Boys Toys

Boys and their toys.

Truth is, little boys have a pretty limited need for tools.  A screwdriver (plastic or metal) for poking things and a hammer for bashing things.  That’s about it.

Later on, they will graduate to their first pair of pliers and try to figure out that figure-eight pivot for grabbing big and little things.  Downright handy for holding something still so you can really bash it with your hammer.

Later on, an older boy may move on to his first real project: his bicycle.  Here he will discover that his pliers are really only good for stripping nuts and his hammer most useful for cases of total frustration.  So he soon will be tempted to steal (ahem…borrow) his father’s tools.

In my own case, that wasn’t too helpful.  I had an English bike with metric fasteners and my dad had US sockets.  This arrangement turned out to be even better than pliers for hopelessly stripping nuts.

Early projects like this instill in adolescents one of two notions.  Number one, that they are totally inept and should never have started in the first place.  This can lead to a lifetime of total dependence on repairmen of dubious competency.

Number two, the delusion that it really wasn’t their fault.  That, if they only had the right tool, they could fix this %$#!! thing.

And maybe that’s where it all started for me: this lust for tools.  Or it could be genetic.  I don’t really know.  I just know it’s a lifelong addiction.  Every hardware store and tool section sings me a siren song I find hard to resist.

Alas, few of us are born rich.  So when the addiction first strikes, there’s little you can do to satisfy it.  You become highly focused.  You go to swap meets or check out those dreadful bargain bins for a single tool that will do the one job that has you stumped.  And fairly often these “bargains” will barely last through that one job.

Later, as your career and budget improves, you’ll be able to actually buy a new tool.  Or, better yet, your first set.  I still have (most of) the first screwdriver set I ever bought.  I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to work with a shiny new tool that was actually up to the job.

Now you’ve reached a new plateau.  You’re not buying tools for a specific job.  Instead, you’re equipping yourself for those past tasks where the lack of the proper tool drove you crazy.  It changes things.  Instead of shopping for that tool you need, you find yourself browsing the candy stores of tooldom.

You buy whole socket sets.  Electric drills and drill bits.  One day you graduate to a whole new level.  You realize you actually have enough tools to need your very own tool box.

Somewhere about now you are likely to find yourself with a significant other who might have trouble understanding why the family money is going to ironmongery instead of more obviously useful things.  Trust me, there is no way to bridge this comprehension gap with “logic.”  No matter how useful your tools are around the house, the truth is you’re feeding an addiction that is far beyond mere logic.  Every time a new job comes up, you run down to the hardware store and come home with some new gadget.

And it goes on.  You buy a table saw.  Then a band saw.  You build a work bench.  Pretty soon you’ve taken over an entire car space in your garage.  (Once again, this can be hard on relationships.)

But there is good news.  Eventually, you get to the point where you are really equipped.  There are fewer and fewer problems occurring that you can’t simply reach into the garage for the perfect tool.  Emergency trips to the hardware store become rarer.

But there is also bad news.

Remember, this is an addiction.  Once you are fully outfitted with all those tools that would have made past jobs so much easier, you keep right on buying.  But now you are buying for those jobs that might come up.

You buy hole punches and router bits and special chisels and really gorgeous planes.  Granted, you’ve never actually needed these specific tools, but just think how useful they would be if the right job comes along.  You tell yourself you are expanding the kind of jobs you could handle.  Then, too, there’s quite a collection of projects that you think you might get around to starting one of these days.

The Freudian Fallacy (as I call it) is the idea that once you really see what you are doing and why, you will be free from your compulsions.

Well, maybe.

But I’ve got a lifetime invested in this particular addiction.  Just walk out in my garage and see my baby vertical mill, metal lathe and all my other toys.  I even have a double height rolling toolbox just full of expensive gadgetry.  There’s hardly a project for which I don’t already have a tool.

I’m really trying to taper off, but those catalogs and eBay still suck me in.  Just this week, I found myself buying a couple of really cool mini-tube benders.

Of course, I have no earthly use for them right now, but someday…

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