Monday, August 20, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III

Each trade has its special tools, but you would think they could at least share an ordinary hammer. Observation reveals otherwise, and it’s more than about equipment.

Carpenters take a whack with various types of hammers -- used for framing, finishing, basic work (though pneumatic nail guns do most of the work today). Yet it is rare to see a joiner (fine English word for a carpenter, isn't it?) bang away at the rare piece of concrete in the way of a 2x4 with a mason’s hammer. The mason, though, will not use the carpenter’s hammer to set a brick tie to a wall but will instead grab the same masonry tool he uses for everything.

An electrician doesn’t even have a hammer. He takes out his most prized of journeyman’s possessions -- the lineman’s pliers -- and makes that his hammer, setting outlet boxes and wire staples with deft use. 

The plumber? He’ll use a hammer, but back in the day before easy plastic when plumbers were real men and they had to set heavy cast-iron pipe with hot lead-filled joinery, you’d see one coaxing a nail with a two-inch galvanized or even a one-inch black pipe meant for gas.

The finish carpenter is by nature finicky and neat, or he (she?) won’t last long. So, the tools are fairly exact. You would not see a surgeon  cutting flesh with a reciprocating saw, and the finish joiner will not employ a whacking hammer or coarse saw to do his work. Setting aside the pneumatic tools that have come to him as well, he uses well-balanced hammers and nail sets plus a guillotine-like device that removes uber-thin slices of wood off trim. All about exactness.

The roofer has his speciality hammer as does the tinsmith. The cable installer carries his coaxial cable crimpers  and the landscaper his pruners, though string trimmers seem to rule. (If all were turned on at once worldwide, the din might just throw the earth off its axis.)

Watch any of these tradespeople do their jobs, and you will see hands holding and fingers working and bodies twisting and turning to the tune of the particular craft and the special tools used. For example, it's easier for an electrician to grab his ever-used lineman’s pliers and bang in a staple than find a hammer that does not swing from his belt anyway.  He has adapted use of the tool with deft handing, unknown to any other trade that might pick up that particular plier type. Just as an electrician is not a carpenter and vice versa, their tools are distinct and fit more than the work at hand.

Personality, it seems, extends to tools.

No comments:

Post a Comment