Tools of the Trade: A DIY Guide to Carving Out Some Handcrafted Happiness

So there you are flat on your back floundering in a shallow pool of water beneath the bathroom sink with a pair of slip joint pliers in one hand and a shoddy flashlight in the other, thinking, “Surely there’s gotta be a better way to effing do this.”

And there is.

The most obvious of which is to pay someone to do it for you.

However if you’re a swollen with pride industrious type like myself who gets an immeasurable amount of satisfaction from doing things yourself then I suggest you eighty-six the Angie’s List impulse and get back to work.

Of course unless you happen to be MacGyver’s next of kin you’re going to need the proper tools to get the job done, and well, tools can get pretty pricey, besides how often are you going to be replacing faulty pipes, faucets and supply lines?

So, what do you do?

You do like my frugal friend Mike does…you borrow them.

Mike is a retired neighbor of mine who’s borrowed everything from hedge trimmers to jack stands, but more times than not it’s some type of woodworking tool because that’s a hobby we both share an interest in.

As of late however Mike’s really picked up his game, rarely does a day go by that I come home from work and don’t see him in his garage cutting another piece of timber on his table saw.

A few weeks ago Mike came over to borrow some wood clamps and as he was making his way back across the street he abruptly stopped, turned around, and in a textbook Columbo impersonation uttered, “Oh, and one more thing, could you come over in a bit to give me a hand with something?”

“My pleasure Mikey.”

On the count of three, with me on one end and Mike on the other, we carefully flip over the freshly glued 4’x 6’ish wooden carcass resting atop his custom built workbench, which by the way is in itself is a shining example of Mike’s steady development as an accomplished artisan.

“Careful now, easy does it.” “Whew. Good job.”

“So Mike…”

“It’s going to be a tool cabinet.”

“Sweet,” but for whose tools I can’t help but wonder.

No offense intended, it’s just that if there’s one thing I’ve picked up on throughout my many stopovers to Mike’s garage over the years it’s that for a respectable DIY’er the man simply ain’t got shit for tools.

Growing up I never had the pleasure of getting to know my Great Uncle Jack who sadly passed away just prior to my 3rd birthday, but I do remember his garage, or rather, his shop, which my Great Aunt Marie told me was rarely if ever frequented subsequent to her husband’s passing.

Set well back behind the main house and off to the side of what my two older siblings and I called the wash-house, its gable style roof and aging clapboard siding framed a large paneled sliding door which ran over a rusty and ragged cast iron track, and while it was by no means easy for a then eight-year old, I could with all my might manage to shove it open just enough to squeeze on through.

Inside it was a cool and cavernous place, and unlike so many of today’s garages, with their store-bought ready-to-assemble storage systems, virtually everything was handmade of wood; the cabinets, the rows of tiered shelving, the overhead racks suspended from the rafters which still stored mounds of milled lumber.

The massive work bench with its stout frame and wood-on-wood joinery was a stunning piece of workmanship.

But what most caught my attention was a 3 foot square cupboard sitting just above eye level atop that workbench.

Complete with stainless steel hinges, accessorized leather clasp and meticulous mitered joints this stylish box was a young woodworker’s dream.

So with both feet planted firmly on the end of an old soda box I ventured to take a closer look.

Then, with my heart aflutter, I gently unfastened the rawhide strap, inched the door open, and good gawd almighty that’s when I saw it: a virtual treasure chest of hand tools.

Tools of every shape and size imaginable, hammers, hand drills, crosscut saws, coping saws, planes, chisels, squares, all of which hadn’t been handled in years.

As I stood there open-mouthed I couldn’t help but think what it would have been like to be at my Great Uncle’s side while he skillfully worked with these tools, and all I could have learned from this master craftsman.

Truth is I often still think about it, and just how much it would have meant to me to have his tools in my possession today.

Mike continues to go into greater detail about his current project, as well as fill me in on some of the finer points of woodworking 101, and I’m all ears, because frankly there’s something very cathartic about listening to someone talk about something they’re obviously enthusiastic about.

Yet it’s when Mike unveils his latest assortment of homemade jigs that I’m completely taken aback.

Simple in design and constructed mostly of scrap wood these handy jigs do everything from square up corners to locate and mark the center line of a board.

Then the pièce de résistance: an impressive handcrafted hand finished wooden mallet.

As I bid Mike farewell and mosey on back home I can’t help chuckle at the sparing way in which he typically does things, and at the same time be utterly gobsmacked at the fervor and finesse with which he repeatedly gets them done.

Granted, he may not have (or for that matter ever want) all the latest greatest tools of the trade, but what Mike does have are those bare-bones essentials one indubitably needs to carve out a rich and rewarding way of life.

“The greatest essentials for happiness in life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for...English poet and playwright Joseph Addison

In the end, what Mike has is something you can’t buy or borrow; nonetheless, you can bet whenever he comes waltzing up my driveway in need of something I may have I’ll be more than happy to lend it to him.

Because for one, it’s the neighborly thing to do, but then Mike’s more than just a neighbor, he’s more than simply a friend…the dude’s an inspiration.

See ya soon, till then...keeep it up.


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