After 45 years I finally destroyed or at least ditched the evidence that proves I am not someone meant to work with my hands, at least not in a craftsman-like way.
It was a wooden tool box I made in the freshman farm shop class at my high school. Nothing was done right on that little project. The ends were not cut correctly and the inside blocks used to separate the box into compartments were not cut squarely and the handle, although solid and workable, was not done correctly either.
And yet my dad, who learned about the rudiments of carpentry growing up on a farm, and who perfected his own skills for his own use around home over the years, used that tool box from 1963 when it was made till he died in 1990 at the age of 85.
Somehow it wound up back with me and has sat out in various garages holding some things of mine and some tools dad left behind.
The poorly constructed but nonetheless serviceable tool box has always been kind of an embarrassment to me, but fortunately it has not been on display anywhere and my name is not on it.
But we have had to downsize our living arrangements, so I, with only a little twinge of nostalgia, chucked the old tool box in the garbage.
Most of my dad’s tools were already gone. Some had gone to one of my now late uncles. I still do have some, but will probably have to get rid of them, tools that is.
Most all of my dad’s tools were of the hand-powered variety. He had few power tools.
One of those old hand tools I still have, and may keep for memory’s sake, is what is called a brace and bit, a kind of hand drill with a u-shaped grip. Such a thing was already nearly out of style when I was in farm shop. But dad used that contraption over and over again for a vast array of projects. One of the first I saw him use it on was a grape arbor he made at our home when I was a little kid.
He used it on a myriad of other projects, including a remodel of our kitchen. One thing he often used it for was to what I think you would call drilling holes to counter sink bolts – makes a nice neat job, with the fastener not protruding above the surface of the wood.
Actually, though, now that I think of it, my earliest memory of my dad doing handy work is of him using a power tool – a table saw. He used that table saw a lot. In later years, living out in the country once more, he used it to cut small pieces of firewood into stove lengths.
At some point he finally broke down and got an electric hand-held circular saw for carpentry projects and also got a small gas operated chain saw to cut up that fire wood.
I always looked at my dad’s carpentry work as a hobby, but he refused to view it as such. He simply claimed he had things that needed to be done, so he did them. He did not claim to be, nor was he, a jack of all trades, but he certainly was good at carpentry, house wiring, and plumbing.
By his own admission, dad was too slow to have made a good living at those trades, but he did insist upon himself that work had to be done correctly in a workman-like manner, and he did not take shortcuts. He was a journalist most of his life, and that certainly applied to his work in that field.
As much as I watched my dad or helped him in his projects – as in, would you hold the other end of that tape measure Tony? – I never became a hand at any of those crafts myself. My mind had a hard time going there, and I would often get frustrated.
But through the years, at various times I have been forced to delve into at least the edges of some of those activities and have profited from tips and advice dad gave me.
Probably the one piece of advice I did not get down as well as I should have is: “you have to be patient”.
At this juncture in life, I think people have natural aptitudes for things, and it is hard to work against that grain. But for the things one might be good at, in general, patience and persistence is the key.
Drive to get ahead, luck, being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, all can be important.
But being good at what you do trumps everything.
P.s. But on this patience thing – with my personality, I never felt I had time to be patient.