Ask Allegra, The Renovating Woman: The language of tools

Local,Allegra Bennett
Toby Rivkin is particularly good with languages. When I met her for the first time recently she was in class taking copious notes learning another language at Beth’s DIY Workshop, a new neighborhood self-improvement center in Lauraville.

Toby speaks some Greek and some German. She’s in her 32nd year as an educator at Baltimore’s Roland Park Country School, where she teaches French and ceramics. She once taught Spanish at the school until she yielded to the tactile, hands-on allure of tile, grout and a kiln and traded in the language to teach the students ceramic arts.

Still, there is one language she wanted to grasp. “I don’t speak tools,” she said laughing. Now, with workshop instructor and founder (and my friend) Beth Dello all to herself, Toby wanted to know “Can I ask you a router question? How does it work?”

It was the debut of the workshop’s weekly series of home improvement classes for women. This first one was “Power Tool Blitz for Women: Drills, Saws and Sanders,” a two-hour session offered  that day at both 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

With an audible “ahh” of satisfaction, Beth pulled out a colorful “Chart of Router Bits” and began explaining the tool, the bits and the importance of technique in executing certain tasks. “Work counter-clockwise with the router or it will pull away,” she said, instructing a riveted Toby.

Beth and I talked for a couple of years about the need for a place women can go to handle and learn the proper way of using power tools. Too often we are put off by the noisiness of the tools, have nowhere to get real, regular instruction, and have no one to call later and take us seriously, so we never get to learn until there is an emergency and we have no choice but to tackle the task ourselves.

Now, Beth has launched her dream in the lower level of a house on Harford Road, a place for women – and you guys can go too – “where imagination and tools meet.”

“I really believe in self-sufficiency,” Beth said, explaining why she launched the workshops. “In times like these people won’t be able to hire someone. I am doing this so they don’t feel helpless or hopeless.

Beth, who is 55 years old, has been fixing other people’s homes for years and gained a ton of knowledge just by doing. And now she feels “I’ve reached that wise-woman time of life and I want to share my experience,” she said. “I know it is the right place for me. It’s kind of scary because I know it can be bigger than you ever imagined and it will change. You set it in motion and let it go where it goes.”

Beth sees the workshops as her perfect retirement activity. The bonus is it will mean not having to carry the heavy tools and awkward sheetrock up and down stairs as she has had. Those who attend these classes will find a wise woman who imparts knowledge with confidence, ease and clarity. And be ready to get yourself dirty. This is a genuine hands-on class.

Half joking, Toby says she’s planning on signing up for future classes and getting the “Beth degree in advance tools.”

Other classes scheduled now through November include learning how to hang drywall, becoming familiar with and fixing various plumbing problems at home including that famous running toilet, making electrical repairs, replacing a ceiling fan and other electrical outlets. A great bonus in November is a workshop series making useful boxes and another with mosaic artist Dotti Drum, who will teach how to design and create your own mosaic masterpiece.

To learn more about workshop times and cost visit or call Beth at 410-370-0564
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