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I noticed a lot backlash from readers regarding my tire pressure management post. The gist: TPMS won’t keep your tires aired up, and if you’re too lazy to check them every so often you’re probably too lazy to air ’em up either. I half agree, specifically that an indicator light is no replacement for good maintenance. After all, no tool can ever replace the drive to actually get in gear and do the damn project.

But before we go smacking down an indicator light, let’s take a close look at ourselves. Do you fall into any of these three Toolmonger pitfalls?

1. GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)

I first heard GAS spoken in music terms, describing a particularly craptastic guitarist armed with a $3,000 Paul Reed Smith axe. But it afflicts Toolmongers, too, like the guy who buys a zillion-buck table saw then spends the next six months polishing it and shopping for accessories. It’s easy to define: You know you’ve got GAS when you cross the line from buying tools to get the job done to buying tools because you just like tools.

Admittedly, there’s nothing wrong with collecting tools, assuming that’s your passion. If you want to just own the world’s most awesome planer, hell, that’s awesome. Kudos! (Send us a picture.) But if you’re buying the tool to use it, don’t forget to do so.

2. Becoming a Shop Organization Guru

Keeping your shop clean and organized makes a lot of sense. If you can find everything easily, you’re way more likely to finish the projects you start. But if you don’t start projects because you’re too busy cleaning up the shop or trying to figure out exactly where to put that new milling machine, maybe you’d be better off ditching new new mill or just letting the shop get a bit dirty. When Sean and I visit Toolmongers’ shops, we consider (some) mess to be a good sign — and indication that the shop sees use and owner keeps his priorities straight. (Which means they’ll be much more interesting to meet.)

3. Becoming a Joiner

This one’s a real pit of quicksand since no smart Toolmonger works in a vacuum. Taking a little time to meet the people around you with similar interests not only makes projects a lot more fun, it often makes them possible. Need just the right chisel? Your neighbor might have it. Better yet, join the local woodworking club and you’ll meed dozens of like-minded folk. But think twice before you give up do-your-own-project Thursday nights to be a club officer in charge of chair stacking.

You can probably think of dozens more similar situations that can draw you away from the task at hand, usually under the guise of help. Just don’t forget: Only YOU can put the D in DIY. (Otherwise it’s not Y.)

 

10 Responses to Tools Don’t Do Projects. You Do.

  1. Steve says:

    I was a little confused about the venum over TPMS in the post before, but this point is well taken. I do feel, however, there are more then three pitfalls. But its a balancing act, because #1 you have to get some gear to get some jobs done, otherwise you are cutting your grass with a hedge trimmer. #2 you have to stay somewhat organized to maintain productivity and be able to find stuff. #3 speaks for itself as far as a good balance.

    Here is a big one for me, #4 Speed of project acquisition. Gaining projects faster then I can complete them. You need something to work on, but having 100 active project means they all lose focus and progress grinds to a hault. This happens to me at home and at work (software development)

  2. Jerry says:

    Steve makes a good point of “too many projects”. Sort them by the true value of importance. Your importance. It means different things to different people. A raise at work? Special recognition? A personal feeling of doing the task?

    More directed at the original post, I have worked with those who feel that the acquisition of the tools and supplies are synonymous with the job being done. They see someone using a tool and showing good production time so they buy the tool but still have no experience using it. “This is a cool tool. I’ll probably need this in the future.” We all know that guy – or gal. I have bought a couple of tools that I owned similar versions of based on how it felt in my hand and, yes, how it looked.

  3. Brau says:

    I know of many women who shop simply for entertainment or to fight boredom, and it’s my observation that many men have essentially the same “disease”. Some will do it to the point of going terribly in debt. If you are a “car show guy” like me you may know a few like this:

    1. Objectify/rationalize the need for an item (tool, car, clothes, shoes, etc)
    2. Shop for item
    3, Show off item to friends
    4. Return to #1 and start over.

    Myself, I have the “too many projects disease” combined with being brought up by depression era parents. I turn myself inside out trying to give myself permission to buy a quality tool and waste countless hours pissing about with adjustable wrenches, hand-me-downs and Skilsaws where the right quality tool would have done better. I’m learning … slowly … buying good tools can save money, time, allow me to finish faster, and all that equals greater happiness.

    The point I’m hoping to make here is that everyone is unique. The reasons they do what they do are varied, different, and every one has their valid reasons. I really don’t like it when some people try to place others in neat little categories (G.A.S., etc.), and in doing so, look down their noses. Maybe that person is someone who is finally experiencing freedom in their life by creating the one thing they’ve wanted all their life (a beautiful shop), or maybe they’re just bored. Whether they use it or not doesn’t matter if it makes them happy. In my experience, most “GAS” types are dying to help, be involved, and are dying to use their fancy shop or tools.

  4. Chuck Cage says:

    @Brau: Hope I didn’t come off as looking down my nose. I certainly fall into one or more of these categories from time to time, and I totally respect the guys who want to create the life-long shop. My Dad was one of those, spending most of his life fighting to put a shop together only to have it fall apart for one reason or another.

    He did finally get one built, a sweet 40 x 40 metal building full of wood, metal, and mechanic’s tools — plus a little blacksmith shop out back. The bad news is that cancer got him just a few years later so he never really got to spend a lot of time in the big shop.

    On the plus side, he never stopped doing projects and using his skills, even while he struggled to build the shop. I’ve tried to learn from that.

  5. metis says:

    personally i’d say that becoming a joiner can be a huge bonus rather than a pitfall. more often than not i find myself helping a friend with a project or being helped and getting a job done faster.

    case in point, i am a board member at twin cities maker (www.tcmaker.org) the minneapolis/st. paul maker space, and i have spent more time on organizational business than my intermittent bathroom remodel, however in the process i’ve helped to facilitate, directly and indirectly, dozens of projects that came together faster, or better than individuals working at home or chatting with 1-2 friends could have managed.

    i’m using management and organizational tools to help build a community of tool users, in part so that when i get to a point where i need some help with a router effect i’m a little hazy on, i know there will be several folks as excited to help me, as i was to help with their CNC files.

    joining a club that doesn’t DO anything is another matter, i suspect that subscriptions to woodworking magazines full of projects to be drooled over counts as well, but how do you value the monthly meeting where you might once a year learn an amazingly useful trick that will significantly improve your utilization of your tools?

  6. I’ll add another category: The Volunteer.

    The Volunteer can’t say “no” to a project. Why buy that when I could make you one? We could do that together, stop by the shop sometime. Let’s sketch up plans for that!

    Of course, very few of these projects ever get past the idea stage, mostly because there are so many of them and it’s impossible to define and focus on the important ones. Volunteerism may be comorbid with other disorders listed here, particularly G.A.S.

  7. Ethan says:

    I sometimes worry that I have a bad case of G.A.S. but then outside of my day job as a photographer at a major hospital I’ve been spending most of my free time almost singlehandedly finishing my sister’s basement, frame to finish. This has required the acquisition of a LOT of tools. Being the son of a retired contractor I’ve always been taught that you’re better off spending a bit more initially to get a good solid tool that will do the job better, and last longer than the cheaper alternatives. Given that I also spend 3-4 hours a day commuting a lot of money has been spent on tools that would simply make the job go faster (could I pound every nail from frame to finish by hand? Sure but nail guns will get the job done a LOT quicker). I’m hoping I have reason to keep on doing projects once I’m done with this one, we’ll see how that goes. Otherwise I really will feel like it was just a bad case of G.A.S.

  8. fred says:

    1. GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)

    As others have commented there is a line (maybe no so fine) between thinking you need every tool there is to get the job done – and making do with less than is really required. When you earn your living and payback your investors (partners or stockholders) using tools – you may have accountants and budget analysts to help you make decisions about how much added productivity is worth, how to achieve it with new tools and how to measure it to make sure you have not hoodwinked yourself. There is also the case that some selected tools – coupled with proper training in their use – can inspire craftsmanship. When we promote or hire in a master carpenter – they get their choice of LN block planes. I think that at this level of worker – this is an example that inspires craftsmanship. There is probably no exact equivalent for our plumbers – but they certainly like their Knipex plier wrenches. I’ve heard this same argument about why some folks buy Festool products – but our calculations (cost/benefit) on this have yet to make us buy one of their tools.

    2. Becoming a Shop Organization Guru

    Keeping your shop clean and organized not only makes a lot of sense from a safety and productivity standpoint – but in a commercial setting it is a selling point for prospective customers. We like to showcase both our shops and our finished products – and while we can’t allow customers to wander in our production areas – we have places where they can amply peek in on the operations. I also know of one local millwork shop owner who has a collection of antique planes – some prized Norris’ on display in his reception area – maybe a unique way to collect tools – not use them in production – but still get business value.

    BTW – I believe that clean and neat should also apply to your trucks and heavy machinery. I think we get repeat business and new work leads – based on the appearance of our fleet – which conveys professionalism. Of course there is the other side of the equation that would have us collecting fines not business leads if our machinery were leaking hydraulic fluid , coolant etc. on the jobsite or highway

    3. Becoming a Joiner

    I do a modest amount of furniture making as a hobby – and am lucky that over the years my business interests expanded via acquisitions and mergers from plumbing and pipe fabrication to include GC work cabinetry and woodworking ventures. I consider myself lucky in this – since I can seek advice from employees who have skills well beyond my own. I’ve made no survey – but in my 45 years of working – I think I’ve noted a reduction in the number of hobbyist woodworking clubs in my neck of the woods – especially those that have shop privileges. Certainly the High School Wood Shop seems to have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. I’m not sure it’s from a lack of interest, a consequence of our litigious society, or something else. Still to be had are some decent magazines like Popular Woodworking – which depending on your interests can help fill in a bit – but there is still noting like doing with a hands-on experience.

  9. Fred, you should see if there’s a hackerspace/makerspace nearby. Metis mentioned one too, and some of the larger ones have quite nice woodworking facilities, or are trying to establish them.

  10. ChrisW says:

    My problem is getting excited about a project, but running out of steam after the “proof of concept” stage is complete. Example: I recently replaced the head gaskets on my small block Chevy. It took me 5 times as long to put it back together even though I had all the right tools out and didn’t have to struggle with stuck nuts and bolts.

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