In the Make: Online Toolbox, we focus mainly on tools that fly under the radar of more conventional tool coverage: in-depth tool-making projects, strange or specialty tools unique to a trade or craft that can be useful elsewhere, tools and techniques you may not know about, but once you do, and incorporate them into your workflow, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. And, in the spirit of the times, we pay close attention to tools that you can get on the cheap, make yourself, or refurbish.
One might think that a geek, a techie, a maker, might not be that particular about what he or she wears. We’re certainly not likely to be paying attention to what the latest fashion crazes are or what’s sashaying down the runways of Paris and New York. But ask said maker/geek about what he or she is wearing and carrying in his or her pockets, and you’ll likely get a very long, precision rant on the functionality, durability, and methods of everything. Geeks might be no less particular about clothing, accessories, and personal items, they’re just likely more focused on substance than style (or have a very unique take on style). We asked a bunch of folks in the maker/hacker community to tell us something about what they wear and carry and why. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say.
We got such a tremendous response that we’re going to split this Toolbox into two parts. Part 1 will cover clothing, shirts, pants, footwear, and outerwear. Part 2 will look at bags, pouches, and cases, pens, notebooks, and other carried items.
Shirts (with pockets!) One of the first things we noticed as a trend was makers telling us they only wear shirts with pockets (so they can carry pens, small notebooks, etc.). This is a particular obsession of mine. I don’t want to wear anything that doesn’t have a pocket (including my T-shirts). It so bums me out that, even geek-targeted T-shirts don’t have pockets! Hey geek/maker/hacker community (and that means you too, Maker Shed!) — industrious, creative, big-brained people want to carry pens, 3×5 cards, and other tools that don’t live so well in pants pockets. Give us pockets in our T-shirts — and not those matchbook-sized ornamental pockets — real pockets!
I’m a longtime fan of Ben Davis short sleeve shirts, 1/2 zipper front — bombproof, grease-resistant work fabric (great for workshop or bike commute), cut loose (that’s why hip-hoppers love ‘em, also great for bike commutes), and not one but two shirt pockets, with a pencil slot on the left one. Plus, the ape logo, evoking our tool-using primate superiority.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people said they’re fond of cargo pants, but they didn’t give specific brand recommendations. That’s what I frequently wear. I especially like them when I travel because you can easily access the lower pockets from a plane seat (and there are plenty of pockets to hold all of your carry-on gear). I buy a lot of my cargos from Old Navy. For the spring and summer, I wear their thin, light cotton cargos. In the fall and winter, I switch to a thicker, more rugged fabric. Prices run from $20 (on sale) to $40.
MAKE pal Kent Barnes swears by BlÃ¥klÃ¤der pants. “They take knee pad inserts, which is very important to me.”
Tom Georgoulias swears by Dickies work pants, specifically Dickies 874s ($13-33):
They’re super durable, have nice sized pockets, come in all sorts of colors, and are cheap and easy to find in local stores and online. I’ve been wearing 874s for over 20 years and don’t really have any other brand of pants in my wardrobe. I’ve tried painters pants and other pants with lots of side pockets and loops, but it always seems like stuff falls out of them when I squat down, climb a ladder, etc. Having two front and two back pockets is still the best.
Until someone sees fit to design a proper pair of dress pants that can accommodate a mobile phone, I found an acceptable solution in the pages of Galls, my favorite law-enforcement catalog. Beat cops wear dress-style slacks as a basic part of their uniforms, and some of those slacks come with a “sap pocket” — a small pocket built into the rear of the leg that’s used to hold billy clubs, blackjacks, or flashlights. For civilians, however, a sap pocket is also great for holding cellphones.
For pants, I like M-1951 fatigue pants (or the equivalent cold weather shells when it’s cold). They have a ton of pockets, including cargo pockets that can carry an enormous amount of gear, and snap closures on all the pockets — even the ones in front. They last an eternity and wear like iron. I’ve been wearing a pair of them that I bought (surplus) in college, around 1985. They have finally worn enough that I bought a new pair. (I have mended them, of course, replacing buttons, etc.) This includes various long-term backpacking trips to Central America and elsewhere for weeks at a time. Solid. You can get them at a number of places that sell military surplus, but they are getting harder to find. Expect to pay about $35-40/pair. During the summer, I like the lighter “quick-dry” nylon fatigues, but they don’t last as long. The local mountaineering store used to sell a pair that zipped into shorts, which is nice.
Kent also recommends the New Worker Twin Fisted Fleece Vest. It sports a zipped breast pocket, two zipped front pockets, phone pocket, tool loop, sturdy zip reaching up to collar, a drawstring waist, reinforced front sections, and is windproof. It retails for $70
Boots on the ground (and shoes)
You’re likely to find Caterpillar Alaska FX Steel Toe boots on Kent Barnes’ feet. These rugged, lace-up work boots feature a Nylon mesh lining, a removable “PU” sock liner, a T15 rubber outsole, and Goodyear welt construction. They are slip and electrical hazard resistant and meet all steel toe ANSI/ASTM standards. They retail for $130.
Also not surprisingly, a lot of people recommended black, military-issue combat boots.
Mark Adams confesses:
I like standard Marine-issue black combat boots. I have only owned two pair in my life — the first bought surplus in high school (and they were not in the best of shape even then). And, another pair bought new when I was living in Boston in the mid-1990s. I still have and wear those. Indestructible, and really, really comfortable. With a good pair of wool socks and a cotton pair as a liner, you can withstand the cold, and walk forever. You have to take care of your boots, but they last forever (can you tell I grew up in a military family?).
I have a trusty pair of Doc Martens myself and they’ve become a central part of my (non-desk) work (and play) outfit. They’re the original 8-eye cap-toed black boot. They retail for $120. I got mine, new, on eBay for $99 with free shipping.
In summer, Mark Adams swears by his Converse High Tops (black, of course). Me too! I’ve worn black high top Chucks since I was a teenager. And it seems like they’ve been $40 retail forever.
Our very own John Baichtal recommends the Scott eVest Hoodie ($70):
It has 11 pockets, special channels for gadget wires, loops for earbuds, magnetic pocket closures, a secret pocket, and a lot more!
Mark Adams again:
My bother and I also have matching Scott eVest Tactical jackets (~$230), in black of course. He put an arm-patch on his from the BPRD (see the Hellboy comic) so we can tell them apart. It has a zillion pockets and has the really interesting feature of cable routing between pockets. My brother and I were really into wearable computing a while back, so this was very handy. 9/11 kind of put a damper on this type of clothing, since he and I kept finding ourselves having to empty out all of our pockets when going through metal detectors. (An occupational hazard when you do a lot of work for the government or travel a lot — and I do both.)
It appears that Scott eVest no longer carries the Tac jacket. Here’s a link to their current jacket line.
And then, there’s Collin
Our very own Collin Cunningham gets the “Own Drummer” award for his maker sartorial. He doesn’t wear cargos and geeky shirts with special pockets — he wears a natty coat and tie… and a crisp white shirt. In answer to my query, he wrote simply: “No question: suit jacket/blazer.” And added: “Maybe a lab coat … do they come in velvet?” Collin in a crushed velvet lab coat? He’d look like a cross between a science nerd and Elvis after-dark. Somebody, get this man a velvet lab… stat!
In the next Toolbox, Maker Sartorial Part 2, we look at bags, pouches, cases, pens, notebooks, and other carried items. In the meantime, tell us what you wear, and why, in Comments.
- Toolbox: Soldering essentials, Part 2
- Toolbox: Soldering essentials, Part 1
- Toolbox: Knives out!
- Toolbox: Shop bookshelf (catalogs)
- Toolbox: Shop bookshelf (mechanics, tools, and misc)
- Toolbox: Shop bookshelf (electronics and MCUs)
- Toolbox: Shop tips and show-offs
- Toolbox: What the hell is that thing?
- Toolbox: Soldering station tools and hacks
- Toolbox: Jigs, clamps, and helping hands
- Toolbox: Ten tools you won’t want to live without
- Toolbox: Benchtop power supplies
- Toolbox: Portable lighting
- Toolbox: Portable workbench
- Toolbox: From “miserable old box” to workshop showpiece