The right tool for the job

My father used to say “It is a poor workman who blames his tools”. (The saying, or variations, seems to date from the 13th century or before.) Maybe that’s how he justified using mostly a monkey wrench and a Vice Grips on nuts and bolts. I don’t recall him ever buying a tool. I was 18 before I realized that nails come from the hardware store. Before that I thought they came from the baby food jars in the garage. If the nail I needed wasn’t there, I went to the scrap lumber pile beside the garage, pounded a nail out of an old piece of wood, pounded it straight, and used that.

The flip side of that is “Use the right tool for the job.” I have favorite tools in all of my endeavors.

For cooking, it is the 8 inch French knife. Mine has a walnut handle that feels right in my hand. It is not the greatest of knives – it is stamped steel, which holds an edge well but doesn’t take an edge well. Forged steel is better, but this knife has been my companion for almost 50 years, since shortly after I no longer got paid for my knife skills, and my funds were limited (and I could get a massive discount on this particular brand due to my employer selling them). A KitchenAid stand mixer is probably my next favorite kitchen tool. Not used daily, like the knife, but pretty handy when I do use it.

Favorite plumbing tools include the Sawzall, which does what the name says. It will cut through framing, even with nails. It will cut pipe (better for removing old pipe than cutting new pipe, but it will cut copper, steel, cast iron, or plastic in a pinch). The ½ inch right angle drill will fit between studs and has enough torque to get through anything – mishandled, it can do damage – more to you than to the material. Add a Forstner bit (or the Plumber’s Self-feed Bit Kit) and you can make 2″ and larger holes in no time.

Pipe cutter image from Ridgid Tool (think of that as a 4″ diameter pipe to get an idea of scale), Drill image from Milwaukee Tool.

The hammer drill makes quick work of concrete when you could spend ridiculous amounts of time with a regular drill motor and a carbide bit, only to make a dent. The no-hub torque wrench is a simple and elegant tool – a T-handled wrench that tightens the couplings on cast iron pipe fittings and never overtightens. The cast iron pipe cutter beats the hell out of trying to saw through cast iron. It has a chain that wraps around the pipe, with cutting edges (vaguely similar to a chain saw) that bite into the iron. As you tighten it, the pipe suddenly snaps with a suitably straight end. (Torque wrench image from my toolbox.)

For winter biking I have written about favorites before (links to three different posts). The face deserves special consideration. Down to 20 degrees (F) I just use a tight-fitting, windproof cap that covers the ears and fits under a helmet. From 20 down to about 5 or 10 I add a silk balaclava that covers the chin and cheeks and can be pulled up to cover the nose and mouth if needed. From +5 to -20 it is a merino wool balaclava that covers the nose and has a breathing hole for the mouth (and if it is borderline too cold you can breathe inside of it to warm yourself instead of letting that heat escape). A pair of ski goggles gets added at this juncture. You can easily pay $200, $300, or more for ski goggles. Mine fit over glasses and currently sell for about $35 (Outdoor Master is the brand). I can’t find a justification for spending 10 times that much to get the brands the pro skiers wear. Colder than -20 degrees and I switch to a fleece balaclava that is otherwise way too warm. That seems to work to -30 and I haven’t ridden colder than that. I could probably fit the silk balaclava under the wool or fleece one to get colder. These temperature ranges may vary depending on the wind (and you – I see folks in goggles and balaclavas when it is barely freezing).

Ready to face -5 Fahrenheit (-20.5 C – you’ll have to convert the rest yourself)

Since we’re talking about serious cold, this is the weather to read Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire”. Full text is available here and it is a quick read. It is the story of a man, a dog, and a brutally cold day in Alaska.

Since this guy didn’t make it into the last post, I thought I’d add him today.

Now it’s your turn. What do you do and what is (are) your favorite tool(s) to do it with? Tell us in the comments.

Author: halffastcyclingclub

We are a group of friends who ride bikes. Some of us are fast, some of us are slow, all of us are half-fast. In 2018, one of us rode coast to coast across the US. It was so much fun, he's doing it again in 2022! If we meet Sal Paradise, we'll let you know.

17 thoughts on “The right tool for the job”

  1. I finally bought a semi-serious battery powered drill and man it works well! I helped a old friend clean out his tool shed’s and he gave me a small “add your our drill” stand and I’ve use the heck out of it. Favorite bike tool, the 3rd hand brake cable holder and what I call “water pump pliers”, I tape off the teeth and you it to tighten multi-sided headsets and bottom bracket nuts that I don’t have the right size for! Rubber hammer and pedal wrench. I’m not very mechanical but due to us being on our meager Social Security Retirement for income I seem to do a LOT of “Redneck Engineering” to make things I can’t afford and to “MAKE” something fit that’s not factory! LOL, can’t for get my little portable bike stand the best $20 I’ve ever spent! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lately my favorite tool is my Fiskar’s splitting axe. Splits those logs no problemo. I’ve got a Fiskar’s hatchet for kindling. It’s been pretty cold here and the snow on the ground makes it feel like we’re living in a refrigerator, so we need that wood for the woodstove. As for cycling, for winter riding my favorite piece of gear are my Sidi winter boots. They keep my tootsies warm and dry, road spray and all.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Good winter boots are one of those items that, once you buy them, you wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. I’m generally a Sidi fan, but those don’t look warm enough for the last couple of weeks here. Fiskars makes great scissors so I’m sure they make a great axe, too. Another tool that you want to feel right in your hands.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When the Good X and I moved into our house in San Diego there were two or three VW bodies and a heavy-duty pickup cab and frame in the yard. Over time, the tweakers who’d rented the house before we bought it took one VW and the truck, but left two VWs in the yard. The Good X took a Sawsall to them and VOILA! we hauled them to the junkyard in the back of the Good X’ Peugeot station wagon. My favorite tool is my hand saw which I am able to tell from a hawk without much thought. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Keep the nose band tight, exhale through the mouth, hope for the best. If the top of the mask and the bottom of the goggles are snug, not much steam should end up between them. My goggles are treated (I think) and also vented and tend not to fog up but my glasses still sometimes do inside of the goggles.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I wore gloves (nitrile or latex) under my mittens for a while but having the hands soaking wet wasn’t comfortable even if warm. I got better mittens. Cold and wet is frostbite in the making. I wear a silk liner sock under a wool outer sock. They breathe and provide warmth. Winter riding boots make that combo even better. It is frostbite season here – our burn unit is filled with frostbitten fingers and toes right now; very few actual burn patients. Frostbite is not pretty. If the plastic bags work for you, keep doing it -as long as you get in before you get cold.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad you are prepared! If I lived in the Great White North I’d have to get winter gear. I’d also need a snow bike. I have battery-powered mittens which are very warm without batteries and can insert a thinner glove. I also bought some hand and foot warmers which I haven’t needed yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Those chemical hand and foot warmers are handy but they last so long! (Meaning they seem like a waste for an hour ride – or, in my case, ½ hour to 40 minutes each way and I can’t save them for the ride home – they don’t last that long.) I was going to make a joke about battery-powered mittens, but you can insert your own. They do sound intriguing. As a child I had a lighter fluid fueled hand warmer that was pretty effective…but I once used it while sleeping (in an unheated basement) and I woke with with mild burns in the morning.


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