There is the ubiquitous power drill plus assorted screwdrivers, hammers, pliers, saws, spanners and Allen keys. And then there are gimlets, spirit levels, a power sander, set squares, gauges, wrenches, a power screwdriver, adjustable spanners, mallets, chisels, files, pincers and planes. Note the use of the plural – it seems one is never enough.
After rummaging through one toolbox yesterday to find an appropriately sized electrical screwdriver I started wondering how and why I had amassed this collection. I’m a typical, average, would-be handyman and like to think I can handle those basic repair jobs, but rarely have I embarked on anything more ambitious. So why all the tools? I concluded that, like many others, I cannot pass an opportunity to acquire another piece of kit even it is a just-in-case purchase. I realised I can justify this too. I remember very clearly as a youngster watching my father at work with a plane – he was quite good at making and fixing things around the house and garden – and how he impressed upon me the importance of having the right tool for the job. So that explains the multiple screwdrivers, hammers, etc. A specific job required a specific instrument. However, perhaps what I failed to pick up from him was that you have also to know how to apply the right tool in the right way if you want to get the right result! But I can work on that.
My collection consists mainly of modern tools of variable quality but I also have acquired hand tools from street markets – there is a particularly good stall in Bridport run by the Dawsons, who also sell vintage tools online at www.secondhandtools.co.uk/about.htmfew. A few tools were handed down through the family. My grandfather was a joiner and a great-grandfather was a skilled machinist. Like many professional artisans they had their own sets of tools, many made by themselves and a few of these, following disbursement, have found their way to me.
Despite my lack of experience and ability there is something special about holding a well-used, hand-crafted and beautiful hand tool. You hold it knowing it is truly unique. Add the family connection and there is a little magic at play. For a moment I am suddenly Grinling Gibbons!
The same applies to good tools. They deserve to be handled; to carve, gouge, saw, plane and hammer. Whatever your skill level or ambition cherish them, but use them.
If you need more advice then take a look at our Vintage Words of Wisdom title Woodwork Tools and How to Use Them written by William Fairham and first published in 1925. Despite its ninety years it is packed with information on how to use your hand tools and maintain them in peak condition.