In End Grain

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Thoughts on Adam Savage’s Every Tool’s a Hammer

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You may recognize the man on the cover of this book, Adam Savage, as one half of the duo from TV’s “Mythbusters.” The show ran for more than a decade in its original incarnation, spawned multiple spinoffs and showed the world that making and destroying stuff in the name of science was pretty darn cool. And reading the book confirms my suspicions that Adam is more than just a bearded face on TV.

Part memoir, part how-to with lots of advice on living a maker’s life, it’s almost like he’s telling the story of his life through the different workshops he’s inhabited. (His current shop, a cavernous underground space he calls “the cave” in San Francisco can be toured via Google Street View as well as seen in regular Youtube videos on the Tested channel.)

One of the central themes throughout the book is embracing curiousity. Taking things apart, putting them back together. Finding out what happens when you take a chance. Taking on a project without knowing exactly how to do it. Savage is a big proponent of going deep – following your curiousity to the next level, digging into whatever it is that you’re passionate about, and adding purpose and meaning to your making. For Savage, that means crafting picture perfect props and costumes from and for the big screen. For me, that means learning to weld, cut and shape metals and exploring different ways to incorporate leather and textiles into furniture. And, of course, going down all sorts of woodworking rabbit holes.

Savage’s advice on workshops is golden: have a spot for everything, and make sure you don’t have to do more than you need to to grab a tool. In Savage’s shop, you’ll see carts and cabinets organized by medium and need, all ready to be wheeled into action at a moment’s notice. I’ve recently started to implement the same practice, though not on the same scale. With my track saw on a shelf (and not in its case), it’s maybe less protected, but I reach for it more often. The same goes for my jigsaw and even my hand tools. They’re only in the chest when I’m moving them.

For a guy that seems to want to learn how to do everything and buys the tools to do it, Savage also preaches patience. Recounting some bad decisions with his first cordless drill (a present for his 16th birthday), he tells the tale of trying to hurry and just get something done with bad results. I’ve been there more times than I care to admit. But I’ve gotten better.

More than anything, though, Savage is proof that a creative life filled with making stuff out of whatever you can is a very rewarding one, indeed. Yes, he’s a TV star that’s at the helm of a very successful digital media company, but his journey wasn’t a straight line to the top. Detours into art, set-building and prop shops all led to where he is today. It wasn’t easy, but the right tools make it easier.

In between the often comedic tales of projects gone wrong and right, there are lots of little nuggets of wisdom. If you’re looking for a good read to relax with during your downtime, this might not be it. It’ll only make you want to get right back out in the shop.

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