To submit a question, email:

When I was growing up, I always wanted the new fancy things and quite often, the new fancy thing was developed to make our lives easier. My mom would never let me take the easy way before I learned how to do it the right way first. For example, I wasn’t allowed to own a digital watch until I was able to read a standard clock, nor was I allowed to own a pair of those fancy new Velcro shoes until I could tie lace-up shoes (yes I am quite aware that I am dating myself). Of course it was frustrating at the time because life would be so easy if I could just glance at a watch and know what time it was without stopping for a moment to figure it out, but I began to understand and respect what my mom was making me do. Now that I’m in the ‘teacher’s seat’ I can’t count how many times I have used the analogy “you can’t have a digital watch until you learn to tie your shoes” to make a point to my apprentice, my daughter, or anyone else who is looking for the easy way out as it has become quite an important piece of my teaching system.

I believe wholeheartedly that this idea of learning how to do it the old-school way first is paramount when it comes to excelling at fabrication. For instance, why would you buy a mill when you don’t know how to drill an accurate hole with a drill press to start with? Or the idea of buying an English-wheel before you can weld sheetmetal together satisfactorily enough to necessitate such an advanced tool is just absurd. In other words, if you never learn how to finesse a tool (yes, all tools are finessed, ask anyone who truly knows their way around a shop) and use it to its capabilities before you head straight to the cool-guy version of that tool, you’ll never be able to take full advantage of either one.

People will often be amazed by those of us who take the time to learn how to use our tools to the extent of their abilities. I’ve often heard “how do you make all the things you do with only these tools?” I love that statement; it means that I’m doing it right. Also the common “hey, did you know that so-and-so laser cuts 4-link tabs for cheap?” always cracks me up. No thanks, I have a bandsaw from 1952 that I actually enjoy working with. The best part about using tools to their capabilities is when you get to add a new tool to the arsenal. As mundane as the tool may seem by itself, when combined with what the other tools are capable of the potential becomes exponentially greater. Take for instance if I only had a shear and brake, but no bead-roller then my abilities would be limited to flat panels with sharp corners, but with the bead-roller I am able to significantly open my options to soft rolled corners, curved edges, panel details and so on. On that same note though, a bead-roller with no brake or shear is almost useless.

There is no excuse to not learn how to use your tools these days, with all of the videos on the interweb and books catering to just about every subject you can think of, the information is out there; it’s up to you to push yourself! Do yourself the favor and try something new with the tools you have, you can thank me later.