Paychecks, Tools and Independence
When it has been several months coming, and the rectangular outline of a new full-time job’s first paycheck is appearing on the horizon, every man gets ideas. I don’t know about you, but I had only one thought last month, when I was in that position: tools.
The most logical – if not the most thrilling – starting point in my search was the blue plastic bin of tools that has survived my four state-to-state moves during the last seven years. I took inventory: four pneumatics, one corded drill, one cordless drill and one good router. Not much else. No clamps. No respectable calorie-powered tools (I’ve never had many respectable ones, unfortunately). No combination square, which surprised me because I don’t misplace things very often, and there’s no reason to get rid of a 6″ square. Bummer.
Next stop: the home center, where I discovered the usual, mostly disappointing array of “tool-shaped objects” (a Christopher Schwarz term I would learn a few weeks later). In addition to a decent combination square, I thought I might find a Black & Decker Workmate 225 – one of the few great shop appliances that have outlasted the transition to big box stores – but the little bench wasn’t in stock. I placed a drop-ship order, then browsed the clamp aisle on my way out, picking up a reasonably priced packaged set with some useful sizes.
They say you can never have too many clamps, and sure enough, the first tempting ad I found on Craigslist was for a stack of Jorgensen handscrews in 10” and 14” sizes. I rode over to Gloucester, Massachusetts, last weekend to pick those up.
Riding back toward Boston, I eyed the fuel gauge. Almost empty. Fifty bucks. I eyed the odometer. Nearing 130,000 miles. Must start saving for the next vehicle. I thought about the sort of slapdash independence I’ve cobbled together in the first decade of adulthood, and wondered if that was going to be good enough for the next 50 years. Probably not.
When I returned to the apartment, I popped a Chris Schwarz video into the DVD player – education like this being a nice perk of the new job. I was surprised. I had thought this guy was cantankerous. He seems like someone I’d want to meet, actually. He sympathizes with his audience, and offers clear advice on a range of hand tools. He talks about functional independence in a way that I understand.
I caught up with Chris yesterday on the phone, and I was just as impressed. We spoke about his book and DVD, “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” and he was frank about the motivation for each part of the work. The tool chest itself? The idea started as a “literary conceit.” He hadn’t expected anyone to actually build one. Yet they did, and more do every day. What about the other part of the title, “Anarchist’s?” It’s not about governments or punk kids. It’s about “the process of becoming independent.” The short list of 40 or 50 essential tools may be partly about the rejection of the other four or five hundred, but it’s mainly about taking complete ownership of the short list, and learning everything there is to know about it.
There’s more to the conversation, but it will have to wait for a future blog post. For one thing, I’d like to get to know Chris and his work in more detail before I write too many words. You should get to know his work better, too. If you haven’t done so already, go buy the book, the DVD or both (discounted as a set), especially if you need some guidance on tool-buying. And if you’re already using the tools on Chris’ list, tell us about that experience by commenting below. I’ll be there commenting back, unless I’m out somewhere spending my paycheck – sensibly, of course.