Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tools, "In Situ", and MacGyver

There are several interlinked themes here, all dealing with tools. I have a love/hate relationship with my tools. I learned early, that tools used in a marine environment, like veal, "live fast, and die young". The everyday vessel offers a multitude of opportunities to lose tools, soak them in salt water, or just wear them out. Fiberglass dust eats my tools for dinner, and has anything that has a sharp edge for dessert. So the first time my $400 Fluke voltmeter ended up submerged in the bilge, I said, "Thats it, I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more". Not really, but I now just buy inexpensive, but adequate tools, and I have resigned myself to tools living a shorter life. I buy the $50.00 "On Sale" Black & Decker drill, instead of the $250.00 Makita. When the Black & Decker passes on, I sigh, and stop at Home Depot to buy a new one. Even if they don't actually wear out, everything will get rusty, in short order. 

Below is one of my favorite tools. It is an Ace Hardware socket set. It has a composite ratchet, standard and metric sockets, and a variety of screwdriver bits. It costs about $16.00, and fits well in the tool bag. It's about 4 months old, is getting rusty, two of the sockets, and several of the bits have already disappeared into the bowels of some vessel. Next to it is the new replacement, all shinny, and ready to go, when the old one becomes to dilapidated, or embarrassing  to use.

My young associate is smart, works very hard, and unlike me, is very organized. This translates to, "the marine electronics installation business, on some days, literally drives him nuts". His tool bag is always neat, and is stuffed full of very nice tools. He has a Makita drill, lots of Snap-on tools, and sharp drill bits (my new ones always seem to migrate to his bag, because then he "knows where they are"). He believes tools should be used properly, and only for the intended purpose. Screw drivers are not pry bars or chisels, a pipe wrench is not a hammer, a drill bit is only used to drill straight holes, and there is the correct tool available for every purpose.

One afternoon we have to enlarge an existing hole in a T-top's rectangular tube. The hole is about 3/8" in diameter, and it needs to be about a 5/8" oval shape to get the wires through. My bag is down on the ground, so I ask to borrow his Makita, and a 1/2" bit. He winces, and hands it to me, already anticipating the horrible torture that will occur to his tools in my hands. I drill the hole, and start to wallow it out with circular motions with the drill bit, and he freaks out. "Stop, that's not the way to use the bit, you're dulling the edges, it's brand new". "Okay", I said, "come up here, and tell me what tool we need". So up he pops, and says "we need a hole saw". I point out that the hole saw centering bit will drill out through the bottom of the tube, and besides the hole needs to be oval. What else do you have in mind? In the end, he is sure there is a good tool to do this, and I should, but don't have it. 

So it's lesson time. We take off in the truck, and go to the local hardware store. About thirty minutes later, he hasn't found the right tool. Off to Home Depot we go, and again the search is fruitless. Two hours later, we are back at the boat. I take my drill and 1/2" bit, and in about 5 minutes, the hole is done. Over two hours searching around town cost about $200.00 in lost billing, plus the cost of his wages. I'm sure somewhere there was that perfect tool, but a new bit was less than $10.00. In the end, the bit wasn't ruined, mostly, okay it didn't do it much good, but it did do the job quickly, and it was cost effective. My point was made. 

"In situ" comes from Latin, and means "in place, or in position". I have to go to the boat, and drag everything I need with me. If I am short some part, or tool, it is costly to stop, and go out and buy it. Many times, in the end you have to invent something to get the job done. I have shortened drill bits to get into some tight spot, used screw drivers as pry bars, and chisels, and yes, a pipe wrench can be a hammer if it needs to be.

The improvised tool below is a bow saw blade with a duct tape handle. It was used to cut off a big blob of bonding putty in a anchor locker rehab project that will post next week. It was flexible, and could cut against the hull with out going through it, and the big teeth did not gum up, like the 60 grit grinder kept doing. I will keep it, but I suspect it will never be used again. 

So in the end, in situ, there is alway a way, even if you have to be MacGyver for just a little while to solve the problem.

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