I was busy during snowmageddon 2016, buried for five days at my parents home in Great Falls, helping around the house and trying to dig out. In my spare time, I organized things, drawers, tools, files, and such mostly. During the cleaning, purging, and organizing, I came across several pair of scissors (40 pair approximately, but that is another story about parents). Two pair in particular.

These scissors are handmade in Japan, stunningly crafted and wonderfully sharp. Really nicely made tools. Unfortunately by the time I saw them, Mom had gotten hold of them some time prior and done that thing she does with most tools that find their way into her hands. The whole thing is a running joke in the family. Mom finds a way to break most things in her way. Computers, tools, knives, garbage disposals……but I digress from this blog post.

Before And After Scissors


I needed to wet sand with 400 grit sand paper to get the clay, rust, dirt and oxidation off without severely effecting the patina. I spent about an hour and a half working on the first pair on a lovely spring afternoon on my front porch. I then applied a clear lacquer to the scissors to help prevent rust.

I cleaned up the first pair and laid it side-by-side for comparison.  Now, the thing about scissors like these is that having to work so hard to remove the junk, you run the risk of personal injury.

Need I Say More?

The point of this blog is not to pick on my Mom, but to talk about tools. I have been accused of being a tool snob. I think that is an unfair depiction of me. Like many of you, I like nice things in my life. I earn a living using tools. I need good ones. They need to be well made, accurate, reliable, indestructible, consistent. This is not just how I earn a living, but it is how I exact myself toward any project I invest in. If you were a doctor, would you buy your stethoscope from the dollar store?

Years ago, I watched a “This Old House” program. This particular show was not about the houses, but focused on the people in the show and their tools. Specifically, Tommy Silva, the lead carpenter for the show, revealed to the audience what his must-haves were in his tool pouch. He explained the “why” for each item, explaining what to eliminate to reduce the weight of the bag. I was incredibly impressed by his insightfulness about why each tool was carried. He described the quality of some of the various tools and the reason for needing a certain quality on these tools. I remembered that entire lesson.

I worked on my personal tool bag. When I built my house in 2001 – 2002, I further refined my tool bag. Since then, I have made adjustments, but it is pretty much ideal for what I run into at home, work, showrooms, or Haiti.

tool bag
“The Kit”

I probably need to break it down for you. The bag contents are:

Framing hammer or Finishing hammer, depending, made by Estwing. 25′ long tape measure – Klein, Zircon stud finder, Allen brand Allen wrench set in a folding system, LED flashlight, nylon string, Channel Locks, Wiss scissors, Klein lineman plyers, Empire framing speed square 6″, complete micr0 socket set (up to 1/2″), Crescent wrench, two Klein 11-in-1 combination screwdrivers, micro breaker bar (0r wonder bar as it may be known to some), Stanley chalk line, copper wire – very fine, Klein torpedo level with magnetic side, utility knife/razor knife, plumb bob (solid brass of course), nail punch, 4-in-1 file, Awl (I turned the burled walnut handle myself years ago), Dewalt hole saw assortment, tooth picks, Klein wire strippers, pencils (both carpenters and traditional), C-8 countersink (11/64″ slip hole with a 3/8″ countersink head – good for #8 screws), one or two masonry bits, electrical tape, Vise Grip brand locking vise grips.

Now, I know that you don’t believe I got all that in the bag, so here is a photo of everything, in order of listing, laid out on the floor. Actually, there are several other items currently in the bag that were not mentioned.


When you add in a cordless drill, you’re pretty much ready to go in the hand tool department. Of course, other power tools or finer tools like hand planes need added. I used to carry a small block plane in the kit, but I didn’t use it enough to justify the weight.

The oldest tool in the kit is a pair of Vise Grips, pictured below. They are great. This set has been all over, including the girls shower in Haiti……….again, another story there somewhere. These locking vise grips are worn, a little rusty (remember the shower), very used, but not abused. They still work perfectly even if they look a little rough. Like the lines on our faces and the stories we tell about our lives, my tool bag and its contents has many great stories from its past.

I don’t always buy the best. I buy what I like and believe to be a very good quality for the money. I buy a lot of Klein and Dewalt (high-end) and Milwaukie because I like them. So, purchase tools with the correct thought about its use in your life, respect the tool by caring for it, and always know the difference between using and abusing a tool.

What is your “must-have” or “go-to” tool?

Mark Gatterdam

vise grips
A very worn tool



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