Drapery installation is both an art and a science. Before you can correctly install window treatments you not only must know what you are doing and how to do it, but to be truly successful you also must possess finesse. This requires having and using the proper tools. Like the artist who does not have the right brushes or a scientist who does not have the equipment he or she needs, a drapery installer without the right tools for the job is one who cannot get the job done correctly, if at all.
Arden Duree is a third-generation member of the window coverings industry and owner and instructor at the American School of Drapery Installation in Branbury, TX. He says the way a window treatment is installed is as important as how that treatment is made. "Think of it this way," he says, "bare bones are pretty ugly. But without that bone structure nothing works, nothing looks good."
Window treatments are the same, he says. Without the proper hardware and tools -- from the right rod to the applicable screw -- and proper installation techniques, even your highest-quality window treatments will not hang properly. Like loose skin on an out-of-shape body, they will sag, droop and fall in all the wrong places.
What are the necessary tools of the trade for installing window treatments? That depends on who you talk to. While one professional installer may prefer one tool, another installer may prefer something different. "You learn from experience what works for you and what doesn't," Duree says. "Selecting tools is really an ongoing process."
None the less, here are some of his favorite tools.
That Important First Step
A good step ladder is a must when installing window treatments. In fact, it may be worth its weight in gold. While there are as many different step ladders on the market as there are cars, Duree prefers a painter's step ladder he purchased at a local hardware store more than 20 years ago.
The ladder features what Duree calls a "sissy bar," which actually is the step ladder's handle. When open, the handle rises high enough over the ladder's top step to support the user's weight when leaned against. This bar not only is strong, it is at the perfect height not to strike the user on the knees. This not only protects the knees from injury, but provides a much more secure place to lean against so the user is not as likely to topple over the handle when reaching beyond the ladder.
Duree's collection of ladders includes one by R.H. Rowley Co. that features large, sturdy steps; a "Little Giant" ladder that can serve as a step ladder, a saw horse and even will work on stairs; and Westway's Professional Adjustable Ladder, which can be used as scaffolding and has proven strong enough to support a Jeep Cherokee sport utility vehicle when used in this manner. Another feature Duree likes about the Westway ladder is that it has hinged joints along its length allowing it to be folded and used over heavy pieces of furniture or objects like stair railings.
Duree's ladders have been retrofitted with some interesting items. The feet of his step ladders have been covered with metal caps which, in turn, have been covered with rubber caps. Both layers of caps are held in place with several wraps of duct tape. The bare metal legs that would be left exposed without the protective caps not only would make deep indentations in high-pile carpeting while being used, but also could tear carpeting, gouge vinyl flooring and scar wood floors.
Why so much protection? Simple. Rubber or plastic caps placed over a stepladder's feet eventually will wear out. The blunt metal ends of the ladder's support poles would punch through, exposing the flooring to the same potential for damage you were trying to prevent. Metal caps are strong enough to withstand this wear and tear, but are even more harsh on carpet, wood and vinyl than the supple rubber or plastic caps. Together they provide the right amount of protection.
What Goes Up Shouldn't Come Down
At least not until you're finished! Installers absolutely need a tool pouch with a pocket for holding screws and loops for holding tools. If you don't carry your tools with you, you end up running up and down the ladder, which wastes time and costs you money.
Ideally, you should be able to climb the ladder with the tools you need and not have to come back down until either the window treatment is installed or you have to move the ladder.
Just Tooling Around
Here's what you might find in a professional installer's tool pouch:
Yankee screwdriver and drill. The Yankee screwdriver basically is a rotating screwdriver head attached to a handle that is pumped in much the same way as an old fashion child's metal top. This tool is used to install molly bolts and other hollow wall anchors, as well as for setting some screws. Unlike power screwdrivers, the Yankee screwdriver will not over-tighten or strip a screw because it is hand-operated. The Yankee drill, which is designed and works like the Yankee screwdriver, also is very handy for the same reasons.
Phillips-head and slotted tips for the Yankee screwdriver.
Pencil. One of Duree's hard and fast rules is that you never carry an ink pen into a customer's home. "You're flirting with danger if you do," he says. How can a pen cause problems? First, once you use one to mark on a wall, you cannot erase the mark. Second, how do you explain to your customer that her new window treatments are ruined because your pen leaked? You can solve both problems before they happen by using a soft lead pencil to make marks on walls. Remember to carry a pencil sharpener with you as well as a white art eraser, which will remove any stray pencil marks without leaving a putty-colored residue behind.
Pocket knife with locking blade in addition to a razor knife. There are some things you just can't cut with a razor knife.
Nine-inch slotted screwdriver. When used as an auger, this screw driver becomes the perfect tool for making holes when using a molly bolt. Its other typical uses are obvious.
Six-inch slotted screwdriver.
Eight- or nine-inch thin-bladed screwdriver. You can use this screwdriver to do two things. It not only will come in handy when you are working with screws that have thin slots, it also is long enough to reach into areas that other screwdrivers can't reach.
Scissors. A must! Use it to cut cords, trim threads, etc.
Small hammer with assorted screwdrivers in its handle. Not too large and not too small, these hammers are the perfect size to use when installing tenter hooks in wooden walls. The tiny screwdriver can come in handy, too.
In fact, Duree always carries a small screwdriver with him. He calls it his "public relations screwdriver" and uses it to tighten loose screws on hardware and decorative accessories. "When you do something like that for a customer who may be underfoot, they will walk away and leave you alone to do your job," he says. "They know you care about them and what you are doing."
Scratch awl. Use this tool to find nail heads in sheetrock walls (or steel/plaster walls in hurricane-prone areas). When the awl is hammered against the nail head, the awl will slide off showing you where you can and can't run a screw.
Lacing hook. The perfect tool for threading traverse rods, it is available from drapery hardware manufacturers.
Three-cornered file. Can be used to cut a rod in an emergency simply by scoring the rod with the file then snapping it in two. You also can use your file to smooth burrs on rods with working parts. These burrs usually occur at a joint and if left unsmoothed can tear the window treatment as well as wear the traverse rod cording.
Needle-nose pliers. These are great for changing pins/hooks on pleated draperies. They protect your fingers from the sharp edges of drapery pins.
Tape measure. Buy one with an even-inch size case to make taking measurements easier. There's no sense working with fractions if you don't have to.
Staple gun. For quick repairs on cornices, swags, etc.
Towel. For wiping sweaty hands so you don't stain the window treatments.
Boxed Up and Ready to Go
Another of Duree's rules during his 43-year career always has been to keep his tool box neatly organized and well-stocked. "Believe it or not, a well-organized tool box can take the place of a van," he says. By using the same principle, our company used a Mercedes Benz as an installation vehicle. We stored our tools in the trunk and what window treatments we could in the back seat. Those that wouldn't fit were strapped on a wooden carrier bolted to the roof of the car. Talk about some strange looks! But at least our customers knew we had a lot of class.
Duree stores his screws, pins and such in small boxes within his tool box. He labels the contents on one end of each box, and when his supply of that item is almost depleted, he simply turns the box around so the blank end shows. This an easy and efficient way to check his stock of supplies.
Also in the tool box you might want: Mini-blind scissors. Use them to clip the ends of mini-blinds slats. These special scissors have a curved blade that accommodates curved slats and can be purchased from workroom supply outlets and some blind manufacturers.
Tin snips. Use as a back-up for mini-blind scissors.
Wooden ruler. Use to check angles.
Bay rod bender. A must-have for any professional installer.
Pry bar. Use this tool to remove 16-penny nails and other hard-to-remove items. Sometimes called a cats claw, small pry bars can be found at a carpet supply store. You'll also want to carry a small metal plate with you. Pry against the metal plate to prevent marking up your client's walls.
Antacid. For those especially stressful jobs.
First aid kit. Stocked with things like medical tape, adhesive bandages, duct tape -- anything you can think of to provide first aid for yourself or your window treatments. Don't think this means you have to carry a clunky metal case with you. A properly stocked plastic bag can make a wonderful first aid kit. (You can bleed all you want, just don't bleed on the draperies.)
Patching materials. Never patch holes in walls with regular spackling paste. In contains an oil that can leave a ring on the wall. Use plaster or vinyl spackling.
T-pins. Drop these in a small, plastic bag before dropping them into your tool box to avoid pricking yourself when you try to retrieve one. And never use a standard steel pin, T-pin or otherwise, in fabrics that have been treated with a chemical fire retardant. Over time, the chemicals actually will weld the pins to the fabric.
Sewing kit. Along with common thread colors.
Metallic markers and paint sticks. Use these to paint over the end of screws where the metallic finish has rubbed off during installation. Paying attention to every detail is one of the keys to success.
Felt-tip markers and wood stain pens. Use these to cover nail holes in paneling.
Stainless, oil-less silicone spray. Use it to lubricate rods.
Candle. A back-up for the silicone spray.
Washable or disappearing ink pen. When used to make measuring marks on a wall, the ink either will go away on its own or can be removed with a little water.
White chalk. Great for making removable marks on dark walls or paneling.
Safety pins. Just in case!
Six-inch ruler. This can be used to show customers where their bays or other windows are uneven.
Don't Forget These . . .
Stud finders. These electronic gizmos are a great way to find the location of a stud behind a sheetrock, plaster or other wall. Turn the hand-held unit on, pass it along the way and wait for it to beep when you pass over a stud.
Steamer. Choose a small unit that is easy and comfortable to use and will provide instant steam.
Hand-held vacuum. Another public relations tool. Use this for no other reason than to show customers you care about what you leave -- and don't leave -- behind.
Drop cloth. Spread this down where you are working to keep stray screws, threads and any dust generated by the installation off your client's flooring.
Angle irons. Keep a variety of angle irons from one- to three-inches to aid in installing window treatments in odd places.
No, I haven't forgotten about the power drivers. No installer would be caught dead without these handy tools. Duree and I agree, however, that most power drivers on the market are overkill -- they're too big and too bulky to use for installations.
While many installers use electric drivers, Duree prefers using those equipped with battery packs simply because there are no cords to get tangled in -- a definite plus when you're up on a ladder. When using battery-powered tools remember to top off battery packs when the tool is not in use rather than waiting for the batteries to die down. And always, always keep a freshly-charged back-up battery handy just in case! Together, your freshly-charged battery and your back-up battery should get you through a day's work.
Whatever power source your driver uses, make sure it is a dual-speed driver with a reverse gear. A single-speed driver often will over-tighten or strip screws.
Another must-have is a hammer drill for use on concrete walls. Makita makes a nice dual-action drill that not only will handle concrete, but plaster and sheetrock as well. If you can afford only one power driver, buy an electric, dual-action driver. A battery-powered driver does not have enough life to handle driving screws into concrete. Another bit of advice: Never use the hammer drill on sheetrock walls as dust will clog it up and could render it useless.
With all of these great tools and suggestions you can feel more confident in achieving professional results. Let us know if you have any special tools you'd like to recommend by writing to: Cheryl Strickland, P.O. Box 967, Swannanoa, NC 28778. For more information on the American School of Drapery Installation, call Arden Duree at (817) 573-2524.
Cheryl Strickland is owner of Professional Drapery Seminars. She is an internationally-acclaimed speaker with 20 years experience in the window coverings industry. She is the publisher and editor of Sew WHAT?, an international monthly newsletter for professional drapery workrooms. Strickland also is the author of A Practical Guide to Soft Window Coverings and the Designer's Sketch Pad, which are available through Draperies & Window Coverings magazine.