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Tool Time

By Tina Traster

April 15, 2010 -- My friend’s husband Paul came over to cut down trees in the woods behind our house. He arrived with a gas-powered chainsaw, an electric chainsaw, soundproofing earmuffs and protective eyeglasses. My husband, misty-eyed, watched him unload his Jeep. Then they shared a manly handshake.

“I want to get rid of that one, those two over there, and that big one over there is dead, so let’s take it down, too,” I said to Paul.

“C’mon, Rick,” Paul said, slapping him on the back. “Give me a hand.”

As the men scrambled down the hill into the woods, I was secretly glad it was someone else’s husband who would be doing the dangerous work. But I wondered whether Ricky had been harboring resentment: I had refused to let him get a chainsaw or any other power tool that can chew a hand like a hungry bear.

When Ricky moved into my Upper West Side apartment 10 years ago, he had old-school hand tools: augers, planes, gimlets, awls, spokeshaves — nothing that needed gas or electricity. We kept them in the trunk of our car because there was no place inside to store them safely — and because no torture museum was in the market for artifacts. I used to say that one day a sheriff was going to stop us and ask, “Sir, can you open the trunk?” and we’d be detained for hours.

“Why don’t you get rid of these old tools?” I’d ask.

“Because one day I’m going to build something using hand tools,” he’d promise.

When we moved to Rockland County, Ricky got a shed to store his hand tools, but he insisted we needed an all-in-one Black and Decker battery-operated drill driver for our 150-year-old house.

“You can’t call the super every time something breaks,” he said.

Over the years, my husband has come to the rescue more times than I can remember, tightening towel rods, fixing cabinets. He crafted shutters, built planting boxes and framed a patio.

Until I married Ricky, the men I knew, my father included, hired other men to cut, drill and fix stuff. I had at first assumed my husband, who grew up in urban Canarsie like me, descended from similar stock. But his late father was a power-tool dealer who brought every newfangled gadget to their weekend Catskill house. Ricky’s boyhood toys were drills, saws, tractors and Sawzalls. He learned to fell a tree when he was 12.

It’s comforting to live with a man who knows his way around a toolbox. It’s even sexy, so long as he’s not in danger of getting mangled or disfigured.

Three years ago, Ricky wondered if I would consider buying him a stationary table saw for his birthday.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A flat table with a blade underneath it,” he explained. “You turn a crank and the blade rises from the table.”

The only thing rising at that moment was my lunch.

“Why do you need that?”

“I’m thinking about building a greenhouse.”

The following weekend when we went to look at the contraption, I turned white.

“I guess you’re not too comfortable with this?” he asked. We didn’t buy one.

Weeks later, we were with our friend Peter. I noticed horrific scarring on his hand.

“I severed my hand using a table saw,” he said.

I shot Ricky a look. Even he looked a bit queasy when Peter explained how the paramedics brought his thumb on ice to the ER so it could be reattached.

Ricky’s birthday is coming up. I asked him what he wanted. He said a slick.

“It’s a chisel with a blade you use for post and beam construction,” he explained. “I’m going to build a timber-frame studio the old-fashioned way, using hand tools.”

I told him we’d go shopping next weekend.

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