The Right Tool for the Job

An old pair of pliers, a hammer and an ice pick, those were the tools that resided in my mother’s toolbox. If she needed a screwdriver she used a table knife. I don’t believe she owned a table knife that didn’t have a bent or broken tip.

It was remarkable the tasks she could accomplish with such an odd array of implements: need a coconut drained and opened, use the ice pick and hammer; a knob on the stove replaced, use the pliers and a table knife. When something needed fixing, she would grab her toolbox and go to work.

My first realization about the value of having the right tool for a job was when I went to work in my Dad’s sheet metal shop. The shop foreman told me to get a pair of snips from his tool tray and cut a pattern out of light gage steel. I couldn’t cut a straight line to save my life. I would get started and then I would be cutting to the right of the line. I messed up a couple of pieces of steel before I noticed the foreman and another mechanic laughing at me. That’s when I learned, depending on the job, there were three types of aviation snips: one that cut right; one that cut left and another that cut straight.

I recall a salesman completing a pitch to my father. After my dad thought about it, he told the salesman to write the order up. The guy fumbled through his pockets, then looked at my father and asked if he could borrow a pencil. After a few seconds of silence, my father responded, “Son, if you aren’t enough of a salesman to remember to carry a pencil, you aren’t enough of a salesman to make sure this order will be right.” He then walked out of the room leaving the poor fellow with his mouth hanging open.

I requested a salesperson mail me information on a material I believed I could use on a job. I carefully studied the brochure and the next time he was in I began to question him on the technical specifications. When it became evident that he knew less about the product than I did, I sent him on his way and purchased a different material.

From an auto mechanic to a building material sales person, part of success is having the right tools and knowing how to use them. The tool could be something as simple as a pencil or as complex as product knowledge. Whatever it is, you can’t do the job without the right tool.


Man is a tool-using animal. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.” -Thomas Carlyle


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