22 December, 2014

Facebook "Quizzes"

A friend of mine recently posted, on Facebook, his result for "Which Top Gun character are you?"  It was this stupid quiz that has thrown me over the edge.  The pussies in portrayed in "Top Gun" are the most horrible representation of Naval Aviation that ever was.  Those chumps would be lucky if they had half the balls that Tommy Blackburn, Alexander Vraciu, Marion Carl, Hamilton McWhorter and Gregory Boyington had.  Consider the difference in technology. The Navy and Marine aviators in WWII flew of the decks of those carriers with hardly any navigational aids other than dead reckoning.  They expected their carriers to be in a certain place, and if they weren't...  The aviators portrayed in "Top Gun" had every technological marvel the WWII aviators never even dreamed of.  The loss percentage of WWII aviators is far and away larger than any modern "combat" aviator could ever imagine.  Ever watched that old "Midway" movie?  The scene of one aviator getting shot up, burned to a crisp and still finding his way back to his carrier AND getting aboard...  That kind of thing happened frequently.  Balls.  Of.  Steel.  To be fair, current Naval and Marine aviators haven't had the opportunity to prove themselves in similar situations.  They never will.  They're most certainly as brave as their predecessors but they'll never be in the same dire situation.  "Top Gun" waters it down much too far.  I've only seen the movie once and couldn't stand it. 

Educate yourself.  Go out and buy some books.  "Dauntless Helldivers" by Harold L. Buell, "The Jolly Rogers:  The story of Tom Blackburn and Navy Fighting Squadron VF-17" by Tom Blackburn, "Fire in the Sky: The Air War in the South Pacific" by Eric M. Bergerud.  Read any of those books and you will see that "Top Gun" is a sad, sad parody of Naval Aviation. 

20 December, 2014


I'm sure most of you are familiar with the old saying of "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he'll never go hungry."  Or, some variation of that.  You get the point I'm sure.  I went out and picked up some wood for a campaign style strong trunk (just another box project) that will be my Mother's Christmas gift.  I remembered that one of my coworkers, a younger man who is almost a spitting image of myself, wasn't going to be able to spend time with his girlfriend this weekend.  I could tell during the work week that he was a bit bummed that he wasn't going to be able to see her so I took action.  This young man is full of potential, which he has demonstrated time and again while at our day job.  He had also mentioned that he didn't know what to get his girlfriend for Christmas.  He already loaned her some money for the security deposit on her own apartment so I said "That's enough.  Get her a nice card and some sort of trinket.  You're done."  Now, before you call me callous, he's only been seeing this girl for a couple of months.  Loaning her the amount of money that he did is something I would never do so early in a relationship.  But, that's just me.  Anyway, I sent him a text saying that if he had nothing to do, my garage wood shop was open for the night.  I was expecting some sort of reply and he comes walking through the garage door.  I had suggested a couple of days ago that he make something for her.  Since he showed up, I asked him "So, you want to make a little wooden box for her?"  He said he did but wasn't very handy.  I told him not to worry about it as woodworking was simply another skill to learn.  Long story short, I got him started on a simple box, showed him the things I've learned about wood grain, little tricks with hand planes and the table saw, when to be picky, when to not be picky, how to fix mistakes (because I led him down the wrong path which resulted in a large mistake) and how to have realistic expectations for his skill level.  I love teaching people how to build stuff.  More so than how I love to build things for people.  Sure, I could finish this box for my coworker or even tweak the joinery he has so far, but I won't.  I'm one of those teachers who will simply point someone in the right direction and then keep an eye on them.  Hopefully before mistakes are made.  I like to let people work themselves into some sort of problem and then show them what options they have for fixing that problem.  I don't like teaching people in a "Do this, don't do that, shape that curve exactly as I have..." manner.  They don't learn much.  You have to get a person's brain working and get it into "puzzle mode."  Now, this young man has had a few shop classes in his younger days and it shows.  I've taught people who have never used a woodworking tool, beyond hammer and nails, and it's quite difficult.  I don't know what it's like to have never had a shop class or a father teaching me about tools and their uses.  Regardless, I'm a problem solver.  I want to find a way to teach everyone regardless of their current skill level.  My coworker is easy to teach as his brain is a sponge that soaks up everything it can.  So far, he's done a really good job with his little box project.  He had to move on to other things but we'll finish up after work next week.  The look of satisfaction on his face is all the payment I'll ever need.  He thanked me as he left and I replied with "Look, the projects I build are finite.  If I can't pass on the skills I have, they die with me and won't do anybody any good."  The hands-on skills that were so prevalent 70 years ago are disappearing rapidly.  The schools are still cutting "shop" classes, so the schools can't be counted on.  The skills of woodworking, leather working, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, machinists (manual machines) etc. are being passed on, mostly, by knuckleheads like me.  I can't speak for many trades, but woodworking is alive and well in the private sector.  The US is blessed with many, many privately owned woodworking schools.  I can't pass on many of my skills to you, my readers, but I can, at least, pass on my passion for woodworking.  Who knows, maybe you'll start seeking out more books, blogs and videos on woodworking.  Pass on the things you know to whoever will listen.  They may not take interest in the same things but you will have put the bug in their ear.  Now, go make something.

14 December, 2014


Mechanics are always discussing tools amongst themselves.  The usual conversations are between the "old guys" the "new guys".  New mechanics start with, mostly, the same kit of tools.  Wrenches, sockets, ratchets, screw drivers, hammer etc.  Basically, the tool kits from Sears.  Those tool kits are a good place to start from because they will be the core set of tools that will be used frequently.  It doesn't take an apprentice long to start seeing the limitations of the "mechanic's" tool kits.  The wrench sets may not go big enough (or small enough), the screwdriver bit sets may not fit into holes due to the driver being too big, they lack a lot of necessary, but simple, diagnostic tools.  Most kits also don't include some necessary air tools.  As an apprentice works, they start to see that they're going to be spending a lot of money in the coming years.  It's inevitable.  But, there are ways of building tool kits without going overboard.

One of the things I like to do with new mechanics is to have them look through my boxes, a two bay work station with a drop front chest sitting on top, a full sized locker, a four drawer cart and my homemade "under box" which fits snugly under my work station.  I point out things that should be moved to the top of their "to buy" list and also discuss the merits of certain tools as well as foolish purchases I've made.  The things I have them put on their lists are the things specific to our shop.  I also hang out in the background while on the tool truck.  A new guy might be checking out some fine tooth, flex head gear wrenches and I'll say something like "Don't waste your money on those.  You'll get more use out of a battery tester around here."  or "You won't use that thing much.  What about a 20 ton air over hydraulic jack or maybe a cooling system pressure tester?"  I also teach them how to figure out what they need without wasting their money on frivolous "bling."  I ask them to think about the tools they borrow frequently from others or the shop tools they use often.  "How much time do you waste trying to find a jack, especially one that works? You've also borrowed that wobble socket from me quite a bit."  I also suggest they purchase used tools whenever possible.  Most tool trucks have trade in boxes that might contain the tool you've been wanting.  One little tool that's a hot commodity at our shop is die grinders.  Most mechanics will start out with one, usually purchased in a kit, and will become frustrated when they have to keep changing bits.  Simple solution is to buy a bunch of used die grinders, put a tool into and leave it.  I currently have four or five (a mix of straight and angle heads) and am still changing bits frequently. I suggest they haunt rummage sales, Craigslist and E-Bay.  Good tools can be had for very little money when you see "Old tool lot" pop up.  You may get a bunch of wrenches you don't need along with that micrometer you have been looking for, but if the price is right just get it.  "Throw those extra wrenches in a cardboard box and take 'em home.  You may find a cheap tool box somewhere down the road and can start building a tool kit for home use."  Or they could resell the tools they don't need.  A lot of good, quality tools and tool boxes can be had from the used market.  "New" doesn't necessarily mean "better" when it comes to tools.

In the early days of my career I bought a lot of Mac tools.  Not for any specific reason, but in the early days it just happened that the Mac truck showed up most often.  The Mac guy I dealt with while at the courier company was also an outstanding guy.  He showed up regularly, would help me find the things I needed regardless of brand and was, overall, just a good guy.  He would also remember the things I was looking for and if he took if he took one in on trade, he would set it aside for me.  He would also go above and beyond the call of duty to help mechanics in need.  In my early days at the courier company I got rid of my old Craftsman 1/2" impact and purchased a brand new Ingersoll impact from a local business.  It lasted less than a month before it blew up.  I called the Mac guy and asked if he had any used 1/2" impacts in stock.  I didn't care what it was as long as it worked.  He told me that he had just got one back from being rebuilt and only wanted what it cost him to have it sent out.  About $250 from what I recall.  Two days after I called him, he came walking into the shop (and not on his normal day, he made a side trip) with a big smile on his face and a box under his arm.  He pulled out an Ingersoll impact in... Kawasaki green.  It was loud as fuck but it had some serious power to it.  I used that for a few years until I got my first composite impact.  He won my loyalty with that deal.  I also started dealing with the best tool jobber ever, Mick.  Mick was an old school Snap-On guy.  He was an independent dealer, not one of those corporate puppets you see these days.  He had been selling Snap-On tools since 1976 and his truck reflected that experience.  He didn't have a lot of fluff (t-shirts, coolers, grills etc.), he would stock the things mechanics on his route needed.  He listened to his customers and he tailored his truck to suit them.  He was amazing.  He would even talk me out of some purchases.  "Tim, you don't want that.  It's poorly made."  and he was always right.  As I was growing out of my current tool box (there was a flurry of trade-ins at the courier company that never left the shop) he listened to me as I explained what I didn't like about my current set up (I had a Snap-on bottom chest with a flimsy Craftsman sitting on top).  That 'ol guy, knowing my budgetary restrictions, went out and found me a drop front Snap-On top that matched my bottom chest.  It was considerably older (and looked it) but it was what I needed, and within my price range.  It was damaged to the point where the drawers didn't open well but I stuck it under the drive-on hoist (with a van sitting on top) and used it as a press to straighten the thing out.  Mick also got me a new trim kit for it to match the bottom chest.  When I mentioned wanting a side cabinet, Mick talked another guy into trading his side box in for something new.  Mick then brought that side box to me.  Mick got me a set of locks for everything so I would have one key for all three boxes.  Now that I think of it, I really miss that set up.  Damned shame I don't have any pictures of it.  Then I pissed him off.  Rob, my Mac dealer, had a two bay work station on his truck that he couldn't get rid of.  It was a "millenium edition" and it was just plastered with some of the cheesiest graphics I've ever seen.  Nobody wanted it.  He offered it to me for $3,000 and was willing to give me a decent price for my Snap-On set up.  I already had a considerable tool debt.  We had three tool trucks coming by the shop at that time:  Snap-On, Mac and Matco (I'll get to Matco later).  I had, depending on the truck, $450 - $600 of debt on each truck.  The last thing I needed to do was get a brand new tool box.  I called Mom.  A work station would solve my current storage issues and leave me a lot of room to grow, but I could also get by without it.  Just took some creative solutions.  I got the box.  When Mick came in and saw it, he was seriously pissed.  Rightly so.  He had bent over backwards for me and then I went and got a box from his competition.  He actually turned and walked out on me.  There was a reason for me not buying a Snap-on work station.  My shop foreman at the time traded in his two bay Matco (it never left, it just moved down the shop to Rob's spot) for a two bay Snap-On in "cranberry".  My foreman had all of his socket rails screwed to a piece of plywood which kept them upright.  He transferred this massive "board 'o sockets" from the Matco's top drawer to the Snap-On's top drawer.  The drawer wouldn't shut because it was too shallow.  I watched it happen and learned a lesson from it.  Snap-on also isn't shy about pricing their tools and tool boxes.  You're going to pay a lot of money for that name.  When Mick came around again (he skipped a week and I don't blame him for doing it), I explained to him, citing my foreman's experience, why  I didn't choose a Snap-On box.  I told Mick that I loved my previous Snap-On boxes, but if that top drawer wasn't going to be deep enough, it was simply not going to fulfill my needs.  I also told him that I couldn't afford it.  It was like buying a Cadillac when I could barely afford a Chevrolet.  Mick had cooled off and understood the points I was making.  I had a box from the competition, but continued to fill it with more and more Snap-On tools.  Then Mick had a heart attack and was, essentially, out of the business.  A sad day for his customers.

Then we have Kevin, the first Matco guy I dealt with.  He showed up out of the blue one day.  Kevin used to work in the body shop of a local Peterbilt dealership.  He was ho-hum as a tool dealer.  The quality of the tools was good and they were affordable but what really ticked me off was the guy himself.  He wasn't a jerk or anything, we got along quite well.  It was his reliability that I had issues with.  Like other tool guys, he had a regular day.  You see, the tool guys don't impede on other tool guys.  They prefer to stop by on a different day or, if it comes to it, a completely different time of day.  At the courier company we had a tool guy showing up Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for about a year.  In a typical Monday-Friday work week, that's a good thing.  If you broke a Snap-on tool on Monday, you knew the Mac guy would be stopping by on Tuesday so you could get something to work with until Thursday when the Snap-on guy came buy.  As an aside, if I broke a Snap-on tool I was almost assured that Mick would have a replacement on his truck.  He knew his customers very well.  Not so with the other guys.  Sure, having a Mac socket poking out of a rack of Snap-on sockets was annoying, but at least you would have something.  If a good tool guy doesn't have what you need on the truck you'll wait, at most if he's good, one week before a replacement tool is in your hands.  If you need it faster, a good tool guy will make a special trip and get you what you need ASAP.  But, they have to show up first.  Kevin, the Matco guy at that time, wasn't too good with regularly scheduled visits.  "Shit!  This Matco puller broke.  Oh well, tomorrow is Matco day."  Then Matco doesn't show up.  If you can't go to Sears and get a "fill in" tool, you're fucked.  You have to wait for the dealer to come by.  It's even more frustrating when that dealer won't answer their phone or return your calls.  When that happens, mechanics stop buying tools from that person.  As sales dry up, that tool dealer disappears.  Some tool dealers, if they think they're not selling enough at a particular shop, will simply stop coming by.  Not a good way to do business.  Kevin, despite being a nice person, got to the point where he didn't have anything decent on his truck.  There was a lot of fluff, but not many tools.  Kevin was the complete opposite of Mick.  "Hey Kevin, I need a 15mm deep impact socket in 3/8" drive.  Have one on the truck?"  "I can order one...."  "Fuck you, Kevin."  I can understand a dealer's reasons for not wanting to make a weekly visit to a shop that isn't buying many tools.  That's fine.  If a monthly visit works better, let's go for that.  Just as long as you show up when we expect you to show up.  If we need something specific, we'll call and have you order what we need in time for your next visit.  Simple, isn't it?

Jump forward to my current job.  I showed up at the truck shop with my two bay Mac and a one drawer service cart.  I had gone a few years without any regular tool support so I was happy to find that a Mac Tools dealer came by the shop weekly.  Jeff was an outstanding guy at the start.  Though I found that the quality of Mac Tools had gone down the shitter.  I bought a lot of tools from Jeff as well as a small end cabinet to hang off the work station.  Then came the day when Jeff came down with "Kevin" disease.  It was hit or miss every week.  Jeff might show up, he might not.  It pissed me off to no end and I stopped buying from him except when absolutely necessary.  We also acquired a Matco dealer who came and went before anyone really got to know him.  We also have had a gross of Snap-on guys come through.  They were all "catalog" trucks.  For you non-mechanics, a "Catalog truck" is a tool truck that, usually, has everything in stock that is in the current flyer, common tools (shit that you could get at any Sears or Home Depot) and not much else.  Catalog trucks are just fine for the newer mechanics, but for old guys like me, they're almost useless.  "You have a 15/16 wobble socket, 3/4 drive on the truck?"  "I can order it for...."  "Fuck you."  Tool companies sucker people into running a tool truck and then don't offer enough support.  The mechanics get pissed and stop buying.  The budding tool dealer disappears into the fog.  Too often those unwitting dealers are franchisees.  They are, essentially, at the beck and call of the parent company.  It just doesn't work.  It doesn't work for the customers, it doesn't work for the guys driving the trucks.  It's very rare these days to find a dealer who knows his products, is willing to provide for his customers and shows up regularly.  If a dealer can meet those three requirements, he (or she, haven't run into any female tool dealers in the 23 years of my career) will win the loyalty of their customers.

After our Mac guy flaked out and after realizing Mac tools suck balls, I was blessed with Steve.  Steve, as I knew him, drove a Matco truck.  He had previously worked for Snap-on.  Steve has a knack for figuring out his customers on an individual basis.  He is Mick reincarnated.  Steve would show up with things he knew I would buy.  After mentioning that I was trying to create a "road box" of my own for the service truck, Steve showed up (on his regular day as always) and said "I have some stuff you would be interested in.  $25, yes or no?"  I asked "What is it?"  and he replied "$25 yes or no, that's the deal."  "Could you give me a hint?" I replied.  "Yes or no?"  "Oh hell.  Yes!!"  I acquired a bunch of trade-ins that, pretty much, filled out my road box.  A flimsy modern Craftsman box that he also provided.  Steve has an uncanny knack for finding his customers' weak spots.  He also was graceful with receiving criticism.  Back at the courier company I purchased a set of  3/8" drive deep impact sockets.  The little chamfer that was on the end of each socket prevented them from being used on any fastener that was less than standard depth.  I hated them with a passion and I let Steve know it.  I showed him how I had ground the sockets down so they would not suck so bad.  The next week, he gave me a knew set of sockets (which had been redesigned over the years), gave me credit for a trade in and told me to keep the original sockets.  He was fucking outstanding.  Steve, sadly, moved on to a regional position within Matco's system.  Jeff, the Mac guy, had returned briefly.  Jeff, as had everyone else, had been hit hard during the 2009-2010 economy crash.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt and welcomed him back.  It lasted less than three months before he stopped showing up.  Again.  When I did see him again I layed into him without remorse.  "The quality of tools is shit.  If I look at these Mac drill bits wrong, they break.  Your screwdrivers seem to be made from aluminum.  You don't fucking show up regularly.  If you don't give a fuck, get the hell out of the business and make room for someone who just might give a damn!"  I absolutely refuse to purchase any Mac tools to this day.  If I see some of the older stuff show up in the "used" box, I'll buy it.  New stuff?  No thanks.  You're a damned fool if you waste your money and Mac Tools these days.  You're better off going to Sears or Home Depot.  As for the many Snap-On guys...  The tools are still excellent (and expensive), but apparently Snap-On doesn't allow independent dealers anymore.  They're are company pawns under the illusion that they're running their own business.  They never seem to last long.  So, I'm hesitant to buy from them.  With Matco, even though Steve is on to bigger things, our current dealer, Kyle, shows up regularly.  His truck is a catalog truck, and I know that, but at least he's reliable if something needs to be ordered.  Steve, as regional manager, rides along with Kyle about once a year and still finds my weak spots.  Steve, through suggestions to Kyle, caused me to have a nice Snap-on top/bottom combo in my garage.  I also ended up with an old Snap-on bottom in my basement.  Hi, I'm Tim.  I'm a tool whore.

I tell these stories to the new guys in our shop.  I want them to be able to see a good deal and a good dealer when those things are presented.  I want the new guys to be smart with their money.  I want the new guys to not become buried in tool debt.  I tell the new guys they're welcome to borrow my tools but if they violate my rules more than a few times, I will cut them off.  I also tell the new guys that if they're borrowing a tool from me often, it's time for them to get their own.  I've started a "trial offer" thing regarding my tools.  I allow them to borrow a tool up to ten times, then I cut them off.  Except for the really expensive stuff because I remember what it was like to be in their position and I don't want them to become buried in debt.  I also will buy used tools I know they'll need, such as digital battery testers, and hold on to them.  I may give those tools as gifts, or I may allow a new guy to pay me off at regular intervals.  I don't expect new guys to have everything I have.  It's an unrealistic expectation.  But I'm not going to hold their hand and lead them through everything.  I have my own 20 ton jack and my own 1" drive impact because I got tired of trying to track down the shop's tools.  When I did find those shop tools, they usually didn't work because the animals I work with don't take care of them.  I don't loan out my jack or 1" impact.  "The shop has many jacks and impacts.  If you can't find one, or find one that works, it's not my problem."  Those same people who don't take care of the "shop" tools (try and find a freakin' broom, as if anyone would use it) are the same people who caused me to provide my own "road box" for my service truck.  My road box is full of "seconds" that I had laying around and used tools.  I only had to buy a few new tools to round out what I had.  My road box is an used, and flimsy, Craftsman (don't ever buy a new Craftsman box.  Find an old one, pre-1995, and you'll be much happier) top chest and the crappy end cabinet I had before I got my full sized locker.  In the grand scheme of things, the road box was a small investment that has paid off in spades.  I know exactly what tools I have to work with and I know they'll always be there.  Because it's mine and I don't have to share.  If you're a new mechanic, especially a new truck mechanic who runs the road, you'll eventually realize that communal tool boxes are only as good as the weakest link in the system.  It only takes one schmuck not putting a tool back to ruin your entire day.  "Cool, all I have to do is bypass this air dryer.  What the fuck?  There's no 3/4" wrench in here?  Seriously?  Fuck!  Even the 19mm is gone!  NO GODDAMN ADJUSTABLE WRENCH EITHER?!?!"  You'll learn.

I buy tools.  Still.  Do I need more wrenches?  Not really.  If I come across some used tools, quality tools, I'll buy them if the price is right.  Generally speaking, older is better.  I would rather have an old set of S-K Wayne wrenches than the current crap offered by Mac.  In fact, I have a lot of S-K stuff at home and couldn't be happier.

As far as dealers go, I've found a new love in the past few years.  Cornwell tools.  My Cornwell dealer, Adam, is Rob (from Mac), Mick (Snap-On) and Steve (Matco) all rolled into one.  I'm not a huge fan of Cornwell's tools (the grips on some of their tools are just horrible) but the quality is excellent.  Cornwell also allows "independent" dealers.  Adam is one of them.  He knows Cornwell's products, as well as many, many other suppliers' products, inside out.  He'll let me know when a certain tool isn't up to par and then steer me in the right direction.  He's quick when it comes to ordering things, he shows up regularly, he has learned the needs of every one of his customers...  Aside from the occasional Matco purchase (quite rare) I only buy from Adam.  We have another Mac guy coming around, but I've never met him.  Nor do I care to.  Yet another broken Mac drill bit the other night added fuel to that fire.  DO NOT BUY MAC TOOLS!!!  Sure, I can sharpen drills by hand, but it doesn't do any good when your 13' off the ground, on a ladder, trying to install a light on a trailer.  Drill, drill.. SNAP.  FUCK!!  Screw, screw... SNAP.  FUCK!!  That has been my experience with Mac tools.  Don't even get me started on their wrenches.  Mac wrenches are akin to grabbing a handful of razor blades.

I could go on, and on, and on, and on....  To you new mechanics, when you find a good tool guy, stick with him.  Buy old tools whenever possible.   See if the old fuckers in your shop will let you look through their box.  They didn't just fall out of the sky with that tool kit, there's a reason they have what they have.  Just make sure you pick the old guy that takes the time to put his tools away after every job instead of piling them up in his service cart and closing the lid at the end of the shift.  And whatever you do, DO NOT have an "open box" policy.  It WILL be abused.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Know every tool you loan out and make sure the person you loaned that tool to puts it back.  If it's not back on your box as soon as they're done with it, pounce on them like a hungry wolf.  "Hey, are you done with that socket?"  If that new guy hasn't learned to respect the tools of another person, YOU MUST MAKE THEM RESPECT YOUR TOOLS!!!!  Even if it makes you seem like an asshole.  And lock your goddamn tool box!  Our morning foreman leaves his box unlocked, and on the rare occasion it is locked, everyone knows where the keys are.  I hear him bitching about missing tools frequently.  "It's your own goddamned fault you know." I'll say.  "I told you right from the time you started working in the shop to lock your tool box.  See where it's got you?  They're your tools.  You're not required to loan them out.  If any of them are missing, it's your own fault and I have no sympathy for you."  That guy is also notorious for not putting things back at the end of a job.  His service cart is almost always piled up with tools at the end of his shift.  "If you don't respect your tools, nobody else will."  Every new guy that comes into the shop gets the same lecture from me.  "Buford (not his real name and the shop owner's brother) will borrow tools from you.  You need to treat him like a puppy.  If he helps himself to your tool box, you need to scold him right away or else you'll never get rid of him."  Buford has been in the business longer than I have and his "tool box" is a joke.  He doesn't take care of his own tools and has no respect for anyone's tools.  He's one of those people who never learned that basic kindergarten lesson of "Pick up your toys when you're done playing with them."  He's a slob, he has hardly any tools of his own and he has no respect for anyone else's tools.  Within the first couple of days at this shop I caught him rummaging through my box.  "What the fuck are you doing in my box!!  If you want to borrow a tool you fucking ASK ME first!!"  And just recently the "moocher" borrowed my 3/4" impact because the one he had wasn't working.  It helps when you put some air tool oil into it every now and again, but he doesn't need to maintain anything right?  He can always bum a tool off someone else.  I let him use my impact and it came back dirtier than when it went out.  Buford, in his defense, did wipe it off.  But it was returned in a condition worse than when he initially received it.  The next time he asked to borrow that 3/4" impact I said "No.  The last time you used it, it came back more dirty than when it went out."  He stumbled off muttering "Whatever..."  I said "What the fuck do you mean 'whatever'?  You've been in the business longer than I have, you shouldn't have to be bumming tools all the time.  You also have no respect for other peoples' tools.  And your a fucking slob on top of that.  You can't even keep track of the three jackets that have been provided for you!"  The jaws of the other guys who were standing around were on the floor.  I told them "You don't owe him anything.  All you have to do is fucking lock your tool box and tell that shithead 'No' when he helps himself.  It's not rocket science.  If Buford loses your tools, breaks your tools, or returns them dirty, it's your own fucking fault."  If everyone at the shop cut Buford off, he wouldn't be able to do his job.  He needs to be taught a lesson but won't learn that lesson unless everyone starts learning how to lock their tool boxes.  Don't be Buford!

Listen to the old guys in your shop.  That is, of course, unless that old guy is Buford.  Fuck him.  Lock that son of a bitch out of YOUR tool box.  Us old fuckers, especially those of us who have been at the same place for years, will be able to steer you in the right direction.  We'll keep you from buying things you don't need.

22 November, 2014

Guilty Pleasure


As with any business that caters to the public at large, I have to deal with the occasional jerk.  One pompous ass specifically.  This particular customer is running under another person's authority and thinks he's God's gift to trucking.  This person also owes us (the shop) a shit-ton of money.  He's making regular payments, but it's akin to spitting on a five alarm fire.  Any other shop would have flat-out told this guy to go fuck himself before doing any additional work or, at the extreme, gone to the extreme of imposing a mechanics' lien on the truck and locked it up until the balance had been paid in full.  Not us.  Someone up on high has allowed Napoleon to continue stacking up debt.  The worst part?  Napoleon still thinks he's priority number one.  He calls and expects us to drop everything to serve him.  Whenever I see him or hear his voice on the phone the only thing in my mind is "Go fuck yourself!"  So, when he showed up last night expecting a starter to be replaced, I reminded him that his balance was going to be much higher than before.  I also kidded that his truck would look pretty good with the shop's logo on the door.  Hinting at the fact he should pay up before we take his shit away from him.  So, it was with much glee that I removed his starter only to find that the replacement starter he had shipped to us... was wrong.  It was 02:00.  I called the "customer", which is an inaccurate term.  Customers pay for services rendered, this guy is more of a moocher.  Anyway, I called, got voice mail, left a message that, in polite terms, said "You're fucked!" and hung up.  The truck is OOS, basically, until Monday.  And I enjoyed every second of letting him know it.  Karma is a mean bitch, isn't it, Napoleon?  Pay up or fuck off!  Your truck can rot in the shop for all I care.  I'll spend my precious time on customers who actually pay their bills.  We're a business, not a fucking charity organization.  Put out or get out, you pompous ass.


11 November, 2014

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

It's Veteran's Day.  It's also (originally was) Armistice Day.  The day "The guns fell silent."  You'll see flags flying, parades, the "support our troops" stickers etc.  I think we all know what a Veteran is. But how well do you know the conflicts these people were a part of? Do you know the things they gave up in order to serve their country? Are you aware that combat Veteran's never really “get over it”? Are you aware that the dwindling number of living WWII Veterans are still sometimes haunted by “their” war almost eighty years after it ended? Have you thought about our peace-time Veterans and the things they gave up to serve their country? Regardless of whether they saw combat or not, they all sacrificed their youth to serve. They didn't get to see their families, didn't get to see their children born by the wives they didn't get to see. They didn't get to see their siblings graduate high school or college. They missed their pets. A vinyl “support our troops” sticker is a hollow gesture if the veterans as a whole are not considered.

Want to know how bad this lack of understanding is? Years ago, on Veteran's Day, I had a brief conversation with a young lady at my local convenience store. She asked me if I would be interested in purchasing one of the “support our troops” stickers. I politely declined. She mumbled something about being unpatriotic (we knew each other fairly well as I was a regular at that store) and I turned to leave, starting to feel a little ashamed of myself. Then, something in my head snapped. I turned back towards her and asked “When did WWI end?” She gave me a blank stare. I then said “It's an easy question to answer. The answer is staring you in the face.” Blank stare. “WWI ended on this day in 1918. Do you happen to know what Veteran's Day was originally called? Armistice Day. WWI ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.” She was beginning to regret her unpatriotic comment towards me. “I'm sorry, that was a bit unfair. Here's an easier question for you. After all, we're both products of the same school system. Where is the WWI memorial (in our town) located?
She replied “In the park with all the others.” Credit to her for, at least, knowing where to find some memorials. “That is incorrect. The WWI memorial is downtown. You've driven by it countless times but, like most people, never see it.” She was, clearly, pissed at me. Probably thought I was trying to be a dick. I was polite during all of this, I was not trying to belittle her at all. I ended with “Veteran's Day is not only about the 'current' conflict. One is not required to display their patriotism and maybe you might read a book or two before you start accusing people of being unpatriotic. I'll see you tomorrow.”

My first experience with a Veteran was my neighbor. He died when I was very young so my memories are limited. Pat was a WWI veteran who saw combat. He was gassed and was in a hospital when his unit returned home. He was left to find his own way back to the US. There was no Veteran's Administration at that time. He got married, had a son and then had to suffer the Great Depression. Then, WWII started and his only son joined the Navy. His son was killed. Went down with his destroyer in the Mediterranean. I'm sure it was heart breaking for Mr. and Mrs N. When my family moved in next door to them, they treated us all like family. Mr. and Mrs. N loved my older siblings and I as if we were their own children. As I mentioned previously, my memories of them are few as I was just a toddler, but I do remember one specific thing. Going next door to visit Mr. N. (his wife had passed away previously) and seeing him sitting in his favorite chair (a green one which eventually ended up in our house), reading his paper and smoking his pipe. Slightly balding gray hair, glasses and slippers. The only other memory I have of him is visiting him in a nursing home, most likely just before he died. He had saved the orange from his lunch so he could give it to me. What a wonderful man. He had seen and experienced some horrible, horrible things, but yet he loved every day.

After my neighbor, I learned of my Father's and multiple Uncle's service in different branches of the military. A large portion of the teachers I had were veterans as well. WWII, Korea and Vietnam. One of them, Mr. Bill, stood out. I was lucky to have him as a teacher not once, but twice. No, I didn't flunk a grade. Mr. Bill switched from teaching fourth grade to teaching fifth grade. I didn't learn of his time in Vietnam until fifth grade. That was the year the Vietnam Memorial Wall was opened in Washington. It was also the time when most of his male students were becoming interested in guns, tanks, planes and war in general. As the callow youth we were, we had no clue what war actually was. The John Wayne “Sands of Iwo Jima” mentality was still predominant, even in the early '80s. As a grown man, I look back on that time and feel ashamed at how ignorant I was. Mr. Bill, being the great human he is, took it in stride. He even showed my how to roll up my sleeves in proper Marine Corps fashion. He told us, as a class, that he would be gone for a week so he could visit the Wall with another teacher from our school, Mr. M. After Mr. Bill's week-long absence he sat us down as a class and explained (briefly, we were young and dumb) the Vietnam war and his participation in it. He shared canned peanut butter with us, showed us some photographs... He even had a Q&A sessions with us. The only question I can remember came from Stacy. She had a speech impediment (regardless, she was a great girl) she asked “So, didju, didju shoot anyone?” An innocent question from a kid who, like the rest of us, was quite clueless. I guess I knew enough about war to think “NOOOOO!!!! You don't ask that sort of thing!!” You see, Mr. Bill and Mr. M were kinda known to the students as having short tempers. You didn't fuck with either of them. Period. So, I was fully expecting Mr. Bill to be sending her to the Principal's office. But, he didn't. He politely declined to answer the question and moved on. He told us about sleeping with his rifle, how he was a machine gunner, about the troubles he had adjusting back to the “real world”, how he was only able to sleep on the floor for months after he came home, how his parents had to learn not to just barge into his room to wake him. I suppose his visit to the Wall, as with many Vietnam veterans, gave him some semblance of inner peace. Enough that he was able to share some of it with his students. To this day he is, hands down, my favorite teacher. And he also remembers the names of every single student he ever had. In my early twenties I had gone to the county fair and found Mr. Bill doing ticket duty at the gate. “Hi Mr. Bill. Good to see you.” “Good to see you too. Don't get into trouble in there, Tim.” “Yes sir.” In junior high I had Mr. Luck, a history teacher. He was fond of saying “War is hell. I know, I've been there!” We used to joke about him saying he was in both the European and Pacific theaters... Goes to show how little I knew. I never learned specifics about Mr. Luck, but I did know he was air crew of some sort. I should look into that...

In more recent times an old friend of mine did a few tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's suffering PTSD, but is learning to cope with it. A few other close friends served, though not in combat. In my mind there is no difference. I remember my Father taking me down to the post office to register for the selective service (I went Navy because that's where Dad served). I never, ever expected to drafted. I remember the start of the first Gulf war. Chad came bursting into the milk cooler at the grocery store and hollered “Pack your bags, we're going to war!” I can hear you chuckling. Yes, it's okay in hindsight, but at that time it hit me right in the core. Before the doors of that milk cooler stopped swinging, I had already figured out what to do with my stuff before I got sent off to the middle east. I kid you not, I was fully expecting to get a letter from Uncle Sam. Cut me some slack, I was 18/19 and very na├»ve. Then came 11 September, 2001. Again, I was expecting a letter from Uncle Sam. “Well, the apartment's on a month to month lease so that can just run out. I can put all of my stuff and my truck at Mom's house....”

I've written about the veterans I've met at that time and since already, so no need to do it again. These days I have a much, much better understanding of war and the things those who fight wars go through. Tip of the hat to the public library and the many veterans I've known throughout the years. Veteran's Day is not about a silly sticker on your SUV or the whole “Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the 'ol oak tree...” nonsense. It's about the people. The people who have sacrificed their lives, their limbs, their mental stability and their family life. All so the rest of us can be free. That's why we honor our veterans on this day.

08 November, 2014

Thoughts of A Mechanic

Me with my first car.  Was during my first "career job" at the time.
Almost daily I ask myself "Did I make the right career choice?"  To which I have no definite answer.  I often think that I should have stayed in school so I might have had a better choice of career.  Ya know what?  I don't think it really matters all that much.  Whatever it is you do day to day, it's still a job.  Should I have continued with a more music oriented path?  Should I have followed the machinist route?  What about art or photography?  I'm a creative type of person so any of those paths would suit me.  Still, choosing your career is like choosing which child you will sacrifice.  I liked working on cars in my youth so I made it my career choice.  It didn't take but ten years (about six professionally) to kill that enthusiasm.  The last thing I want to do, when not at work, is fix anything with an engine.  My lawn mower starts and spins a blade that, mostly, cuts grass.  If an issue doesn't prevent me from cutting grass, it doesn't get fixed.  That age-old line of "The car belonged to a mechanic..." is, despite what you may think, not desirable. A mechanic spends his/her days fixing other peoples' shit.  They don't want to do it at home.  But it's not all about fixing things.

A good mechanic is, generally, an all around problem solver.  It doesn't matter what is in need of repair.  A typewriter, water heater, squeaky recliner, an unsolved crossword puzzle, a broken heart... When something isn't as it should be, a mechanic wants to know why.  Is the problem related to neglect, shitty design, stress failure etc.  The mechanic then thinks about how to solve that problem.  Not just repair it, but prevent it from happening again.  The difference between a mechanic and everyone else can be illustrated by this situation.  A person driving down the road notices their vehicle overheating.  A "fixer" would open the hood and see (fictitious situation here) that the serp belt is broken and/or missing.  The "fixer" would get a belt, throw it on and start moving again.  Only to have that new belt break or get thrown off.  Another new belt, same problem....  A mechanic will see that belt missing and wonder why it's missing.  A mechanic knows that it's very rare for a serp belt to simply break due to failure.  The mechanic would reach into the engine compartment and spin all of the pulleys by hand in order to see if anything has seized or has become sloppy.  Duct tape around a radiator hose is only going to last so long.  Sure, it will get you off the road, but it's not the solution.

I apologize for getting off track.  Long story short, I believe I have made the right choice as career is concerned.  I enjoy solving problems.  Sure, my main goal at the start of every shift is to complete the shift and go home, but I still get caught up in things.  This past Friday I was at shop for fourteen hours.  Why?  See it?  I'm so analytical that I have to figure out why I was at work for fourteen hours!  LOL!  It's a combination of things, not necessarily because I'm a mechanic, but because I'm a product of my parents.  My parents instilled within me an attitude of "Do what needs to be done" and "Do the right thing."  I had a job that (Goddammit!) wasn't going to get the best of me and, also, a long "to do" list.  The public me was brushing off some stuff that wasn't "important enough" to warrant a long shift.  The real me knew (Goddammit!) that I was going to get everything done because it's the right thing to do.  My years at this truck shop have revealed to me just how many people don't give a shit and are willing to pack up and leave at the end of their eight hours.  No thought given to the driver who is half a country away from home, the deadlines that have to be met, the driver's lost income due to the down time etc.  I may have to put in a few more hours, but if it gets that truck rolling again I'm okay with it.  My skills, the skills learned and honed over two decades, are put to good use.  And I get paid for it.  I, occasionally, get tips for my service.  I don't accept them.  I'm just doing my job.  If the customer is adamant about giving me a tip, I'll accept it, then I'll try and slip it back in their truck when they're not looking.  If that's not possible, I'll buy pop, donuts or something else for the shop with that tip.  My pay isn't the greatest, but it's enough to run a single income household with just a shade extra.  I'm doin' okay.

It's when a customer tries to tip me that I know I made the right career choice.  To me, it means I'm doing a good job.  I'm "Using my skills for good, not evil!" as I am wont to say.  I also realize that my skills go beyond the "mechanic" role.  I have a larger vocabulary and a better understanding of writing in general, than the average mechanic.  I also have a tad more creativity overall than the average mechanic.  Not being high brow, just being honest.  My parents, and some really good teachers over the years, have given (and fostered) those skill to me.  My punctuation and grammar are atrocious to a properly educated writer, but I don't think I'm doing too bad when it comes to expressing myself via text.  What do you think?

In conclusion (cheesy closer, I know...) you should follow your instincts.  You should also be aware that the things you may want to make a career out of, may end up being the last thing you want to do.  "Never turn a hobby into a career" comes to mind.  The difficult part is not choosing a career, but making sure you pick the right career for you.  I got mine (as with most things) by dumb luck.  Your experience may differ.

p.s. Thank you so much to the people sent me a note in response to my last post.  I stated right from the beginning that this blog is about me having a way to get things off my chest.  Still, it's nice to know that other people find my (often drunken) ramblings useful.  Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read my blog.  It means a lot to this old S.O.B.

21 October, 2014

I have become "The Closer"

You see that mess of metal and plastic in the photo?  Somewhere in there is a treadle valve.  For you car guys, it's like a pneumatic version of a master cylinder.  For those of you who don't know a thing about cars or trucks, it's a valve attached to the brake pedal that makes your vehicle stop before you put down your cell phone and attempt to not plow into a bus full of kids.  My regular readers (all five of you) are already expecting a rant from me.  You are correct.  The original complaint from our customer was "The brakes don't always release and seem to drag."  The first guy sent to address the issue came to the conclusion "Brake drums are glazed and rippled."  Not even close.  But, the guy came from a salvage yard.  Good at identifying components and taking them apart, but not so good at diagnosis.  He hasn't been with us long so I wouldn't expect an accurate diagnosis.  Nor would he have been my first choice to send out on this job.  Strike one.  Next guy that was dispatched to address this issue came to the conclusion that the treadle (sometimes referred to as "foot") valve was bad.  Then I jumped to conclusions.  This particular customer has a rather old fleet of Sterling tractors (God, how I hate those trucks) and treadle valves are usually mounted to the floor of the cab.  The common problem is a corroded brake pedal pivot pin and/or corroded plunger which connects the pedal to the valve.  I asked the second guy "Why did you not check the pedal and plunger for corrosion?"  His response was "I don't know."  Fair enough.  He's still green.  I explained the issues with that set up and then told him how to correct it.  He had instructed the customer to order a treadle valve.  Strike two.  Guy number two returned to the site a week later when the customer informed us that they had the part.  Number two returned to the shop that night saying that he couldn't change the valve because he didn't have the necessary tools in the service truck.  The shop's owner, though I didn't actually hear him say it (I've been there long enough to be able to predict his responses), probably said something like "All of the service trucks should have X amount of tools.

Why didn't Number two complete the job?"  Firstly, the "company" tool boxes are pathetic.  The animals I work with are very, very bad at putting things back into their proper place.  Secondly, the shop owner is hallucinating as far as service truck tool boxes are concerned.  He chewed my ass a few years ago about not being able to get into my assigned "road box".  He asked where the key was and I said "Right here on my key ring where it's supposed to be.  Where's the second key kept by the shop?"  You see, years ago we were assigned our own road box and were told that we were responsible for the contents.  Breakages of tools would be covered by the company, loss of tools would be our responsibility.  I followed that order to the letter.  So, when the owner told me that I had to leave the key for my assigned road box in the service truck, I responded with "I am no longer responsible for those tools."  You see, the shop owner isn't very good about putting things back where they belong.  He also is a messy guy.  Right after he used my assigned road box for the first time (totally neglecting the other, company owned and unassigned box right next to mine) I made up my mind that I was going to provide my own "road box."  He totally wrecked my company provided box.  Everything ended up in the bottom drawer, the handful of personal tools I had in there were covered in grease, oil and fuel....  I was on a mission.  I found a crappy Craftsman chest on one of the tool trucks (a trade-in), bought a bunch of second hand tools (as well as clearing my main box of "seconds") and mounted my very own road box into my service truck.  I was hell-bent on having the tools I expected to have, when I needed them.  It's been wonderful.  So many times have I heard people, who have driven my service truck, say something like "If I only would have had X tool, the job would have been easy."  I respond with "There is X tool on the truck.  But it's mine and I won't let  you have the key to my box."  Even the Owner has complained about certain tools not being on my service truck.  He'll start with "Every service truck should have..." As his gaze comes to me, he sees me smiling, smugly, passes me by and continues his rant.  It's a great feeling :)  Having my own, personal tool chest and locker on my service truck is the greatest thing in the world.  It's locked, it stays locked and there's not a damned thing anyone can do about it.  Therefore, I'm the only mechanic who can be certain of being able to complete tasks with the tools on  hand.  Probably time for another paragraph.

Ever since I installed my own road box into my service truck, I've championed the idea to everyone else.  At the very least I've insisted that the guys come up with a "Magic Road Call Satchel."  Wiring tools, a couple of screw drivers, pliers, vise grips etc. which they could pick up and take to the job.  Regardless of the truck they took.  I've even gone so far as to donate a second-hand chest to not one, but two, mechanics so they could start their own road box.  Neither of them did anything with it.  So I gave the chest to one of the new guys to put on top of his shop box.  Can't say I didn't try.  I led the horses to the pond but they didn't drink.  When I started at this shop we had two service trucks.  A guy would take whichever one was available.  Neither of them were stocked properly (required people restocking after every job, like that would happen.) nor were either of them organized, cleaned regularly or stocked with a dependable set of tools. That is when I started carrying my "Magic Satchel" on every service call.  I, at the very least, had that small amount of tools to count on.  That evolved into a "Mechanic's tool set" in a blow molded case that I took with me.  I had a set of sockets, wrenches and bits (screw driver, torx, allen etc.) that I could count on being available when I needed them.  Eventually I ended up with my own chest and locker in my service truck.  I rarely wont for certain tools.  Though I must say that I throw extra tools into the truck on an "as needed" basis.  Now, let's 'round third base and head for home.

After Number two came back from his second visit to the customer and explained "I didn't have the tools to change that treadle valve."  I said "Well, why not?  You knew what you were going there to do.  Why did you not load out properly?"  It was then that I found out the treadle valve was firewall mounted, not floor mounted.  I then explained to Number Two that he had diagnosed the treadle valve and he should have had some idea of what was going to be required to change it out.  He was silent.  He had seen the valve with his own eyes.  Strike three.

We end up with me being told that I had been picked to go and change this stupid treadle valve.  I rebelled instantly.  If I had been Number Two at the time I started at this shop, I would have been told that I had started the job, didn't complete it, and I would damned-well be the person to finish it.  It's how I learned that, even though a particular job may be really shitty, I would just have to do it.  Otherwise I'd be back another time for the same thing.  The lead tech (in my early days) had to clean up my mess a couple of times and it made me feel like shit.  I complete my work unless there's a damned good excuse not to.  Wrong part, vehicle not there etc.  The day I was told I would be changing that treadle valve, I gave Number Two a couple of options.  "Go to the customer and change that treadle valve or stay here, align that old Peterbilt and then deal with me being angry that I had to clean up your mess."  He did a three axle alignment on a Pete and I spent five hours in the cold changing a treadle valve.  Karma, however had its way with Number Two.  that Pete (an old P.O.S.) fought him every step of the way and then it spit a piece of junk into his eye which required some minor medical attention.  I learned long, long ago (from my Dad) that sometimes a person has to do things they don't want to do, because it's the right thing to do.

I hold no grudge against Number Two.  I was pissed off on that day, sure, but I turned it into a lesson.  He's feeling the same shame that I felt when I was in his position.  I can also say with certainty that he won't be caught under-tooled again.  I'm in the position now where the boss calls on me to be the closing pitcher.  When the other pitchers have failed, the boss calls on me to get the job done.  I've learned from my past experience and, believe me, I got the job done.

p.s.  I know there's people out there reading this rampant blog of mine.  One post has over 125 views despite me not putting any tags on it.  Not that I give a rat's ass about your input, but a comment from my readers would be nice every now and again.  So, sound off!  Who the hell are you?  What brought you here?  Why do you stay here?  Participate goddammit!

03 October, 2014


When it comes to my job, and my employer, I have responsibilities.  As the mechanics are concerned in our shop I'm #2 as far as seniority is concerned.  Probably #5 overall.  That doesn't mean I'm the second-most talented mechanic, it just means I've been around longer than every mechanic except one.  Number one in seniority is nothing to speak of.  He's one helluva guy in general but he's the most piss-poor mechanic I've ever seen.  Over twenty five years in the trade and he's still bumming common tools from other people.  And he's just not smart enough for this line of work.  And he's a slob.  And the company owner's brother.  Enough said.  The saying around the shop is that if the "Slob's" name wasn't the same as the owner, none of us would have ever met him because he would have been fired long, long ago.  On the flip side, he's the hardest working guy I've ever met.  He'll do anything for you.  "Hey, sorry to wake you at 3:00 a.m., but would you bring the wrecker out to me?"  He would be there.  Professionally, he needs to be gone.  Like 10 years ago.  Personally, I'm glad he's around.  Talk about conflict.  I digress.

Having become one of the "old guys" at our shop, and somehow finding myself saddled with the "night foreman" position (not for much longer, thankfully), I'm responsible for breaking in new mechanics.  Since I've acquired my current "foreskin" status, I've had to train six guys.  I've held the hands of many more, but I'm focusing on the mechanics that I've dealt with since I've been "promoted", temporarily, to foreman.  So far only one of them (thankfully he's still around) has been worth the effort.  I've had one complete dumbass (more muscle than brains), one who wouldn't admit lack of skill (a "know-it-all" who didn't), one raging alcoholic (he lasted three days), one former union guy who thinks he's still in a union (good luck with that mentality, dude!) and now I have yet another new guy.   This newest guy is new territory for me.  He's a veteran of the Iraq-istan war.  I don't know very much, but I know he's seen combat and has PTSD.  I've seen his eyes do that "thing".  It has me worried.  Not about him, but about me.  I've been educating myself about PTSD.  My experience with veterans at the courier company gave me some foundation, but I didn't know any particulars.  I'm not sure what to do.

I want to see the veteran succeed, I want to help him put one foot in front of the other.  But I don't want to be the "Civilian who doesn't know jack."  There is no possible way for me to ever understand what this guy has been through.  I can only comprehend him as he is now.  A combat veteran with PTSD who is trying to move forward in his life.  Do I act as things are just as they would be during a normal day at the shop?  That might be considered as ignoring reality.  Do I recognize his disorder?  That may come across as giving special treatment.  Do I ignore it completely because it's only a professional situation?  That would be heartless.  To any veteran reading this, I know this next statement will sound quite vain but I do have some understanding of what you've been through.  Yeah, I know.  I'm full of shit.  But please, let me explain my position.

My fourth (and fifth) grade teacher was a Vietnam veteran.  A Marine machine gunner.  When I was in fifth grade (roughly, my memory isn't that great these days) he went to visit the recently opened Vietnam War Memorial.  When I had him in fourth grade he hadn't quite come to terms with Vietnam.  A year later, after visiting the memorial, he was noticeably different.  I remember him sitting us down, as a class, after his return from the memorial, and having a brief Q&A session with us.  A bunch of fifth graders.  Only one question can I remember.  Stacy (she had a speech impediment, nice girl just the same) asked my teacher "S...s...sssooooo, did you shoot anybody?"  The first thing in my head was "NOOOOOOOO!!!!"  As a fifth grader, completely ignorant to the ways of the real world, I knew that the question Stacy asked was totally inappropriate.  My teacher, winning even more of my respect, politely declined to answer that question and moved on.  He told us about the trouble he had adjusting back to the "real world", couldn't sleep on a bed for months, loud noises made him duck etc.  Heck, he even showed me how to roll up the sleeves on my shirts in proper Marine fashion.  I will never forget him as a teacher, as a man, as a veteran and as a role model.  I'm extremely fortunate to have had him as a teacher for not just one year, but two!  My understanding of what war does to people started at those moments.  My Dad and his Brother were in the USN from '55 to '59, my Uncle Bob was a WWII Marine veteran, Uncle Mike served in the medical Corps during Vietnam (became a successful pathologist post-war), 'Ol Rob from the courier company was a vet of the USAF and USN, the courier company was full of Korean, Vietnam and Gulf war vets.  One of my close friends from my school days did a few tours in Iraq-istan.  The books I prefer to read are soldiers' memoirs.  The big picture doesn't interest me.  I want to know more of what the individual goes through.  I've know from an early age that war isn't a game.  My time in the fife and drum corps placed me at more Memorial Day services than most people (aside from the vets themselves) could imagine. It left a big impression on me.  I suppose the Fife and Drum Corps putting me in such close contact with so many veterans during my early years gave me a better appreciation of those people than most folks would get.

How would I convey this information to the newest of my coworkers?  How do I convey that I have some inkling as to what he's dealing with without coming across as some "armchair general" type of dick?  How do I express my gratitude for what he has done for me and my country without sounding like some "Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the 'ol oak tree" kind of chump?  How do I take everything I've already mentioned into consideration while still trying to seem "normal" and help him succeed with his career?  I'm faced with a challenge that I don't know how to address.  Frankly speaking, I'm scared.

With every new mechanic that has come into the shop after me, I've tried to do my best to help them succeed.  I feel that it's every "old timer's" duty to take the new guys under their wings and help them move forward.  But, this vet is unfamiliar territory to me.  I'll do my best to help him along.  I just hope I don't fail.

11 September, 2014

Where I was.

I normally don't like to write about subjects that may cause controversy.  I'm an introvert and don't really care to draw attention to myself.  However, there are a few things I believe in strongly enough that I throw the introvert into a temporary holding cell and stand up for the things I believe in.  What you are about to read is not politically, religiously or militarily motivated.  It is a simple recollection.

11 September, 2001.

I was in my late twenties, living in a small apartment, single (no surprise there) and two years into my dream job as a fleet mechanic at the courier company (see my "career blues" posts).  I woke up a little earlier than usual on that day, about 13:00, so I decided to turn on the TV until it was time to leave for work.  The first thing I saw was a news broadcast.  I saw a skyscraper with smoke coming out of it.  I didn't bat an eye and was looking for the remote so I could change the channel when I saw the subtitle.  All I saw was "...New York..."  My brain didn't process that information right away.  I imagine that I was slack-jawed and wide-eyed.  Once my brain had processed what my eyes were seeing I was glued to the TV.  I figured out it was the World Trade Center that was burning, that a whole lot of people had died, and were dying, then the loop started over.  I watched the airplane crash into the building and could not believe what I was seeing.  As the video footage replayed over and over I just sat there trying to comprehend what in the world was happening.  Eventually I started to come back to my senses and heard little snippets such as "terrorist", "air traffic being grounded".  By the time I put together the basic story I realized it was time to get to work.  I had a 55 minute commute to think about what I had just seen and heard.  The radio was on the during my drive and I absorbed every detail.  I was scared.

When I got to work I saw Rob just as I entered the shop.  The radio was on.  He had heard everything since things started happening, but hadn't seen anything on TV yet.  When I walked in, we just stared at each other for a solid minute.  It was one of the few times he didn't salute me when I walked in.  He didn't say anything, I didn't say anything... Everyone was in shocked disbelief.  I don't remember anything else about that day except that it was eerily quiet overhead.  The shop was only a few miles from a mid-sized airport and after some time I noticed there was no air traffic overhead.  Normally there was a lot of airplanes overhead since the shop was below one of the most used approaches to the airport.  Dispatch was chaos.  They were trying to figure out where all the drivers were, all but the most important routes were being cancelled,  the guys in the warehouse were trying to figure out how to sort all of the stuff that didn't get delivered...  When I got home that night I, somehow, managed to fall asleep.

In the days, weeks and months after that awful day, routine started returning to something resembling normal.  The most noticeable effect was the lack of air traffic.  We just couldn't get used to how quiet it was.  Every now and then the silence would be broken by F16s of the ANG.  The news coming from the east coast was heart breaking.  The sheer size of the catastrophe caused such a block in communications that people didn't know if their loved ones were alive or dead for weeks and weeks.

As usual, hindsight is 20/20.  I can look back on 11 September, 2001 and say that it was the day where my life changed.  Less than a year after the disaster the courier company had set in motion a plan to convert routes from company drivers to independent contractors.  That meant my days there were numbered.  I also became "old" after that attack.  Despite being in my late twenties, up until 11 September, 2001, I was overly happy and care free.  Things were going good locally, nationally and globally.  Overnight, that happiness was gone like the wind.  Life would never be the same again.  I don't have to tell you why.

I'm not going to go through any more details about the aftermath of 11 September, 2001.  They're well documented.  I just wanted to share my story of that day. 

24 July, 2014

A Preacher's Grandson

I didn't grow up as a Minister's kid, I grew up as a Minister's Grandson.  As a kid I didn't truly appreciate the relationship I had with my Grandfather.  To me, he wasn't a Methodist minister, he was just Grandpa.  Grandpa was, to me, really far away during my first twelve or so years.  Of course, once I grew up and had a better grasp on the world, I realized Grandpa and Grandma were never more than a couple of hours away.  Still, as a kid, I didn't see him more than a few times a year.  About fifth grade, Grandpa and Grandma moved to "my town" and I got to see them quite often.  Again, I didn't appreciate the fact they were so close, but I did get to see them more often.  As I aged I learned that Grandpa had taught me many, many lessons.  Yet again, my youth prevented me from realizing how important he was to me.  I never had the chance to have any conversations with Grandpa as an adult.  He died when I was 17.  Much too soon.

I was forced to attend church when I was young and I hated it.  Chalk it up to youthful rebellion I guess.  I've always wondered if I may have liked going to church if it had been voluntary.  When Grandpa and Grandma moved to town, Grandpa took a position at my (more on that later) church as, if I'm remembering correctly, Pastor of Visitation.  He was essentially retired but being a minister was his calling and he intended to do it until he could no more.  He started his life as a minister in small country churches so there was a good dose of evangelical preacher in him.  He was so very good with people and had such a calming feeling about him.  He had a smile that wouldn't be forgotten, he wouldn't hesitate to take off his jacket, roll up his sleeves and help someone fix their lawn tractor (he was a farm boy at heart) and, basically, just be a good person.  I witnessed actions such as these quite often but had no clue that he was showing me how to be a good person.  I helped him deliver firewood to a lady who needed to heat her house, I helped him make wooden crosses for church functions, I went golfing with him where he taught me how to interact with strange people, also while golfing with him I learned that I could not expect people to pay for things all the time and I would have to earn my own way, he taught me that giving is better than receiving, he also taught me to be gracious when someone gave to me.  I had no clue that this was going on.  Forget for a minute that he was a minister.  To me he was just Grandpa.  In a mix of his day job and his family life, he married my parents and an aunt and uncle, he baptized me, all of my siblings and most of my cousins.  He also married my sister.  Then, as now, I didn't separate his day job as a minister to his role as my Grandpa.  Grandpa was a minister.  Period.  If he had remained a farmer he still would have had the same influence upon me.  As a minister he shared his lessons with an awful lot of people.  And I miss him dearly.

Some other things that further intertwine Grandpa's life and mine are related to our family history.  Grandpa's family had moved to my Dad's little village where Grandpa was minister of the Methodist church.  It's how my Mom and Dad met.  My immediate family has always had a fondness for this little village as it's a quaint little place where the sidewalks are rolled up at sundown, everyone knows everyone else and things are simple.  My Mom once told me that this village was special to her, not only because it's where she met my Dad, but because it was the longest her side of the family had stayed in one place.  From this village my Dad went off to the Navy and my Mom went off to college.  After this little village, Grandpa and Grandma (and my Aunt and Uncle) moved to what is now my hometown.  Grandpa presided over a Methodist church that no longer exists (sad, really.  It was located at what is now an useless parking lot) but supervised the building of the "new" Methodist church.  Grandpa and Grandma served at three other Methodist churches in the state before coming back to "my" church.  The one Grandpa had built.  I didn't, as usual, appreciate the significance of this event until it was too late.  The story of my life.  Regardless, Grandpa and Grandma were close and a big part of my life.

Even though Grandpa was a man of the cloth, I don't recall even one time where he forced religion on me.  Sure, there were quotes from the Bible at times, but they were reactionary to whatever situation seemed to apply.  Mostly it was woodworking, golfing, steam engine gatherings and the like.  When Grandpa came back to what I like to call "his" church, he had a secondary roll.  He knew it and the other members of the parish staff knew it.  Nobody ever pretended otherwise.  My confirmation classes (similar to catechism for you Catholics out there) were handled by another minister, himself a good man and good "preacher".  Though Grandpa had no direct input as to my confirmation proceedings, he was present during the final ceremony and that meant the world to me.  In those days even simple things such as confirmation were important enough to warrant professional photographers which, no surprise, resulted in very nice "class" photographs.  It warms my heart to look at my confirmation "class photo" and see my Grandpa there, familiar smile and all, with me.  Grandpa married my sister a few years later, but my confirmation was the only religious event pertaining to me, other than my baptism, that Grandpa was part of.  He was gone long before I even considered marriage, so I look back at my confirmation as something very dear to me because Grandpa was there.  Then things took a turn for the worse.

When I was 16/17 Grandpa came down with a cold he just couldn't shake.  I remember seeing him in his basement, which he remodelled all by himself by the way, on the couch, under a blanket and near the wood stove he liked so much.  Not long after that he was diagnosed as having a brain tumor.  The tumor was removed and he returned home to convalesce.  Basically, he returned home to die.  I recall it as being less than a year before he was gone.  Still, in his terminal state, he was teaching me lessons.  He showed me that not having any hair, having people help you out of bed to change bed pans etc. was nothing to be ashamed of.  Truly a marvelous and dignified man to the end.  Even as he was dying, he was showing me that it was possible to maintain ones dignity.

I remember the gray day that we buried Grandpa.  I don't recall the service but I remember the burial.  I didn't cry.  I did the crying much later in life when I had begun to realize how important he was to me.  It may seem callous, but I think he knew that I wouldn't have a complete grasp on what was happening.  He probably knew I was a dumb 17 year old.  What I'm left wondering is if he knew how his death would destroy what little religion I had.  It's sad that the one big issue I had with religion, couldn't be discussed with the one person who could have provided me with a solution.  Years after Grandpa's death I began to question faith and God.  I asked to no one in particular, "How could God take a man so dearly loved by not only his family, but his congregations; a man who devoted 40 years of his life to God, from us?"  The rubber stamp answer of "It's God's plan." didn't hold any weight and, in fact, every time I heard that statement I only became more angry.  I couldn't see why it was more important for God to call Grandpa "home" when he was needed by his family and his congregation so much.  It didn't add up and I was pissed off.  If a holy man would be snatched away for "God's plan" when he was needed among the living, I figured that the rest of us didn't amount to shit.  When these thoughts entered my conscience and I had time to process those thoughts, that's when I realized I was agnostic.  It was a revelation.

Realizing that I was an agnostic was like being released from a mental prison.  It was also a slight curse.  You see, Christians tend to equate agnostic with atheist.  That tended to drive me even further away from religion.  If a "Christian" couldn't take the time to even learn the definition of "agnostic", I had no time for them.  The very people who claimed to be Christians were showing that they didn't grasp the core values of what it means to be a Christian by not accepting someone like me as an agnostic.  Basically speaking, the only real difference between me, as an agnostic, and them as Christians is faith.  A good chunk of Christians believe what they're taught and that's the final word.  Me, I have faith in a higher power but I believe that such a thing cannot be proved in this plane of existence.  For me the only way to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is a Heaven and Hell, is to die.  And I'm in no hurry to find out.  Christians have faith in an afterlife.  I, as an agnostic, have hope that there's an afterlife.  Big difference.  I do sincerely hope that there's an afterlife.  There's a lot of people who I didn't get much time with in this world that I would like to see when my time is up.  I would be told that I'm going straight to hell by some "Christians" because I haven't live by their favorite version of Christianity.  To be fair, I have seriously broken some of the Ten Commandments, but nobody is "pure".  When my time to die comes I may be face to face with St. Peter.  Or not.  Nobody can say for sure.  If I do see St. Peter at the Pearly Gates I hope to hear him give a favorable review of my life.  I'm sure he would wince at some points, but I think he would see that I've been living a good life as a good person.  My Grandpa taught me how.

21 July, 2014

Why I Don't Have Kids

I'm in my 40s, alone and have no children.  Society would seem to think that I'm weird.  Not so.  There are a few reasons that there aren't any "mini mes" in the world.  First, I'm too selfish.  Second, I there is nothing more irritating to me than the screams of a baby.  Lastly, I'm dysfunctional as a human.  Oh, and if I had a daughter, I would spoil her so much that any male she met would never compare to "Daddy".  Much to the detriment of any potential suitors. 

Though I don't have any offspring, I love my two nieces and four nephews to death.  I would do anything for them.  Specifically my youngest niece and nephew, who are brother and sister.  I don't favor those two for any specific reason other than I've become a better person during their, up to now, lifetimes.  My youngest niece, Gwen, mentioned to my Mom that she would like to have a certain doll cabinet from the American Girl catalog.  Well, Uncle Sling, being a woodworker, said "Heck, I can make that for you.  It will last a lot longer too!"  So I built Gwen a doll cabinet exactly as she wanted.  Well, almost.  She wanted it to be all pink and I couldn't bring myself to do that.  I went full-bore into that project and the joy I saw in Gwen's eyes was all the payment I needed.  Then her brother, Owen, made some mention of his interest in some of my woodworking.  Again, I went overboard and made something for him.  My intention was to build a toolbox and have the family purchase some tools to put in that toolbox.  A group Christmas present if you will.  That plan mostly came to fruition.  I built the toolbox and put some basic tools into it.  Owen is a rather reserved person and didn't exactly jump for joy when I presented him with his toolbox.  I knew that going in.  That was almost two years ago.  His Dad, my brother, has been living out of state for some years pursuing his goal of a decent pension for his family.  Therefore, Owen has taken on some responsibilities as "man of the house".  When my Mom moved into her current home I tasked Owen with lawn mowing duties.  I don't think he was too thrilled with the idea, but he took it as his duty.  I had over twenty years of lawn mowing duty.  It was time to pass it on.  Owen even gets paid for it.  I'm proud of him for that but what really impressed me was something he did this summer.  I heard from my Mom that Owen had taken his toolbox out to the yard to "fix the shed".  I have no clue what he did but I'm proud of him for doing what he though needed to be done.  And with the toolbox and tools I gave to him as a Christmas gift.  It makes me swell up with pride.  Owen and his Brother, Chad (I'll talk about Chad later) have have taken on responsibility of "men of the house" and have excelled at it.  I'm not being sexist mind you, it's just how it is.  I'm going to have a toolbox filled with tools for every one of my nieces and nephews.  The plan is to present them with their toolboxes (except for Owen who already has his) when they get their first home.  In the (hopefully) unlikely event that I expire before they have their first homes, I'll already have those toolboxes made and filled.  It's a bit morose perhaps, but I'm being realistic. 

Though I'm a different person now than I was twenty years ago, I don't regret my decision to not have children.  One of me is enough.  I'm chock full of bad habits and anxiety that I don't think should be continued.  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll have noticed that I'm not exactly capable of the simple act of maintaining a relationship with a woman.  I would, these days at least, like to think that I could be a good father, but I'm much too old.  It wouldn't be fair to the child to have such a short time with their father.  Although I would make the most of my time with them and, as previously mentioned, spoil the hell out of a daughter.  There's a hint of regret but, overall, I still feel I've made the right choice. 

13 July, 2014

What Is Attractive?

The insanely attractive Dr. Lucy Worsley

One thing I've learned as I've grown older is that the defintion of "attractive" has changed drastically.  When we're young, appearance is paramount to choosing our mates.  What we don't understand in those early years is that appearance is temporary.  Beauty is but a flash in the pan (bonus points if you know where that phrase originated) and fades rapidly as age increases.  Time will have its way with every single one of us regardless of how good plastic surgery is.  Sure, you can delay the aging process, but when you reach retirement age, that prior plastic surgery will make you look like a circus freak.  So why bother?  Plastic surgery certainly has its place when it comes to helping burn victims, those with birth defects and such.  But why waste the time and money simply to defer what is going to happen anyway?  There is, however a more important thing to consider.  Have you noticed what I've left out?

A relationship based on appearance alone is doomed to failure.  I guarantee it.  If you and your mate progress into the years where your appearance starts to fade, what do you have as a basis for your relationship?  Do you have common interests?  Are you able to have an intelligent conversation?  If you have neither, you're fucked.  You may as well start looking for a good divorce lawyer right now.  You don't necessarily need to have the exact same interests but you should be able to understand and appreciate your mate's passions.  You should be able to patiently listen as your mate talks about the miniscule things that get them excited.  Even if you don't understand what your mate is saying, you should, at least, acknowledge their passion for the subject.  Whatever they're talking about is important to them and you should acknowledge it. 

As an example I present Dr. Lucy Worsley.  She's smart, she's beautiful and that makes her, to me, insanely attractive.  She knows her subject matter inside-out and backwards.  I think that's hot.  She's the kind of woman I would love to converse with.  I may not be able to comprehend the subject matter, but I would most certainly be able to understand her passion for it.  She's the kind of woman I would want to spend the rest of my life with.  The best part is that things would work just fine the other way 'round.  She might have to listen to me as I blather on about the advantages of an N14 engine over an ISX engine. 

A person's appearance is our first attraction but it's only temporary.  People need to understand that fact or they're doomed to failure.

05 July, 2014

Tool Box Project: Measured Drawing and Materials List

Above is the measured drawing for the tool box project I have going on over at my Vimeo page which can be found here.  I don't have any CAD software nor do I have the desire to acquire some.  This drawing was done the old fashioned way, on a drafting board with pencil and paper.  Don't be critical as I only have a junior high drafting class to draw from.  That class was in the mid '80s so I, obviously, don't remember very much.  This drawing is not to scale, but it's close enough for what you need to know.  I am able to read the measurements just fine on my computer but if you are having a hard time seeing them, here are some general tips that should be fairly common to most browsers.  Right click the image and select "view image" from the pop-up menu which should display only the drawing.  Another tip is to press and hold the CTRL key then tap the + key to zoom in.  CTRL and - will zoom out.  Last tip is to save the image to  your computer and use the image viewing program of your choice.  I left out unnecessary things such as the hinges, handle, latches and the sledge feet.  Those details can be seen in the videos.

Some notes.  The tool box from the Woodwright's Shop is only 7" in depth and the front and back panels are 1/2" thick.  I changed some dimensions so as to not violate any copyrights.  The tool box we're building is considerably deeper and is made from 3/4" thick stock, which makes it quite heavy.  You may want to make a mock-up out of cardboard to get an idea of the finished size.  If you would like a less deep tool box simply purchase a 1"x8" or 1"x6" board instead of the 1"x10" called for in the materials list.  If you can find 1/2" thick stock for the front and back panels, go that route.  Stick with pine.  You may use hardwood if you wish, but it will add unnecessary weight to an already heavy tool box.  The box stores in my area don't sell 1/2" thick material in large enough pieces that can be used for this toolbox.  Obviously, if you have the tools and skills to thickness your own stock that is your choice.  The goal of this project is to show new woodworkers what can be made with a small kit of tools and "off the rack" materials.  I haven't built the tray which will fit inside the tool box as I haven't made up my mind how to go about it.  I have a few ideas but need to try them out before releasing a video of it. I am not including materials for the tray in the materials list.

Permissions.  You may use the above drawing for non-commercial (i.e. you don't make these toolboxes for sale or sell the drawing) uses.  School shops, non-profit organizations, woodworking forums, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts etc. may replicate my drawing as much as they wish.  I simply ask that you do not profit from it and that credit is given to me.  It's a simple drawing but it took some time and effort to create it.  I also ask that a link to this blog post, or a print of this post, is made available with the drawing (I want people to see the additional notes I have written above). 

Materials List
  • 1 - 1"x12"x8' board (nominal)
  • 1 - 1"x10"x8' board (nominal)
  • Wood glue
  • 1- box 6d common nails (about 1 1/4" long.  Don't get finish nails, you need something with a head on it)
  • 2 - non-removable pin butt hinges (don't get hinges that are too small or too large)
  • 1 - metal handle
  • 2 - catches to hold the lid shut
  • 2 - 1/4"x 1 1/4" carriage bolts (to attach the handle.  Adjust bolt length to your handle)
  • 2 - 1/4" nuts (use lock nuts if you prefer them.  I dislike lock nuts)
  • Paint, polyurethane, lacquer, shellac or other finish of your choice.
  • 220 grit sandpaper. 

14 June, 2014

Electricity and Muscle

You see titles of blogs and magazine articles that are some variation of "Hand tools vs. Power tools" quite often.  It should not be "versus" anything.  These titles should be "Hand tools AND Power tools."  The tools you use to produce furniture and cabinetry should suit your situation.  That's all there is to it.  Sure, I have my own opinions on the subject, which I will get to later on, but let's concentrate on the real goal.  Giving mass-produced furniture the middle finger by building your own furniture.  I've rambled on (and on) about school districts across the US eliminating shop classes, so I won't go over that again.  What I am going to do is describe some situations and then state my reasons for the tool kit you might consider having.  Ready?  Go!

The beginning woodworker.  Think of the beginning woodworker as someone who didn't have the benefit of prior training.  No Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts, no shop classes in school (either due to no shop classes or choosing not to take a shop class), Dad wasn't around or simply wasn't a DIY kind of guy.  This type of person does not have the benefit of prior training to start with.  So, where do they start?  Well, if they have decided they want to try woodworking they have, most likely, seen a TV show or helped some friends with a project.  Deck building seems to be a common entry into woodworking.  Don't knock the deck building.  There's a lot of that going on and it's usually completed in a weekend with the help of many people.  This type of project is so common that there's an unspoken kit of tools for the job.  A chop saw, a cordless drill (or two), a post hole digger (usually a powered rental) and a hammer.  There's no joinery to speak of as everything is just screwed together and the required skill level is pretty low.  Design ideas usually come from some sort of "DIY" magazine or a "Home & Garden" show on TV.  These deck projects usually have, at least, one guy like me who has some experience.  I keep my mouth shut and do my best to help things along.  I've had some strange looks showing up to these things with my own tool box filled with *gasp* hand tools.  Power tools are much better suited to this particular type of project, but with so many people involved, electrical outlets are scarce.  I can set up somewhere out of the way on my saw benches and cross cut boards with impunity.  I'm no hand saw master but I can saw more than square enough for a deck project.  Inevitably, a few people will start talking to me about the tools I'm using.  I'm happy to explain what each tool is and what it is used for.  A lot of beginning woodworkers are spawned at these deck building parties.  Decks are a common "gateway" project into other things.  The newbie will probably pick up a woodworking magazine or two, watch some DIY videos or, rarely, pick up a book about woodworking.  The common route for these people when it comes to tool purchases usually start with a power tool kit, the tools they saw being used during the deck project.  Chop saw, cordless drill, hammer, tape measure (usually one that's way too long) and maybe a speed square.  It's a good tool kit to start with as a lot of things can be built with those tools.  The downside is that it is expensive.  Not having much experience, the new woodworker will probably go to a box store and purchase the cheapest power tools.  I see two big problems with that path.  Cheap power tools aren't going to last very long (inefficiency) and the user, usually, doesn't have any training (safety issue).  So, for a beginning woodworker, I would recommend the same tool kit, but that they replace the chop saw with a hand saw.  I know that sounds strange to recommend a tool that will require MORE effort, but let me explain.  When I'm talking to people about cars, one of the things I tell them often is that they're not as complicated as they seem.  Each electronic part on an engine replaces something mechanical.  A throttle position sensor (TPS) replaces a carburetor's accelerator pump.  Crankshaft and camshaft position sensors replace a distributor, a throttle body and fuel injectors replace a carburetor.  Now remember, I'm an old SOB.  I started in my career when carburetor's still existed on cars and fuel injection was still a "new" thing.  I've trained a lot of mechanics of my age and have learned that these old guys learn better when comparing new stuff to old stuff.  It's the same with woodworking.  A chop saw replaces a cross cut saw.  A table saw (in normal use) replaces a rip saw.  Powered jointer = try plane, powered thickness planer = jack plane, random orbit sanders = smoothing plane, routers = molding planes etc, etc.  A new woodworker with a chop saw assumes that when they set the saw to to 90 degree stop that their cuts will be square.  Well, you all know what happens when we assume.  It makes an ASS out off U and ME.  So, we've covered exposure to woodworking, exposure to tools and the desire to dive deeper into the craft.  What's next?

A kit of hand tools.  That's what I recommend.  As with car parts, modern power tools are nothing more than replacements for traditional hand tools.  And in order to understand your power tools, you need to understand the hand tools they replace.  A new woodworker isn't going to know what a quality hand tool is.  I certainly didn't.  And here's a wake-up call.  You won't find many good hand tools in the box stores or hardware stores.  There are some good tools, but not as many as there was 50 years ago.  Here's what I recommend, and these can be had from a box store.  Time to use the list function (I'm part German and love organized lists)

  • Hand saw.  Get a 20-ish inch "sharp tooth" saw.  They will get dull and can't be resharpened, but they will be a good starting point.
  • 12' tape measure.  You don't need anything longer and you don't need the "Fat Max" either.
  • 12" combination square.  About the best you'll find in the box store is from Johnson Level.  Don't skimp on this.
  • Framing square or large "speed square".  The potential of these tools is something you'll grow into.  Again, get the best that is available. The framing square can also do duty as a straight edge.
  • A decent cordless drill.  Think Milwaukee, DeWalt or Bosch.  Don't buy the cheap stuff.
  • Brad point drill bits.  1/8th inch to 1/2 inch set will do.  Montana Brand is a good choice (if available).
  • Coping saw and spare blades.
  • Set of chisels.  3/8" to 1" is a good start.  Again, get the best available.  Irwin/Marples is common in the box stores and are of decent quality
  • Sharpening stone.  You will find a coarse/fine Norton stone in most box stores.  Not  the greatest, but it will suffice.  You will quickly learn what a sharp tool can do.  Don't purchase the "cutting oil" displayed next to the stones.  ANY oil will be fine.  Even olive oil.
  • Block plane.  I normally wouldn't recommend a block plane, but the so-called jack planes in the box stores are complete garbage.  You should be able to find a decent Stanley block plane (get the adjustable mouth version) at these stores.
  • 16oz. claw hammer.  You won't find a decent hammer at the box stores but, at least, get one with a wood handle.  If you can get on E-Bay, you'll find old, good hammers all day long.  Regardless of your source, get a wood handle.  They can be shaped to your liking.
  • Counter sink bits for screws.  At the minimum, get one for #8 screws.  
  • Nail set.  If you're using nails, you'll need a way to set the heads below the surface of the boards.
  • Awl.  This will work for marking holes or (in a pinch) scribing lines.\
  • Workmate "bench".  As hand tool benches are concerned, these are horrible.  But, you need a work surface and a Workmate style contraption will do in a pinch.
Some of these tools are the predecessors to power tools.  Some of the tools have no "modern" equivalent.  There is so much you can do with the above-mentioned tool kit that I can't begin to list it all.  Would some of the operations performed by the listed tools be easier with power tools?  You bet your ass!  So, why am I recommending these hand tools over their electrical powered equivalents?  The kit of tools I've recommended can be had for much less than a powered chop saw or router.  They're also not dependent on electricity.  If the power goes out, I'm not in a bind except where light is concerned.  They're also more portable.  You don't need a power source other than your muscles.  The cordless drill could be replaced by a brace and bits, but you'll have to scour E-Bay or flea markets to find that stuff.  The tools I've put on that list can do a lot of woodworking.  They could build a tool box to house those tools.  Most importantly, at least in my view, those hand tools will show you how wood works in a way you would never get from power tools.  Woodworking is all about exploiting its weakness to get to its strength.  This small kit of hand tools is also portable and quiet.  A great benefit for people living in apartments with no dedicated shop space.  You need to start with this tool kit before moving on to power tools.

Now, what about power tools?  Power tools, for me, eliminate the drudgery of some hand tool operations.  I have no plans to get rid of my table saw.  My table saw is used for ripping boards to width, mainly, and for a few other operations.  A small case project, for me, isn't worth firing up the table saw.  However, if I'm making a large project that requires a lot of repeat operations, the table saw will be used often.  Especially if that project is being built out of plywood.  I guess I would say that you shouldn't think of power tools as tools.  Think of them as an apprentice.  An apprentice would be doing the rudimentary tasks of sizing boards to length, width and thickness.  Still, I think you should spend time learning to size your stock with hand tools.  When you do, you will be able to appreciate what the craftsmen of old accomplished and also how easy power tools have made things.  Again, when the power goes out, how is that thickness planer going to help you?  It won't.  A jack plane will.

You should start woodworking with the basic kit and go from there.  Your interests, available time and skill development will show you which path to follow.  It doesn't matter if  you turn into a power tool woodworker or a hand tool woodworker.  Your start should be with simple hand tools.  Just continue on with your craft and build your own furniture, your own cabinets, your own spoons and bowls... Whether by electron or muscle, each thing you build is, as Christoper Schwarz writes in his book "The Anachist's Tool Chest", "Woodworkers generally labor alone, producing objects that are the result of just our tools, our minds and our hands.  And the objects that we build are a slap in the face of the chipboard crap that is forced down our throats at every turn."

Go get some tools and start building stuff!