Does anybody remember how to operate a manual screwdriver?

I’ve always been a bit of a troglodyte when it comes to my home tool kit. I aspire to be like PBS’s Roy Underhill, who was once described as being able to go into the woods and build a house using only a rock.

His PBS nemesis, Norm Abrahms, is fun to watch, too. He’s the one who uses $100,000 worth of power tools to build a $10 breadbox. But I’ve never had any desire to have all the stuff Norm seems to find just lying around his allegedly typical little workshop.

Recently I’ve decided I’m over any desire to have any battery-operated tools, the latest generation of “must-haves” for the do-it-yourselfer. Now if you do home repairs everyday, or if your worksite is ten miles from the nearest electrical outlet, a battery powered saw or drill makes sense. But I do home repairs or build something only occasionally, when I run out of excuses. For those occasions, a hand-operated manual tool or one with an electrical cord serves me just fine. I’m not afraid of a drop cord (as we call them around here).

When I had battery-driven tools, they did have one benefit. They gave me one more reason not to fix or build something on my honey do list.

“The battery’s dead,” I would say to anyone who might be listening. “I’ll have to charge it overnight before I can start.” I’d plug it in and go watch Norm build something on TV.

Then, a week later, I would go unplug the charger and look around to see if anyone remembered what I was supposed to be doing. If the family had lost interest, I would put the tool away and go on to other things. By the time they asked me when I was going to fix the whatever, if I had timed things correctly, the battery would be dead again. Repeat as necessary.

But if it was a task I really needed or wanted to get done, all that dancing with dead batteries just got in the way. In such cases, I found I could quickly hook up the corded saw or drill, or find the manual brace-and-bit I inherited from my Dad. The job would be done, maybe not quite as stylishly as with the power tool, but without the 24-hour wait time for a battery to charge — or a trip to the big box store to try to find a battery to replace the one that no longer holds a charge. Such trips usually resulted in me coming home with a new rechargeable tool because the people at the big box store are way too smart to carry replacement batteries for last year’s model.

After a few of those experiences, I swore off battery-operated tools. They just don’t seem worth the extra expense and trouble.

I made an exception about three years ago and bought a rechargeable electric lawn mower. I really liked it, partly because it needed two charges to mow my suburban lawn, meaning I couldn’t do it all in one day. Even my next door neighbor, when he noticed that I never mowed more than an hour per day, was so impressed that he went out and bought an electric for himself. We were both quite happy for a couple of years.

“Did you finish mowing the lawn?” my wife would ask.

“No, I’m waiting for the battery to recharge,” I would call from my recliner chair. “I’ll finish in the morning.”

Not much she could do about that. I had physics on my side.

Then the batteries stopped holding a charge. We went back to the big box store, but you know about how smart those guys are about last year’s batteries. My neighbor converted his mower into an under-the-house dust catcher. I persevered and finally found a replacement at the local Battery Store (who’d ever think to look there?). It cost less than a $100, so I felt redeemed.

But it now takes me three charges to mow my lawn.

I wonder if I could find that old manual reel mower Dad used to have?


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