Tuesday 28th March 2017
Yes, it’s a no-no
“Never lend your tools!” These emphatic words of wisdom came to me at 15 and though they still ring in my ears, on two occasions, coerced as a young teen by two bullying navvies, the tools came back minutes later covered in brick dust and damaged. Of course that is also how my mentors learned too. I was left in no doubt that you never loaned out your hand tools—ever! Of course it is just a little different when you have or are working alongside a skilled colleague who you trust. That goes without saying really, but it’s more now than then that I finally fully understand what loaning out tools really means. And before everyone jumps in here, I am not altogether convinced everyone can fully understand this without added ingredients that come along the way. The pen I wrote this with is a fountain pen and the message in its original form was written in cursive writing. I would never let someone use my writing pen, not even a close friend, and, in a time when all people wrote with ink pens, no one else would either. They become an extension of the author, personal, formed to his hand. This is unshared and everyone in the days before ballpoints came to pass know this. Hand tools for woodworking fall into the very same category. It’s not the same for routers powered by electricity or drill drivers with 2h volt batteries, but your chisels and planes, saws and such, this is a non-negotiable.
When I was an apprentice my mentor handed me some of his tools to work with straight away. These were a second set he kept for this reason. He knew a 15 year old would have no tools and would not know what to buy. The tools always felt like his and never mine. Little did I know then how much my tools would mean to me in the years to follow.
In some ways there are categories of people. There are those reverent towards craft and skill and those who just do not see a difference between a wheel wrench in the boot of a car and a fine plane. By fine I am not talking fancy plane but a finely cared for plane. A half a dozen times I have been asked by other men if I had a plane to lend them to ease a door and half a dozen times I’ve said no. The very fact that they asked showed that they just did not understand. They mostly said “Ok”. That they understood, but I knew they didn’t and that they were offended by my refusal. Easing the bottom of a door, taking off a shaving where a door still sticks, are common enough necessities. The planes I have can deal easily with such issues in my hands but it’s the assumptions that are wrong. The assumption is that everyone knows and understands planes and saws. After all, you just push and pull, push and pull. At the very crudest level of understanding there is some degree of truth in that. You’ve seen it done, what more can there be to it? Well there is a lot more to it when your tools put food on your table and clothe your children. When your work depends on the certainty of quality results there is no margin for error. A saw and a plane loaned out can never come back to you in the same condition. The borrower knows nothing of such things. You cannot loan out tools for a neighbours stilling door. Yes. you’ll lose his relationship to you, but that’s not the point.
Some of the misconceptions starting in the 60 – 80’s came to be during a sort of rebel era when school boys were more, well, cocky. Tools ? around the benches and clunked into one another because there was no respect. Moving on into an era when school woodworking was dumped ( or dumbed down at best) and on the other hand young teenagers seemed always in need of an injection of affirmation to boost an already high level of self esteem.
And then of course there is the common disregard for working people using manual skills. If a common worker can use such a dumb piece of metal, surely an intellectual can.