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Tool Tips

My dad was a general contractor, so he was highly skilled in civil engineering, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc. The thing I remember most was his incredible confidence in himself and his command over the tools in his hand. Watching him drive nails was amazing. He knew exactly how to hold and swing the hammer. He’d drive a 10d nail with just a few intense whacks and the final hit would make a little counter-sink in the wood and stamp it with the waffles of the hammerhead. I was in awe watching him, the rhythm he would get into, the concentration — like a machine. He could frame out a wall in minutes. I also remember him using dangerous tools, like the circular saw, with great acuity. Again, he had no hesitation and always seemed on top of everything. It was that confidence and command over the tools he used which was his greatest lesson to me. -Gareth Branwyn


Dad: “son, hand me a wrench”
Son: “what size wrench you want Dad?”
Dad: “Doesn’t matter, I’m gonna use it as a hammer!” -Jon Oxford


When working in the garage, if you take a tool out of the drawer, leave the drawer open to remind you of the missing tool. The job isn’t done until the tools are back in the cabinet. If your tool box falls over when all the drawers are open, it’s a good time to take a break and straighten up. -Scott McBride


Dad: “If you take care of a crappy tool, it’ll still be a crappy tool. Spend a little extra money and get the kind with the lifetime warranty. Put it away clean, and you’ll be able to hand it down to your kids.”

Me: “Dad, can I have that metric socket set you never use?”
Dad: “Hell No! You can have it when you learn how to take care of it.”To be fair, he did give me all his metric tools when I moved half way across the country. Dad would only buy American vehicles, so when we were talking about me moving from Austin to Phoenix, he broke down and confessed to me that the only reason he bought metric tools was so he could help me fix my Accord. I miss you, Dad. -Christian Holton


“If you don’t have the right tool, Make the right tool.” -Pat Fizenberger


My Grandfather was both a professional meat cutter and a spectacular wood carver. When I was a child he and I would spend hours in his workshop talking about his rather large collection of tools. I remember him saying to me on a number of occasions; “Son, there is nothing more expensive than a cheap tool”. -David Stevens

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Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh, and do feel free to continue the conversation and share more tips from dad.

    1. Bill Coderre says:

      Tips from my Dad, who left this mortal coil about a year ago.
      1) Gasoline is cheaper than sweat. (Even at $4/gallon!)
      2) Always start debugging at the wall socket.
      3) Many things are compressible. Time is not.

      The Rules of Freshman Physics, apocryphal/silly rules of thumb from MIT:
      (My version, might not be the same as recent versions)
      1) F=ma.
      2) You can’t push on a string.
      3) There is no gravity. The earth sucks.
      4) There are two kinds of problems: simple, and insoluble. (Note that the “simple” problems are usually “non-trivial”, and often insoluble, in disguise.)

  2. Bill Coderre says:

    Tips from my Dad, who left this mortal coil about a year ago.1) Gasoline is cheaper than sweat. (Even at $4/gallon!)2) Always start debugging at the wall socket.3) Many things are compressible. Time is not.The Rules of Freshman Physics, apocryphal/silly rules of thumb from MIT:(My version, might not be the same as recent versions)1) F=ma.2) You can’t push on a string.3) There is no gravity. The earth sucks.4) There are two kinds of problems: simple, and insoluble. (Note that the “simple” problems are usually “non-trivial”, and often insoluble, in disguise.)

    1. Gus Mueller says:

      F=m* a^2 (this is why e=mc^2) — newton was wrong on that one

      1. Edgar Vargas says:

        e = energy
        c = speed of light (velocity – m/s)

        F = Force
        a = acceleration (m/s^2)

        As you can see, these are two different concepts.

      2. Edgar Vargas says:

        e = energy
        c = speed of light (velocity – m/s)

        F = Force
        a = acceleration (m/s^2)

        As you can see, these are two different concepts.

  3. cjporkchop says:

     If it can’t be nailed or reliably glued, it can be tied together with string and coated with epoxy or a thick layer of caulk for permanence.

    There were a lot of things in our house that featured giant globs of caulk. It was like a giant had spit loogies and we’d let them dry in place.

  4. cjporkchop says:

     If it can’t be nailed or reliably glued, it can be tied together with string and coated with epoxy or a thick layer of caulk for permanence.

    There were a lot of things in our house that featured giant globs of caulk. It was like a giant had spit loogies and we’d let them dry in place.

  5. diane meriwether says:

    Some money is too expensive

  6. diane meriwether says:

    Some money is too expensive

  7. Joshua Darrah says:

    “A true master, at anything, can f–k up completely and make it look like nothing even happened” -Dwight D.

  8. Joshua Darrah says:

    “A true master, at anything, can f–k up completely and make it look like nothing even happened” -Dwight D.

  9. Sam Blanchard says:

    Some of the best advice my dad ever gave me: “All of this stuff is really easy if you just think about things a bit. People are lazy, if it were hard, nobody would do it.”

    Then he handed a 10 year old version of my an acetylene torch and taught me to weld. We built an airplane together (Burt Ratan Vari-Eze, those fiberglassing skills have proven handy more than once), a couple soap-box derby racers, fixed cars and motorcycles. I learned not to fear my stuff, and not to fear “Not knowing what to do because nobody taught me how”.

  10. Anna Reser says:

    Master your fear of the tools, or they will master you. A dull knife is the most dangerous knife. Measure for the width of the blade you’re cutting with.

    My dad is a maker, a jet mechanic and an amateur engineer, carpenter, electrician, plumber, gardener, naturalist, and all around handy-man. Whenever I ask him for help with a project, his eyes light up a and he digs up his graph paper and drafting pencils. They still have the model of DNA in the science wing he and I built for a high school biology class. He gave me his grandfather’s drafting table several years ago and it is my favorite work space, and a treasured family heirloom. Love you Dad.

  11. Anonymous says:

    ‎”If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside.”
    “Rub some dirt on it.”
    “Turn it down or turn it off.”

  12. borjo says:

    two of the advice in this page are greek proverbs:
    There is nothing more permanent than that which is temporary
    Ουδέν μονιμότερο του προσωρινού
    The Best is the Enemy of the Good.
    το καλύτερο είναι εχθρός του καλού.
    (this on can work the other way around too: what’s good is the enemy of what’s better)
    i would like to point out that the 2 proverbs contradict each other wich gives me the opportunity to make my own: proverbs are as good as the context in which they are presented in.

  13. Good judgement comes from experience.
    Experience comes from bad judgement.

  14. freds says:

    My dad always said when a preacher and a politician says they feel your pain hold onto your wallet and run.

  15. jonathan says:

    “Get a longer screwdriver.”

  16. Thomas J. Herling says:

    The first step in solving any problem is to sigh loudly and follow it up with “Oh, shit.”

  17. Thomas J. Herling says:

    The first step in solving any problem is to sigh loudly and follow it up with “Oh, shit.”

  18. Phil Collins says:

    “These are all hookers—pick one.”

  19. chris cecil says:

    My father was a truck driver for the majority of his life…he gathered many sayings which stuck…but one which I really love is “The cheapest thing you can pay is attention.”

  20. uglypedro says:

    standard reply to kids request that Dad buy him something….
    a- Wish in one hand and shit in the other….see which one fills up faster.
    b- Oh, yea? People in hell want ice water, too!

    1. Anonymous says:

       A drill sergeant used “Put everything you want in one hand, everything you’re going to get in the other [...].  You can imagine that the result was similar, though it was tough to keep either hand full while doing push-ups until HE got tired!

      I often respond to the purchase request with “Did you bring your own money?” which then leads to the suggestion that he first get a job and pay up on the 9 years of rent he owes me.  So much debt for a child so young…

  21. Jim Arendt says:

    “When in doubt, make it stout.” 

  22. Anonymous says:

    My dad: “Always lay out all of the parts, then read through the instructions so you understand how it all fits together. The time you spend doing that will save you twice as much later on.”

    Me, in the same vein, to my son: “Never, ever be afraid to read the manual first—no matter what tools you have, or how fancy your workshop is, knowledge is the true key to a successful project.”

  23. Anonymous says:

    My dad: “Always lay out all of the parts, then read through the instructions so you understand how it all fits together. The time you spend doing that will save you twice as much later on.”

    Me, in the same vein, to my son: “Never, ever be afraid to read the manual first—no matter what tools you have, or how fancy your workshop is, knowledge is the true key to a successful project.”

  24. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  25. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  26. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  27. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  28. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  29. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  30. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  31. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  32. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  33. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  34. JPWatkins says:

    My Grandpa was a mechanic, machinist, tool and die maker, pattern maker, and photographer (among other things.) He always liked to combine humor with wisdom to make his lessons more memorable. I remember him saying many of the bits of wisdom already recorded on these pages by others. Here are some nuggets not yet mentioned by others.
    He was Swedish and like to remind me of the story of the Norwegian carpenter who would always say, “Damn it! I’ve cut it twice and its still too short!”For certain parts fitting situations he favored using a large rubber mallet, which he refereed to as “the gentle persuader.”In teaching me to drive he instilled in my impatient 15 year old brain that although there is a brake pedal and a gas pedal, most of the time (in the city, at least) one’s foot should be on neither. He also gave me the general advice in driving to “Always keep the rubber side down.”

    Although I rather like the metric system, he reminded me more than once that “This [holding up an English unit caliper rule] beat that [pointing to his metric caliper rule] twice in the big wars.” (I did however mentally note that did have and often used metric tools.)

  35. Everly Brown says:

    1. Measure twice – cut once.
    2. We’ll fix it with a cable tie.

  36. My Dad’s favorite saying was “What have you done for your country today?” Unfortunately we live in a world of “What can my country do for me?” and I’m not talking about welfare bums (I’ve never actually met one and I used to be a caseworker). I’m talking about greed…case in point: NY Times article today about the corporate bums angling for another by on being taxed on the profits they hold abroad and want to bring back to the states supposedly to create jobs…truth is when George Bush gave them a repatriatization deal last time they sent more jobs abroad and gave the money to their stockholders. And how come they’re not creating jobs with all the money they’ve got now? Not to get political but I think my Dad would be shaking his head.

  37. Anonymous says:

    My dad said to me, “Don’t ask other boys to play house.”

  38. Anonymous says:

    My dad said to me, “Don’t ask other boys to play house.”

  39. Anonymous says:

    My dad said to me, “Don’t ask other boys to play house.”

  40. Joanie Costlow says:

    (To my 8 year old brother) “If anyone ever picks on you at school or pushes you first, just have at ‘em. Don’t stop. Keep going until someone HAS to pull you off. After that, no one will every bother you again.”

  41. Joanie Costlow says:

    (To my 8 year old brother) “If anyone ever picks on you at school or pushes you first, just have at ‘em. Don’t stop. Keep going until someone HAS to pull you off. After that, no one will every bother you again.”

  42. Jay Mike says:

    “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.”

  43. Mark Henry says:

    Well the main thing to do a task successfully is to sit, plan and jot down all the tools , equipments, money to spend on them. This saves time and money both. Nice article!
    __________________________________

    industrial equipment

  44. Alex D says:

    I hope there’ll be an equivalent post for all the unacknowledged and under-represented women and gender diverse makers (and not just ‘mum’s top recipes in the kitchen’ style)…