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If you’re a Toolmonger, I’m guessing you’re mechanically inclined. But do you remember how you started to learn how to use tools? Do you remember who showed you how to use them, or did you learn on your own? Do you remember what your first projects were? Today I fixed my youngest daughter’s flat bicycle tire, and the experience reminded me of when I first learned to use tools — so I thought I’d share: A bicycle makes a great launching point to introduce others to tools and shop projects.

Today’s project required no more tools than a 15 mm socket and a 17 mm wrench. They were simple tools for a simple job. The bike is actually a hand-me-down from our oldest daughter so it is dated, but it is oh-so-easy to work on. Fixing the tire was pure joy of knowing how to do something and just going through the motions. I didn’t even get dirty. What a perfect project for a beginner.

Of course if you are an avid cyclist, doing your own work will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Plus it will save you many hours of time driving back and forth to the shop when you’d rather be out on the road or the bike trails. From personal experience, I know bicycle breakdowns usually seem to happen on the road farthest from home, so knowing how to fix your bike will come in handy a few hundred miles into your riding season. I always ride with a rear tool pack for the times when such a breakdown occurs.

I have fond memories of summer days spent in my parents’ garage with access to all of my dad’s tools, fixing a flat or giving my bicycle a tune-up. I taught myself the basics of screwdrivers, wrenches, allen wrenches, and sockets. I learned how messy bicycle chain grease could be. And I learned when I was stuck when to ask for help. When I was finished, nothing beat the feeling of completing a job and taking that sucker out on the road for a short shake-down cruise.

I’m sure others will have different recommendations on where to start using tools. I won’t say that any of them are wrong — but I will say a bicycle is an excellent first choice.


19 Responses to First Tool Use Recommendation: A Bicycle

  1. Bicycles are definitely a great gateway into tool-dom. Especially if you allow a bit of leeway with extra parts here or there for upgrades and such. I certainly learned tons by starting out with a bike that could be ridden, and then got upgrades and would turn the wrench to get them in place.

    The other area that I am definitly fond of would have to be intro woodworking projects. It’s amazing the amount of fun and the things that can be created with some pine, a miter box, a 4 in hand rasp, a surform, and a hammer.

  2. mikedt says:

    Oh yes. I remember my parents bought me a new bike and within a week I had taken it completely apart. My father was none too happy when he came home from work and found it in pieces. I didn’t need any help in putting it back together so after that they didn’t seem to mind my periodic overhauls of my bicycles.

  3. Ben says:

    Plus if you get advanced Park Tools are to-die-for

  4. Fong says:

    Interesting. I too had my first tool experience changing a flat on a bicycle. I was taught by a friend and soon moved onto assembling flat pack furniture and finally the inevitable woodshop in jr. high. Been a Tmonger ever since.

    Of course, there were episodes inbetween of me taking apart watches and light fixtures. Who’s parents actually encouraged such behavior as an opportunity to learn? No seriously, I’m asking.

    • Scott Rupert says:

      Good question! I had my fair share of vacuums, radios, watches, lawnmower engines, toys and computers that I tore into growing up. I’m not entirely sure my parents were pleased with me doing so or not.

      However, a couple of years ago my son attempted to alter his Xbox controller to give ‘rapid fire’ capability – a technique he learned from a YouTube video. He happened to try to do it when my Dad was in town. We ended up purchasing the unique screwdrivers to open it up and giving my son a new soldering iron. With my Dad and I both looking on in support my son performed the modification. The modified controller worked for a few weeks then stopped. But the experience of both Grandpa and Dad encouraging my son to modify the controller will probably stick with him for the rest of his life.

  5. Fong says:

    *Whose* stupid autocorrect

  6. PutnamEco says:

    As a kid, blocks were one of my favorite toys, this progressed into ever more complicated building sets, which cumulated with the erector sets. Model trains, airplanes, and rockets furthered my progression with tools and also provided some experience with electricity, internal combustion, and aerodynamics. By the time I had my first mechanical mishap with a bike, I was pretty good with tools and already had a fair set as my father was tired of me always raiding his toolbox.
    It would be my opinion that toys/hobbies would be a great way to get a basic understanding of tools.

  7. We recently helped my 13 year old buy a road bike that he really wanted and a week later I found a decent broken frame/no wheels road bike that he and I stripped for parts. We’ve spent more time together with tools doing that than probably the previous 3 years together.

  8. BigEdJr says:

    I had one of my best days a couple of weeks ago! I was out replacing the sliders on my daughter’s chest of drawers and my soon-to-be 8 year old son came out to “help” me. I let him unscrew the old rollers etc. He saw some of things I was doing and wanted to try them, so I put a piece of scrap wood in the vise and let him go at it with a coping saw.

    It was awesome! He was doing that for longer than just about anything else he does. He also went at some wood with a hand drill, screws and nails. It was a great day.

    I feel that I can consider myself a successful father now that I am have him hooked on using tools and watching Star Wars movies!

    Monger on!

  9. Slow Joe Crow says:

    I’ll second that, my son’s first tool project was repacking his crunchy pedal bearings.

  10. fred says:

    @Ben Says

    While Park does a credible job in producing decent shop tools – back in the day it was Campagnolo and Var tools that lead they way – with Hozan, JA Stein and Shimano filling in with specialty tools

  11. Andy Hubbard says:

    So true, Scott. With 3 kids we have accumulated a dozen bikes (OK, 3 are mine) and so there’s always an opportunity to get tools in kid’s hands. On their own bikes especially, there is very little damage they can do.
    I like those Park tools too, Ben, but I don’t let the kids use them. The pro pedal wrench is my favorite; what about the rest of you?

  12. Brandon says:

    i started using tools on my truck when i got it like 4 years ago. i knew nothing about cars or tools ive learned alot. just by changing my own oil and what not, i fixed my blown cylinder head recently, and bunch of other things i thought i could never do.

  13. fred says:

    @Andy Hubbard

    get an old Eldi Pedal wrench – if you can find one – simple and really tough and strong

    I Googled it and see that Eldi was taken over by another company – producing a wrench in Estonia


  14. Toolfreak says:

    Bikes are what got me into fixing things, and so working on bikes and taking them apart and putting them back together eventually got me doing the same with cars and trucks. Of course I’ve accumulated all the tools to do the things I’ve needed to do on them all, and the savings of not having to take either to the shop has let me spend more on my bikes, vehicles, and tools.

    As for bicycle tools, Park makes most of the good stuff, but Lifu makes some of the best basic tools (pedal wrench, Y-wrenches) that I like even more than Park’s.

  15. YouCanNeverHaveTooManyHammers says:

    [First TM comment, longtime reader & fan]

    A couple of weeks ago the wheel bearings failed on my 5-yo son’s scooter – a cheap Amazon purchase. Despite reservations from his mother “They were cheap, we’ll have to buy a better one…”, Son+I went down to my garage and took it apart.

    Out with the verniers (top left, in the “measuring instruments” drawer of my fake Snap-on cab) for ID, OD & width, onto the web (ain’t wi-fi great?) and ordered some new *sealed* bearings for about $8 for 4.

    Once they arrived, I showed him how to bash out the old ones and fit the new ones (using an appropriatly-sized socket as a drift, add stainless washers and new stainless nylocs), and it’s ready to go – and he says it’s faster than his sister’s scooter.

    Nice bonding – alas, his 3-yo sister is still at the “Daddy fix!” stage.

    What’s an appropriate age to introduce children to desmo valve-gear? ;->

  16. dwainedibbly says:

    In 5th grade I started delivering the afternoon newspaper in the small town where I grew up. My bicycle HAD to be in good shape. My parents were divorced by then and my mom worked 3 jobs, so except for some guidance from my grandfather I was pretty much on my own when it came to fixing my bike.

  17. @dwainedibbly

    Best. Handle. Ever.

    “And what the hell happened to my teef?!”

  18. Ron says:

    I love tools. Period. Followed by what I get to do with them. Lifelong mechanic, I started around eight swapping out the sprocket on my StingRay with the one on my Mom’s coaster. Now I volunteer in a Bicycle Coop:
    http://velocitycoop.org/ where I get to help others learn how to work on their bikes. We are fortunate that we have two full sets of basic Park tools plus enough of the speciliazed to do head sets, bottom brackets, etc. We let new Vélo-teers who want to learn to turn wrenches start with tearing down the dumpster bikes for parts folowed by fixing up the donated bikes worthy of resale. Great fun!


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