jump to example.com

TM reader Gil tipped us off to the Fail Blog post excerpted above. (To see the entire work, visit the original site.) And like most Fail Blog fodder, it’s pretty damn funny. But it really got me thinking: it’s shocking how often I see tools misused — not out of entertainment like those above, but just out of pure ignorance.

For example, as I walked out to my car a few mornings ago, I saw one of my neighbors tacking his fence back up. (We live in a neighborhood that’s about six years old, so it’s rife with cheap-ass builder fences falling apart. And yes, mine’s one of them.) The funny part: he was using a ball-peen hammer to drive what looked like nails for picture hangers into 4x4s. Think monkey-fornicating-with-football kind of frustration and you’ll get the picture.

I’m sure you’re laughing right now, just like I did (as soon as I was out of sight). But the more I thought about it, the less funny it seemed to me. Why didn’t he realize that nails with tiny heads would just pull through? Why didn’t he look at the hammer and wonder why it had a curved surface? Would the curved surface make sense for this task?

Sean and I are extremely lucky in that we regularly have the opportunity to talk to tool designers, engineers, testers, and even marketers. They beat a path to the Toolmonger offices to explain how their tools work and why you should be interested in them, and in the process they give us a hell of an education as to how tools progress from crazy idea to finished product. And we get to ask questions, too. “What the hell is this thing for? Who do you see using it?” We learn a lot.

But what about my neighbor? Where does he get this information?

He has Google, of course. He could always become an “internet expert” by searching on the tool or the job. Or he could take a trip to the local big box and hope that the aisle walker knows something about the job. (Good luck.) Or he could ask a neighbor.

Or he could come here, though we’ve generally focused in the past on the tools themselves more than on how-to posts about common tasks. What do you think? Should Toolmonger cover some basics about tool selection and use? And if so, how should we approach it to offer useful information to n00bs without boring the experts? Let us know in comments, if you would.


29 Responses to How Do People Learn About Tools?

  1. Dean in Des Moines says:

    One could just teach them from the start.

    First Drill

  2. Mark in LBB says:

    I’m sure common household repairs would benefit some people, my request would be articles about tool selection. For instance, there’s an article on A Concord Carpenter that covers which saw blade to choose for what purpose. Articles like that are incredibly helpful to someone like me who knows the basics of tools but could use more understanding about why and when you pick a circular saw vs jig saw vs table saw vs radial arm saw vs something else.

  3. Max says:

    I definitely think how-tos would be great, I wouldst do completely n00b stuff. I dont think regular readiers of toolmonger are n00bs this is more of a speciality site. Maybe if you guys did tips and tricks on how to do common jobs quicker and more efficient.

  4. Cameron Watt says:

    If toolmonger is doing well as it is then perhaps you should start another blog for teaching rather than messing with a good thing.

  5. Tom says:

    I know people like that. For some I will just offer advice, or to help. Local hardware stores are also a good source of help, but they can only get you so far. I was lucky to have a father who taught me a lot. He didn’t know much about auto work, but I have a friends father who did. You may have a neighbor who is an tradesman that you can ask. Everyone should know someone with a clue. Also never underestimate the power of food or drink. If you can make brownies or open a beer you will be able to find help.

    I figure that basic tool use would be pointless here. Tool selection guides could be useful though. If there is something I don’t know how to do I will look around online, or I will usually ask someone with more skills then I.

    There have been some times where I saw a post and went “there is a tool for that? Man that would have come in handy when I was doing X.” The Ridgid plastic nut basin wrench comes to mind, I had fought with, and eventually cut off, one of the stupid plastic wing nuts a few weeks earlier. Man that would have come in handy, the newer version looks way cool.

  6. Gil says:

    Yay me! 😀

  7. jeff_williams says:

    I don’t think how-to articles are a bad idea. The real boon from them will be with the expert comments on how to do something better or faster. The comments are one of the best aspects of this site.

  8. Ben says:

    My dad was a contractor and I worked fro him all through high school and little after that. Plus some really great community art classes. But recently I have to say the internet has been an amazing resource. I got into working on cars and have done some pretty major repairs with the help of internet forums. It usually takes a little work sift through the BS but it seems like you can always get expert help if you are patient.
    How-to articles usually get me started then I get about half way and have to do some serious research.

  9. Woodrow5000 says:

    I think it’s a great idea. I stumbled on the site trying to find out what a particular tool was for. I didn’t find my answer, but man am I happy I found this site.

    As a semi-n00b, myself, I’d a appreciate a leg up. From proper tool selection to some basic how to’s, you could really open up your reader base and that’s just a stepping stone to get people to dlve deeper and become true bona fide Toolmongers.

    Keep up the great work and feel free to expand your offerings. I” lap it up.

  10. Ben says:

    Ha – Finished the article. I love how-to’s bu tmaybe let people know to take their time and plan things out before they start punching holes in the sheet rock. Maybe some sort tooling scale too from “a hammer and screw driver” to “New Yankee Workshop”

  11. Jon says:


    I’m with you!! Does anyone still make hand driven drills anymore? I know the one I had even had the screw off top of the handle so you could keep drillbits with the drill.

    I’d love to have one for myself and to teach my boys.

  12. Pete D says:

    I have a hand powered drill that I use frequently. I got mine a Garrett Wade a few years ago when they had a “sale.” Even sale prices at Garrett Wade are usually too high. You see quite a few vintage hand drill come through eBay too.
    Pete D.

  13. hmbemis says:

    I can see some basic tutorial stuff being interesting…

    Screw Driver / Head selection… why not all Philips head’s are the same… to someone who has no clue, it will help them know what the “plus” screws are actually called… someone in the middle might learn something about tools and fasteners they’ve been using for years… someone experienced… well, they might be entertained…

    Types of Hammers

    Types of Nails


  14. DoItRite says:

    I’ve been a municipal building inspector for over 20 years, and see something incredibly goofy nearly every day. Done by both experienced professionals and homeowners who have never picked up tool before.

    The thing is – there is help almost everywhere, but people either don’t want to take the time, are embarrassed to ask, or get in over their head within the first two minutes and are too stubborn to back out. Cost may be a factor, but doing it wrong usually means doing it again, a fact that is usually learned the hard way.

    Many local hardware stores have free tip sheets on dozens of projects. Anybody with a computer can look up the how-to in a few seconds. There are night classes in home maintenance through many public schools. The big box stores offer free how-to classes. Even the used building parts/ recycling stores will offer classes and tips.

    I know that I’m different than most in my profession but I hate to see people waste their time and money, so over the years I’ve learned to offer as much advice as a person wants, but only if they ask for it. I try to determine if they are heading in the right direction before they get started, and really emphasize that they can call anytime with questions, and many do. But sometimes after looking at their work, the best advice that I can give is to tactfully say “its time to hire a professional”.

  15. Mike says:

    I would say to either skip the project how-to’s or put them on another blog. There are already a lot of those out there anyway. On the other hand, I haven’t seen much in the way of tool how-to or selection. Ever try to find online an explanation of how to swing a hammer? I tried to be able to give my students another way to learn the skill, and there isn’t much out there for that. How or when to use an adjustable wrench or groove joint pliers? Take a look at the article a couple weeks ago that said they were useless and wonder if the author would have said that if he could have found easy instructions online. Why choose a claw hammer over a ripping hammer over a ball peen and what weight? You get the idea.
    As far as newbie vs. experienced, you’re going to get complaints no matter what. The skills and tools that are new to one person are old hat to another and vice versa. I’ve been doing general contractor style work for a while, but very little automotive work. The automotive tools that I would love to learn about are going to be basic to a mechanic while that same mechanic might not understand when to grab a jab saw or a flush trim saw. Do a combination of common tools for the truly new and more specialized tools for those who might be new to that area. If you really want to keep from pissing off people, then start a different site but I would love to keep it here and add another aspect to my tool fix. Just keep in mind the saying that you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

  16. fred says:

    @ Jon

    just google egg beater drills:

    Here’s one source:


  17. Slow Joe Crow says:

    At the risk of sounding codgerish, school shop classes are how I learned the basics of tool use. I’m rather disappointed that they are increasingly disappearing. While my son’s school does have the means for him to make something using its CAD lab and 3D printer it doesn’t have a single solitary bandsaw or scroll saw to make something by hand.

  18. G says:

    Dean in Des Moines, what if someone’s parents don’t know or don’t think it’s important to teach their kids?

    DoItRite, there may be help out there for everything, but if you don’t know what something is CALLED, you can’t find the right help. You can try, and you can approximate it, but if you don’t actually know what it is that you want to do, you can’t even get started on getting the right help. So many projects, I’ve described what I am trying to do/looking for to hardware store employees, and they just look at me blankly. Web searches are pretty useless, if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Help may be out there, but without somewhere to start, it may as well be on the Moon.

    In case you can’t tell, I’d be happy to see simple how-tos, even if you need to start another blog 🙂

  19. Patrick says:

    I would imagine your neighbor’s trouble may be that the right tool wasn’t there at the time. All he had was the ball-peen that his wife didn’t take when she left and a box of brads that he once hung the pictures from and that fence needed to be fixed NOW! At work I’ve had to engineer around projects I wish I didn’t have to simply because I didn’t have the resources or tools on hand. At my home shop to – I can use the wooden mallet for my chisels, or I can swing the hammer on my loop – if the kids ain’t looking, you know which I’ll grab. I don’t do very much automotive work – not because I don’t want to, but the tool investment in time, space and knowledge is too much. I’d rather have the space and money on a woodworking shop. If I was faced with repainting my car, I’d reach for danish oil, because that’s what I got.
    I agree with the folks who say this is a specialty blog – toolmonger has an assumed comfort with tools. I won’t say I know a lot about every tool, but I know enough about most I won’t get lost in the mix and that’s important here. If you aim for a more uneducated audience you should expect a shift in readership.

  20. Joe C. says:

    My dad didn’t know which end of a screwdriver you’re supposed to hold onto, but I was lucky that on my mom’s side, Grandpa was a blacksmith, and my seven uncles were all in the trades, so that was a wealth of information (and genes). My multiple careers have included mechanic (bicycle, motorcycle, tractor, car), machinist, carpenter & roofer. I’ve also been lucky to learn plumbing, electrical, grading, concrete work, fencing, welding, and a few other skills, to the point where the only tradesman I ever call is the HVAC man.

    Since I consider myself very lucky to have been exposed to all of this knowledge, I think it’s my duty to pass on what I can to people who haven’t been so lucky.

    What I’m getting at is that being shown what and what not to do from an experienced teacher is invaluable, and still the best way. If you don’t know what to do, ask someone who does. If you have a skill, pass it on. I firmly believe that this is the only way we can keep skills like these alive.

  21. Averatu says:

    I worked in hardware store as a teen. By he time i was 18 I owned all the tools I needed to start contracting.

  22. Coach James says:

    My answer to the original question of Toolmonger having articles about basic tools and their use, is “yes”. Help the beginners get off on the right foot. If someone is bored with an occassional beginner article, they can skip over it.

  23. IronHerder says:

    I believe that this website succeeds in large part because of the passion of the Toolmonger staff. And to risk diluting that enthusiasm by altering this website’s content may not be the best decision. I will try to remind myself that not all change is bad, but that’s my first reaction. And I hope that Toolmonger isn’t reaching out to a different (larger) audience because of economic necessity.

    It hurts me personally to admit this, but tools are just a means to an end. What is important is what can be done using them. So example projects are a vital component of the current output of this website. Everyone, even someone who doesn’t know how to hold a hammer, can appreciate a well-done bookcase. But if novices are a coveted demographic, perhaps the Toolmonger writers should add links to appropriate sites for the education of novices. That is, I don’t see any reason for Toolmonger to duplicate information available elsewhere. But if there are no useful links for a particular technique, then of course Toolmonger should tackle the subject in detail.

    How and why tool skills are transmitted within a culture sounds like the province of professional anthropologists. But there are everyday puzzles all around us for our entertainment. For instance, my dad was a very competent carpenter & handyman. But he hadn’t seen a french cleat until I used one to hang a cabinet in his garage. What’s with that? I have a theory, but it’s rather speculative & abstract (and probably wrong).

    Good luck whatever is decided.


  24. Moose says:

    What I think would be great is if you guys could post some how-to’s and posted them in a way that they could be printed and kept easily.

    Things like:

    – How to correctly hang pictures level
    – Installing floating shelves
    – Installing tile floor and tile on walls for bathrooms
    – replacing a toilet
    – basic home carpentry (decks, privacy fencing)
    – Basic painting tips
    – Installing roof shingles, or a tin roof

    That’s a random, widespread list, but some basic advice for guys wanting to tackle some bigger projects at home themselves. I know about most of that stuff, but I could always learn more. I know how it feels to be green when it comes to home repair and it is a overwhelming feeling. The hardest thing to overcome is the fear of messing up.

  25. Mark Lewis says:

    I don’t think that it is a bad idea to offer some “beginner chow” on the site. I don’t think it would put a big burden on anyone because 1) Articles have a longer life-span. A general intro to handplanes would practically be “evergreen.” So one short article could have a long life span and help a lot of folks. It seems to me that what helps real beginners is when someone can explain a process and pare it down to make it easily do-able for the beginner. I would guess that an article about, for example, how to correctly patch a drywall hole simply written would get a good read. But a guide on, say, files, that explains shape, tooth size and profile and what you would use a specific file for. Even Lowes has a couple dozen files of varying quality and use. Maybe first would be a document explaining the difference between file, rasp, abrasive….and see, that is the worst danger. If no target concept is being expressed, it would be hard for someone to know when they were done. Obviously it would be smaller that a breadbox. But without a target of some kind…hey another idea: how about a Wiki? That way, it would be a task for the guys at TM, but for anyone who can contribute. It seems a Wiki would be a good option. Anyone else?

  26. Mark Lewis says:

    Somewhere I should put a 2) since I used a 1) previously in the paragraph. I suppose a little proofreading might be in order next time. 😉

  27. 99octane says:

    Instructions would be great for the pros, serious hobbysts and anyone who wants to be instructed. But truth is, most people just don’t bother.
    They’d plant screws with a hammer without a second thought is screws and a hammer was what they have at hand at the moment.

  28. Pruitt says:

    I love the wiki idea, especially after seeing comments from a couple of guys who came to the site but didn’t know how to find help (couldn’t identify a tool; couldn’t ask a question because he didn’t know what something was called). Or maybe a way for the TM readers to answer questions now and then. I’m wondering if you guys get many questions from noobs? It would be nice to have a way for readers to post a photo so others can identify it–not a bunch of endless forums, but maybe one a week so everyone can see it. $ .02

  29. Pruitt says:

    Or maybe hire a noob, assign him projects, and let him write about it and ask questions. So it doesn’t distract the staff much.

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