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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin


This month:

The Destroyer of Tools

The Ultimate Miter Saw Work Station (I Hope!)

Could This Be The Next Big Country Song?

Astute Reader Catches Big Mistake


The Destroyer of Tools

Need a place to crash? No problem, mi casa, su casa. Hungry? Come sit a spell, have a snack. Need wheels? Take my truck. Need a tool? Fuhget about it!

It is hard to say "no" to a friend...even harder with family. But loaning out a tool sends a shiver through my body and mind. My experiences have not been good. And there is one guy whose tool borrowing entreaties can actually evoke emotions that the world champion of poker couldn't hide.

He is Jim (name changed to sustain family unity), and he reminds me of the multi-armed Vishnu in the Bhagavad-Gita, from which I paraphrase, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of tools."

A few weeks ago he returned my 18 gauge finish nailer, missing the rubber tip and now requiring three to four pulls of the trigger to fire one nail. Prior to that, he destroyed my chain saw. It seems he got it stuck in a falling tree. He has managed to bend screwdrivers and saw backs, has broken hammer handles and chisel tips, and even burned up the guides on my Festool jigsaw. For Jim, the adage "let the tool do the work" is anathema to his style of working.

Jim attacks his work in a way more than mildly reminiscent of the cartoon Tasmanian Devil, in a dervish of non-stop eye-blurring motion, arms flailing, legs pumping, and non-stop chattering. Yet with all that energy, he gets no more done than more deliberate and purposeful craftsmen, and at great cost to himself, his surroundings, and his (and unfortunately often my) tools.

I've seen Jim bearing all of his weight down and physically sawing back and forth while my reciprocating saw was running full blast, bearings melting, motor straining, blade smoking. I have watched mesmerized as he shot a dozen framing nails into a single two-by joint, the last couple hitting nails already there. Horrified, I watched him make a slot by drilling a hole then pushing the bit sideways through the material. After two broken bits and a string of creative but unwarranted fulminations, I realized he was blaming the "cheap drill bits." That drill, of course, now suffers from excess run-out and a chuck that won't hold a bit securely.

When Jim bears down and runs a tool too fast, for too long, and the heat starts to build up, his answer is to wrap a rag around the tool and keep going. He loves nail guns, and gets very Rambo-like. A disciplined soldier never fires two bullets when one will do, but Jim fires nails like a machine gun. When the gun gets balky or the compressor is overworked, his answer is to turn up the air pressure and curse the gun. "They just don't make these things the way they used to."

Unfortunately, there is no changing Jim. I've tried. I have coached, reasoned, cajoled, screamed, and at one point made what some might consider a threat (heaven knows I would never really threaten anyone, not even family), but to no avail… it is just not in his DNA to "let the tool do the work." Even personal injuries (and he's had a lot of them) will not slow him down. Jim has fired nails through his hands, sawed a nice little groove in his leg (that one using a circular saw to free-hand cut a two by four propped against his thigh), and has burned his fingers multiple times on red-hot bits and blades.

Jim's job sites look like war zones. Tools, trash, materials, scrap, and extension cords lay everywhere. Jim trips often, unintentionally kicks things across the floor, and never knows where he left anything. As a result, he often grabs a substitute for the right tool and continues to flail away.

Most would see Jim and assume him to be a very hard worker. Constant motion is often confused with productivity. He burns calories, no doubt, along with blades, bits, and power cords but he gets no more done than a person working at a normal steady pace… and working with him is a nerve-wracking and stressful experience.

There is an upshot, though. I used to sell old tools for a pittance when I got something newer or better. No more. Now the old tool goes into the "Jim loaner pool." I replaced my 18 gauge finish nailer, but the next time Jim needs a loaner, he's getting the one that misfires and has the bent tip. Maybe he will get frustrated with the "quality" of my loaner tools and find someone else… nah, no such luck. He is, after all, family.

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