Friday, 28 March 2014
Before Nail Guns Were Invented
By Carl Hansen
Some weeks ago, I read a news item about a man who committed suicide by shooting himself with a nail gun. Alhough I have seen these tools in use in recent years - most recently when our roof was re-shingled after a damaging hail storm - I have never owned or rented one, and using one for self-harm seems almost impossible to believe.
I learned how to use a hammer from my father long before nail guns were invented. The only danger from using hammers in those days came from the possibility of swallowing one of the nails some carpenters liked to hold in their clenched teeth or, of course, smashing a finger if it got in the way of a descending blow.
Little did I know that the fact that Dad took time to teach me the proper way to hold a hammer when I was very young would later pay off in a big way when I became a carpenter’s apprentice.
The Monday after summer vacation began and I was old enough to do so, I followed my Dad’s advice to check in with the carpenter’s local to see if there might be area projects needing an apprentice. I was there when the doors opened, dressed for work with my tools and a lunch box in my car.
Almost immediately, a call came in requesting two apprentices be sent to the same construction project. Since there were only two of us on hand that morning, we were both sent on our way.
When we arrived, we were assigned to work with a journeyman carpenter. He ran the big Dewalt power saw cutting plywood and two-by-fours that we then nailed together to create the forms used when concrete was poured for a bridge being erected on the northeast side of Denver.
When lunch time came, the experienced carpenter alerted us to the fact that the “super” on the project needed only one apprentice. His practice was to ask that two be sent out from the union hall so he could observe their work skills and make a decision on which one to keep on the job.
We were told that shortly before quitting time that afternoon, he would be stopping by with a check for the one he had decided to let go.
By that point in the day, I had learned enough about the other apprentice to realize that he had a few more years of work experience as an apprentice than I. Thinking I would be the one sent away, I resigned myself to the idea that I’d be heading home and then would have to go back again to the union hall the next morning hoping another construction project in the area might need my fledgling skills.
But around 4:00PM when the “super” appeared, he did not call my name. It was the other apprentice who gathered up his tools and headed for his car.
Relieved, I finished the work day and was told what time to be on hand the next morning. Along with the relief, however, was the question of how and why the super had asked me to stay when the other apprentice seemed to be far more experienced than I.
A few days later, I worked up the courage to ask how he made his decision. The answer made me ever-so-thankful for my dad’s patient instruction the first few times I picked up a carpenter’s primary tool.
“It’s quite simple,” he said. “Someone taught you the correct way to hold a hammer. You hold yours at the far end of handle. The other apprentice choked up on the handle of his hammer almost to its head. You can’t get enough leverage that way to drive nails into a board.”
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