Some people are good at making things; some aren’t.
I definitely fall into the latter category. Whether it’s making something new or repairing something that’s broken, I find working with my hands somewhat challenging. If you add tools–especially power tools–I’m in real trouble.
My grandfather was a tool and die maker for his whole life. He did it as a job and he did it for fun. He was really, really good at making things.
One of my memories I will never forget of my grandfather is the time when he helped me make a Pinewood Derby car for Cub Scouts. We went down into his basement and he helped me transform a block of wood into an award-winning masterpiece of a racecar.
We used the drill press to drill holes in the bottom. We melted lead to pour into the holes, to get the weight of the car just right. We turned the wheels on his lathe. We created a windshield out of plastic. We filed, we sanded, we polished, we painted.
My grandfather patiently showed me how to do all these things, and I genuinely did most of them myself (with his hand helping me along). I’m sure he hoped he was training me for a lifetime of fixing things and making things. All I can say is that whatever ability I do have comes from him–I guess I did get a shutter that had fallen down put back on our house a few weeks ago.
My grandfather’s grandfather, Robert Balser Fetzer, was a toolmaker too. We still have a level he made in 1896 with his initials and the date he made it stamped on it. He was the son of a German immigrant. After growing up in Cincinnati and working in a couple of shops there, he moved to Richmond, Indiana around 1877 to find work. He found a job in the engine room at the Richmond City Mill Works and spent a lifetime working with his hands. In 1902, he was still at the mill works and was known for never missing work.
His son tried the toolmaking trade, but it didn’t work out. He ended up selling men’s clothing for forty years–a challenging career, especially during the Great Depression. But his grandson–my grandfather–made a life out of making things.
It makes me wonder if toolmaking–or the ability to make things in general–is somehow passed down in the genes. If it is, I wish I would have gotten some of them.