The first thought that comes into my mind concerning this subject is borrowing and lending tools. I wish I were able to do this part of the subject full justice, but perhaps space in Carpentry and Building would not be available for me to enlarge upon it. When I began the trade it was expected that every journeyman should furnish his own tools to work with. Nowadays it seems to be that each one expects some one else to furnish him tools. It is said, and I believe it is true, that there is no other trade which has so large a proportion of botches to skilled workmen as that of carpentry. The question arises—why is it so? It seems to me that borrowing tools causes more of it than all other reasons put together. This perhaps is a broad assertion, but arguments can be advanced in proof of it.
A first-class kit of tools costs at present from $150 to $250. How many kits of this kind do we find among mechanics? There is certainly not one in 25, if one in 50, that would invoice at the former figure. Can a man do a good job of work without suitable tools? No! Then what is he to do if he has the work laid out for him and he is without the necessary tools? There is no other remedy than borrowing, or else he must bungle the job with tools not adapted to the purpose. It would not pay to buy a tool for a single job—this is the usual excuse—and so men will work on, year after year, without tools enough to complete any one piece of work in a decent manner, except by borrowing.
Such men are not real mechanics. They do not start, in the first place, to learn the trade, nor do they ever expect to become first-class workmen. They buy a few tools just to do rough work, and, finding that they can get a trifle more wages at carpentry than they can at driving a team or shoveling dirt, they continue to work in that line. As they have no investment in tools to speak of, they can afford to work for less than regular wages. They are not backward, however, about running to good workmen to borrow. Sometimes they borrow and fail to return them, and then the competent mechanic is forced to hunt up his tools, causing great inconvenience.
It is sometimes claimed that the carpenter does not need many tools nowadays, as work is all got out at the mills. It is said that all the carpenter needs is a saw and a hammer, with which to cut the joints and nail them together. This is a great mistake. Notwithstanding a large amount of the work that was formerly done by hand is now made by machinery, it still requires many different tools and skillful labor to put it together. Even though casings and cornices are ripped out by machinery, I find I often have use for a rip saw, yet I know a workman (he is not a mechanic) who has been in the trade for years who never owned a rip saw. Of course, he has to borrow.
Who are responsible for this state of things? I answer, first and foremost, the bosses are to blame. I have been told more than once, “You need not take many tools; there are two or three men there already with their tool boxes, so there are plenty of tools at the job; a saw and a hammer are all that you need.” Directions of this kind are given upon the supposition that if one or two men have tools they must, as a matter of course, allow their use by all the others who may be set to work on the same job. Second, workmen themselves are not blameless. They should not allow others to impose upon them to the extent that is now common. They should have dignity enough to say to their employers, as well as to their fellow workmen, “I buy what tools I use, and I shall expect you to buy yours.” This would soon bring about quite a different state of affairs.
I do not mean to convey the idea that I would never borrow or lend, for I find it necessary in some cases to borrow, and much oftener to lend. Suppose I have a man at work, and say to him, “I want you to make a window frame with parting stops,” and he should say, “I have not got a plow to plow the jams with.” I should reply, “Well, I want you to make that frame, and I have nothing else for you to do until that is made.” From this the man could at once decide either to buy a plow or seek a job elsewhere. On the other hand, if he should say, ”I did not expect to have use for my plow here, and did not bring it; if you can find something else for me for the present, I will have it here this afternoon or to-morrow” — under the circumstances, I would be an unreasonable man if I did not at once offer mine for the present occasion.
A. A. F., Cleveland, Ohio.
Carpentry and Building – January 1882
– Jeff Burks