Tuesday, April 18, 2006

This Old Wrench

It can be very hard sometimes, as a SAHD, to feel masculine. And no matter how role models eventually come to adjust themselves, I feel that most men are never going to feel all that comfortable squinting at the "feminine hygiene products" trying to recall if their wives wanted maxis, minis, wings, wing-tips, or "turbo".

Nevertheless, one unexpected benefit of this sort of thing is a surprisingly enhanced ability to get to play with tools, the most masculine activity there is short of killing a wild animal and roasting it over a fire.

I certainly can't speak for every guy, but for the first several years after college about all I did with tools was hammer in a nail for hanging my pictures. I also unscrewed the case of my computer now and then. Woo.

But to be honest, as a single guy living in an apartment, I didn't have much need of tools. To really need tools, you have to live in a house (or be the sort who reassembles your radiator for fun on the weekend, which I'm not). Houses give you lots of opportunities to use tools. That is, if you try to take advantage of them. For the first few years of married in a house life, I didn't truly take advantage of the chance to work with tools.

Partially this was a function of time. We were very quickly new parents in addition to everything else, and projects of greater scope than assembling a crib were just not high on our lists.

But I realize now that a huge part of it was just not having the right tools. Any home improvement task will suck if you are trying to use a pair of needle-nose pliers to insert a wood screw (no, I never actually did that. I used a speed-wrench). Gradually, I came to realize this problem. The first step was a useful but not quite Nirvana inducing set of boxed-end wrenches and what my Dad always referred to as a "socket set" (i.e., a Snap-On tools style ratchet set).

Then, a couple of years ago I finally requested a cordless drill and screwdriver for Christmas. Wow, was that a big change. For ages I have been hand-forcing screws into the walls. I wasn't even pre-drilling the holes with the heavy drill I did have. But now I could just zing! zing! screws into wall studs all I wanted. I wouldn't have survived this last move without those cordless guys, and I really do wonder why I waited so long to get them.

I have since used my heavy drill's special masonry setting to bore holes into the bricks of our house so I could make a gate work better. Later I also used it to attach hose reels. I rescued a set of punches and chisels from my Dad's old workbench five years ago, and they say gathering dust until last month, when I used them to break paving stones in half to fill in gaps of a short walk I laid. I've put up shelves in Jacob's room, Trish's closet, and the hall closet. I've added a valve to my shower and fitted it with a detachable showerhead. I replaced a bad tire on the wheelbarrow, sharpened a lawn mower blade…

Okay, once in a while being more self-reliant is a waste of time. A couple of years ago, the lawn mower started acting up. It would run for a while and then die. If you waited a few minutes, it would restart, only to die again. I replaced the spark plug and air filter. No help. Then I took the carburetor out, took it apart and cleaned it. Still nothing. I gave up and took it to a small engine repair place. Turned out the gas cap had gone bad, and the thing was getting a vaccum lock after a while. So I wasted some time on that one, but if it had been something else, I could have fixed it myself. I am tool-man, hear me roar!

Trish talked me into getting an electric hedge clipper. I used it the other day, and it cuts through half-inch branches like butter. Yeah, baby!

I got a worktable for my birthday, and hope to eventually mount a vise with an anvil surface on it. I confess, I haven’t really had a need for a heavy vise yet, but it will be good to have one all the same. You never know.

And all this is without going on about how my tools helped rescue a little girl whose foot got caught in a bicycle wheel.


Haaaaaaa said...

I love tools. When my wife worked for an industrial distributor, I was in heaven. The coolest tool I remember getting is the special wrench loosen the nut on the underside of a faucet. Without it, a kitchen faucet repair is an all-day affair.

I have two of them: small and large. It gives me a great sense of pride to loan them out to help out a friend.

Alex Camacho said...

I find myselfe drooling in the tools department of Sears these days. Four years ago it would have been the electonics department. I'll still pay the electronics department a visit but the tools and hardware have won my love these days.
I find myself dreaming of that new tablesaw at Lowe's more than that surround sound system I've always wanted. I'd hate to think it's a sign of old age but the big three o' is too close to ignore these days. Maybe it's just too much time on my hands.
I recently found out a friend got a new job at a hardware store and my first thought was, "How much is his employee discount?"... Horrible.

Anonymous said...

My dad was a very handy and skilled DIY'er. He learned all that stuff from growing up on a rural farm. He could fix and build anything. I learned a lot from him as a teen. Once I was on my own I, like the author, also had little need to own and use lots of tools when living in an apartment as a single young man. Back in those days the only tools I owned and used when required were an assembely of carefully chosen few specialized automotive tools for performing routine maintanence on my jeep. And, of course the specialized equipment I had for reloading my own ammunition (yeah I'm a hunter and shooter). I still have and regularly use all those tools, have since acquired more too. Of course once I got married and bought a house I quickly realised the important need of having various hand and power tools for home repair and upkeep. Let me just say that the first thing I did was build a very heavy solid workbench and topped it with a heavy duty vise. Then I spent the first three years in my house slowly collecting the vast majority of tools I need for carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc. I now have just about evrything I need to fix and build everything that's within my capabilities. The one thing I've always been careful of is to avoid buying any cheap tools. As a result of my quest for quality sometimes I've had to go through industrial suppliers to get some of my handtool. One other strickt requirment is that my handtools have to be manufactured here in the USA, no Asian made junk, no exceptions. For power tools? Well exceptions have to be made for those these days. Oh yeah, that bench vise may only get used occasionally, but when I need it, it is worth every pound in gold.