Tools Redux (3)

Posted by bob on January 26, 2021

Recently I have been confronted by several repairs and projects around the house. Some were extremely urgent, such as a failed hot water heater that was spraying water out of its side at high pressure. A roaring noise certainly got my attention. When I realized what was happening, I tried to turn the cold water input shutoff valve. The valve was calcified and the handle shattered in my hand. This was a bad start. It did not help that this was on the day before Thanksgiving. 

Needing to shut off all of the water to the whole house helped keep my focus on completing this repair quickly. Some other projects have not been very urgent or important, but the result of those projects made me feel good.

All of these events reminded me of my passion for tools and learning how to use them. I know that I will never learn how to use all of the amazing tools that humans have invented. But I hope that I can become reasonably proficient with most of those tools that I have purchased. That might be a goal slightly beyond my reach—which is okay as long as I keep trying and learning.

The failed hot water heater required me to dive into my bins of “Household Plumbing Tools” and “Household Plumbing Parts.” After some checking, I made up lists of additional copper valves, fittings, and pipes that I would need to replace some of the existing plumbing. This also represented an opportunity to replace a different plumbing arrangement that included three similar valves and some questionable soldered junctions from the original house construction.

I took that shopping list to a nearby hardware center. My older son came over and helped move the new hot water heater down into the basement. He then stayed and helped with the new installation. By midnight, we were making hot water again.

Of course no good deed goes unpunished. A few weeks after the hot water failure, our water softener also failed and released a bunch of resin beads into the plumbing system. I bypassed the softener and spent several days cleaning out the system and servicing toilets, showers, and faucets. It seemed like a good opportunity to also replace any remaining multi-turn gate valves. As part of this effort, I decided to call the guy. A highly skilled and genuinely nice fellow came out and replaced the water softener media tank.

Traditionally, I have given my sons a few tools at Christmas. This year I gave them a couple of tools that I had purchased for them much earlier in the year (in other words, items found at bargain prices). One was a double-jointed plier for reaching deep into small openings to pull out wires or some other lost object. I told them they might never need such a tool, but if they ever do need one, they will instantly understand the need and appreciate the value of that tool.

I was thinking about writing a short Guide to Common Household Tasks Needing Tools for my sons. This would be simple repairs or tasks, like hanging a picture frame on a wall, tightening a leaking faucet, or replacing an electrical switch. But in all honesty, there are great guides on the internet and videos on YouTube for all of these tasks. Mostly, I hope that everybody (including you, the readers) can identify common tools by name, and have a general idea of how they might be used. You don’t want to be the guy we always described as not knowing which end of the soldering iron to hold.

More importantly, you need to acquire a deep understanding and advanced skills with the tools of your specific engineering area. Sometimes these will be very special tools and sometimes they might be the most basic tools (for example, things that help you Write Stuff Down). If you get frustrated learning a tool, you might need to consult with an expert; or you might need to do more reading and research. But best of all, you might want to just play around for a while when you are trying to achieve a goal. It can be surprisingly refreshing and in the long run those skills will make you far more employable.