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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Hey, It’s Time For Pointless Lists Of Tools Compiled By People That Think Defragging Hard Drives Is Heavy Construction

It’s a shameful pleasure of mine, I admit it. I love to read lists of tools randomly drawn from a Home Depot flyer, written by people that can’t write, aimed at people that don’t make anything but reservations. Popular Mechanics doesn’t disappoint with their: Tools Everyone Should Own. It’s a terrific, haphazard mess of twenty arbitrary thingamabobs, written in the breathless prose usually reserved for paperbacks with pictures of Fabio on their cover and the tears of countless overweight data entry clerks dappling the pages.

OK, first, let’s take care of the easy stuff:

  • Sledgehammer – You don’t need that
  • Center Punch – You don’t need that
  • Combination wrench – Singular? Never mind. The item just before it is a socket wrench set. You don’t need both. And they put an adjustable wrench on the list, too. How many nuts you got, Willis? Are they all loose?
  • Jigsaw – You don’t need that. And Jig Saw is two words. 
  • Tin Snips -You don’t need those
  • Machinist Vise – You don’t need one of those

Down to fourteen.

  • Safety Glasses – Not a tool. And if we’re talking safety, long pants and enclosed shoes are nearly as important and more likely to be missing on the job. BTW, endlessly channeling Ralphie’s mom in A Christmas Story is no way for a person with gentlemen vegetables in his pants to go through life, son.
  • Extension Cord – Not a tool. 

Only twelve to chortle over now.

  • Putty Knife- “The putty knife is more than a single implement. Rather, it’s a group of tools..” Make up your mind. “… disposable ones are perfect for the no-scuff application of putty on painted surfaces.” No they aren’t. And you fill the nail holes before you paint.
  • Crosscut saw – Finally, something good. My favorite Albert King song. Oh? For a toolbox? “…It may not make the finest cut, but it’s the perfect jack-of-all-trades saw for small jobs…” Wrong. It sucks at ripping, but the author has never used a handsaw and doesn’t know this. He just wants to use the term “jack-of-all-trades” come hell or high water. Buy a combination saw, which will rip as well as crosscut, and do a credible job on plastic pipe, too.
  • Circular Saw – “Nothing beats a circular saw for speed and convenience when it comes to making straight cuts on a variety of materials.” Well, a table saw does. By a large margin, actually. And if you have a circular saw, that crosscut saw you told everyone to buy is going to end up on eBay some day, covered with rust but with the teeth still razor sharp. But soldier on, skinny glasses dude, I’m warming to your delirium tremens approach to prose and pounding on things. “But with a nail-cutting blade, a circular saw can also do demolition work; with an abrasive blade, it can saw through masonry and metal.” Why is there a “but” in that sentence? Beats me. Everything about this beats me, now that you mention it. You need a reciprocating saw (a “Sawzall” to most people) for demo, and if you cut masonry with your circular saw, you’re going to need a new one every two weeks, so buy them three at a time.
  • Hammer – “After all these millennia, the hammer’s wood handle remains, …” he writes next to a picture of a framing hammer with a fiberglass shaft. BTW, “millenniums” is the preferred word if you ask me. I bet the author thinks virii is a word. But I carp about details, when the gist is so filled with weirdness: “…preferred by craftsmen for its light weight, shock absorbency and balance…”. Framers aren’t craftsmen. It’s called “rough carpentry” for a reason. And framing hammers are heavy. That’s the point of them.  “It was the post-World War II housing boom that finally transformed the profile of the modern hammer.” Well, that’s sorta true. Kinda. Unless you write this next: “Can’t-frame-’em-fast-enough carpenters on the West Coast needed still more speed, so they grafted elements of heavy-rigging hatchets onto claw hammers. The result is the beefy, all-business, California-style framer, a swift, long-handled striking tool with a vicious claw.” Hilarious. All the framers I know (I know  many, many framers) just use a waffle-faced Estwing, which is just one big piece of steel with a rubbery handle. It’s an entirely useless tool for 99% of chores that require a hammer, and the  ***snicker*** “vicious” claw on a framing hammer doesn’t pull nails very well. Smaller hammers have a more pronounced curve to the claw, so you can rock the tool in an arc and lever out the nail. “A nail gun might be fast, but nothing beats the feeling of sinking a nail in two or three clean hits.” How very zen that sounds, I guess, to someone that goes to Pilates and has never lifted a framing hammer. No one bangs framing nails by hand anymore, except maybe Jimmy Carter if there’s a camera pointed at him. Get a nail gun and a Strunk and White. And get a small carpenter’s hammer and hang your pictures with it. 

Oh, never mind. The list is by and for people for whom it won’t do any harm. Buy two of everything, including  an issue of Popular Mechanics. Think of all the fun you’ll have arranging all this stuff on your pegboard. It’s like Playboy; you buy it and look at it without any hope of banging on anything in there, too.

You might also be interested in: Ten Of The Eleven Of My Top Ten Tools

19 Responses

  1. I think their sister publication, "Popular Grandstanding Intellectual," has a list called "20 books that look super important on your bookshelf, but you don't actually have to read."

  2. "No one bangs framing nails by hand anymore, except maybe Jimmy Carter if there's a camera pointed at him. Get a nail gun and a Strunk and White."

    I love a rant, especially a professional one. The above line made me LOL.

  3. Ooh, and good thing they included the drill bits. I saw the drill and figured they just use theirs like I use mine – stick a whisk in it and whip up a nice, delicate meringue.

  4. I thought a Framing-hammer was a person from Framingham…

    I put up "seamed" aluminum rain gutters and downspouts last week, and gave both my tin-snips and center-punch quite a workout. They are my second pair of tinsnips, and I think if I did not find them useful I wouldn't have replaced them when the first pair accidentally wandered away from our house in a contractors toolbag

    It is true that the cheap power miter saw with a "backwards" junk carbide blade made much faster and smoother cuts for most of the cuts, however

  5. I'm with H. Gillham. I love a professional rant. I liked "so buy them three at a time". Excellent, as always, Mr. Sippican.

  6. Love it. Brought back memories of summers home from college, working for a concrete contractor, where everyone carried an Estwing.

    Everyone except for Charlie, who was a 19 year old kid from the inner city, first day on the job. He pulled out a tiny wooden hammer you might use to put up a small picture frame at home. Seeing him flail away with it, trying unsuccessfully to dislodge the pins on the back of a form, our boss (who was certifiable) ran over, grabbed it from him and screamed, "you call this a hammer?" as he flung it clear across the job site. "Here's a bleepin' hammer, son", he said, handing him his own Estwing. "Don't come back tomorrow without one."

  7. Go easy boys and girls. PopMech is just cotton candy for yuppies, the boys trying to make a buck selling drivel. I'm sure they know it's drivel. Willing sellers and buyers, it's all good, right?

    Imagine the pain of the editorial meetings where they sit around, trying desperately to find some new slant, some new approach, to the hand tools, some of which have been around for 'millenniums'. Then, in despair and desperation, some victim is assigned the odious task of yet another 'List of the Best'.

    Read between the lines. The poor man was entirely and righteously drunk when he wrote the piece.

  8. I was on a residential construction site once, 40 years or so ago, and they hired a new guy. I forget his background, other than "terminally clueless". He had been told to bring a hammer. He showed up with a ball peen hammer. Close, bub, until you have to pull a nail.

  9. 2 screwdrivers. 1 medium size phillips head (a puppy chewed the end off) that's good for appliances and computers. 1 large regular type that can also be used as a small pry bar and won't bend.
    A not so heavy hammer because I'm a girl.
    Duct tape. The waterproof kind.

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