To say that I am a handyman is a major overstatement. In fact, if somebody comes up to you and tells you that, call him a liar. That’s what it is, an outright lie. I can’t fix anything, I can’t build anything, unless I can do it with tape. (But I did once write a series of columns under the pseudonym “Handy Cap”).
And the Dad kit that I got didn’t include the part about becoming all handy and knowing how to fix everything. I just got the part with infinite theoretical knowledge about … stuff.
For some reason, I still sometimes try to build and fix things. And when I do, I like to use tools I have made myself.
The best tool I never made is a hammer I brought home in seventh grade. Or brought home parts of a hammer in seventh grade. How difficult is it to make a hammer, really? Even the cavemen managed to do that, and all they had to work with were rocks and sticks. Maybe their own hair. Well, leather, too.
But not superglue, not woodworking lathes, no special iron coating machines, like I did.
Having made a potato mashing tool – still in use in our house, and one of the secrets of my world-famous-in-our-house mashed potatoes – earlier the same year, I felt like I had graduated to a higher level, truly. After all, I had not only made that masher for Mom for Xmas, I had also given Dad a saw for Xmas the year before, and both had passed the field tests: Mom’s masher worked for mashing potatoes and Dad’s saw was perfect for cutting hockey sticks.
Those were a step up from my butter knife which was evenly thick – a stick, in other words – so that Mom didn’t know which end to hold and which to spread the butter with.
When our shop teacher told us guys – yes, only boys – that our next job would be to make a hammer, I didn’t think about it much, but instead, got in line to get my materials: a piece of iron, about 15 centimeters long.
Was it iron? I don’t know because I don’t know the difference between iron and steel. It was one of those things. And it was hard. It was so hard that it took me a full hour just to saw off my piece. Finally, the teacher did it for me because otherwise, I would have missed my biology class.
The next time, we were supposed to start shaping the hammer head. It was a simple design, with one a flat hammering side and a V-shaped side to … do something else. Drill two holes in the middle, make it one roundish big hole and stick the shaft through the hole. Then hit the nail in the head.
Anybody who’s ever seen me cut a slice bread knows that I still can’t cut straight. One side of the sandwich is always thicker than the other. And there I was, trying to saw that really hard piece of iron into a V-shape.
I don’t know whether my arms were too weak or whether I just didn’t know how to use a saw, or both, but I only got about a sixth of the work done during the first class. Weeks later, I was halfway through one side of the hammer – and the summer was approaching fast.
A buddy of mine had to help me to finish the saw job. Or, a couple of buddies took turns and sawed it for me so that I, with just three weeks to go, got to proceed to the next stage: drilling the holes.
The same buddies did that fast enough, but as you can probably guess, I then didn’t manage to make the big hole round enough, because I couldn’t file it fast enough, so in the end, there wasn’t enough time for me to finish the hammer. By the end of the semester, I picked up the piece of metal, and the stick that was going to be the shaft of the hammer, and threw them in my bag.
To be finished at home.
We had the hammer and the shaft in our house for some time, and both parts even survived a 400-kilometer move. Once in our new home, they got a new spot in a new closet. Every time I went to get some tape, I saw them staring back at me.
And then one day, some three, four years later, I was happy to see that Dad had finally carved the wood thin enough to fit through the hole, so he could put the shaft in. The hammer was complete.
It’s still my favorite tool – together with the potato masher and the red saw Dad may still have somewhere – because it shows what I can do if I put my mind to it, and don’t lose faith in my friends and family.