When my daughter saw that picture on my Flickr site, she asked in a comment “That’s your square, right?” I am well aware of the private message in that question. You see, the two combination squares I gave her for Christmas are sitting in my shop next to the coffee table she is making. It is my square in the picture, but it’s my father’s ball-pein hammer. I don’t use that hammer very often, in fact I only use it when laying out the holes for shelf supports. The reason I don’t use it is hidden under that bit of tape. My father put that tape on, and I don’t know what’s under it – it may be a crack, it may be nothing. I want to leave the hammer as he left it and I don’t want to risk breaking the handle, so I never use it to strike anything very hard. I use it for tapping the self-centering center punch for three reasons. One, my father taught me early-on to use a machinist hammer to strike metal objects. Two, using it reminds me of that lesson and spending days in his shop with him.
The third reason is a little embarrassing; laying out those holes is critical and error prone; I feel that if I use his hammer, maybe I have a better chance of getting it right. Superstitious? Maybe, or as I often say to my wife “maybe it’s just mental.” Maybe I just pay closer attention when I’m using his hammer, like I did when I was a kid and he was watching. I should start this paragraph over because I’m not embarrassed by that at all.
I have a few of my father’s tools in my shop. Some I use on a regular basis, some are hanging on a wall along with some other old tools and some are tucked away in a box. One of the tools on the wall is my father’s hand saw. I am treating that more like a museum piece because it was his father’s hand saw. It’s over 100 years old and to be honest, I can’t use it very well. My father could have built a house with that saw and a bucket of nails, but I can’t seem to follow a straight line with it. Perhaps the teeth need to be set, perhaps the teeth are worn to the point of no return, perhaps I’m just no good with a hand saw.
I remember complaining once that I had to double-clutch to downshift my 1968 Dodge Coronet from 3rd gear to 2nd. My father bet me $10 (a sizeable bet in 1973) that he could take that car from neutral and shift into 1st, and then go up and down through the gears without using the clutch at all. He said “there will be a slight click when I go into 1st but that’s it.” I took that bet, I had never been able to downshift into 1st while moving and I knew that would be where he would lose. A few hundred feet and $10 later, I realized that he could drive a standard better than I could.
I also have a few tools from my father’s mother. One is the little silver hammer shown here. When she and her husband first came to America, they owned a grocery store. This little guy was in near constant use opening crates of fruit and vegetables. 40 years later, she kept it in a little storage cabinet in her stove. I used to sit in her kitchen and bang that hammer on the floor, and she never once asked me to stop. Other people would, but she just laughed and said “it makes him happy.”
I also have, well I should say that my wife has, one of her old garden tools “Little Rake.” Little Rake is actually a 4-prong cultivator but she called it as she saw it. The handle broke years ago and my father welded a piece of pipe on the tines and fitted it with a push broom handle. He said that the long handle would let him weed his garden without walking into it, but I think he just wanted to keep using his mother’s little rake. My wife uses it today to weed her garden without stepping in it and if it ever breaks again, I’m prepared to weld it back together.