On Hammers, and other Unsexy Tools

I like to talk about tools.

I realized the very fine line between giving instruction and offering tools — first you need the right tools. And then you need the right hacks.

I’ll give you a couple of examples.

Lesson the first:

When you have the right tool for the job, it’s a gorgeous thing. Seriously. Look at it this way. You have a little toolkit at home. A wee little hammer for hanging pictures, a couple of screw drivers, a tape measure and a pencil.

You’re out at the hardware store, and they have a gorgeous 20 oz. Stanley Ant-Vibe framing hammer for fifty bucks. And since you bought your whole household toolkit for $20 bucks, you laugh at the idea that anyone would pay that for a hammer and you keep walking.

Fast forward to the summer, when you decide to build the kids a treehouse. You’re at the very same hardware store to pick up the nails, and you see that hammer again.

Suddenly, that hammer looks a lot more attractive.

Especially if you know anything about hammers.

Because there are relatively few times in your life when you’re going to need that particular tool, and of those times, quite a few will likely whoosh on by you before you realize that there even IS a better tool for the job.

Because no one tells you in school that a heavier hammer has a better payload of force so you use fewer swings.

No one really mentions the fatigue in your forearms after hitting something really hard and having to deal with the bounce-back.

No one really articulates that there are hammers and then there are hammers, and once you have a hammer you’ll never again settle for a hammer.

This is part of life.

I find it helps to remember that there are always LOTS of things you don’t know, and will never occur to you without help, so the learning curve flattens quite a bit if you go looking for insight and expertise and alternate viewpoints.

Lesson the second:

I have renovated two complete basements. I have a fair amount of drywalling experience for someone who is emphatically NOT a dywaller. I know where to leave a gap for the mud, and why, and how much, and to remember to always invert my measurements, and to measure twice to make sure the studs are plumb. My drywall is gorgeous, because I have the attention to detail that means things are done right.

But I could never figure out how professional drywallers can do a whole house in a couple days. How was that possible? What was I missing?

Then my brother-in-law (whose uncle is a professional drywaller) came to give us a hand one day.

He watched me carefully for a while. Admired my seams. I preened a bit, and grumbled about how annoying it was to cut out electrical boxes. I asked if he had any tips.

“Sure,” he said, “cut the drywall to the right length, slam it up on the wall, lift til it’s flush with the ceiling, pop a few screws in and cut out the boxes with a roto-zip. Boom. Done.”

Say what? Look at all the waste. What happens when you miss with the rotating bit?

“Yeah, sometimes you accidentally cut the nipple off the box and you have to take down the drywall and replace the box. You learn not to do that pretty fast. And you waste a lot of drywall. But you save so much time it’s worth it. We even cut out the doors and windows like that. Fewer seams means less mudding, and that’s always what takes the time.”

Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?

That’s the difference between knowing the mechanics of the job, and knowing the hacks. You can create hacks of your own, but you get way more mileage from asking how other people have solved your problem. That’s where I find that instructional posts are worth their weight in gold.

Especially if the area you are delving into is not your main area of expertise, you’re going to find that there is a bulk of lore in that field that you are not privy to, nor even aware of, until you find an experienced hand and consult them. Even if you are an expert in your field, there are always going to be a ton of hacks that never occurred to you. This is not a flaw. But it can be an oversight.

In my example above, if I had known what my B-I-L knew, I would have order an extra 20 sheets of drywall and shaved at least a week off the install time. You’d have to be stupid not to continually humble yourself to ask for insight into your problems. And you’ll probably make better friends that way too.

Where have you needed to learn the hard way that there’s a better way to do things?


10 thoughts on “On Hammers, and other Unsexy Tools”

  1. Whaddya mean by “invert your measurements”? :)~ Karen J (who has several household reno/repair projects currently simmering, and <i>collects</i> hacks!)

    1. Remembering that the hole you’re trying to fill with drywall is negative space — but your drywall itself is positive space, and so you have to be careful you don’t cut out the mirror image of what you need. It’s not a problem with full sheets, it’s the tricky cuts with windows and doors that are the problem. 

      And, if you simply order 20% more drywall, you can just use my BIL’s technique. Although, mind you, NOT drywalling is probably the best option. If there’s any task I’d be inclined to outsource, it’s painting and drywalling.
      1. I hear that!  I just got some input that means I likely won’t have to drywall – was thinking that adding ‘sufficient’ insulation would require furring out the studs of the outside walls – but new windows and doors (that ya can’t see light around!) will make enough difference…

        1. that’s weird – my Enter key won’t even work in the comments box – what’s up with that?  there’s all kind of ‘text tools’ shown, but none of them change anything, once I hit reply….??

  2. so true!  i love the part where you link it to the learning curve – picking up the hacks that experts have discovered really spikes it in your favor – and, even if you *are* the expert, always being teachable – other people are stumbling across hacks you would never have thought of.  I also like the idea of being a collector of hacks, as much as a collector of tools – it’s not just the toolbox that brings you to the therapist, it’s the trick and hacks they know to cut the time and give you more choices for how to get a job done!

    1. I completely agree – with both of ya!  Learning some hacks are often what make the directions ‘make sense’, for me. Otherwise, I’m liable to try to re-invent the wheel – gakk!

      1. I remember that about math in particular– The teacher’s ‘by the book’ explanation was largely useless. But we would go in partners to do our questions together, and I’m sure that’s what helped most of us tackle algebra.

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