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Tooling Around

March 14, 2014

A tool can be as individual as its owner, whether it’s a tile saw, a computer, or anything in between. The more you use it the more you come to know its peculiarities and irregularities. Your work gets more intuitive and precise as you learn each others’ ways.

The moment you switch to a new tool you have to start over. Like a relationship you bring what you’ve learned to the table. But like a relationship, not all of it applies.

The difficulty of being an effective handyman or general contractor, my current trajectory, is mastering the wide set of tools and skill range it employs. One day I might need to cut complex angles on a compound miter saw; the next it’s drilling holes in a concrete foundation for an earthquake retrofit. Each project takes time and research to ensure it’s done correctly. The actual process drags on as I learn my way around it. Next time, of course, I’ll do it twice as fast, but there’s not always a next time. I have a drywall texture gun I’ve only ever used once. I’ve sold two biscuit joiners on craigslist, years apart, after a single application each. And who knows if I’ll ever use that $84 concrete grinding disc again.

A successful general contractor I knew when I was a kid once told me he wished he’d chosen a specific field early on in life and specialized in it, for much the same reason.

The advantage of specialization is a specific tool kit. There’s no on-the-job-training or time lost. You keep your tools in your truck and are always ready. You become quick, efficient, and make a lot of money. Or so they say.

Today I am going to hang several cabinets in a gentleman’s kitchen. He built the cabinets himself in his garage. They are made of laminate-faced plywood and joined with glue and screws. Several of the doors and carcasses are of varying height, and patch pieces have popped off here and there during the installation. There is no backer piece to secure them to the wall; I’ve had to attach L-brackets to the underside of the lid. Now, this homeowner owns every tool for the job, from a planer to an air-compressed lacquer sprayer. He appears to be retired. I don’t know what his work history is but I have to assume he uses the tools for more than building the cabinets. I don’t quite get it.

It’s going to look good once it’s all done, however. He’ll plane the bottom of the doors so they’re the same height. I’ve adjusted the carcasses with shims. The broken piece of trim has been glued and clamped and will be ready to install when I get there. I have to figure out how to secure the cabinets in the peninsula to the floor; I’ll probably screw a blocking board into place before setting the cabinets down. Yeah, that’ll work. I’d better get going. My tools are already there.

You’d think I’d done this before.

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From → Rants

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