In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Another Technical Note
  2. La Ligne Maginot
  3. Actress Notes
  4. Technical Day
  5. Peripheral Explanation
  6. More Immigration Links
  7. Another Graphic Detournement
  8. Peripheral Artists (5): Mikhail Vrubel
  9. Illegal Update

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Interview With Mike Snider, Part One | Main | Interview With Mike Snider, Part 2 »

September 05, 2003

10 Things I Like About Being a Parent #3--Tools


One of the things I like about being a parent has been the chance to rediscover the magic of hand tools. My 2-year-old son is fascinated with them; he prefers going to the hardware store to the toy store. Getting a new tool as a present is a major event; he’ll carry it with him for days, putting it in his toolbox or tucking it in his belt as he goes around the house busily fixing things. (I was flabbergasted when he didn't want to go outside and play one day; he explained, perfectly seriously: "I'm too busy fixing things.")

Big Enough For You?

Anyway, I know where he’s coming from; I used to covet hand tools from my father’s workbench in the basement. (I grew up in the Midwest; everybody had a basement.) Some of them were beautiful, some of them were fascinatingly antique—like the ancient hand-drill my father inherited from his uncle, a tool-and-die maker. They all had an incredible “vibes.” They spoke of power, of competency, of craft, of design and of skill.

They were also sometimes miracles of design in themselves: big drill bits have always struck me as a form of highly intellectual thought cast in hardened steel. The fact that they were driven by muscle-power made them extensions of your body, just as the care and forethought you had to use in exercising them made them extensions of your brain.

(Although I dimly recall that my father owned power tools, I have virtually no memory of them—they were merely practical, while the magic was all in the hand-tools.)

When I was in art school, I noticed that in making my sculptures and installations I spent far more time in the hardware store than in the art supply store. I needed wood, stains, rubber mats, powerful glues, astro-turf, angle irons, carriage bolts—and they were all there on the shelves. I remember looking at big crow bars and steel rods that were six feet long, octagonal in cross-section with sharpened points (some kind of a gardening tool?) and thinking, “I’ll get around to you one day, buster.”

Art Supplies?

I know I’m not the only person who is immediately sent into daydreams by hand tools. I remember seeing some lovely rich charcoal drawings of tools by Jim Dine, who was raised by some relative (a grandfather, I think) who owned a hardware store.

J. Dine, Lithograph from "Pictures" Book Project

And Mr. Dine and I aren’t alone in appreciating the aesthetics of tools. You can tell, looking at a lot of snazzily designed tools on display, that how they look is a not-inconsiderable part of what sells a lot of tools. I mean, have you seen the more “advanced” hammers and hammer-like tools for sale today? These things are little sculptural miracles gleaming on the racks of your local hardware store.

Little Sculptural Miracles

So when my son says, “Daddy, I want to see your tools,” I’m pretty much always ready to take them down from the wall or pull them out of their drawers. Meeting another tool-man is always a welcome occasion; and it’s even better if he’s your son.



posted by Friedrich at September 5, 2003


Tools are beautiful things. Mysterious too -- both for the aura and for the simple reason I've never been able to make much use of them. Hereditary, I suspect. I come from a long line of men who've been useless around the house, at least from a tools point of view. (Wash the dishes? Take out the garbage? Sure! Repair that dimmer? Prime that wall? You gotta be kidding.) Good point about Dine, too. I'd never thought about it that way, the tools putting him a dreamy state. I'd thought of him more as doing the pop thing, seizing on daily, unnoticed subject matter. But you're absolutely right. The drawing and paintings have too much mist and emotion in them just to be "smart" snapshots of things.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 5, 2003 12:09 PM

I don't think appreciating the beauty of tools has that much to do with how handy the appreciator is personally. I don't sculpt in marble, either, but I can appreciate the virtuosity of Michelangelos carving. I think that the beauty of tools lies, in part, with the fact that they imply the presence, somehow or somewhere, of artists skillful enough to use them. Like my great uncle, the tool-and-die maker, who--at least according to my dad--could make you pretty much anything you wanted.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 6, 2003 01:45 AM

For me, the aesthetic appreciation of tools is virtually indistinguishable from the aesthetic pleasure I take in any form of art. I was wondering, however, if this is a purely masculine feeling. I mean, my son is crazy about tools and my daughters barely ever gave them a look. I need some feedback from the ladies on this one.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 6, 2003 01:49 AM

When I was a kid, I used to love to go to the hardware store with my dad, but I think it had more to do with sharing something with my dad than fascination with what was there.

I do love tools, but because they are aesthetically pleasing, and neat gadgets, just like certain kitchen utensils. It's like you could make a neat thing to sit decoratively on a shelf with them. I'm not at all fascinated with using them, and I don't think it occurred to me to appreciate them because somewhere someone is talented enough to use them. I think that might be more of a guy thing. Although, I'm glad there are people who are capable with them, when the time comes to get the drapery rod hung.

Posted by: annette on September 6, 2003 07:21 AM

Mr. F,

I dont think appreciation of tools has anything to do with gender--it's more an appreciation of the process of making or fixing things and how necessary good tools are to that.

My husband and son blacksmith and my daughter and I spin. My husband and daughter also turn wood bowls and other things on a lathe. I can understand their excitement over find an anvil at an auction and appreciate the beauty in a chisel. My husband gets it when I talk about how pleasing the smooth treadling is on one of my wheels or when I go on and on about why wooden knitting needles just feel better in the hand than metal ones.

I do think appreciating the aesthetics of tools in general has something to do with your own ability to use tools in some way. But I dont think it's a male thing.

Posted by: Deb on September 6, 2003 11:41 AM

steel rods that were six feet long, octagonal in cross-section with sharpened points

Come down to Glen Rose during digging season, and I'll put you on the business end of one of those. We call 'em rock picks, and they're entirely necessary for digging through the rocky ground we have here. You use it to pick out rocks that intrude into your posthole. It's even worse headed south. They even have a name for it...caliche. Horrid digging territory.

All I can add is that a tool, to me, is pure function. I can so easily appreciate it's utility, and the potential of things I can do with it. The fact that I never, ever do anything with it, besides boring, utilitarian stuff it was intended for is beside the point.

And as I scan the walls here in my cabin, I find that they are "decorated" with cowboy hats, maps, an electric clock, and fishing rods -- all hung on nails. More tools. The only decorative thing is a nice Texas calendar from my mom, and the county registration form I had to fill out to be a Sole Proprietor.

Of course, I consider it heresy to desecrate the gorgeous old pine-panelled walls that make up half of my hideaway with a nail hole.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on September 6, 2003 09:38 PM

I know exactly how you feel. I always get a little giddy at the prospect of using something other than the usual art supplies.
Even with power tools I get that way. The thought of using a table saw to blast through raw material is so invigorating. Even little things like drilling, sanding, screwing things together have their own thrill.
I know I can walk through Home Depot and get just as thrilled (if not more) than when I walk through an art store. The huge peices of wood and the sheets of plexiglass send my mind running in all sorts of directions.

Posted by: Andrew on September 16, 2003 04:32 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?