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Tag Archives: tools

found poem: in These big gaps


mallets by LRKMy father was a fierce advocate of the tool-for-every-job philosophy. He also believed that owning tools was a partnership and that a tool would function well only if it was maintained properly. I can see him testing a knife or chisel blade against the pad of his thumb; a chisel that was not sharp was not worthy of the name.

An engineer by trade and nature, he also understood that things didn’t always work as intended. If the tool didn’t do the job, he would figure out a way to make it work.

Before repetitive motion injury had entered the vocabulary, tool handles were one of Les’s most persistent frustrations. A wood sculpture might require thousands of mallet hits against the chisel, hours of abrading with rasps and files and sandpaper blocks. If the tool didn’t fit the hand, the entire body paid the price.

So new or modified handles were one of his most consistent fixes. Sometimes it was just a matter of carving a smooth thumb-well into a chisel handle to keep the chisel from rotating; other times a new handle became a sculpture in itself. Or an entirely new tool.

Thumb testing the blade of this musing, I see that words are also tools. Practice, sharpen, adapt, invent. Repeat.
. . . . .
mallets by LRK, 1963

my father’s workshop…6

my father's workshop

I’ve written before about my father’s workshop and I thought that was the direction I was going this morning, examining this photo of the other wall of his shop, which delights me with its careful array of tools: rasps and pliers, levels and ratchets, saws and vice grips, rolling pin and toothbrush. There are some mystery objects as well — for example, what looks like a piece of wood with the words LONG SLOPE printed in my father’s neat caps. It was these strange, unidentifiable tools that brought the hanger to mind.

hanger by LRKMy father was always solving problems. His solutions were simple, sometimes elegant, cobbled together from the materials at hand to accomplish a repeated task. After he died, when it came time to disassemble his workshop, I found scores of these little tools — a dowel with a cup hook glued to one end, a bolt outfitted with a handgrip — that seemed the very essence of who he was — thoughtful, inventive, resourceful, engineer.

The hanger may not have been one of his best inventions, but before the marketplace was flooded with plastic, it was his solution to the dual needs of tidiness and suitcase weight reduction. It has always amused me, with its almost-symmetry, its slightly splintery holes. Not exactly light — for this, one might actually forego the pants hanger altogether — it is, perhaps, a draft. An idea tested, tried out on a trip to Greece or Italy, but never given the full attention, the careful sanding, the re-varnished wood, that would signal his satisfaction with a tool well made.

More than a tool, it’s a cartoon…hod carrier…homunculus…flightless bird…and it reminds me that behind his serious, scholarly demeanor, my father was a person of tremendous warmth, love and humor.

my father’s workshop…

my father's workshopAn engineer by trade and temperament and a woodcarver by hobby, my father believed that there was a tool for every job. If it didn’t exist, he would invent it; if it existed, he would improve it. His workshop was triangular — a wedge of space in the garage where he retreated almost every evening after dinner and passed long hours on the weekends.

His primary workbench stretched along most of the short side of the triangle below a wall of exquisitely-sharp tools; one of the two long sides had a second workbench and more tools, plus shelves stacked with the neatly categorized miscellany of his imagination: scraps of wood, metal, rubber, leather and string; images cut from magazines; sketchbooks; vast stores of sandpaper; unfinished carvings; and a small box of licorice that my mother wouldn’t allow in the house. The third side of the triangle was open to the garage, the car nearest his workbench coated with sawdust and freckled with curls of wood that sprang away from his chisel.

A large box beneath the workbench was filled with the unfinished projects of the young neighbors, friends and cousins who visited his shop; on each one, a name was scrawled in crayon. An open garage door signaled Welcome! and the kids would descend the steep driveway for a lesson in hammering or sanding or carving. My father was friends with neighborhood kids I had never seen, a pied piper of woodcraft, a lover of tools and a believer that, with patience and practice, everyone could master life’s simple skills…

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