My tool belt |

My tool belt


It’s been almost two years since my brother and I started the enormous project of remodeling my 100-year-old house. Given that my handyman experience prior to this was building a small “bookshelf” (seen here in quotes because, well, as far as bookshelves go, it kinda “wasn’t”), this remodel project was a quantum leap forward for me.

My brother, Bryan, a skilled carpenter and beyond, was in charge. My role was to be his “helper” (in quotes for the same general reason as stated above). And it was the real deal — 12-hour days, five days a week with weekend assignments for me to complete before work resumed Monday. We did a little bit of everything — demolition, plumbing, drywall, trim, electrical, framing, insulation, door hanging, tiling, painting, floor refinishing and custom built-in items. I learned a lot about a lot during this process, and best of all … I got to wear a tool belt.

My tool belt was a gift from my uncle, presented just before the project began, and it was kind of a starter model. It’s not like it said “L’il Tyke” anywhere on it (thanks to a carefully placed strip of concealing duct tape), but it was a bit on the small side. There was barely enough room to hold the bare essentials: pliers, hammer, razor knife, screwdriver, Chapstick, Band-Aids, travel-sized sketchbook and watercolor kit, etc. But it was free, and that goes a long way. And after a while, I found that it actually came in handy.

For instance, if I needed to open a cardboard box full of cat food — boom! — razor knife right there in the side pouch. If a screw needed tightening — yep — got a hammer right here. If I needed to make a lengthy, full color illustrated journal entry while Bryan unloaded a truckload of 3/4 drywall — viola — and so on…

But my brother, man … he had a real tool belt (actually referred to as tool “bags” in the business, but I don’t want to get all insider on you). They were made by Occidental Leather, the Cadillac of tool belts, and had big, roomy pouches and individual straps for specific gizmos and loops for hammers and hooks for cool cordless things and pockets just for screws and nails, and even though he never had occasion to use it, I’m pretty sure I saw a can of shark repellant in there. I was perpetually covetous of his tool belt, but I suffered in silence and kept on “working.”

So imagine my squealing delight when I spotted this exact model tool belt last week at a garage sale, in barely used condition, for a mere $20! These bags go for about $250 new, and they last a lifetime. This is an item that I would never, ever buy for myself. Why would I? The remodel project has been done for more than a year, and my wimpy tool belt has been retired. Sure, there’s still a few straggling house projects left to tackle, but does one really need a tool belt to hang a potted plant?

But $20? C’mon. I snatched it off the table as if it were a hundred dollar bill drifting down the sidewalk, half expecting to have to fight someone over it. I may have even yelled “finders keepers!”, but I really hope I just thought it.

Racing home, I quickly load it up with all the tools I could ever need for any project at all, ever. Screwdrivers — both the straight kind and the kind that make a little X, because as a seasoned handyman I know how to plan ahead. Pliers, in case something needs to be plied. A hammer, because there are a lot of spiders around this time of year. This thing, the one that I’m not quite sure what it’s called or what it does, but it has the bright yellow rubber handle that rounds out the overall tool color scheme nicely. Tape measure, as it’s the cat’s favorite toy. A level. A square. A square-ish. A video camera, because whatever awesome repair project is about to happen certainly needs to be properly documented. And wire nuts, just in case I need a snack.

It’s heavier than I thought it would be, but it feels good and snug around my waist. It feels like progress and efficiency. This, I think, is what being a man must feel like.

Watch out, potted plant. Summer has just begun, and I finally have a real tool belt. Your days of languishing on the floor are seriously numbered.

Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays. More at

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