Tales from the Toolbox

The tales of sending apprentices for left handed screwdrivers, long stands or a set of fallopian tubes are all true.
There are more practical lessons though.

Using Stillsons, everyone’s favourite adjustable pipewrench, I was always told to keep my hand on my nose. So ridiculous was this tip that it stuck.
What it means of course is keep one hand on the the nose of the Stillsons as well as the handle so that if, indeed when it slips off, it doesn’t swing back and break your nose.
See how that works by clever association.

Using a hacksaw is not as easy as you’d think. The secret is to “let the saw do the work” which is true of many tools actually and although it might seem obvious saying it, you also have to use the whole of the blade.
Apprentices often find tools scary, they’re sharp and heavy and youngsters can be a bit handless until they gain their confidence. So you often find the middle few inches of a hacksaw blade are worn down and scraped clean of paint.
Asking for a new blade isn’t a good idea, you’d get sent back to use the other ends until they were just as worn. You’d quickly learn to use the whole blade, which is more efficient and so much easier on the elbows.

Another fear is swinging a hammer full pelt from behind your head with accuracy. When I do it now I can see other folk look on with terror like I’m going to hit them, myself or fire the hammer into the scenery. But I don’t.
So, apprentices pick up hammers and hold them just below the head and swing them softly from a few inches above the target because it feels safer. It’s actually not, your hand is near the impact area and the heavy head of an engineers hammer needs the length of that shaft to give you control over the swing. It’s just a really bad thing to do as well as being inefficient.
So I saw an old timer take a boy’s hammer and say “I’ll fix that for you son..”. He sawed off all but three inches of the shaft and handed it back to him.
He now had a heavy, expensive and useless tool.
I saw a lot of improved swinging technique after that.

I was also told to always tidy up my tools, they’re my livelihood blah blah blah.
I usually do, but sometimes there’s a happy accident when I don’t.

Listen to the money (Tales from the Toolbox #1)

With the approval of the Hydro schemes in Glen Etive this week there has much talk of backhanders, brown envelopes and bribes heading towards Highland Council members.

This is largely due to frustration and disbelief, folks just can’t believe that someone would approve these horrendous schemes so they look for the reasons why and self interest in the people responsible is usually top of the hit list.

The real answer is more complex. A lot of folk don’t care about the landscape in the way that we do as it’s a barrier to business and progress, so there is a financial element, but a more transparent one.

There’ll be an element of “don’t tell us what to do”, central belt internet warriors interfering in things they don’t understand being put in their place.

Lack of vision, lack of empathy, lack of care and disregard of the future all play a part, how many people have you met who care nothing for the world beyond the limits of their own bubble of personal interest.

It’s part of why we are where we are on a global scale. Stepping sideways and seeing things from someone else’s perspective is a rare and vital skill and brings with it an ability to see problems while they’re a possibility and before they become a reality.

People, you can’t live with them, and you can’t live… with them?

In saying all that, I’ve been asked for backhanders many times in my business life.

Some were casual inquiries, almost testing my commitment as a prospective contractor, some were exactly the seedy interactions that folks imagine.
I remember one in particular in a cafe with a local authority clerk of works who told me what the other contractor had offered him personally for the works under discussion and could I better it. I laughed in his face.
Had a similar proposal from another local authority figure, but probably most disappointingly was the “How much is it worth?” to get a contract from someone in a major learning institution in Glasgow.

There’s been plenty of that in more minor ways over the years along with abuses of position, pushing of luck and taking of liberties. Business really does run like your worst fears suspect it does and if you step over the line into the cesspit you’ll never get back out.

Blah blah blah moral high ground? It’s all very well but it’s also probably why I’m skint.

This has got me thinking though. 35 years of tales from the tool box? Aye, time I got that stuff down on here.