I used to participate in the Q&A section of this august website. It was a place where experienced professionals answered readers’ questions. There the pros regularly dispensed with fact, opinion, and outright bias based upon their years of doing things the wrong way but done in such a fashion that it felt right to them. It was a blast. But as with the dinosaur, my blood ran too cold or my brain was too small and some little birdy took my place. No hard feelings. Evolution, like rust, never sleeps.
I do remember however one notable question from the many I received. It went like this:
Gary, If a someone asks to borrow a prized chisel how would you politely decline the request? I replied thusly: There are several options.
The Shakespearean Answer
Be Shakespearean: “What, you egg! Shag haired villain of treachery! [And then, with a smile on your lips] Touch my chisel sirrah? Begone or I shall have to smite thee with my deadblow!”
It was a bit over the top I admit. But it did get the point across and clothed in Elizabethan attire it seemed less fearsome if still clear. Perhaps not to all. So another effort was called for.
The Accommodating Answer
Be helpful: “Please, please I invite you. Here are all of my tools, including this my most prized chisel, the one I dote upon, the chisel I reach for when cutting only my most important of cuts. The central chisel of my life. The chisel I could never replace. The chisel whose edge is as keen as my gaze when I see you reaching for it. Please look upon it and upon all my tools and marvel at them as do I. Look and gasp at their beauty, their potential, their power. But please please do not touch them. Please I beg of you do not touch them. Most of all my one prized chisel. I beg you.”
This was a bit needy I thought. A trifle too theatrical. It was given a bit to fancy and not quite, how shall I put it, manly enough for a warning. I needed something I thought more stern. Made of sterner stuff. That was it.
The Fortune Teller Answer
So, now I look into the future. This is how I respond to the grabbing hands of the tool borrower. For the uninitiated, the virginal, the veriest tyro who walks into my shop and with eyes aglitter goes to clutch one of my tools on the wall, to him now I say quietly but firmly:
“When I die someday far in the future, you may touch my tools. If you wish to die today, then you may touch them now.”
This I have found is a surprisingly effective defense against most tool borrowers. It keeps them at bay in a way that is remarkably clear and precise. I cannot recommend this approach for all of you of course. It does seem to work however at my bench rather well. Good luck to you in protecting your tools from the borrower.
-Gary Rogowski teaches at The Northwest Woodworking Studio in Portland, Oregon where he lends out none of his tools and is a Contributing Editor for Fine Woodworking Magazine. Read his blog at