A Comfortable Couch

Monday, September 06, 2004

Hand tools

I love hand tools. A well-made and cared for hand tool will last indefinitely. They rarely become obsolete. It can be an heirloom you can pass down to your children, which happens quite a bit. Except unlike most heirlooms they’re passed down because they’re useful.

There should be a TV show about hand tools, where every week they investigate the history of a particular hand tool. With things likes the early developments of the tool, initial adoption rates, the improvements through the ages. Of course every commercial will be Home Depot or Lowe's commercials telling you "You can do it!" or something to that effect.

Week one, the hammer. Show me ancient Babylonian hammers made with granite and goat intestines. Then show me how the Chinese invented the hammer a 1000 years earlier with a version you swung with your feet. Then show me the breakthrough hammer that led to the modern golden age of hammer design. Something like that.

I chose the hammer first because I'm in love with my Estwing hammer, I want to marry it and have its babies. I got it when my dad came up shortly after I bought the fixer upper we live in (which is all fixed up and we are trying to sell now). So we went tool shopping, which is about the only kind of shopping I find fun. Plus I trust my dad’s tool buying decisions since he's been a general contractor for more than 25 years. Toolbelts, saw horses, tool boxes, nailsets, pry bars, crow bars, I was having a good time.

Then he told me I need to buy a hammer. I objected, I already had a hammer. A wonderful, light, fiberglass handled, generic hammer from Home Depot, about $8 I believe. He told me, nay... ORDERED me to buy an Estwing claw 20 oz. Straight Claw Hammer, a steal at $25. I'm glad he did, as it is a work of art. It’s all just one solid piece of sculptured steel, with graceful proportions and nice heft. It can survive being both a wrecking claw and demolition crowbar and it has survived unscathed multiple construction related tantrums where someone threw it hard as possible into the ground because it hit my fingers. And it works for driving nails too. This is a serious tool.

My contractor, the guy who ended up doing the bulk of the renovation work, once left his Estwing hammer in my attic. His is just like mine, except his hammer has a wonderful scratched-up patina, and all the crisp edges are a little rounder. He had been missing it for a while before I found it and returned it. When I gave it back to him he seemed quite relieved to see it, his eyes lit up like someone getting back their lost pet, and he cracked a goofy smile, the kind you get when your trying not to smile because you feel silly but you just can’t help it. I understood. As would the author of this poem.

To anyone looking for me to connect this back to software somehow, I must disappoint. Physical tools just are different from software tools. You can’t hold them in your hands, you can’t admire the design and simplicity while turning in the sunlight, you can’t throw them to the ground and have them forgive you. Software tools have their own charm of course, but it’s very different from hand tools.


Pete said...

The Woodwrights Shop on PBS was pretty close to the show you're talking about. This guy would do all sorts of projects the 'old school' way, using only hand tools. Obviously he went much deeper than hammer and saw and got into some esoteric hand tools that the average handy man doesn't have in his tool box. It was pretty cool though.

2:16 PMlink  
Damien said...

I remember that show from when I was kid growing up in NC, it was produced in Chapel Hill. I wasn't so interested in it back then, but now I'd really like to see an episode. Ahhh the memories... Thanks Pete!

2:58 PMlink  

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