In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
Tool Preferences...And Maybe A Fetish Or Two
May 22, 2010
There are certain hammers, wrenches and tools that I use more often than other hammers, wrenches and tools I have in my toolbox. Most of the time I can explain logically why I prefer one tool over another. So can other mechanics. For example:
-I like dead-blow ball peen hammers with steel shanks in plastic-coated handles. Dead-blows have cavities in their heads filled with tiny lead shot. When you swing a dead-blow, inertia moves the shot to the top of the cavity, and when you strike an object inertia makes that shot move downward in that cavity a split-second after impact. The result is less rebound and more of the striking force being directed into the object. I like that. I also like the unbreakable handles.
-My co-worker and friend Mark prefers solid-head ball peen hammers with wooden handles. He likes the "feel" and cushioning effect of a wooden handle, and gladly buys and replaces wooden handles that get broken in order to gain the unique feel of a wooden handle.
-I prefer a face shield instead of safety goggles when grinding, cutting or striking hardened metal. Face shields protect my entire face, not just my eyes, from shrapnel and debris.
-I prefer "ear muffs" rather than foam-rubber inserts to protect my ears from loud noises. Ear muffs are clumsy and hot in warm weather, but people don't walk up and start talking to me from behind my back when I'm wearing the highly visible ear muffs.
-I prefer florescent green, orange, even pink handles on my tools whenever possible. I've even painted yellow stripes on many of my black, gray or uncolored tools. It's more difficult to misplace or leave behind a brightly colored tool when working in the dark confines of large equipment.
-I prefer standard pry bars and alignment punches. My pry bars look like giant screwdrivers, with flat tips, from 1- to 6-feet in length. My friend Mark has a thing for "roll-head" pry bars. Some mechanics call them "lady foot" pry bars. I've got a set of lady foot bars, and can only remember using them once in the past 5 years. Mark practically carries one in his back pocket at all times and uses it constantly.
The list goes on. Everybody has favorite tools, and good reasons for exactly why they are favorite tools. Some of the reasons are logical, and some are whimsical. Which brings us to the category of unexplainable tool preferences that verge on fetishes.
-I'm weird for good, practical, portable shop lights. Every time the tool salesman gets in stock a new type of battery-powered or ultra-bright portable light, he knows I'm a sucker that will probably buy one. I dislike dim lights, I dislike dragging power cords around, and I dislike lights that put out a lot of heat or have potential to brand my arm if I brush them by accident. Someday I'll find my dream shop light.
-I have a "thing" for Vise-Grip lockjaw pliers. Not Vise-Grip-type pliers. I can only stomach the ones that have "Vise-Grip" stamped on the handles.. Do I need four pairs of 9-inchers, two 16-inchers, three 6-inchers, four needlenose of various sizes, and a dozen or more odd-jawed Vise-Grip pliers? No. But I do, and I want more.
Every mechanic, every farmer, has tools they "like" more than similar tools. Maybe it's because that tool fits or balances well in their hand. Maybe because it serves a unique purpose well. Maybe it's because they're just a little weird for certain tools.