An Ode to Tool Number One

12 Jun

Army Training

One of my earliest experiences that lent me a deep understanding of the hammer came while working for the Army in a building called The Hexagon.  It had 4 sides.  This is the Army after all.  They claim it was the budget cuts.  Whatever.  You know how it is.

Now, bear in mind this was a long time ago.  The building had no computer networking cable at all, and it was decided that we’d like to hook up a couple of banks of computers.  Trouble was the building really wasn’t built with that in mind; but in the Army they know what to do about that.  One of my colleagues got out a hammer and a cold chisel and set to it.

Our mutual boss was famous for an incident where his Yugo’s brakes failed and he hit a pedestrian.  The pedestrian was largely unharmed, but the Yugo was severely damaged.  Anyway, during a lull in the ferocious assault on concrete, our boss subtitled the scene thusly:  “Skilled technician installs delicate electronic hardware”.

A Tool for Every Job

Years later, I was at a pub with some friends when the subject of my ultimate set of tools was brought up.  Which amongst these tools was the foremost?  The most important, the one that could not be forgotten.

The hammer I answered.  No question about it.  You need it on every job.

“Every job?”

“Absolutely every job.  Installing a network cable?  Yeah, you need a hammer.  I mean, it’s not just about pounding nails.”

They still had doubts:  “What about, say, plumbing?  Don’t you need a wrench more?”

“Sure, a wrench is a good tool.  Useful too, but sometimes the pipes need, you know, a little encouragement.  Then you need a hammer.”

There was some disagreement.  Some pointed out that Dick Proenneke didn’t bring a hammer to Twin Lakes.  I’m not going to dispute that, nor shall I question the wisdom of such a man.  But I’d point out that right after he got to his build site, the first tool he fashioned was a hammer.  The knife just packed easier.  That’s all.

Building a Bookcase
(in the most difficult manner possible)

You’d think that a hammer wouldn’t be all that key to creating a simple walnut bookcase, but that presupposes that I’d make a bookcase the simple way.  Anyway, here’s the final product:


Now, maybe it would have been more sensible to create the plywood center and then build a pair of face frames and attach ‘em on with biscuits.  Maybe I’ve been watching too much Man Lab, but I decided to build it up as a series of components, for example, this is the left side:


It’s built as a couple of solid face pieces with mortises, mounted to a piece of plywood with reinforcing splines.  It seems simple enough, but getting it all lined up right as pretty rough.  I spent a silly amount of time at it.  Norm Abram would have whipped out his nail gun and called it a day.  But I just gotta be me…

Sticking it all Together

I know what you’re thinking – this post is supposed to be about hammers!  What’s all this noise about a bookshelf??  Bear with me.  I’m getting there. Tell you what, we’ll skip ahead to the part where I have all the various components all built, pre-finished, and ready to go together.  You need to understand this:  I’d fit them, pulled them apart, fit them again who knows how many times.  I’m telling you, the pieces all fit.  They did.  Honest.


So one of my woodworking heros, Alan Little, inspired me to buy some PC-7 for gluing this job.  But somehow, I just couldn’t work up the courage to try something new after getting this far along with it.  But then I went and tried something different anyway – I added dye to my usual Titebond.  I was surprised to find two things:

  1. A little bit of dye barely effects the color of the glue when it’s wet, but after it dries, it’s a whole different story.  My first batch matched the walnut perfectly when wet, but dried absolutely black.  My second batch was light brown, but again, dried really dark.  But really dark was good enough for me.
  2. It dramatically increases the set-time.

So, dyed glue in-hand, I went to work on assembling the smallest bit that I thought I could get together and still ensure that everything’s square and absolutely tight:


The fact that the set-up time was increased turned out to be crucial because half of those joints just wouldn’t close up.  Remember what I said about them being dry-fit and going together fine?  I remember that.  They did.  I swear they did.  But things just weren’t going my way.

But then, I remembered to use Tool #1.  Yup, I had 67 clamps on there as tight as they could be made and these guys just wouldn’t go.  Then I started in with the hammer (with a wood block to protect the finish of course) and after a generous amount of whacking, all the joints closed up.

Then I hit ‘em a few more times.  Just so I could be sure it understood my true feelings.

I think those extra belts were really critical because when the time came to fit the next group (the bottom and right sides), those pieces fit together without objection.

They knew what was good for them.

Stop. Hammer Time

…See, I told you we’d be getting back to the hammer.

Some call it a sledge, a bludgeon, a cudgel, persuader, conk buster or mallet.  It’s the best tool ever.  Simple, practical, and limitless applications.  And a good nickname too.  Seriously, people nicknamed “Hammer” definitely get paid more than your “Creampuffs” and “Buttercups” of the world.  No question about it.  I mean I haven’t like done a study or anything, I’m just saying it’s a fact.  That ought to be good enough for anyone.

What’s Next?

My daughter wants a birdhouse.  Sure, I can overbuild a birdhouse too.  No problem at all.

But maybe I need to get dust collection sorted.  Decisions decisions…


One Response to “An Ode to Tool Number One”


  1. Another Year in the Books | Indisputable Facts - January 5, 2014

    […] I closed it.  Not that I have all that much to show for it in the house.  I built a big bookcase sort of thing.  It’s a nice project, but I have to say, I think it lacks […]

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