What’s your favorite tool? I admit I have a tool fetish. I see a tool that is elegant in design and function, well crafted and just plain pretty–I gotta have it. Whether I would ever use it or not, makes no difference. Know what I mean? If you do, then you have it too. There a lot of us out there, and not just men. My lovely wife has it easy as bad as I do, sometimes over the same tool as me, and sometimes over something like a can opener. No kidding, she found this really cool manual can opener that was polished chrome, solid and svelte, graceful in its lines and design–like a hood ornament, only functional. I wanted it too!
You get the idea. We all have our favorite tools. I have many more than one. The ones I tend to like the most are simple and inexpensive, yet do so much with so little. In my trade, hammers and squares are obvious choices, but even a piece of string has its merits. Stretch it between two stakes and it defines a building line. Or how about a plumb bob, I mean, damn, it points straight to the center of the earth!
When I first went to work as a carpenter’s apprentice, I was Introduced to the “wonder bar”, a marvelous little tool for taking things apart. Old Frank, the master carpenter whom I worked under described it thus, “It’s a wonder bar. First, you wonder what it’s for, then you wonder where it’s at!” It turned out to be one of the most important tools in my kit and still is… except, I wonder where it’s at.
I love to go to the board store and covet all the new shiny tools, but I love just as much the hidden rusty treasure of a yard sale find. Over the years I’ve come across certain designs and brands that are no longer in production and to find one of those is almost as sweet as a whole truckload of key lime pie. A Stanley all steel sliding t-bevel square found at one-yard sale almost made me wet my pants, I was so excited. When you set that sucker at an angle and tighten down the thumb screw, you can drop it off a building and it won’t budge a 32nd of an inch. THAT’S quality!
Tool innovations revolutionize industries and drive advancements in technology and civilizations, all the way back to the Stone Age when man first picked up a rock to split open a deer’s thigh bone to get to the marrow. In just my lifetime, my trade has been radically changed by advancements in tools and techniques. (techniques, by the way, is another favorite topic of mine–you’ll be seeing an article or two about them in the future) the one that comes to mind as one of the more recent is the impact driver for driving screws. The compound sliding miter saw is another. It can be argued that some of the old skills are being lost because of the ease with which tools make some tasks. Maybe so, but only the skill and artistry of the user creates the finished product. Still, a builder’s calculator may have replaced the framing square for roof layout, but there is nothing more captivating than watching a master carpenter who knows how to use a rafter square.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned or just plain dumb, but I still like simple–a two-dollar set of scribes lives in my belt. I may need it only two or three times during a job, but when I need it to trace a cut around a curve or other odd shape, nothing can replace it.
Now, I wonder where it’s at?… probably hiding with the wonder bar.