I hope you find this article a little thought-provoking, and educational (to those less experienced), and will resonate with those who have reached and passed the pinnacle of their professional careers.
I have written some other articles on my time about my time as a full-time tradesman and how my training was different from most. This came through a lifetime of self-employment, with a high degree of work being done at a fixed price. Through this, there was always an emphasis on productivity as well as the standards of workmanship we produced. Doing things right the first time, every time, eliminated time-consuming snags, to ensure each job was signed off as quickly as possible. This always had beneficial factors such as higher pay rates for work completed and starting the next new project, as these jobs were always lined up one after the other. I have experienced this myself by building a good reputation, earned over time.
The refinement of techniques and your ability to calculate quickly the order of works are hidden skills that take time to hone, usually through experience, and by purposely making information stick, I always remember the repeated methods used when as a child when learning my time’s tables, off by heart. They say “the 10,000hr rule applies to becoming an expert” but I’d add something to this statement “when taken seriously.”
A component not taught however and something learned in later life is one’s ability to deal with stress. As I became more proficient at my trade it wasn’t this aspect so much but the outside forces of “poor design’ by others or irrational methods usually composed by people who had very limited practical experience, where it looked great on paper! Maybe dealing with stress came with age but I have come to the conclusion it’s being left to my own devices that eventually solved that problem.
Productivity comes through a clear mind focused on the job at hand, whereby a clear plan is being followed and order exists. Taking the time to set out materials and formulate an efficient method is worth the initial delay in starting any job.
An important aspect of our ability to undertake the work we do came from being well-equipped with the tools needed to tackle a wide variety of tasks. I always carried duplicate tools (just in case) which were always well-serviced, everything had its place and these tools were well organised. The tools were counted out of the van and counted back in every day, without exception! I still own my old tool kit today, stored separately from the many tools we have here at Tooltique, as these will always be part of me.
The fact that only quality tools had a place in my kit was simply down to their ability to keep working and being very reliable, especially with some regular maintenance they always served me well. Those inclement days never went to waste!
The team I trained, went on to work for other firms, they are taking life a little easier by all accounts, but they all have jobs for life or at least until they want to move on as I did. There is no substitute for experience in life; each achievement only adds to our confidence in our own abilities.
I’ve always viewed my life and the skills I have, as work in progress, I’ve always thrived on challenges and do have an insatiable thirst for new ones.
Tools and skills come in many forms but ultimately, the better we are equipped and the better they are set up, maintained, and organised, the easier it is to tackle and complete tasks more effectively.
I’ve never compromised on tools or equipment, especially when they have a direct impact on work standards and productivity. Yes, you can get by with inferior tools, but it just isn’t the same as having the right sound-quality tool for the specific job.
We all set standards within ourselves and this has a bearing on the prices agreed for projects, while efficiency and effort enable us to complete things more effectively within that agreed price.
My point of this article is this, there are many levels of standards in workmanship out there and craftsmen of different capabilities. Those who stand out tend to have the ability to think ahead and plan properly when undertaking any project, this is vitally important in how any project progresses.
Those in their quest to be amongst the best should understand their tools cannot be any lesser in their quality or capabilities. They should also understand that time and experience plays a significant factor in whether that career is a lucrative one.
When starting out learning the how is the first stage, then comes the standards we set ourselves, and last to refine is efficiency. Sadly, all too often there are those who try to achieve the latter at the expense of learning how best something should be done and/or a reduction in standards. True efficiency only comes when mastering the first two stages with a degree of confidence.
Challenging those skills is also part of the curve and adding more complementary skills to improve capabilities always helps but this is part of the education process one is willing to learn. Our capabilities are the key to opening doors others can’t and therefore moving into more lucrative projects.
Where does pride come into it? Well when you become a true expert in your field you are your best critic, I always ask the same questions “would I be happy with it” & would I be happy to pay that price for it?
I have many reasons for leaving my industry but one of those reasons was the frustrating aspect of putting other people’s work right. Daywork wasn’t my thing as I could produce more before lunchtime than most would in a day, I have never been someone who likes the slow lane.
How does that equate to what I do here at Tooltique? Well, again it suits me as it is production based, it’s challenging whereby some tools just need the time their values don’t often warrant.
First and foremost was learning the differences between makers, dates, how they should work, part compatibility, values, etc. Many tool dealers and sellers of old tools don’t fully understand this area.
The refinement came next as time and methods were developed, building the workshop areas with a supply of replacement components, building up a wide range of quality tools, etc to tackle every possible scenario these old tools throw at us. Mastering old skills like saw sharpening by hand, efficient sharpening techniques, flattening surfaces, understanding threads, woods, and unique qualities, and recognising issues many wouldn’t think about when buying old tools.
We have learned enough here now that we produced the first high-quality saw vices we use for our saw sharpening courses. We are setting standards where an old woodworking plane’s flatness rivals the Lie Neilson range, fully fettled and ready for use. Pitting removal on edge tools whilst retaining temper so that all sharpened edges are to that flat surface, the list goes on.
So as you can see there is no shortcut to productivity without first achieving standards in anything we do, productivity in our case is the final step. However, I’m starting to wonder how this will be achieved with old tool restoration but a reputation for doing things right is the most important factor, it’s a matter of pride!
It’s now been 9 years since we re-launched the Tooltique Brand and every year we have improved the standards of our end product and capabilities. So as you can appreciate it’s not an overnight thing and there have been many, many 7-day weeks and evening research sessions along the road.
Hard work and knowledge are the foundation of success, embrace it, and one day the rewards will come, spiritually and financially. The best things in life aren’t easily obtainable and real expertise is something truly wonderful to behold. Most of all, regardless of how hard it may seem at times, never give up and try to enjoy the ride.