We are putting on a tool repair and maintenace workshop next Friday for Cultivating Communities North Valley. CCNV’s mission is to:
…increase food security by serving the … needs of low-income residents, local growers, and service agencies.
Getting invited to ‘perform’ for an event like this makes me mull what it is that we have that is worth sharing, so here are some thoughts on tools and repair in a story about one small project.
Repair is about knowing: how the broken object functions, why it broke, what the broken part is made of, and which tools and materials to use to make a replacement part. You could take it one step further and say that if you take good care of your tools, you won’t have to fix them.
I don’t think of repair as a skill set – I think of it as a living expression of culture. It is in our collective DNA. Our ancestors were handy people who knew how to repair things because that was what you did if something broke. Repair is not dead in our culture – Google ‘Repair Iphone screen’ and you will get 106,000,000 results.
Our accumulated knowledge. Hand-written sheet metal pattern book from mid-20th century.
The knowledge to fix ANYTHING mechanical exists here in our community.
We can even fix things when we have no idea what they do.
And the raw materials are here too.
My dad grew up on a wheat farm about 20 miles from the nearest hardware store. Like most farmers they were poor – my Grandpa was born in a sod-roofed dirt shack dug into the prairie. Nothing was ever thrown away, but in1956, they went broke, auctioned off all of their equipment (most of it still owned by the Bank), and moved to a Hayward, California suburb. My Grandpa became a builder, as his father had been, and spent the next 20 years putting up big buildings in the Bay Area. My dad became a builder too. Grandpa started a new bonepile, bringing home leftover screws and bolts, nails, boxes of tile, and hinges from the various jobs they did. A lot of it went into a house he built, but eventually we inherited all of that booty, and bits and pieces are still finding their way into our projects.
The bonepile. I used some of this stuff today to fix a trowel.
Time is the only thing that we really have, and I think we need to renegotiate our relationship with it. I’d rather spend an hour in the shop than an hour going to Home Depot. The idea that it is cheaper to buy a new shovel when the handle breaks only pencils out your only choice is to either buy a $10 handle or new piece-of-shit $12 shovel. If your original shovel is of high-quality (Made in the USA, England, Germany, or somewhere other than China), by all means you should fix it – you may never find a better one from here on out, and the satisfaction that you get from doing the job will come back to you every time that you use the tool.
First question – Is this tool worth fixing? If you have a cheap Chinese garden fork with tines that keep bending, the answer is probably no – you will just end up with a shitty tool with a nice handle. I got this broken garden fork in an auction for $2. It was intact, but the handle was badly cracked. It was forged in the USA – this is a quality tool, made from good carbon steel. If the person who had this before me was able to crank on it hard enough to break the handle without bending the tines, that is also a good sign that they are solid.
Another thought about my Grandad’s generation – in the early 1940s, steel scrap prices were high, and trains came through Montana loading up all of the old tractors, plows, and scrap. It was all sold to Japan, which used the steel to militarize their country in preparation for WWII. During the war my Grandma and Grandpa were both employed at the Alameda Naval Air Station repairing shot-up airplanes from the Pacific Theatre. My Grandpa said that he couldn’t help but wonder if the guns that did the damage were made from his old tractors.
Recycling is a losing proposition. Scrap prices are high now too, and the high-quality tool that you haul to the dump or scrap yard will go to China (for sure) and come back as a disposable shovel, or something else of lesser value than what it is now. Also, instead of turning our good steel into guns, the Chinese are turning our good steel into USA debt, which we seem to be happy to exchange for garbage. Good tools are a resource to our community, and Nation. Don’t throw them away.
Baseball bats are a great source of handle stock. They are premium-grade hardwood, selected for their tight grain and lack of knots. This trowel needed a new handle, so I shaved the butt-end of a bat down to fit within the ferrule (metal band) salvaged from a broken rake (thanks Bonepile). This bat was $1 at a yard sale.
I flattened the side of the bat with a sharp hatchet, and scribed the shape of the old handle socket onto the bat. Used the hatchet for all of the rough shaping of the new handle.
Carpenter’s hatchet with a flat face – kept razor sharp, kind of like a big chisel on a stick. Here the handle has it’s rough shape, and is ready for smoothing with a block plane.
Used an electric drill and chisel to prepare a hole in the handle end for the bar on the fork – the drill was the only electric tool used on the project.
I used a center punch to tap a small pilot hole to guide a drill bit into the center of the rivet, and then drilled the head off of the rivet.
Using a drift punch to remove the rivets from the old T-handle.
New handle shaped, fitted to the original socket, and hammered onto the fork.
A simple job using these simple tools.
Hammers and punches
It still needs a piece of wood for the cross-piece on the T-handle, better find another bat.