Tool talk

I know I said I was going to write about nicknames, and I will. But another aspect of Dad’s vernacular has occurred to me over the past few days, and I want to write these expressions down before I forget them. Yes, my memory stinks, and I’m not disciplined about jotting stuff down when it comes to mind. I can think of at least three figures of speech that Dad uses, none of which I’ve ever heard uttered by anyone else, that have to do with tools and/or machining. Not surprising, given that one of Dad’s first jobs was as a welder in a boiler factory. His father taught machining and industrial arts and was a master toolmaker, so Dad learned a lot of these skills at his father’s knee. However, when Dad told his father that he wanted to be a machinist, Grandpa discouraged him in no uncertain terms. Why did he want to sentence himself to working for lousy wages at a job where he’d always have to answer to the boss, his hands would always be dirty and he’d be surrounded by men that had nothing more to look forward to in life than drinking beer at the bar at the end of a long, dirty day of work? Deflated by this characterization of his dream and probably a little pissed off at his dad, even though he knew he was right, my dad decided to become a dentist, an honest enough trade at which he could ply his talented hands, make a good living and live up to his father’s hopes for him. That all worked out pretty well for Dad, and in later years he often remarked about how smart his old man had been. What goes around comes around. Anyway, back to these turns of phrase I was mentioning, all of which are truly inspiring insults to be applied at the appropriate moment to the appropriate subject.

1. He’s so dumb, if you ran a bit through his head, you’d get dry shavings the whole way.

2. He’s so dumb, he doesn’t know if his asshole is punched or bored.

3. He’s a 17-jeweled horse’s ass, with holes drilled for more.

Post more of these if you’ve got them!



7 thoughts on “Tool talk

  1. I’m glad things worked out for your dad and I’m sure, at the time, your granddad’s advice held a grain of truth. Time’s change. I started out as a machinist almost forty years ago and have been an engineer for the last thirty. A good machinist today is worth his weight in gold and will be paid accordingly. If he can honestly call himself a toolmaker then he can write his own ticket.

    A good machinist (opposed to a button pusher) has to be able to do more than just run a lathe or a mill to machine parts. He has to be able to program a CNC control, use a CAD system, have advanced math skills, use a variety of very precise and delicate measuring systems and have a decent understanding of electronics. In your granddad’s day they worked in thousandths of an inch. Today we work in microns.

    When I need another machinist, I have two options. The first is spend six to nine months searching for a good one. The second is to spend three to four years training one from the ground up. Option one is faster but option two is more reliable and the one I usually choose. Machinists today aren’t the factory workers with oil stained hands and grit embedded under their fingernails of your granddad’s era; they’re educated para-professionals who are the backbone of America’s manufacturing future.

    But, back to your challenge. While it lacks the tool references of your dad’s phrase’s, one of my favorites has always been, “He’s been screwing the pooch for so long on that job that we ought to have a litter of puppies running around by now.”

    Interesting post!

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful response to my post, JF Owen! I appreciate your perspective on the intellectual and manual demands on a good machinist nowadays, and how difficult it is find and/or train such talent. My dad would agree, and, honestly, while dentistry was his profession and paid the bills, machining has remained his passion and hobby to this day. The aspect of dentistry from which he derived the most satisfaction was casting crowns and making dentures because both involved great manual dexterity and building something precise.
      I’ve heard the phrase “screw the pooch” before, but I especially like the extended reference of the litter of puppies.

  2. I thought of a couple more tool references from Dad’s “common vernacular.”
    An acetylene torch is called an acetylene wrench, and is extremely useful for dismantling offensive metal objects that one encounters. And I was a teenager before I knew that carpenter’s level is the real name for what Dad always called a “whiskey stick.” Why whiskey stick? Is that a whiskey bubble inside? Or does one have more need for a level after imbibing in too much whiskey?

  3. 🙂 The bubble isn’t filled with whiskey, but it is often filled with ethanol because of the lower viscosity. This lets the bubble move faster and settle sooner. The ethanol also freezes at a lower temperature, an important point for a carpenter or mason working outside in a northern winter. I imagine the term “whiskey stick” came because the ethanol is often colored amber to make the bubble more visible. It’s probably a good thing they weren’t actually filled with whiskey. My dad was a carpenter and if his levels would have been filled with whiskey they wouldn’t have been functional very long.

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