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Basic Tools

I was raised by parents that instilled a strong sense of self-sufficiency.  Instead of having something repaired, we either fixed it ourselves or improvised something better.  In the kitchen we did our own sewing, baking, pickling, and food preservation.  Around the house it was plumbing, carpentry, electrical work and appliance repair.  Replacing a toilet, faucet, or leaking pipe are routine fixes around my house.  We do our own painting, spackling, wall repair, door replacements and window repairs.  Outside I till my own garden, trench water lines, and repair my own small engines.  Raised in that environment I suppose it’s no surprise I became an engineer and own a warehouse full of tools.

My brother and sister-in-laws fall on the opposite end of the spectrum.  His parents were diplomats and always had someone to do maintenance for them.  If something broke, they called the repair man.  Hunger could be solved by a quick trip to the supermarket.  Servants fulfilled almost every need.  He earned an MBA and worked on Wall Street and lived in a rented apartment for many years before marrying my sister-in-law. In college she majored in Theater and had worked her way up to becoming a producer for “As the World Turns”, a soap opera.  While living in NY, they always rented apartments.  Before long they got pregnant, moved to Northern Virginia and decided to “invest” in a house.  They bought a huge new one containing 5800 square feet – a beautiful and impressive thing.  Until that moment in their lives, neither had ever used a screwdriver, driven a nail or turned a wrench.  There was no “super” to call when stuff broke so simple things like mowing the lawn became an all-day affair.  A garage door off the tracks became a major catastrophe, requiring many days of research, countless phone calls, solicitations of bids, and complete rescheduling of calendars to accommodate the repair man.  (When the repair guy failed to show I drove over and put it back in the track in about 10 minutes).  As their house aged and stuff wore out, my life became harder and harder as every weekend was committed to fixing or replacing something in that house.  At that point they still had not put together a basic took kit, so I built one for them. I spend a day showing them how to use the tools and gave them a book about basic home repair. Over time the calls became less frequent as they slowly built up the skills they failed to learn growing up.  Today, they only need help with obscure stuff.  Thank goodness.

I think the tool kit was the turning point.  Since they had never been required to do things for themselves, the tool kit and knowledge on how to use it empowered them to the point that they WANTED to do things for themselves.  Tools are power.

Why am I telling you this long, boring story?  According to a WSJ study, 60% of adults under that age of 40 don’t know how to use basic hand tools and don’t own them.  Only 11% have ever changed the oil in their car.  91% have never done basic electrical work (defined as wall switch repair or ceiling fan installation).  73% don’t know how to sew.  94% cannot describe how an internal combustion engine works.  44% don’t know how to pump their own gas.  The article attributed this evaporation of basic skills to schools dropping “industrial arts” and “home economics”, courses that used to be mandatory but no longer exist in HS curriculums. Here’s the weird thing:  Those courses were originally created to teach students basic life skills when families were moving into cities and no longer had the time or knowledge to teach the kids themselves!  Somehow, we cheated an entire generation of critical skills.

I can’t teach you skills, as they’re well beyond the scope of this section, but you can learn about them in books like “How Your House Works” ($18 on Amazon) and on countless websites by searching for “Things a man should know”, or something similar.  Listing the tools you’ll find useful to survive a 30-day event is the easy part.

Yard Tools

  • Shovel, Round Point, 46”. This is for digging the latrine
  • Digging bar (if you live in rocky terrain)

Tool Box contents

  • Claw hammer, 16oz
  • Screwdrivers (2) with interchangeable tips
  • Channel Lock Pliers, 8”
  • Channel Lock Pliers, 10”
  • Crescent Wrench, 6”
  • Crescent Wrench, 10”
  • Hatchet, 14”
  • Hacksaw with extra blades
  • D-handled pruning saw, 18”
  • Duct Tape, roll
  • Crazy glue
  • Epoxy
  • Box of 1-1/4” deck screws
  • Razor knife w/extra blades
  • Pipe Wrench, 14”
  • Hex Key Set, SAE & Metric
  • Tape Measure, 25’
  • Wrecking Bar, 24”
  • Flashlight
  • Multimeter
  • Tape, electrical
  • Wire nuts, medium (24)
  • Torch, Bernzomatic, w/ignitor. For plumbing repair of copper pipes.
  • Extra fuel bottle for torch
  • Solder and a container of flux
  • Leather Gloves

OK, one more story, this time a good news version.  Several months ago, my neighbor’s 22-year old daughter asked me to look at her car. The coolant light was on and she was worried “something bad was going to happen”.  Instead of simply solving it for her I walked her through the process of checking ALL her fluids, showing her where the fill caps were, cleaning the battery terminals, and pointing out her fuse panel.  On one tire I demonstrated how to check the pressure, and watched her check the other three and the spare.  I showed her where her spare tire and jack were stored and how to get it out and hook it into the bumper.  It only took about 20 minutes and she was on her way.  Fast forward to the next weekend.  With freezing weather approaching, I was turning off the water to my outside faucets when she walked up with THREE of her college friends and asked me to “teach them the same thing I taught her” the week prior. Then, while I’m wondering if four fathers need to have their “Dad Cards” revoked, one of them asks why I’m turning off the water to my faucets… which led to another impromptu lesson.

My wife and I never had kids but it seems at some point I fell asleep.  By the time I woke up the world had moved so much that we can’t catch up.  What do fathers talk to their kids about today? What do they teach them?  How do they prepare them to live their lives?   There must be lots of different important stuff that I’m simply unaware of.  Enough to fill 22 years apparently.