OldNFO added this as a comment on one of my posts.

It used to be said that what separates us from the animals is our ability to use tools. They no longer say that, as there are some animals that do use tools, it is still a good differentiator.

It is all well and good to have a tool, but if you don’t know how to use it, it is just about worthless.

My mother gave me a reproduction “coffee grinder” many years ago. It was based on a brass coffee grinder from the area of Turkey. It is a brass cylinder about 10 inches tall, 2 inches in diameter. There is a crank on the top with a grind adjustment nut.

The reason it is a reproduction is that they didn’t have coffee bean burrs but instead pepper burrs. At the time, most people either had expensive coffee grinders or electric grinders. Almost nobody was grinding coffee manually.

On the other hand, it was, and is, a beautiful pepper grinder. For the last 20 years ago, it was forced into service as a coffee grinder. About 15 years ago, it was taken out of service because we had some superb manual coffee grinders.

All of which takes us to Thanksgiving. I make a wild rice, sausage, and Cognac soaked raisin dressing. It needed some pepper. We have a nice pepper grinder for the table, but it is slow to use. I had cleaned the “coffee grinder” a year or so ago.

It was time to put the tool back in production. I did, it worked perfectly. The family was informed that it was ready to use.

The next day, my wife went to make breakfast and grabbed the “pepper grinder” and cranked. The pepper doesn’t come out because there is a catch cup in place.

She can’t figure out how to take the catch cup off. She ends up using the black pepper from a can.

She didn’t know how to use the tool.

I’m willing to bet that each and every one of us have tools we don’t know how to use. There is only one way to know that you know how to use a tool. That is, to use it for the purpose for which it is intended.

I have a suture kit. I don’t know how to use. I could learn. That tool isn’t for me, it is for properly trained medical personnel that don’t have gear.

There is a MIG wielder in the shop, as AvE says, “a grinder and paint makes me the wielder I ain’t”. I should run beads for a few hours, but I never take the time to do so.

I have an internal threading tool I’ve never used. I really should, just to prove to myself I can cut internal threads.

Please take the time to put some tool you own that you don’t know how to use (well enough) in the comments. Maybe take a moment to decide to learn how to use some tool.

It is always better to know how to use something and not need to do so, than to need to know how to do something and having to learn when time is tight/short.

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By awa

12 thoughts on “And don’t forget the ‘knowledge’ to USE all those tools”
  1. A corrolary – many, perhaps most, skills are perishable, and need to be exercised regularly to retain proficiency. You might never forget how to ride a bicycle, but those first couple of blocks can be awfully wobbly!
    I used to be a good machine tool operator, but haven’t had access to a good shop and haven’t used anything more demanding than a drill press and bandsaw for 20+ years. I know I would need to refresh on lathe, mill, etc. before trying to make something challenging. It’s a lot faster than learning from scratch … but there is still a ramp-up period.

    1. In some fields, doing it regularly is mandatory — flying and skydiving are good examples, and they come with specific refresher rules depending on how far out of “current” you are.

      Machine shop work is fun. I learned a tiny bit when I was in high school, but then decades later came across a rather large lathe for sale at a very nice price. That meant I had to learn — Lindsay Publications and “How to run a lathe” to the rescue. Yes, I learned how to do threading, starting with making a backing plate for the chuck to mount on the spindle. 2.25 x 4 tpi if I remember right. And, just for grins, I cut buttress thread (20 tpi) for an adjustable tool post. I’m still not particularly good, my accuracy is mediocre, but for not overly critical work I can hold my own. And it feels good for a software geek to make “real things”.

        1. A Reed 18-inch “motor driven” lathe (Reed-Prentice, Worcester MA). Not clear how old it is; my best guess is 1930s. It’s clearly older than the more commonly seen 1940s era models that typically come with a quick change gearbox. This one has change gears. More precisely, it came with a box full of gears most of which had the wrong bore, so one thing I needed to learn is how to bore them and cut new keyways. The bed is marked with a 1907 patent date. The motor is an odd beast, a rather large motor (1.75 hp) with a patent date from 1915 or so on it, three phase, four speed, THIRTEEN wires. That is for two separate windings (4 and 6 pole) that can be connected to give 8 or 12 “consequent poles”. I learned the details from a Navy Electrician’s Mate training manual borrowed from an engineer near here. That plus an ohm meter let me label the wires and hook them up correctly to a VFD I used to get me 3-phase power.
          Here’s a good picture (before I added a chip pan and backsplash to it):

  2. Learning how to, and keeping the skills fresh are two very different things.
    One thing I find interesting these days are the number of people who do not actually look at what they are doing, read the instructions/labeling, or ask themselves any questions. Instead they stare at whatever it is they want to use, and get frustrated when it does not read their mind. I have seen people at self checkouts staring at the screen wondering why it is not automatically recognizing their broccoli and entering the produce code for them.
    A lot of skills are not a matter of “knowing” and “practicing” but instead a matter of reading, looking at the item, and figuring it out. Too many people let life happen to them, instead of figuring out how stuff works.
    We have become a society that it totally dependent on technology that we have no idea how it works.

  3. Learning how was something my grandfather ‘beat’ into my head. A tool is useless if you can’t use it. And what CBMTT says is also correct… And I’m as guilty as you on the lack of practice…sigh

  4. A few lessons my Dad taught me.
    1. Everything is simple. Complex things are really just a bunch of simple things working together.
    2. Someone put it together, there is a way to take it apart and repair it.
    3. Do not touch ANYTHING until you have looked at it, and know what it looks like. Only then is it safe to start screwing around with it.
    4. It was put there for a reason. Do not ignore it.
    It was not until much later in life that I realized Dad was teaching me how to troubleshoot… well… pretty much everything.

  5. Soke tools and their use can be mastered with time and practice. Others require a fundamental knowledge base in order to use hem successfully. Some tools and repairs are fairly intuitive. Others require you to be educated.

    1. Yes, and that has been true for centuries. Take something as simple as a telescope: any decent craftsman trained in the technique can make one. But without that knowledge, you’re unlikely to be successful. The same has been true with many other crafts going back a very long time. For example, I have a vague idea how to make a clay pot, but it’s quite unlikely I’ll succeed in making something that doesn’t crack when fired, or leaks when filled with water, until I’ve practiced it quite a number of times.

  6. Mighty fine advice and good time to pick up skills as we head into the colder trapped inside months

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