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THOMPSON: The trouble with tools

February 06, 2017 - 12:45 PM

 


OPINION


I'm not particularly handy with tools. My brother is, and so is my sister. My father was perhaps the best. His mastery of tools was so good, I'm pretty sure you could have given him one tool, and somehow he would have made all the other tools he needed.

Dad tried to teach me about tools when I was young. I don't remember many of the lessons, but my brother and sister - both of whom listened apparently - could teach those who demonstrate tools at manufacturer trade shows.

However, I did - from an early age - develop an unwavering ability to leave tools where I last used them. Screwdrivers are the worst. I'm fairly certain that someone with a metal detector could scan the yard of mom and dad's old home place and find dozens of them, all rusty and rotten handles. Yes, I'm that old. Tools once had wooden handles!

As you read this, my wife, Bonnie, and I are in Florida where we spend the winter. Enjoying afternoon coffee last week on our screened porch overlooking the Koi pond, waterfall and butterfly garden she asked, "Are those your hand shears by the pond?" It was more statement than question. At least tools now have polymer handles.

During high school, I took a class one semester of what was then called "shop" in a last ditch effort to gain a modicum of tool proficiency. This was the mid-1960s, when boys took shop and girls took home economics, code for cooking. No boys, save a guy named Gerard King, who became known as Gerard "Betty Crocker" King, ever took home economics. I should have, but it was a different era.

Everything I ever made in shop turned out looking like something else...something unintended. Most often, it was an ash tray. If all else failed, put a couple grooves in wood or metal and you have an ashtray. Again, it was a different era...but at least ashtrays were in demand.

I've never put to use what I learned in school about cosines and tangents. But, tool knowledge would have come in handy countless times. Still, I never gave up. In virtually every house I've owned, there was a garage wall with peg boards filled with tools, often with painted outlines of the tool to remind me to replace it. That strategy, of course, didn't work. 

Tool expertise continues to elude me, like the one sock that mysteriously escapes when you put a pair in the dryer. I should have known tools were a near hopeless pursuit. As I recall, I hired carpenters to build and install my garage pegboards to hold my tools.

Truly, I tried to learn how to use tools. But, somehow, they always conspired against me. When I bought my first house, a beautiful two-story Georgian, I wanted to do some simple renovations. After deciding to install plush carpeting in the four upstairs bedrooms, I took the doors off the hinges and cut 1 1/2 inches from each solid wood door to allow for the new pad and carpet. I bought a circular saw and a couple of saw horses - about $150 as I recall - to do the job.

Upon rehanging the first door, I discovered my inch-and-a-half cut was from the top rather than bottom of the door. I made the same mistake on all four doors. That afternoon, I returned to the hardware store, buying a sander, various wood glues, a paint brush and stain. Thankfully, there are tools to correct mistakes you make with tools.

My most successful project - just after university - was book shelves in an extra bedroom that I called the library. Five shelves, each eight feet long...eight feet because that was how long boards were at the lumber store. No saw needed. I painted each board flat black. A load of red bricks made perfect shelf supports. No nails or screws.  No tools. Ta-da!

Nevertheless, over the years, I collected tools. There are - as I see it - three basic types: Tools you can cut yourself with (saws and axes); Tools you can hit yourself with (hammers); and tools you can stab yourself with (screwdrivers and chisels). Thus far, The Home Depot has not arranged tools in its stores in such a manner. But, think about it...don't we have wounds to prove the efficiency of my method.

Today, I still keep tools around the house. There are no pegboards with outlines of tools painted on them. If there were...the tools would not be there. My tools, invariably, are misplaced. They are somewhere around the house.

I have grinders, drivers, more saws than you could count, hammers big and small, tape measures, levels and they are in no particular order or place. Some are in bottom kitchen drawers, others in the barn or strewn on a workbench that resembles that of a mad scientist. Just to prove it, the photo accompanying this article is completely un-staged.

Oh, I occasionally drive a nail or drive a screw. And Bonnie - on more rare occasions - asks, "Do we have a screw driver in the house?" I usually respond: "It's probably with the other tools." She always gives me that look that wives give husbands. Do they teach that somewhere?

After all these years, I've finally learned my true talent... using the phone to get someone who knows how to use tools.


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