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Build up your troubles in your old kitbag

Neal Inwood delves deep into his casebook for this cautionary tale which warns that it’s always the blunt tool that will end up cutting you.

WHEN I was an apprentice (back in the ‘olden days’ according to my kids) my old boss always maintained you could tell the likely quality of a chap’s work by looking in his tool-bag/tool case. And you know what? He was right. A tidy tool kit equates to a tidy mind, a tidy attitude, and by extension, invariably ends up producing a tidy job.

Now we’re returning to the days of the old-fashioned apprenticeship. Day release had just come in. But if you wanted to progress yourself you had to do night school for your advanced levels – just what a lad wanted after a heavy day tossing up rafters or spinning wet 9×3 joists.

The advanced course was held at the Technical Institute, naturally way across the far side of town. We were taught by whiskery, beery old has-beens (or so we thought) but these old-timers could mark up a compound hip jack-rafter by eye, with just two strikes of the pencil against their old imperial folding rule. A dozen seemingly negligent strokes later with their razor-like, hand-sharpened 10 point panel saw, and job done – didn’t even need the plane to adjust the cut face, a perfect fit.

These were the old school chaps who measured, (twice) and cut by hand, to a full or bare 1/16in, so subdividing 1/16in into three. With their big old carpenter’s pencil, they were working between 1/32in and 1/64in, so under 0.5mm tolerance.

Actually this wasn’t so long ago. The tools you initially bought, were intended to last your trade career. Certainly way before the time of the disposable throwaway Jack Point. Tools were kept sharpened and maintained, because without your tools you couldn’t work, and thus you couldn’t make a living. Now that part certainly hasn’t changed.

Well dear reader, as I arrived onsite to look at Freddie the Flooring Contractor’s latest efforts, I had a quick sneaky peek in his tool bag in the back of his van – only because the back doors were open, y’understand.

Well, what a bloody hamster’s nest it was! I’ve seen cleaner trenches and full skips better organised, with less clutter. Many of the tools appeared to have been glued together where the pressure hadn’t been let off the skeleton guns. Globs of adhesive everywhere.

As I walked in, young Rodney was making a beeline for the first aid box. I hoped there was more inside the box than just dust. I was a shade alarmed as he whimpered, clutching his hand to his chest, dribbling that red man-made fluid onto his shirt (that’ll please his mum on washing day), muttering something about the bloody chisel being rubbish.

It appeared young Rodney had been tasked to trim out the door frames and architraves in order to slip in the wood flooring, and maintain the expansion gap. Of course this often can mean only a part cut-out is needed, and the remaining section of wood needs a little ‘encouragement’ to come free – hence young Rodney diving into Freddie’s bag of Screw-Fix utter rejects, to find something to help him in his task.

What is it the military say? The seven Ps? Proper planning and preparation prevents p*ss poor performance – and in Rodney’s case, add preserves against painful punctures.

Spending a few minutes to keep your tools and equipment sharp and maintained pays off handsomely. The job runs quicker, more neatly, and with less stress, which equals more production and profit. Oddly enough, more Ps.

I couldn’t help but to think back to the CFA Training Guide publication that had recently come through the post. How soon those courses can repay themselves.

As for poor, young Rodney’s cut finger, this was a hopefully salutary lesson, never to be repeated. Using that old chisel from the bottom of Freddie’s tool-bag to trim the doorframes was a mistake.

Ultimately, it’s always the blunt tool that’ll cut you.

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