Tool Meme

One of the pleasant surprises last weekend is that my parents and my brother and his wife lavished me with early birthday presents while I was in Fort Stockton. The Big Day is actually next week (the 28th, in case you’re computing shipping time for that new Crossfire…but I’m willing to wait as long as the 30th), but we weren’t likely to see one another before then.

Among other goodies, I received a 5 1/2″ Craftsman cordless circular saw, complete with laser guide. This little gem is bound to be a big time saver since my household jobs are usually small enough that it takes as much time to haul out the big saw, string an extension cord and then reverse the process when finished as it does to make the cuts.

Anyway, all the guys were impressed while the girls made polite remarks before resuming their discussion about the latest catalog from Talbots. Now, I’m not trying to read too much into this, but it does seem to me that guys just naturally get more excited than girls about hardware and tools. I know there are exceptions — on both sides of the aisle — but, generally speaking, it’s a valid differentiator of gender.

And it occurred to me that I’ve never seen a tool meme in the blogosphere. That’s a crying shame, and someone should do something about it.

  • What’s the last tool you bought? It was a 4 pound short-handled sledge hammer. It’s not often that I need a sledge hammer, but when I do, nothing else will fit the bill…not the clawhammer, not the rubber mallet, not the phenolic mallet or even the ballpeen. And the short-handled sledge matches perfectly to the 50-pound anvil I bought a few years back.
  • Which tool do you enjoy using so much that you make up jobs for it? That would have to be the little 110 volt wirefeed (MIG) welder (another gift from mi hermano). Having worked around welders in the oilfield when I was in college, I always admired the way they brought a certain artistic eye to the shaping of even the most massive pieces of metal. And even though I don’t have a tiny fraction of those skills (I once set my own pants on fire), there’s just something special about putting electrode to steel and generating sparks. Plus, it keeps the neighbors wondering just what you’re up to.
  • What’s the most obscure and yet useful tool in your collection? That’s a tough one, but I think the tool that’s bailed me out of more tight spaces, literally, is my angled ratcheting screwdriver. They’ll generate a surprising amount of torque for such a small tool, and they’ll sometimes save you from having to completely dismantle a mechanism just to fix one part. (Like, when one doesn’t necessarily follow the assembly instructions to the letter, but the problem doesn’t become obvious until late in the process. Not that I would know anything about that!)
  • What tool do you use most often? This is easy. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t find a use for the little cordless screwdriver that came with my 19.4 volt Craftsman cordless drill. Now, the cordless drill is a fine piece of, um, Craftsmanship, but I can stick the screwdriver in my pocket and it will do the smaller jobs that the drill would just overpower. Tim Taylor wasn’t always right with his primal call for “more power.”
  • Which tool do you admire most for its sheer craftsmanship? I answer this with a certain amount of melancholy, as the tool in question is no longer with us. It was a Japanese folding pruning saw, which I bought years ago from Garrett Wade. As with any good pruning saw, it cut on the pull stroke, so as to reduce binding. But this jewel of a tool sliced through branches so quickly and smoothly as to be effortless. I do believe that all the shrubs and trees in our yard breathed a collective sigh of relief when I managed to snap the blade. I’ve repressed the memory of how I did it, but the sadness lingers.
  • Bonus question: Box or bag? I grew up with toolboxes, and only late in life have discovered the utility of a well-constructed toolbag. If you must be annoyingly well-organized, go with the box…but if you must be well-equipped, the right bag will let you carry everything you need, and then some.

The idea of tagging someone for a meme like this is just too girly, so I won’t do it. But if you’re similarly inspired by things that shape, break, attach or otherwise modify other things, then feel free to pick this one up and work with it.


  1. @ Jim
    Never mind those guys who are gonna tell you about electricity. Rubbish. It’s a fencing term to describe a sudden movement made to avoid a thrust. 😉
    Okay, everybody! If we all chip in, I’m sure we can get Eric a birthday Crossfire!
    Oooh! Neat meme!
    1.) Wiha security bit set. The handy hardshell case has just enough room for a couple .050″ hex wrenches, too.
    2.) I was going to say “see #1) but that’s cheating. Running a close second is the Swiss-made Felco wire cutters. Originally designed to sever barbed wire, cable, and concertina, they eat through fencing faster than Oprah goes through a tub of Hagen Daaz. I helped a friend take down the ugly wire fence surrounding his back yard and I learned there’s a special joy to using a tool that does exactly what it’s designed to do. Additionally, they’re blued the exact same lovely plum color used on the slide of the Swiss Sig P-210.
    3. Obscure yet useful, you have a knack for clever yet tough questions, Eric. I’ll go with the right-angled needle nose pliers. I can’t remember how many times I’ve used them to change jumper settings on hard-drives without having to remove the drive out of the case. They’re also handy when working in cramped confines of other equipment.
    4. Vise Grips. They’re like having a pair of hands that can bend sheet steel, hold it when it gets hot from grinding, flatten and re-shape small parts, love ’em!
    5. Like you, I have to shift my focus to the land of the Rising Sun. Instead of the garden, I’ll be in the kitchen. A couple of years ago, I indulged myself and bought a hand-made sashimi knife. It was those Felco wire cutters that showed me how much fun a fine tool can be.
    6. Box. Bags don’t have parts trays.

  2. Good list, Mr. Freen! You realize, of course, that carrying a pair of wire cutters was a hanging offense at one time in the Old West.
    Vise Grips really opens up a whole category of useful gadgets: clamps. The right clamp can make all the difference between a pitifully botched job and one that turns out well. One can never have too many clamps!
    But please tell me you didn’t pay $500 bucks for a sashimi knife!

  3. I know you didn’t tag anyone Eric but when I read your entry, it got my juices flowing and I had to do one of my own.
    Check it out if you’d like. I gave you a link.

  4. Clarence, another excellent list! I’m especially impressed with your hand-crafted spud bar. There’s something fulfilling about making a tool that proves to be extremely useful.
    I concur with the utility of the Dremel clones. Plus, I just love all those tiny attachments.
    (I would have left this as a comment on your post, but you have comments disabled.)

  5. Cool meme!
    Not that I have good answers. I can’t really remember the last tool I bought, and there have been ones I was given. Might have been the old soldering iron my father gave me, which I just happened to need for something shortly after. Or if bought, may have been the glue gun, which is also the thing I have tended to invent uses for.
    3 might be angled needlenose I have at work. In my work kit, I often claim my mini Mag Light as the “most useful item,” but it’s hardly obscure. Great inside a dark computer case opened up while still under a desk. Hmmm… it could be the tool for putting male connectors onto raw ethernet cable, but I don’t do that as often as I used to.
    4 would be a largish philips screwdriver for the standard computer screws.
    5… no answer I can think of! Though the Mag light is well made.
    6 For work I have a Craftsman toolbag and it is great, if small. For a different type of work I think I’d rather have a box, or have a mix. The bag is portable and reminds me of a doctor’s bag, but holds all the needed stuff for working on a computer, but if I were working on a house or car I’d want more room.
    This is what we need more of; new topics, and memes that aren’t books or music.

  6. Jay, you just need to get a bigger bag. That Facom tool bag I linked to will just about hold more tools than I can comfortably carry.
    But, you know, one of the handiest tool carriers for special projects around the house is a plastic soft drink crate. The only downside is that small parts and tools can slip through the holes, but if you’re using big stuff like drills and hammers, they’re great.
    Thanks for dropping by!

  7. “But please tell me you didn’t pay $500 bucks for a sashimi knife!”
    It’s all a question of perspective, Eric.
    Consider it the kitchen’s version of a Mac. It’s very expensive and absolutely outstanding at the task it is designed for. Like a Mac, it too needs highly specialized (and equally expensive) accessories to keep it performing at its best and to get the most out of it. There’s also something of a learning curve for people used to something more prosaic, though perhaps not as effective.
    While it may seem a considerable sum, $500 is a fair price for an entirely hand-made knife by a master cutler.
    I like the sound of Clarence’s spud bar. A razor sharp edge on a custom pry bar. The neat stuff a person finds on blogs, yes?

  8. That Griot’s Garage link has the potential for causing me many problems. I simply cannot be trusted in a place like that. It’s the same with Sears’ hardware department. I may be forced to turn in my credit card just to protect my household’s financial security.

  9. Ok I’ll play along this time, only because the subject is dear to my heart.
    1.) 4 piece 18 volt Black and Decker cordless set. The 9.6V drill I had just wasn’t cutting the mustard and I needed a reciprocating saw for a sub-floor replacement project.
    2.) This would have to be the 2500 psi power washer that I borrow frequently from my father. Yes Eric, even after the incident that left a permanent scar on my right foot.
    3.) That would have to be my homemade angle guide. A couple of pieces of sheet metal and a wing-nut helps me measure existing angles for duplication. I’m too cheap to actually buy a real one.
    4.) The cordless screwdriver I have at work. Remember I am a techie and I am constantly cracking computer cases. It gets a daily workout.
    5.) My RJ45 connector crimpers. Complex yet very easy to use. Ratchet style so as not to require much squeezing effort.
    6.) I’ve got a big Sears multi-drawer box and as I get older, it gets heavier. The cordless kit I mentioned above came with a bag, which I like very much. But honestly, I prefer a 5-gallon bucket even though it’s not on the list.

  10. Last tool bought: A utility knife. How boring. Last before that was a countersinking phillips bit for drywall screws. Stops the head just before it tears through the paper on the drywall. Without that, I usually stop just *after* I tear through the paper, which isn’t as useful.
    Tool I make up jobs for: The new Dremel 400XPR. Bought to replace the cheap Black & Decker Dremel wannabe that died on me when the bearing inside got choked with drywall dust from cutting out holes for ceiling lights in the basement. I could get it apart to tell what was wrong, but only with great difficulty (it’s held together with security screws – they don’t want you fixing it.) Once inside, of course, I had no luck finding replacement parts. The *real* Dremel has the flexible shaft attachment so you can hold it like a pencil, and a carrying case I can actually use.
    If I had a welder, though, I would certainly weld anything I could get my hands on. I haven’t had a chance to do any of that since college, but boy is that fun.
    Obscure tool … hmm.. I don’t have any that are obscure. But I do want this wire clamp maker, which I’d count as obscure. Does *wanting* an obscure tool count for anything?
    Tool I use most often: My noodle. ha ha. sorry. Either the #1 phillips screwdriver (for opening battery compartments on toys) or the voltmeter (for testing said batteries).
    Tool I admire for craftsmanship: Felco bypass pruners. The blade is removable, so you can actually sharpen it. On a whetstone, even! The spring is thick and formidable. The locking mechanism is right where it needs to be and smooth to operate. They are all metal, completely disassemble-able and completely self-serviceable.
    Box or bag? Bag. I have an old heavy canvas rigger’s bag that just perfectly holds a circular saw and drill in the center pouch, and has little pockets all around the outside to hold screwdrivers, pliers, pencils and measuring tapes. I also have one of those wrap-around thingies for a 5-gallon bucket, which I count as more bag than box.
    I also want a wood lathe.
    And a drill press.
    And a table saw & chop saw.

  11. Mr. Freen, I agree with your comment on perspective. One man’s knife is another man’s work of art.
    Clarence, if Griot’s Garage tempts you, then you definitely need to stay away from the Garrett Wade catalog!
    Shannon, the 5 gal. bucket is a separate but equal answer, especially when you couple it with the “wrap around thingie” that Brian’s mentions. Those buckets are like duct tape; you can use ’em for just about anything.
    Jim, I’m with you on the sashimi invite, as long as Mr. Freen will certify that that’s all that knife has been used for. 😉
    Does *wanting* an obscure tool count for anything?
    Definitely! And that’s a great link…I’ve never seen a tool like that. I may have to add it to my wish list.
    The chop saw is a must for anyone who does metal work and especially for those who are lousy with a cutting torch (which would be me). I’ve got a Milwaukee 14 incher and it’s just outstanding.
    Speaking of utility knives, which several of you have done, I found a folding version with storage in the handle for extra blades and a belt sheath and gave it to my brother last Christmas. He’s still talking about how much he uses that thing. What kills me is that I didn’t get one for myself, and now I can’t find the same model. Bummer.

  12. Tool Blogging

    I meant to link earlier to Eric's post on tools, which is more or less in the form of one of those silly blog memes. Except it's not books or music for once. Yay! I was amused by: "Which tool do you enjoy using so much that you make u…

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