The perfect tool

A vise grip

A few days ago a series of coincidences starting with an email about recent work brought me to MB’s drawing about her dad. I was reminded of feelings for my father, a naval engineer for half of his career. He enrolled at the naval academy at the inconceivable age of fourteen (the youngest cadet ever, if family myth is true) and spent the next twenty-five years in and out of the bowels of ships: from wooden torpedo boats to hand-me-down US Navy destroyers, all the way to enormous crude tankers in Japanese shipyards. As much as he could, he exposed me to this world of wonderful machines, making me the only boy in my school who had seen where a propeller shaft exits the hull from the inside of the ship, or heard the deafening clanging of a tanker engine at full ahead (sound so thickly enveloping you that felt like water flowing around you in the sea).

The engineering background brought a garage full of too many tools (no, wrong: you can never have too many tools) and a facility with making and fixing things. I inherited the enthusiasm and some of the skills. I can now appreciate that a confidence to tackle anything I can figure out by looking at how it works and thinking it through, is one of the most valuable things I got from him. (Which also explains my failings with electronics: I can’t look at them work, nor take them apart and lay them on the table.)

In all the years of my tinkering, from toy models to motorcycles and a much-suffering Citroen 2CV, one tool has been my favourite. I’ve got no idea what it’s name is in English,[1. I now know: vise-grips] but in Greek it’s called μποζονοβγάλτης – bozonovgáltis – essentially a tool to loosen nuts. It has an adjustable grip, from a few hairs’ wide to easily six centimetres wide, and once locked onto an object it will grip as strongly as if you had run a bolt through the thing. Its force of grip is such that you can loosen a locknut by gripping two opposing sides with less wear on the nut than a spanner will inflict.

Yet the reach of the handle will always be at the optimum for your hand, and a simple push on the small lever will release the tool. You can use the rear side to bash things loose – or even drive a nail in – and the lever action makes the cutter slice through the thickest cable or rod with little effort.

When we bought our house, it was the first tool I bought. Now, in my oldest son’s hands, I hope it will feed his and his brother’s desire to take things apart and put them back together again.