To those about to hammer, drill, screw and cut, we salute you

There comes a point in every man’s life when the no-brainer gifts that you receive at birthdays and Christmas change. I can’t quite pinpoint when that came about for me, but somewhere between completing college and becoming a homeowner, there was a subtle shift.

One day, as I was throwing out another pair of socks with holes in them, it became clear that my supply was running low. I hadn’t been gifted the always welcome staple gifts of socks and underwear that had been extending my clothes washing cycle during my early twenties. I realized that I hadn’t been getting replacements, because they’d been supplanted by the new go-to gift of choice: tools.

There seems to be a list of basic tools that you need to have to fill your obligations to society as a handyman of even a middling familiarity and competency.

And before I get reminded of promoting gender stereotypes, it’s become fairly obvious to me in the modern do-it-yourself era, that everybody, men and women alike, should take the time to learn a little bit about minor home maintenance. But men, we tend to get tools as gifts because, quite frankly, we like them and we’d like to be found useful for something.

In the immortal words of Canadian comedian Steve Smith as Red Green, “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”

There seems to be a basic collection that covers the simple needs, or limited skills, of the amateur handyman. A decent toolbox that is big enough to hold stuff, but not overcompensating and looking like an actual contractor who knows what they’re doing. A good hammer, but not too good, because really good hammers are expensive and they go missing.

A decent cordless drill, but not too powerful that I’d end up stripping screws or tearing through finished product. A good sample of lengths and types of drill bits, including the most popular types: Robertson (square head), Phillips (cross head), or standard (flathead). I was always reminded of my construction inexperience when I had to ask if that was the square or cross head, when someone tells you to pass the Robertson drill bit.

Wrenches and pliers, you need some of those and I’ve got a collection in the bottom of the toolbox, but I still can’t tell you which one is supposed to be used in what situation. I use the it’s-the-right-one-if-it-worked method with pliers.

And screwdrivers, which, in the age of the drill, I avoid if I can possibly manage. But I remember the time I got an entire screwdriver set of 10 different screwdrivers that had their own mount that needed to be drilled on the wall anyways. It made me wonder if the person realized stores sell all-in-one screwdrivers, instead 10 different tools. And do yourself a favour: get a small level for those mounting projects you know you’ll be trying with shelves.

I’m sure the professional contractors out there would provide more examples of what you need, but I’ve found that I can get by with that simple list. And for most weekend warrior types, home maintenance is where we leave it. It’s a time honoured tradition for a man of the house to spend his spare time doing odd projects, or even simply just playing with the tools without actually doing anything.

Tim Allen’s character, Tim “The Toolman” Taylor in the 1990s television show Home Improvement captured this inherent fascination that men have with tools. He wasn’t a skilled craftsman, but he loved the sounds and action of those power tools at work. His catchphrase was “More power!” while grunting like a caveman.

I think that in addition to the fascination of just making tools do things, there’s a likelihood that men jump at the opportunity for some solitude and a chance to be left alone.

One example of this came in a house I moved into. The shop appeared to be a place where the previous owner looked like he had gone downstairs and just hammered nails into the walls and posts. There were literally hundreds of nails just hammered into the walls, most of them sticking out halfway. The entire shop area looked like Pinhead from the movie Hellraiser.

I always like to imagine that the old codger would get to the top of the stairs, turn around before going into the basement and yell, “Leave me alone! I’ll be down in the shop for a few hours.” And then all the rest of the house heard was loud bangs as he hammered nails halfway into the support beams.

While it’s common for contractors to have a shop today, having a basement shop seemed to be a tradition for men of an older generation, who weren’t necessarily involved in trades. I know that’s where I got my first experience “playing” with tools. My grandpa, Colin Macdonald, had a set of old tools in the basement of his house on Valleyview Crescent in the 1980s.

I remember drilling holes with an old hand-powered boring drill and hammering nails into old scrap wood in that shop. As a young boy, it seemed to be some of the funnest stuff I’d ever done. I’m not sure my skills have progressed beyond those modest beginnings.

And while us men all get a kick out of putting on Carhartts and our toolbelt to undertake our weekend tasks, our knowledge will never equal a professional tradesman who does it for a living.

Their job is to know the tips and tricks that make the job easier, more efficient and, most importantly, done right and up to code.

It’s a pretty common tale to hear about a man who decided to undertake a home renovation, doing the demolition, starting to do the work and realizing that the combination of skills required for electrical, carpentry and plumbing work are beyond his abilities.

And as men, we are often too proud to admit that we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, so we’ll go further down that project to the point that work needs to stripped out and restarted.

A contracting friend of mine comes across these jobs all the time and has shared some horror stories over the years of the “problem-solving” of untrained DIYers. In fact, he has a shirt that sums up a carpenter’s thoughts when going to quote jobs to clean up renovations. There are a variety of rates depending on how involved the client intends to be. Suffice to say, things can get costly if you plan to “help”. Being a weekend warrior can be costly hobby.

And amateur home renovations in the Yukon wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging those intrepid souls who move here and are inspired to build their own home.

In the modern era, these brave sourdoughs are inspired by a powerful mix of educational DIY Home and Garden shows demonstrating how easy it is, and the nostalgia of old-style homesteading on your personal plot of land.

The romanticism of building your home with your own hands and living out your days is a powerful lure. It is also a common tale in the Yukon of the homes being sold as soon as they are completed because the couple broke up over the stress of construction. So be careful what you wish for.

Regardless of the pitfalls, there comes a time when a man needs to learn a few skills for home maintenance, so for those weekend warriors about to hammer, drill, screw and cut, we salute you. Just keep a contractor, and a florist, on speed dial.

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