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A Man and His Tools

My wife and I define home improvement differently …
"A power I have, but of what strength and nature I am not yet instructed."
—William Shakespeare

Recently, I built a closet by sawing a hole in the wall between an upstairs hallway and our garage attic. To accomplish this, I borrowed one of the coolest tools ever invented, a reciprocating saw. It looks like the lovechild of a jigsaw and the gun Arnold Schwarzenegger used in the Terminator movies. It was loud, messy, and made quick work of the wall.

This project turned out quite well, especially when viewed in dim light. After 22 years of marriage, my wife, Lauren, has learned when to trust me on home projects and when to have the phone book ready. Her red-flag list includes anything involving electricity, water, chewing gum, or taking apart major appliances.

This follows a lecture from Ted the repairman. Lauren called him after I'd tried to fix the dishwasher by taking apart the motor, then putting it back together with far fewer pieces than it had originally.

A few months prior to that, I had created a water cannon in the basement by installing a whole-house filter but forgetting to tighten the nuts before turning the water back on. Eventually everything stopped leaking, but the incident got me banned from plumbing projects.

[A little historical context here: The naysayers forget that failure is the greatest teacher. Remember, Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before he fixed his dishwasher.]

Currently, I'm raising our kitchen ceiling. This first involved tearing down the old ceiling using a crowbar and the aforementioned reciprocating saw. Everything was going perfectly, until I made the mistake of casually remarking to Lauren: "You know, I'll bet I could take down this entire house in less than a day."

At that point, she began hiding the power tools.

We have carpenter friends—trained guys with expensive tools—who have no problem calling in professional help for jobs they aren't qualified to do in their own homes. Plumbing, electricity, plastering, whatever. If it doesn't involve sawing boards and hammering nails, they don't want to risk screwing it up. Their wives always appear exceptionally happy and relaxed.

I, on the other hand, am a journalist with little pride when it comes to home improvement projects. If something goes well, we've saved money. If something goes horribly wrong, I can write about it. For some reason, this makes my wife nervous.

This problem is not limited to journalists. It extends to any husband who can derive side benefits from being a klutz. One of our pastors—I'll call him "Jason," because that's his real name—sought to impress his wife, Lisa, a couple Decembers ago by cutting down an evergreen from their yard and using it as their Christmas tree. The tool he initially chose, for anyone who hasn't watched lumberjack contests on ESPN2, was an ax. But after one swing, the ax handle shattered.

I should mention here that if you're reading this with impressionable children in the room, now would be the time to usher them out.

Jason went to the garage and found his circular saw and a long extension cord. He then proceeded—and it scares me just to type these words—to cut down an evergreen tree with an electric circular saw. The awful possibilities boggle the mind: electrocution, losing an eye, or simply being peppered in the face with flying sawdust, ice, and pine tar. This made for an effective sermon illustration the following week, though today I have no recollection what his point was.

All of this leads to three important pieces of advice:

  • Wives, unless your husband is a carpenter, do not leave him alone in the house with power tools.
  • Couples, never buy a house whose previous owners worked desk jobs and used power tools on their days off.
  • And if you are that couple and are selling your house, do not leave your address or phone number for the new owner.

At our previous house, I replaced a ceiling fan in the kitchen. Once I'd turned off the power (another useful tip for you Little Leaguers) and taken the old ceiling fan off, I saw how the previous homeowner had cut corners. A 30-pound ceiling fan had been held in place by a 69-cent plastic electrical box secured to the ceiling joist by two skinny, bent nails like you'd use to hang a poster. The whole thing should have crashed down onto our breakfast table months earlier.

Now came the real challenge: Inside the ceiling, this box rested just two inches from the water pipes leading to an upstairs bathroom. Here was the potential Chernobyl of home projects: One wrong hammer blow would trigger a spectacular disaster in both the plumbing and electrical arenas.

You wives may be reading this and thinking, Drop the tools. Call a plumber. Call an electrician. Whereas many husbands would understand my next move: Chew some gum.

See, after I'd replaced the box and attached it more firmly to the ceiling, I needed something that could hold a nut in place while I installed a bolt to support the new fan. My fingers couldn't reach. Our daughter's Hello Kitty tweezers kept slipping. But a small wad of Juicy Fruit could act as glue just long enough.

It worked. To this day I still speak proudly to friends of this innovation as Lauren quickly changes the subject. To the best of my knowledge, that fan still hangs proudly in our former house. But we'd just as soon not reveal our whereabouts by asking.

Jim Killam, an MP regular contributor, is a journalism teacher and freelance writer who lives somewhere in the Midwest. Or possibly the Southeast.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Disagreement; Home; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 2006
Posted September 12, 2008

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