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Get to Know Kathy Phelan Weber of Stanley Black & Decker

Kathy Phelan Weber may just be the brains behind one of your favorite power tools. Spending over 14 years in power tool development at Stanley Black & Decker “leads to lots of products,” she says. As the current reliability senior project engineer at SBD, Kathy is responsible for ensuring every new power tool the beloved brand puts out is perfect for all us DIYers out there, no matter our skill level. If it sounds like a dream job, Kathy confirms–it is! 

We got a chance to catch up with Kathy to get the scoop on her crazy cool job. Read on to learn about her journey to tool design, what her day-to-day looks like, and how you can become her assistant on her next project.

Let’s start at the beginning–when did you realize you had a passion for power tools?

Growing up, I always helped my dad with his construction projects. He built the second level addition of our family home when I was young and I helped him hang the drywall. Together we’ve built cabinets, re-tiled floors, built and tore down walls, lots of carpentry, plumbing, electrical projects, and more.That started a love of all things construction and tools. In high school, I got a job in a bike shop where I helped build, service, and sell bikes, which fueled my love for fixing and building things.

I went to college at the University of Maryland for mechanical engineering. One of my class projects was to redesign a drill, which solidified my desire to work in the tool and construction industry. I was fortunate that Stanley Black and Decker had a relationship with my university, and I sought out jobs there!

What is a typical day like for you at Stanley Black & Decker?

One of the things I love about my job is that every day is different from the one before it. One day, I’m in a lab testing a tool under application load, and analyzing current and voltage traces, airflow, mechanical, or motor performance issues. Another day I could be in the field working with end users at their jobsite, researching the way they use tools to ensure we are developing products designed for specific applications. 

The next day, I could be working with a group of engineers tearing down product that’s returned to retailers to investigate reasons for product failure or customer dissatisfaction, and using that information to steer the development of a new product, ensuring we design out the old problems. Of course, some days I’m running numbers, working on schedules and developing tests behind a computer screen, dreaming of when I can get back in a lab or on a jobsite!

Kathy tiling a backsplash.

Can you walk us through the process of designing a single tool?

Designing a tool is a complex process. To start, we look at customer reviews and comments of existing and competitive products. We do field research on jobsites to make sure we understand the scope of a product’s needs, and that we do our best to resolve complaints about current products in the marketplace. We try to include features customers ask for and to make sure we design the product to be able to complete the task needed. We research the number of applications, type of applications, and anticipated hardest conditions the product will see. We have several ways of representing this information through data analysis. From there, we create many prototypes and test each one, ensuring the product meets the specifications set at the beginning of the project. 

We also have to design for regulatory agencies, manufacturing, supply chain, and packaging requirements of the customers, all while maintaining the highest of safety standards. Mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, software engineers, materials engineers, folks that source raw materials and components, compliance engineers, reliability engineers, test technicians, and many other people all play an integral part in the development of a single product!

What is the most rewarding part of your job? The biggest challenge?

The most rewarding part of my job is seeing strangers purchase products that I’ve helped develop. Seeing folks with DeWALT products in their cart at Home Depot is so satisfying. Seeing our products on HGTV or in print ads is great. Using the products myself to remodel a bathroom and having zero issues with my tools while I do it makes me proud. Taking care of my lawn using our outdoor products makes me realize that my job helps make my, and others’, lives easier. 

On the flip side, there are lots of hard things about my job. From having to pivot to find solutions to manufacturing issues, fixing late-game failures in our testing process, to finding ways around urgently needing equipment in global equipment shortages, all make my life difficult. But the rewards far outweigh the challenges!

What professional skill do you use in your day-to-day most?

Day to day, the skill I use most is critical thinking. From coming up with out-of-the-box solutions to complex problems, to finding ways to creatively simplify a problem, you have to use a ton of critical thinking in this industry!

Kathy at work on a deck project with her DeWALT tools.

Do you tackle any DIY or home reno projects in your spare time?

YES! I’ve had my work featured in HGTV Magazine and have completed dozens of bathroom and kitchen renovations, decks, and carpentry projects. I remodeled my own bathroom (while pregnant, no less!) to get the house ready for my son. I have such a passion for DIY’ing and am endlessly blessed that I use the tools that I helped create in my projects.

What’s in your toolbox that you can’t live without?

My DW780 miter saw on a rolling stand with crown stops.  It’s my favorite thing EVER!  I always tease and say that if my house burns down, I’m hauling that out first with my son on my back and my husband can grab the cat!  I also can’t live without my DCF887 impact driver and my DCS365 cutoff tool. Those 3 can get you out of any jam you find yourself in 😉.

How do you inspire more women to get into the trades?

I just spoke with a girl scout troop last week about how great it is to design and use tools.  I frequently return to the University of Maryland to speak to young women engineers about tool usage and I’ve participated in their summer middle school program for girls on how to build small projects. I am so passionate about recruiting women to both engineering and power tool trades–I love it. 

Whenever I have women clients for any of my private remodeling jobs, I always offer to have them be my assistant to receive a discounted rate on the job. That way, I can teach them all the trades that I know, so they can learn and share the knowledge with other women. It’s SO important to me!

One last question–if you have any extra free time, how do you like to spend it?

Spending time with my family! My covid baby was born March 2020–I love taking him on adventures with my husband, and playing on my women’s soccer team.

Thank you Kathy, for taking the time to chat with us!

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