Over the years I have learned to appreciate that I was taught how to use hand tools. I’m not as good with them as I’d like to be, but maybe now in semi-retirement I’ll get better skilled.
Grandpa was a carpenter/plumber/blacksmith from a long line of builders. My Dad was a machinist by trade, but was well skilled in the use of tools of all kinds from carpentry to auto repair, as well as electric work. Our garage was filled with saws and chisels, hand planes, and any tool imaginable. Unlike todays children who have to be kept away from Dad’s tools because they are power tools and therefore much more dangerous, we were allowed to fiddle around with Pop’s tools and build things from scraps of wood and pipe.
My earliest memory of using a hand tool was when I was about two or three. I was sitting under the dining room table, calming drilling holes in my mother’s new linoleum with a bit and brace that my Dad had left lying around. It’s significant that I didn’t get in trouble for that – my Dad did. I can still see my Mom and Dad’s legs under the drape of the tablecloth. They were probably discussing where in heck that tool had disapeared to.
I helped with many projects and learned how to use hand saws, both for cutting firewood and sawing lumber. In my early teens my Dad bought a burnt out shell of a camp and we completely rebuilt it. Though I have also learned to use table saws, band saws, circular saws, jig saws and chain saws, they are still a bit intimidating due to their noise and potential for danger. I’m also happy that I have learned the value of an old nail, how to straighten it for reuse, with my finances and my (lack of) hammering skills I appreciate it in every project I do.
The barn I am rebuilding is too far away from the house to run an extension cord. At first I thought I would just cart the lumber down to the garage, cut it to size, and then cart it back to the site and install it. Well, carting piles of planks is no easy task either, so yesterday I bought a few new hand tools. A decent saw, a miter box, and a regular length level. Hardware stores are like a candy shop to me, but I showed discretion.
From my Mom I learned to cook and sew. In my day girls were expected to be able to sew a dress from scratch. I enjoyed putting my own twist on an article of clothing. Though I never became as skilled with a needle and thread as I should be, my daughter can stitch a fine rolled seam, and knows ho to adjust a pattern to better fit the person who will wear it.
All of these skills are utilitarian, but they also express our personalities through our artistic expression. They sometimes reveal what we see as important. I’m afraid my sewing projects make great use of something my Mom used to say -“it won’t be noticed on a trotting horse”. In other words, it’s adequate but not pretty. I have a tendency to get the job done, but be a little slip shod on the finish work (ex: the hem of a dress) My sister on the other hand creates marvelous, elaborate, beautiful items from cloth and yarn. I’m teaching myself to knit again (my Dad taught me first!) but I have to have many projects going at once because I become bored with any one thing.
The ability to create something (or repair something) by hand is so much more satisfying than simply handing over the cash. Often we get a better product. That’s true whether we’re talking about a batch of cookies, a birdhouse, or a skirt. What we create is an expression of ourselves. Certainly we get a better insight into what it takes to get what we want.