Hard(ware) Lessons

Our basement workshop and haven for my older son.


My children’s passions take me some interesting places, both mentally and physically.  My older son, now 13, wants to pursue woodworking.  No, I don’t build with wood.  Nor does his father.  Yarn and words are my agents of creative expression, so of course neither boy yearns to write or knit.  I’m sure my lack of knowledge is part the draw to chemistry, woodworking, meteorology, and a host of other subjects not in my domain, although I admit I still hold out for the day a boy comes to me begging to craft a personal essay.  Hey, everyone should dream.  

We have a host of tools, although not, I have been told, the ones we really need.   It seems our hand saws, rechargeable 12V drill, random orbit sander, hammers, wrenches, pliers, clamps, and who-knows-what else are insufficient for a burgeoning young carpenter.  He feels he needs a miter saw (preferably the power variety), a table saw, a circular saw, a grinder, and an 18V cordless drill. And that’s just for starters.  

His recent birthday list read like that of a 40-year-old man:  carpentry books, tools, and gift cards to hardware and lumber stores.  While his wishes for books and cash substitutes were met, the only tool he received was from me:  a soldering iron he requested.  It seems even grandparents would rather leave the choice of which tools to the parents who have to make the trip to the emergency room should the tool be misused.  Fair enough, although my tool expertise ends somewhere around the understanding the distinction between a straight-slot and a Phillips-head screwdriver.    Besides, we’ve been to the ER already this month for a tool-related injury.  Let’s just leave it at this:  his younger brother now knows the proper way to use a chisel and discovered the joy of having stitches.  

So I’ve decreed that before new Power Tools Likely to Cause Bodily Harm enter our home that he spend extensive time with an expert in the particular tool learning the ropes.  I’ve yet to define ‘extensive time’, but he does have four family friends who have agreed to teach him the safe use of a variety of tools, but only three agree to teach him about table and circular saws (you know who you three are, as does the one that refuses to teach him after hearing him play the piano).  I trust these men to guide his learning, and I’ve left the job of arranging the particulars of these meetings to my son.  We’ll see where that goes.  

Until then, he’s left largely dreaming at hardware stores across our metro area.  Prior to today, Home Depot was the favored destination with a small ACO Hardware an acceptable alternative if no lumber is needed.  But today, thanks a few of those handy men we know, we found Harbor Freight.  It’s visually overwhelming to me but clearly tool nirvana to my older son.  The hour we browsed passed more quickly than I would have guessed, given the nature of the place, but I’ve had my fill.  My sons, I know, have not.  My older settled on an 18V rechargeable drill and a small Japanese backsaw.  The grinder and power saws remained safely at the store with another reminder to my older to connect with his circle of experts.  

And this is how his learning should proceed and not just in woodworking.  The older he becomes, the more often I find myself referring him to other sources for the information he seeks.  While “look it up” still tops my most-used-by-mom phrase list, “why don’t you contact So-and-So” gains air time as his interests outstrip my knowledge base.  He’s learning that I’m not the expert on all that fills this world, although merely being 13 seems to reinforce my areas of ignorance to him as well (parents of teens, you know what I mean). I find I now facilitate just as often as teach, sometimes referring him to other people he knows and sometimes signing him up for a class online or in real life.  As much as possible, I list the options of resources, classes, and materials and allow him to make the choice.  After all, it’s his education, and for that project, I’ll hand him all the power tools he needs.


5 thoughts on “Hard(ware) Lessons

  1. Nice workshop! I’m excited for Adam. Woodworking has been a very rewarding hobby for Keith. I’m sure he’d enjoy sharing some of the knowledge he’s acquired through various projects over the last 18 years. (And his expertise was self-taught!)

  2. I’m watching intently as I imagine I will probably be following a similar path with Daniel in the future. I’m inspired by your desire and willingness to see them pursue their passions, even when said passions take them further away.

  3. Your first paragraph made me want to come over and give you a hug or at least invite you here for coffee/tea/beverage of preference while we indulge in dreaming about beautiful essays together 🙂

    Isn’t it amazing how anything you have at home isn’t ever adequate? But I must admit I share that enthusiasm too…hardware stores are my idea of heaven (next to bookstores of course).

    Hope your 2nd is healing well!

  4. It is so good to see the process; moving from teacher to facilitator! So often, my friends say things like, “I couldn’t teach (fill in the subject).” I tell them, “I don’t have to teach EVERY thing to my children, I just need to point them in the right direction for learning.”

    What a wonderful opportunity you are giving your son through mentors in his life!

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