a few thoughts on tools

by Araina Prestes I'm learning the fine art of tool selection.

As a writer, tool selection is a luxury. You do not need a specific journal, or a very fancy pen. You need something to scribe: it might be your cell phone, it might be a bar napkin, it might be a kid's crayon. We write when and where we do because we are writers. The tools are a way to make it more enjoyable, or to trick our creative brains into turning on. Yes, when I pull out my ruled moleskine and my zebra ballpoint, I know it's time to get serious. But I'm just as committed to my writing when I'm working out a mind-map in dry-erase markers or when I'm sitting at the table, on the sofa, or in the park.

As I'm building up inventory for the great shop launch, I'm discovering the importance of tools all anew. See, there are lots of ways to carve a spoon. You could use a flat gouge, a spoon gouge, a hook knife, a scorp. You could carve the handle with a chip knife, a carving knife, a bandsaw, a spokeshave. The same goes for carving a cutting board or building a box. There are many ways to accomplish something, but in woodworking, I'm discovering that sometimes the tools suit the job.

This morning, I started building a box. It's a test box, really, a little thing made of poplar to hold pens or treasures. I wanted to prove to myself that boxes need not be scary, as I am incredibly drawn to building them. But my tool chest is limited, as I am beginner, and specialized tools are not inexpensive. I have a dozen books on box-making from the library, and I scoured the pages for a simple box to build.

I cut the pieces, began the assembly, and discovered that my small collection of clamps just wouldn't cut it for this box. Some were too big, some too small, and none of them fit the box without putting strain on some other piece. Here I had a partially-glued box and no way to clamp it, to hold it steady while it dries.

I wanted to give up. Just like when your favorite pen runs out of ink mid-sentence, I could smell the defeat creeping into my head. The whispers of "What are you thinking?" and "You're not a box-maker..." hover just behind me. And then I paused.

I started to think about the pictures I'd seen in the books about making boxes. I started walking through my workshop, walking around my writing desk, looking through drawers. I found an old smashbook, and pulled the large rubber band from around it. I found a second, matching one in a drawer. I hoped, I felt a little bit of optimism creep in, and I went back to my workbench.

I'm glad I started by making a small box. The bands fit around it snugly, holding in place the sides and ends as the glue sets. Suddenly, my fear about making a box is gone. I didn't have the ideal tool, but I found something that could work. I learned how much the assembling of a box delights me, and I know that I'll be investing in some handscrew clamps soon.

Building a box is like building a story.

I might not have the ideal tools, the perfect workbench, the smoothest wood. It might be a little uneven on the top, but as with good editing it can be sanded to perfection. Most important, I built it.

I showed up to my workbench with a dream and an idea, and I trusted my hands and my skill to bring it life.

It's continually true that the only way anything gets done is by first showing up. Showing up to the page, to the camera lens, to the screen, to the canvas. To the stack of wood along your workbench. Having the "right" tools can make the job easier, but if you wait to have those just right tools, you'll never get any work done.

Getting the work done sometimes means using exactly what you have available, and making it stellar on your own.

I'm sure that, as I continue this adventure, hone my craft, and get more clear on what I am creating and how, I will expand my tool chest. I will have those handscrew clamps that fit a box perfectly and put just the right pressure in just the right places. That will be a day that my production will increase, if just by a little. And I might have a few spare moments to start a new box, to draft a new essay.

What matters is not the perfect tool, but selecting the tool that will get the job done. It might be a worn-out jumbo rubber band instead of a shiny clamp. It might be a letter from your kid's school and a blue crayon you found on the floor of your car. Tool selection is as much about knowing what the right tool is, and recognizing the abundance of tools available to you, at any given moment.

You could build a box if you want. You could write that poem and set it free. You could take that photo and share it, knowing how it's not quite perfect.

You could be okay with exactly what you have available. It might not be perfect, but it gets the work done.

And getting the work is what sets your heart ablaze, isn't it?