On the day my father taught me to use a hammer, he was in the basement and I was pestering him with questions.
“What makes airplanes fly?”
“Big rubber bands,” he said.
“What made the Titanic sink?”
“Too much ice.”
“In a fight between a volcano or a dinosaur, who would win?”
“Why?” I asked. I was cheering for the dinosaur.
“Volcanos are bigger.”
I cut my question short. His neck had turned red and rather than an answer, I expected something more like a volcano was coming. Instead, he handed me a scrap of wood, a couple nails and a hammer.
“Here is how to not hit your thumb,” he said.
Hammering was more fun than questions – until I hit my thumb and went running upstairs to mom. It gave my dad a few minutes of peace – until I returned to pick up the hammer again.
“Remember how to not hit your thumb?” he asked.
Yeah, I remembered but even now I still hit it from time to time and when I do, I howl things that I punished my kids for saying – but I learned a lot from my father. He was a remarkable craftsman.
Using only what he carried in a homemade toolbox, he kept a large old house in excellent repair. In the box, he had a hammer, a saw, a drill, a screwdriver and an adjustable wrench. Nothing was powered by a cord or battery. It either had to be cranked, twisted, pushed or pulled by hand.
But even with so few tools, he still warned his kids to use the right tool for the job. I guess he knew us too well. We were the kind of craftsman who used a hammer to drive screws.
Today it is not so easy to use the right tool for the job. For one, you have to know what the right tool is. For another, you have to own it – or in an emergency, borrow or rent it.
Whole industries are devoted to providing the average do-it-yourselfer with the tools they need. That is because whole industries are devoted to proliferating the number of tools required to accomplish simple tasks.
I remember my father muttering expletives upon encountering a Phillip head screw. He swore it was designed by the devil to make men like him say things that he punished us for saying. Fortunately, he had yet to encounter the hex-head, square-head, double-hex, double-square, Torx or Bristol screw, nor the host of devices required to use each one. Still he managed to learn new tricks and as he did, he continued to pass along his wisdom.
Here are a few things he taught me.
- Take assembly instruction with a grain of salt. The person who wrote them was probably an English major, not an engineer – and the job of an engineer is to cut the cost of manufacture, not make your life easier.
- Never believe anything you see on television. They have video editors to fix their mistakes. You don’t.
- A 2” X 4” is not 2 inches thick by 4 inches wide. Keep in mind that if you drive a 4” deck screw into two 2” X 4”’s it will stick out the bottom by an inch because for some stupid reason a 4” deck screw is actually 4 inches long.
- If you want a professional job, hire a professional. If you want to do it yourself, you only have to do it good enough so that only you notice the mistakes.
Lastly, power tools were invented to get you into trouble faster than manual tools. If you are going to hit your thumb, do not do it with a nail gun.