had wanted to do from the start because it is so handy to use on-site.

Beyond that event, the book has deep roots.  I grew up in an old house near Chicago and always helped my father on his basic do-it-yourself projects.   This early experience also included many visits to a nearby wonderful old hardware store complete with wooden floors and helpful, super-knowledgeable, reassuring clerks.  I sure miss that kind of experience.

We always gave my father a "mystery tool" for Christmas, the oddest-looking item we could find.  Some of them are now no longer mysteries, having made it into the book. My family now gives me an odd tool from time to time.

As an extreme DIY guy, a do-it-yourselfer with an endless list of old-house repairs to do, I’m in these stores all the time.  I refuse to be intimidated by the fast-talking clerks who don't even look you in the eye while they rattle of their twenty questions in response to mine. 

This book should put an end to that from both the client's point of view, and from the clerk's point of view as well, if the stores buy copies for the clerks to carry on their smartphones.  Everyone will at last be speaking the same language.


I worked over a year and a half collecting catalogs (this was pre-web!) and exploring stores, much to the consternation of hardware store and home center managers around the country.  I actually interviewed manufacturers about stuff they were making that even they didn’t understand, such as the difference between a stove bolt and a machine screw.  I confronted one manufacturer who didn’t know the answer with the fact that the stove bolt package weighed more than the same quantity of machine screws, and they finally realized (as I did) that stove bolts were the same item, but simply sold with nuts on them.  But no one ever wrote that in any catalog.

I’ve updated the book several times, but it is impossible to keep up.

I’ve learned too much, perhaps.  I drive contractors working on my own projects crazy when I tell them which tool or product to use, or how to use it. A lot of contractors use the wrong stuff on simple things like painting or patching.

My other books

I’ve written seven and produced over 40, including those seven.  Take a look at my web site.   They’re all basically popular reference books.


“Like the Rosetta Stone…read a chapter a day for a week, then visit the hardware store on Saturday with confidence.” – The New York Times

“Wow! Anybody working on a house--the do-it-yourselfer or the weekend putterer--could use this book.” -- The Old House Journal

“The perfect guide for the do-it-yourselfer who has no ideas what the ‘thingamajig he needs is called.” -- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"...organized, accessible and cheerfully reassuring...." -- Publishers Weekly

"For the person who knows nothing about home repairs...." -- Chicago Tribune

"This book can truly be understood by a beginner, but will not insult the more advanced do-it-yourselfer." -- The Detroit Free Press

"... useful and interesting to the tool maven and the mechanical ignoramous alike."  -- Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

"The new homeowner or the yuppie moving into his or her first condo will end up breaking down the binding of this hardware-store primer." 

-- Chicago Tribune

"If going into a hardware store makes you feel as insecure as Woody Allen, there's a new book for you." -- The Cincinnati Post

"No more embarrassing trips to the hardware store--you'll never call a thingamajig a whatchamcallit again!" -- The Literary Guild 

"The useful tips on choosing and using could save you time and money." -- Woman's Day Home Improvements

"Once or twice a year a book comes along that meets such an obvious need that the only reasonable question is:  Why didn't someone do this earlier?  -- The Detroit Free Press

"A superb idea, neatly executed. A boon to do-it-yourselfers."-- Library Journal

"Here is a book that will rescue the amateur do-it-yourselfer from endless and agonizing sessions at the hardware store..." -- American Library Association/About Books

"Whether you're a beginner struggling with home maintenance and tired of asking for "thingamajigs" at the hardware store or an old pro filling in gaps, here's a well-designed, informative read, a book that knows everything." --Whole Earth Review

"...helps the novice get down to brass tacks, to say nothing of eight-penny nails." -- Dallas Times Herald

"Just the facts, folks, just the plain, hardware facts."  -- Minneapolis Star Tribune

"...a compendium of tools that uses plain-English prose, line drawings and Ettlinger's quick wit to demystify difficult-to-describe objects." -- Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

"A wise gift for the handy homeowner."-- Dallas Times Herald