By: Chris Warren
Everyone knows a tool idiot, or perhaps are one themselves. I don’t intend the term to be as disrespectful as it sounds. A tool idiot is a wannabe do-it-yourselfer who either grossly overestimates his or her ability to do a job, uses the wrong tools for the task, or has the right tools but does not have any skill using them. Tool idiots deserve credit for at least trying, but in many cases might have been better off not trying.
One recent hot summer morning I noticed the neighbor up the road cutting a tree down. He was clearly having difficulty, which is to be expected when one tries to cut down an entire full sized tree with a small electric saw. I gave a fleeting thought to going over there to help him, but hey, my own to-do list is already longer than the weekend. I also know that property is a rental so I wasn’t interested in working at someone else’s house for free while the landlord collects a rent check every month.
Late the next day I was driving by again and the same guy is hacking on the same tree, and most of it is still upright. My misgivings about providing free labor notwithstanding, I couldn’t take watching him struggle any more. I told him I would run home, change into work clothes and come back with the equipment needed to end his long, hot, miserable weekend of fruitless toil.
Within an hour of my return that tree was down and carved up into pieces small enough to carry. As I was leaving him on his own to clear the substantial mess, I was too polite to mention that for fifty bucks he could have rented a gas chainsaw and saved himself a day and a half of sweating his ass off while getting very little done.
He was both surprised and grateful at how quickly it all happened once the right knowledge and proper tools were applied to the task. Maybe it was divine intervention that he didn’t rent a gas chainsaw because I’m pretty sure he would have ripped a limb off with it, and I’m not referring to the tree. My floundering neighbor is a classic example a tool idiot: Well-intentioned, but hapless.
My dad is the exact opposite of a tool idiot. He owns, has owned, or has used pretty much every tool ever invented. He is the consummate handyman. From attic vents to sump pumps and everything in between, he has always done his own home repairs. Dad can pour cement, wire electric outlets, unclog drains, lay carpet & tile, put up fences, and tear down walls. He’s done several major renovations. He works on cars. Dad not only does it all, he does it with amazing skill. Even the stuff he screws up comes out twice as good as what the average person could pull off.
Guys like my dad are very hard to find now. The days of having do-it-yourself pride has been transplanted with a generation of tool idiots and a false belief that anyone can do it with no experience, no skill, and barely any effort. It’s a naiveté borne by television shows where some dude guts & remodels a whole house without even getting dirty.
People who barely know how to turn a screwdriver and whose garages are devoid of any sign of a homeowner with technical skills will spend a weekend watching HGTV and decide that’s all the “vocational training” they need to be master of all trades. Back in my dad’s time there were very few tool idiots. It was expected that most guys did their own fixes & upgrades because life wasn’t as simple as looking up a contractor on your smartphone and having them appear at your door within a few hours.
I’m not anywhere near my dad’s level, but I have a comprehensive collection of tools and can competently handle most homeowner issues myself. When I get stuck, I call my dad. He always knows what to do, and what not to do. When I look at a someone else’s project and I think to myself, my father would never do it that way, I feel validated knowing that my daddy didn’t raise a tool idiot.