Earlier in the week, we asked our staff, some of our MAKE contributors, and you, dear reader, to share some maker tips and words of wisdom from your dads and granddads. Leatherman even sponsored a giveaway and we gave four of their awesome SuperTool 300s to participants selected in a drawing. We got a lot of great contributions, stellar words of dad-ish wisdom, filled with practical ingenuity, good humor, and garage philosophy as only dad can brew it up. Probably our favorites were from Photo Editor Sam Murphy’s dad: “If you ever have to shoot someone, make sure you empty the gun. That makes it look like you were scared” (Okay… thanks, dad. Good to know), and from staff writer, Brookelynn Morris’ pops: “If you get in trouble when you are diving for abalone, drop your weight belt. It will be right where you left it at the bottom of the ocean when you go back to find it.”
We’ve divided some of the best tips we collected into categories: General Tips (2), General Tips (Practical) (3), Repair and Maintenance (4), and Tool Tips (5). Click on the numbers below to view the categories. And do read through the initial conversation. We got nearly 140 responses. Many thanks to all who contributed and to the dads and granddads for sharing your ideas, your experiences, and your fatherly wisdom with us.
All love and appreciation from your sons and daughters at MAKE. Happy Father’s Day.
General Tips and Thoughts from Dad
My dad used to tell me: “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” -dscotthep
I’m not sure I can boil this down to a single phrase, but…
When I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, I told my grandfather that I wanted to dig a swimming pool/fishing pond in his backyard complete with an underground room with a window to watch the fish (I may not have all of the details right, but it was something like that). Instead of saying, “Sure, go ahead” (dismissively) or “That’s crazy” he said, “That sounds expensive and you need to have a good plan before you get started.” He sat down with me and made me draw up my idea, identify the materials and tools, estimate the costs, and figure out how long it would take. He even added up all of the costs on his big adding machine and stapled it to my drawings. He then said I could refine the plans and start saving my money and get started as soon as I could handle it. It sounds like he was just taking the long way around saying “That’s crazy” or “Yeah, right,” but he taught me to draw plans, make lists, and evaluate cheaper alternatives (“Maybe you could add the underwater viewing area later”). He also took me seriously and encouraged me to combine my creativity with basic engineering facts. -Chris Palmer
Whenever I’d got overwhelmed, my dad would say: “You know how to eat an elephant, Kevin? One bite at a time.” -Kevin Devaney
My favorite dad saying: “There is nothing more permanent than that which is temporary,” a reminder to do it right the first time. -Lou Amadio
If it’s stupid but works, it isn’t stupid. -Balloondoggle
My dad taught me to be patient, if something doesn’t work the first time, try it again. If it still doesn’t work, be creative about finding another possible solution. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! -Megan Durant
Rust, fire and explosions are the same process, taking place at different rates. -Mark Crane
As we were remodeling my first house, a common phrase from my dad: “Good enough for this small town & the chicks we date.” -Nicole Seifert
My dad is not really a maker, but he did inspire me to work very hard at whatever task I set my mind to, and for that, I’m grateful. Teaching good work ethic, teamwork skills, and diligence is just as valuable as showing someone how to use a drill press or a soldiering iron. Oh, and he also taught me that mom was probably the better person to go to when things got broken. –Libby Bulloff
One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “The Best is the Enemy of the Good.” This refers to the inhibiting power of perfectionism. When I find myself intimidated at the prospect of tackling something that I want to do, something good, I remember these wise words. -Paul Spinrad
Never point out a problem without providing a few alternative solutions. –Richard Gould
My father (a lawyer) told me that company culture is driven from the top — if it’s the people who make the product, you’re good; sell the product, you’re OK. If the accountants take over, look for another job, and if the lawyers take over, run as fast as you can the other way. –Alden Hart
General (Practical) Tips and Thoughts from Dad
My dad died before he could pass on any workshop knowledge… So, I’ve had to learn on my own. Some tips I’ve run across that have saved me pain (both physical and mental):
- measure twice, cut once
- beer can shims (from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)
- if you have to force it, you’re doing it wrong, and you’re probably going to break it. Stop and think.
- before putting all your weight on a wrench, consider what would happen if it were to slip, and adjust your position/direction of force accordingly.
- take the time to move the ladder/get the right tool/build the jig — it’s quicker than a trip to the emergency room
- spend the extra money on good tools, you’ll never regret it
- all that crap you collect is worth nothing if it’s not organized so you can find what you need when you need it
- if you haven’t touched it for 2 years, throw it out, or give it to someone who can use it (cleaning out the in-laws’ house made a powerful impression)
- if you borrow a tool and break it, go to the store, buy the next grade up in quality and return that. And if you can fix the old one, you both win.
and, from my mother:
never turn down a gift, someday you might get something you want (and you can always pass it on) -Ka1axy
1. Girls can use power tools, too.
2. Building it yourself is a heck of a lot more fun than having someone else do it.
3. It isn’t junk till it has sat in the shop for a few years, and even then, someone probably still wants it.
4. There is probably an open source version of that expensive software you have that is always breaking. -LizzinDC
“Don’t tell your mom.” -Gary Sanders
My dad always says that when planning a project, make sure you include time to clean up. -Taylor Hill
Hot glass looks the same as cold glass. -rrot
I knew I saved that piece for a reason! -Christian Restifo
If you want a solder joint to last, you first need to make a solid mechanical connection between the two things you’re connecting together. Solder only makes an electrical connection; it doesn’t provide strength. –Windell Oskay
My favorite is:
“Don’t put chips in backwards.”
As a rebellious child, I tried, once, just to test dad’s advice. After all, it does fit the other way in the socket. I learned my lesson. –bunnie Huang
1. Always draw a picture, even if you think you know what you’re doing.
- If you’re installing something in a room, do a rough sketch of the room and annotate with your measurements.
- When a picture isn’t enough, make a model.
- When a model isn’t enough, rethink the problem, ask questions, hunt down books, etc. More research is needed.
2. Measure to design; design to measure.
- In an ideal world, all your materials will be precise and all your cuts will fit perfectly. We do not live in a precise world.
- Over-designing structural, load-bearing elements is a good thing in prototype and one-off works.
- Symmetry only really matters for visible elements of the design. See previous “over-design structural elements” note.
- If it needs to hold 100lbs of books, load it up with 200lbs of weight when you’re done to see where it’s going to bow and/or break.
3. Unless size is an impediment, bring the broken part with you when seeking a replacement.
- The older the thing being fixed, the less likely you are to find an exact replacement.
- Measurements only get you so far if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.
4. Lift with your knees!
5. Hit the right nail.
- Corollary: Thumb nails do eventually grow back.
6. If a jackknife gets stuck in the wood you’re whittling, do NOT pull harder to get it unstuck. It WILL bite.
7. Always have a well-stocked first-aid kit (including a good pair of tweezers for pulling slivers of all kinds) and fully charged fire extinguisher at hand.
- You will eventually need them.
Replace what you use so it’s there for the next time.
If you ever have to shoot someone, make sure you empty the gun. That makes it look like you were scared. -Sam Murphy
Repair and Maintenance Tips
If it can’t be fixed with a pair of pliers and baling wire, it can’t be fixed. -Wade Erickson
If it ain’t broke, take it apart and have a look at how it works, then put it back together and if it still ain’t broke… hooray! -Lindsey Boardman
Never tap a gauge harder than you would tap the bridge of your nose. -David Seitz
Force it to fit , paint it to match. -David Seitz
If at first you don’t succeed, get a bigger hammer. -David Seitz
Dad taught me that patience and consistency were the key to doing a good job on any project – he would always calmly continue to work on a project until it was complete, correct and functional. That has been a lesson that I have applied my entire life- don’t give up because things aren’t perfect the first time, but keep working at it until you are satisfied- there are very few things that anyone does perfectly
(or even right) the first time…
My grandfather showed me at a young age ANYTHING can be fixed, modified or improvised. A neat story:
At my grandpa’s farm, I wanted to pump up my bike tire, but his old hand pump wouldn’t work. He took it apart and found that the cup-shaped rubber piston between two washers was dry rotted, cracked and torn. He told me not to worry, he could fix it. My dad and I thought: “How can you fix a torn custom piece of rubber?” Grandpa found an old work shoe, and cut a circle from the leather. He then punched a hole in the middle. He took Vaseline and worked it into the leather circle. Then the circle was put between the washers and nut on the tire pump shaft, and the original rubber piece was discarded. As he worked the leather into a cup shape and fit it into the pump housing, he cut and trimmed the circle precisely. Eventually, he got it to slide down into the pipe, reassembled the pump unit, and the it worked like brand new. Grandpa showed two younger generations at once, that you can improvise and fix anything. Wherever that tire pump wound up after his passing and farm sold, I’m sure it still works just fine to this day. -Craig Smith
My dad was a general contractor, so he was highly skilled in civil engineering, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, etc. The thing I remember most was his incredible confidence in himself and his command over the tools in his hand. Watching him drive nails was amazing. He knew exactly how to hold and swing the hammer. He’d drive a 10d nail with just a few intense whacks and the final hit would make a little counter-sink in the wood and stamp it with the waffles of the hammerhead. I was in awe watching him, the rhythm he would get into, the concentration — like a machine. He could frame out a wall in minutes. I also remember him using dangerous tools, like the circular saw, with great acuity. Again, he had no hesitation and always seemed on top of everything. It was that confidence and command over the tools he used which was his greatest lesson to me. -Gareth Branwyn
Dad: “son, hand me a wrench”
Son: “what size wrench you want Dad?”
Dad: “Doesn’t matter, I’m gonna use it as a hammer!” -Jon Oxford
When working in the garage, if you take a tool out of the drawer, leave the drawer open to remind you of the missing tool. The job isn’t done until the tools are back in the cabinet. If your tool box falls over when all the drawers are open, it’s a good time to take a break and straighten up. -Scott McBride
Dad: “If you take care of a crappy tool, it’ll still be a crappy tool. Spend a little extra money and get the kind with the lifetime warranty. Put it away clean, and you’ll be able to hand it down to your kids.”
Me: “Dad, can I have that metric socket set you never use?”
Dad: “Hell No! You can have it when you learn how to take care of it.”To be fair, he did give me all his metric tools when I moved half way across the country. Dad would only buy American vehicles, so when we were talking about me moving from Austin to Phoenix, he broke down and confessed to me that the only reason he bought metric tools was so he could help me fix my Accord. I miss you, Dad. -Christian Holton
“If you don’t have the right tool, Make the right tool.” -Pat Fizenberger
My Grandfather was both a professional meat cutter and a spectacular wood carver. When I was a child he and I would spend hours in his workshop talking about his rather large collection of tools. I remember him saying to me on a number of occasions; “Son, there is nothing more expensive than a cheap tool”. -David Stevens
The joy of making something with your hands is the greatest feeling there is! -Kelly Hollar