Check it—an episode of BoingBoingTV with a cameo by my friend John, about TechShop, a Silicon Valley community tinkering space. Instead of a normal tool library with hammers and drills, this is a shop with stuff like CNC plasma cutting machines, full-size hydraulic presses and three-dimensional printers. The last time I was out in San Francisco, I met up with John for dinner, and he was telling us all about this place—this is yet another reason I would love to move to California.

Date posted: May 3, 2008 | Filed under art/design, friends, tools | Comments Off on TechShop

I’ve found all kinds of evidence of cost cutting here at the Estate, perpetrated by contractors, handymen, journeymen and bums who may have been “going through rough patches”, trading services, or simply drunk on the job. Scavenged, straightened nails, scrap lumber joined to form studs, leftover wire joined by junction boxes doubling back and forth through walls where it could reach the farthest. THis kind of thing is so common now that I’ve factored in the added cost of redoing everything I touch, and my SOP is to gut everything to the bones so that I can fix everything possible.

Ring shank nails

With that in mind, I had to pull a section of floor underlayment out in order to install a wall between the bathroom and the office last week. As I started levering out the fibrous board, I realized the floor tile installers were probably the only professionals ever to enter the house, because they used approximately three metric tons of ring shank nails to hold everything down. Now for a little tool edumocation: Ring shank nails are specially designed with threads along the body to go into wood and stay there, offering twice as much withdrawal resistance than an average nail of the same size. This makes them specially suited for jobs like floor underlayment, where thousands of pounding feet over the course of years on the corner of a board will eventually work the average nail loose, leaving a maddening squeak in its place.

I’ve had experience, too much experience, with ring shank nails. They were used elsewhere in this house but applied with a fraction of the brio evidenced here: one nail every two inches, and on sixteens (every foot and a half, following the floor joists). Using a hammer to pull them is a joke, because they’re designed to go in but not to come out. The heads shrivel and wilt like flowers in August drought, leaving their sharp stems sticking defiantly out of the wood. Of course, they can be driven below the surface with a hammer and a punch, but they have little or no shear (side to side) strength, so more often than not they’ll bend or twist with one good hit. And if the floor has a date with the sander, the law of averages says they’re going to shred a few belts.

End cutting pliers

My Dad had an old, blackened tool in his collection I always assumed was (and used) for snipping wire, but it was only recently that I learned of its purpose. End cutting pliers have a misleading name, because their primary design is not for cutting, it’s for pulling. It’s a blunt, wicked-looking tool with a shallow bite and a wide, curved jaw, designed with the same efficiency as a pitbull: It grabs the shank of a nail right below the head, and does not let go.

Step one

The curved edge is a lever very close to the fulcrum, which provides more focused power than a hammer and doubles to hold the jaw closed as that little SOB comes out. If, by some chance, the nail gives way before it comes out, a squeeze on the handle will snip the head as close the floor as you can get it. A tap with a punch will drive the remainder into the wood below sander depth.


I had to do some sleuthing to find a new one, because your average Home SuperStore doesn’t carry them (or, at least, their websites don’t) and I’ve got better things to do than wander the aisle of a Tool Corral trying to find where a stoned 17-year-old hid them last year.

I found mine at the local Ace hardware in under two minutes, and after I got it home I was pulling ring shank nails like daisies. I bought the 8″ Ace store brand for $13. Buy something large enough to fit comfortably in your palm, because if your job is anything like mine, you’ll be pulling nails for a long afternoon.

Date posted: April 28, 2008 | Filed under house, porch, tools | Comments Off on The Right Tool For The Right Job.

This is a link for the Hitachi P20SB Hand Planer. Mine came with a case and a tool for aligning the blades; it’s got a heavy action while still being very light, and the blades are strong and sturdy (unlike the thin, easily chipped blades on a Bosch model I rented.) I’d recommend this. I paid somewhere around $99 for it at Lowe’s.

Date posted: September 23, 2005 | Filed under tools | Comments Off on Hitachi P20SB Hand Planer

Our visit to Pax River was good. We visited with Mrs. Lockard for the afternoon, and she was better off than I was hoping. She was mentally sharper than I’ve seen her in a long time, even if she’s physically weaker. We took her out for an early dinner, and hopefully brightened an otherwise dreary Saturday afternoon. I really hope we’re able to celebrate the holidays with her and show her a good time. Of course, the Ghost of Dysfunctional Christmas is standing between us and those plans, but we’ll have to deal with that when it comes.

Hard On My Toys. I’ve had a Delta table saw for about the past five years. I bought it at a time when I didn’t have outrageous amounts of money, but decided that using a handheld circular saw to rip 10′ boards lentghwise was getting to be tiresome. I went out to the Home Depot to browse, and after half an hour of looking through the field, I selected the best American-made unit I could find for under $150. Since then, I’ve ripped a couple miles of board-feet between two houses’ worth of projects. During that time I found that the saw had a number of shortcomings (cheap fittings, a very wobbly motor, few allowances for attachments, a small fence) and only a few pluses, but I was able to jury-rig it enough to get it to work for me.

This past week, I’ve hustled to finish a bunch of outstanding projects so that I could get to one that I was looking forward to: finish carpentry around the front window in the dining room. I bought some very clean, expensive wood for the trim (the good stuff is hard to find) and had just begin to rip the sill to size when the saw cut out. I unplugged it, applied Dugan’s Second Law Of Fixing Stuff (unbolted the motor, took it apart and put it back together) and got another five seconds of juice out of it before the whole thing died in a puff of ozone.

Add this to the Skilsaw circular I burned out milling the door down this spring and that makes two expensive tools I’ve killed this year. It’s not like I’ve been throwing these things off the roof or leaving them in the rain; this is everyday use we’re talking about. I think I’m going to have to stick with the brands I trust at this point—A DeWalt cordless that actually has fallen off a roof and continues to work flawlessly; a Makita circular that’s followed me through two years of High School setbuilding, four years of college, and two houses; a Porter Cable sander that’s touched every woodworking project I’ve done; and a Craftsman ¾” drill that’s older than I am and deserves a new set of bearings.

I always wanted to buy the best tools I could afford and have them for the rest of my life, and this is one of those times when a compromise burned me. And the killer is that I don’t have the cash to buy that beautiful DeWalt replacement I saw last month. I can’t say that the Delta owes me anything, but I’m probably going to have to buy another 5-year saw and kill it as well.

Date posted: November 21, 2004 | Filed under family, house, tools | Leave a Comment »