What’s in the Tool Box?

    Spend enough time in any trade and you’ll
collect a fair amount of the tools. The
automotive trade is no different.  I started
out like most everyone else I know, with
just a small box and a few hand tools.  As
the young tech in the shop, you find yourself
always having to borrow a tool. Some guys
won’t let you borrow a thing, thus… you’ll have
to get one for yourself. After a few years of
gathering tools, you’ll soon need a bigger box to put them in.  If you’re lucky enough to have had a Grandfather or other relative retired from the business you probably have a lot of their tools as a great starting point. Ya just can't have enough tools.  Go into most any shop and you’ll find it easy to spot the senior mechanic … count their tools and tool boxes.

I know I can’t keep all my stuff in one box anymore. I’ve got several boxes and shelves full of tools of all shapes and sizes.  There are drawers full of screw drivers, pliers, wrenches, sockets, extensions, meters, pullers, and all kinds of special application tools.  It’s an endless list of tools that goes way beyond the average home tool box. But, I have noticed a new trend. New techs coming into the business are starting off with a lot more tools, and a lot bigger toolboxes than when I first got into the business. 

The investment in tools for the modern mechanic is substantial.  There seems to be no end in sight as to when enough is enough.  Each different length or style of socket has a certain purpose. So, the number of sockets keeps adding up.  (The good ones are NOT cheap.)  They all get lined up on their little racks like soldiers waiting for battle, row after row; drawer after drawer of tools awaiting their chance to do what they were designed to do.  My wife looks in my screwdriver drawer and will always comment, “Why do you have all of these?  You’ll never use all of them.”    Honestly, dear, I do use every one of them… just not all at the same time. 

Even with the odd angled ratchet or the “S” shaped drive handle, I still don’t have everything I need.  Every week the tool trucks come by and I’ll take my usual stroll down the racks of tools and supplies to see if there is something I need.  Once in a while I find something that I know will make my job a lot easier, and I just can’t leave it on the shelf.  It has to go into one of my tool drawers for future use.  Then again, I seem to have a lot of those “specialty” tools that I used for one or two jobs, but never again.  A lot of times it’s because that style of engine or transmission is no longer in production.  

Distributor alignment tools are in one expensive drawer that doesn’t get opened very often these days.  Back in the 80’s and 90’s they got a lot of time under the hood, but not now… not these days.  Distributors have all but gone the way of the points and condensers.  But I’ve got them.  As the priority and use of some of these tools dwindles with time, they are slowly moved lower and lower in the tool box.   They’ll eventually end up in that forgotten spot in the depths of the toolbox I call … the black hole.   It’s the final resting place for old forgotten specialty tools that serve no purpose anymore, but are too valuable just to throw away. 

There’s one very special drawer that I keep a lot of those “homemade” tools in.  These little gizmos are those sockets, wrenches, and what nots that I’ve modified to perform some certain job.  These “adjusted” tools are just as important as those rolling tool store bought ones.  I’ve got a slew of homemade gadgets and fiddly little things I have made over the years. After using my homemade tool, I’ll run across the “real” tool on a tool truck.  You know, sometimes… my tool still works better than the store bought one.  Kinda makes a guy proud… yea, even grin a bit.  Knowing my little homemade thing-a-ma-jig works as well, if not better than the engineered factory tool.

From the Stone Age to modern times someone had to be innovative and resourceful enough to make use of their hands to forge tools, and after making a few tools they had to have some place to keep them.  I doubt the cave man had one of those huge “monolithic tool boxes” you see today, but I’m sure he had a place he kept all of his equipment.  Yep, the tool box has been around as long as there have been tools.

So what’s really in a mechanic’s tool box?  Sure there are tools, but what is not so obvious is what those stacks of neatly arranged sockets represent. It’s their livelihood; the blood, sweat, and years of toil that rests between the tools in all those drawers.  The years of wear on the tools is evidence enough of how that person made a living. 

When I go through my junk drawer of odds and ends, I’ll pick up something and think back on how this tool ended up in this drawer, or what in the world I ever needed this thing-a-ma-bob for in the first place.  Someday, I’ll clean out those unused items but I’m not likely to throw them out.  They’ll probably end up in another tool box and add to my ever growing collection.

Those tools could tell a tale if they could only talk.  But the fact that there is a story behind those tools is only part of the reason why they are all there.  Yes, they are there to allow me to work my trade, but they are also my legacy and my mark in history.  Someday, as the tools get passed down, or subdivided between all the relatives, my name might be mentioned the next time they pick the tool up.  I know I think of my dad and grandfather every time I pick up one of their handed down tools. Maybe even give my next generation a chance to go into the trade with a few more tools than I started with and create their own memories.

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