Tools Of The Trade: The Definitive DYI Guide to a Happier You

toolsSo there you are, your head in a pool of water floundering beneath the kitchen sink with a pipe wrench and a fading flashlight thinking, “Surely there’s more than one way to skin this here cat.” 

AKA, “There’s gotta be another friggin way to do this.”

The answer of course: There is.

The most obvious that comes to mind is to get someone else to do it; to pay, bribe, or beg someone to do the so called “dirty work.”

But what if you’re a swollen with pride industrious type who gets an immeasurable amount of satisfaction from doing it yourself?

Well in that case I suggest you dismiss that Yellow Page muse of yours and get back to work.


As a fellow DIY’er I know that in order to do the job right you’ve got to have the proper tools.

For instance, unless you’re MacGyver’s next of kin my guess is you probably want to refrain from repairing that leaky faucet with a Swiss Army Knife and a spark plug wrench.

Okay but what if you don’t have the tools you need to get the job done, then what?

Then why not do like my frugal friend Mike does: Borrow em.

Mike’s not only a good friend he’s a longtime neighbor as well, one who shares what I’d call an on-and-off-again zeal for woodworking.

As of late, however, Mike’s definitely picked up his game.

Rarely does a day go by that he isn’t in his garage pounding some three penny nails or cutting through a piece of ponderosa pine on his table saw.

A few weeks ago Mike comes over to, you guessed it, borrow some tools.

Which ones this time?

Wood clamps. The same damn wood clamps he borrows every time he gets an itch to build something.

You’d think…well, never mind.

With the petitioned tools tucked up under his arm and a murmur of thanks Mike sashays back to his garage in his classic waddle-like fashion.

“Oh and by the way,” he hollers, “Could you come over in a bit for a few minutes to gimme a hand with something?”

“My pleasure Mikey.”

Now it’s been a while since I’ve stepped foot into Mike’s garage, but like I say we’re neighbors, we live directly across the street from one another so I know he’s been working on something.

As to what I can only imagine.

On the count of three, with me on one end and Mike on the other, we attempt to flip over the 4’x6’ish wooden frame atop his workbench.

Which by the way is just one more shining example of Mike’s steady development as an able artesian.

“Careful now,” he utters. “Easy does it.” “Whew. Good job.”

“So Mike…”

“It’s gonna be a tool cabinet,” he blurts.

Ahh but for whose tools I can’t help ponder.

Sorry, it’s just that if there’s one thing I’ve noticed during my stopovers to Mike’s garage over the past couple of decades it’s that for a respectable DIY’er the man simply ain’t got squat for tools.

Although I do see that he’s recently added a few new pieces to his all but bountiful collection.

Over which I’m overwhelmed!

As Mike enthusiastically goes into greater detail about his current project a recurring theme begins to emerge, and before I know it a few minutes has led to a few more, and a few more, and…well, you get the idea.

But hey, it’s all good.

No really, I mean it.

Because for me there’s something extremely cathartic about listening to someone talk about something they’re obviously excited about.

Besides, it’s the neighborly thing to do.


Growing up I never had the pleasure of knowing my Uncle Jack, sadly he passed away just prior to my 2nd birthday.

I do however remember his garage, or rather, his shop. 

Nestled behind the main house alongside what we kids called the washhouse (a two story lighthouse-like structure) it had a large burly sliding door with heavy cast iron wheels attached to the bottom of either end.

And while it was by no means easy I could with all my strength manage to ease it open just enough as to squeeze on through.

I remember it being a very dark and cavernous place.

But a very mesmerizing place as well.

One that was rarely if ever frequented subsequent to my Uncle’s passing.

What so intrigued me was that virtual everything within those cobwebbed walls had been handcrafted of wood.

The overhead storage racks that stretched flowingly beneath the slopped roof line, still heaving with stacks of at-the-ready lumber.

The rows of tiered shelving with their masterful joinery bearing everything from garden tools to gas cans, to coffee tins and Mason jars filled with nails and screws, nuts and bolts, and an unending assortment of other miscellaneous hardware.

The stunning workbench with its sturdy frame and frictionless drawers was a virtual masterpiece.

Yet for me the most magnificent piece of all was the two foot square cupboard sitting atop that workbench.

Complete with stainless steel hinges, leather accessorized clasp, and milled shiplap inlay this well designed box was a young woodworker’s dream.

With one eye keenly on the lookout for eight-legged squatters and both feet planted firmly on a rickety old milk crate I’d take a closer look, thoroughly admiring its woodsy exterior.

Then with my heart aflutter, I’d ever so gently undo the rawhide strap.

First outta the gate was the undeniable sweet-smelling scent of fresh pine.

I kid you not it was like popping the cap off a bottle of Pine-Sol cleanser.

Next, clammed up inside, a treasure chest of hand tools; tools of every imaginable make, model, shape, and size; tools that until then, hadn’t been handled in years.

Mike remains on a roll, continuing to fill me in on the finer points of cabinetry 101, and I (the no-so-easily impressed student) am in fact, genuinely impressed.

But it isn’t until he rolls out this homemade jig that I’m utterly blown away.

This modest little jig, which come to find out is simply a cost effective way to sharpen wood chisels, consists of nothing more than a quarter sheet of wet-dry sandpaper, a small piece of pane glass, and a wooden block.

Nevertheless, it’s this modest albeit practical little jig that has me completely convinced that Mike, in his own unique and sparing (aka tightwad) way, is setting up shop.

Granted, he may not have (or for that matter even want) all the latest and greatest tools of the trade.

But what Mike does have—what he continues to develop and hone—are those necessary tools that truly matter.

I.e., knowledge, skill, and experience.


English poet and playwright Joseph Addison once said, “The greatest essentials for happiness in life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

That said, let me strongly point out that these essentials, these tools if you will, are neither the kind you can buy or borrow.

Nor could you ever hope to pay, bribe, or beg anyone to teach you how to use them.     

Suffice to say, you can’t “acquire” happiness.

However, like Mike, you can tinker at it.

Like Mike, you too in your own deliberate and delightful way can conceivably achieve it.

That’s assuming of course that—like my good friend Mike—you get yourself the essential and/or proper tools for the job at hand.

See ya March 1st, till then, keeep it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *