Tool Junkie

As I looked into the empty, steel box, a very faint memory flitted through my head, just at the edges of my ability to reach it, like an escaped pet that manages to stay just beyond your grasp. In the box, there should be an electric saw perfect for the construction job that I was neck deep in. Instead, a terrified spider stood guard over a few burned out blades and the ancient sawdust left from previous battles waged with my house. The saw was nowhere to be seen. In my mind’s eye, I could envision handing it to a grateful someone who turned down taking it with its carrying case and saying something about getting it back to me later.

The problem here it that I can’t for the life of me, remember who this individual was.

Normally, I take care to reclaim tools quickly and write my name all over them as a precaution lest they be enveloped by some other tool chest and taken as its own. This time around, I had neglected these steps and since the moment of its lending happened well over a year ago. All I am left with now is the metal box and no saw. I think I can safely guess that the saw and whomever I loaned it to are both gone for good. That’s a common issue with the island we live on. The houses here are often in need of extensive repair and the people who live in them tend to come and go as they discover that planning life around a ferry schedule isn’t all that simple. They put the project up for sale and move on. I’d be willing to bet a bag of doughnuts that my saw isn’t even on this island anymore.

Tools are something that I have a weakness for. Places that sell them call to me like the sirens to Ulysses and ever since we bought our first house, I’ve been pursuing my ultimate goal of owning them all. Every tool out there. All of them.

toolchest

Some, I’ll need two of.

Or possibly… three or more.

My tool love was magnified by the fact that I used to own a business in manufacturing that required a pretty sizable array of toolidge, which I happily indulged in. It was kind of like telling a caffeine addicted barista that they had to sample each and every pot of coffee every morning.

The only thing better than shopping for a new tool, is shopping for a new validated tool!

When I sold my shop last year, the contents of the toolbox were not part of the bargain and it all came home with me to happily overflow my basement. I have two complete wrench sets, two each of two types of drills (two battery powered and two half inch corded), two circular saws, two drill presses and more measuring tapes than the mind can comfortably explain the need for having.

Some of these duplicates have gone to my parent’s house to clutter up Dad’s workbench and they have been happily received. For him, it means that he finally had some power equipment that he’s been unable to justify buying and for me it softens some of the guilt I feel for all the hand tools that I borrowed from him in my youth and then lost in the back yard, the woods or simply secreted away to my own house. I’m sure some of his as well as my own tools live, lost and forgotten in various closed up walls or behind built in cabinets with the spiders and old shopping lists that seem to lurk there and reproduce in abundance.

Though I’m a sucker for motorized tools, my real love is with good, old fashioned, cast steel ones. Hand tools have a spirit about them that you just don’t get with anything else. A cruise through a few of my bench drawers or tool boxes will yield you a healthy example of wrenches, screw drivers and saws that are rough, darkened with age and grease and quite old. They date back three or four generations now and some have been used by my family, some still alive, some long gone now. The marks left on them by their past projects are imprinted on each tool like scars of honor.

Many years ago when my Grandfather knew he was dying, he made a request of my Father. He wanted to make sure that he’d take the tools. My Dad was his only son and it was important to Grandpa that his tools continued on in family hands. Naturally, he agreed and didn’t really understand what he said yes to until after his father had passed. Grandpa had worked with his hands his whole life and his years at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Western Electric Company and the farm he had, made him a solid, “fix it your self” kind of person. He had amassed an impressive stable of hand tools as well as a few electric ones (including a truly intimidating looking half inch drill that has to date back to the fifties or sixties). Bringing it all back to our home turned my Dad’s normally well organized work space in the basement into a huge collection of dark, heavy iron, ancient coffee cans filled with various drill bits and boxes of unidentifiable and obviously specialized bench mounted equipment. Later on when my wife and I bought our first house, Dad and I started to transfer some of them to my place.

As you look around the clutter choked area I call my workbench, you might notice that the most used tools are kept within easy reach. My Grandpa’s grey toolbox sits only an arms length away and I paw through it often. When I do, I often whisper through a smile something like, “Ok, Grandpa. Lest see if you have… needle nose pliers / a pipe burnisher / a 5/16ths wrench”… or something along that line. I value the connection it gives me and using his tools makes him feel close by just like it does when I use one of my Great Grandfather’s tools or one of my Dad’s that I have snuck off with when he wasn’t looking. I’ll get it back to him later.

More likely, I’ll use it to fix something in his house at some point soon. I’ll try to remember to leave it on his bench after.

Tools are special to a fixit guy. A wrench stops being just a wrench once you’ve used it long enough, bled on it, carried it in your pocket until the jeans rip where it goes and the metal goes dark with age. It represents the projects you’ve completed and the problems you’ve solved. Its loss would be keenly felt and its replacement would always be just that. A replacement.

There’s a story I’ve heard about a man talking with a farmer who he spotted chopping firewood. The man makes a comment about the farmer’s rather abused looking axe and mentions that he ought to get a new one.

“No sir! This is the best axe I’ve ever had! I’ve been using it for most of my life. I’ve put three new handles on it and two new heads. I just love this axe!”

As you can see, it’s the spirit that carries on. The story is a joke, naturally, but to be honest, I identify one hundred percent with the farmer.

After a trip into town and then to the tool store, I had parted with a sizable chunk of money but joyously clung to my new purchase. In my arms I held not simply a new Sawzall, I held MY new Sawzall.

sawzall

It’s far better than the one I lost and I’m thrilled to state that at the time of this writing, it is already dinged, dirty and well broken in. It’s earned its cookies and an honorable place among the family tools in my workspace.

It won’t last forever, naturally. It’s a power tool after all. You can bet that the motor will eventually over heat and fail or the bearings, filled with the grime and sawdust of a hundred projects, will someday seize, but in the mean time, it’s going to see a lot of work, and it makes me happy! When its day does come, I’ll toss it out and start shopping for a new one. The old hand tools will still be there though and work just as well as they always did and I’ll be working them just as hard.

All I need to do now is figure out a way to keep my own kids from nicking them before I’m finished with my own projects. I’ll probably have to build some sort of giant, locking tool chest and to do that, I’m going to need to pick up some new pieces of equipment!

Hmmm… I’ll need a joiner, a new router, some clamps… lots more clamps! Hmmm….

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8 Responses

  1. You are quite mad!
    I can understand where you are coming from, but it’s way over on the otherside of known territory for me.
    I have a pathetic screwdriver set and a lot of tape.

    My great uncle was a tool guy: he had every gadget for every situation. I’m not sure what happened to his treasures, but they didn’t make it to me: maybe one of my brothers has the magnetic bendable screwy thing needed for some car no one will ever drive again.

    Everyone has their loves: mine is not tools that are useful for building things of stone and wood … I wish it was, it would be actually be useful.

    • Hey! Never underestimate the power of tape! Duct tape, to be specific.

      It’s funny, I’m simultaneously proud and somewhat ashamed of the collection I’ve amassed. As it sits now, I could easily start a career in construction as I’ve got pretty much everything you’d need to build a house. But I don’t build houses! Well… I build the one we live in, I suppose, but it’s still a lot of space they take up in the basement.

      I can’t help it though. They’re shiny and loud and cut things and nail things and. ohhhhh… I love em!

      -TP

  2. I totally understand where you’re coming from.

    I’ve been lucky over the last 15 years as one of my closest friends has been a big shot in a few big name tool companies and I’ve manged to amass just about everything I need (and some) quite cheaply. I even use the tools every now and again but I won’t lend them out.

    By the way the picture with this post is pure carpenter’s porn. Interesting little Masonic symbolism on the left side near the middle towards the bottom.

    • Good eye on the Masonic symbol! I didn’t even notice that.

      The story behind this amazing tool collection is that it belonged to a piano repair man, back in the day when beautiful hand tools were not so unusual. I love this thing and if I owned it, I’m not sure I’d dare use anything from the cheast lest I loose or damage it. It has clearly crossed the line from tool to work of art in its own right.

      -TP

  3. Looks like you’re ready to build some Pinewood Derby cars. Maybe a little overkill there, but still! Betcha’ can’t wait until Short Stack is ready! Oh, you’re going to have fun! The things of which memories are made!

    • Oh! He’s already helping me… or should I say, “helping” me with building stuff. I’ve been building a ton of stuff from him and Lulu Belle and the ambitions keep getting bigger! My ultimate goal? A soapbox racer for them to drive down some of the hills here on the island. If I can get some of the other parents into it, maybe we can have our own derby!
      -TP

  4. I also come from a do it your self/tool fetishist family. My father in his artistic free spirit (a freelance sculpturor) would always start projects by saying “I can do this myself” and than contemplating for a while what tools could he make to help him do the job. My uncle, on the ither hand, would spend the first few afternoons e.g. combining the glue with just the right colour of pigment to fix the cable on the electric drill before getting to real work 🙂

    Thus it should come as no surprise that when my inlaws asked what do I wand as a present for my BA (in journalism), I said Iskra electric drill. With years my toolbox is getting bigger but it will explode once we buy a house – than I’ll get excuse for buying all the nice things that I really really need. OK, who am I kidding, that I really want.

    For a while, my father would go and buy two sets of the same tools, one for me and one for him. This seemed like a nice tradition (though somehow I ended up hiding my set since it had a weird tendency to dissapear if left unattended) and I hope I will be able to pass at least some of it along to my girls. Seems to work fine for now – as T. says occasionally “Daddy, let’s drill”.

    • I wonder what it is about drilling? Short Stack loves it too and always wants to use the drills. I’ve got a drill press in the workshop that makes it pretty safe for us to do together. I just clam down the piece and then let him lower the arm. He loves that.

      The story about your father getting two sets of tools for you to share is great and my Dad did the same for years. Then, once I sold my business, I didn’t need all the multiples of tools and was able to return the favor. That felt good.

      Good luck on the house hunting! Do your self a favor though and don’t get something that needs too much work. When you have two kids, it seems like someone is ALWAYS sleeping and working on the house just never quite happens. My projects took about a year and a half hiatus while I waited for Lulu Belle to be ok with me firing up a saw or drill. She still hates the hammer though. 🙂

      -TP

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