Every Tool's a Hammer: Life Is What You Make It

by Adam Savage


2022 Feb 22


2022 Mar 01


Through stories from forty-plus years of making and molding, building and break-ing, along with the lessons I learned along the way, this book is meant to be a toolbox of problem solving, complete with a shop’s worth of notes on the tools, techniques, and materials that I use most often. Things like: In Every Tool There Is a Hammer—don’t wait until everything is perfect to begin a project, and if you don’t have the exact right tool for a task, just use whatever’s handy; Increase Your Loose Tolerance—making is messy and filled with screwups, but that’s okay, as creativity is a path with twists and turns and not a straight line to be found; Use More Cooling Fluid—it prolongs the life of blades and bits, and it prevents tool failure, but beyond that it’s a reminder to slow down and reduce the fric-tion in your work and relationships; Screw Before You Glue—mechanical fasteners allow you to change and modify a project while glue is forever but sometimes you just need the right glue, so I dig into which ones will do the job with the least harm and best effects.

This toolbox also includes lessons from many other incredible makers and creators, including: Jamie Hyneman, Nick Offerman, Pixar director Andrew Stanton, Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, artist Tom Sachs, and chef Traci Des Jardins. And if everything goes well, we will hopefully save you a few mistakes (and maybe fingers) as well as help you turn your curiosities into creations.

I hope this book serves as ""creative rocket fuel"" (Ed Helms) to build, make, invent, explore, and—most of all—enjoy the thrills of being a creator.

Notes & Highlights

Chapter 6. Drawing:

I’ve only met one person more enthusiastically insistent about the power of drawing than I am—Gever Tulley. Gever is the author of 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) and the founder of the Brightworks School…

Chapter 7. Increase Your Loose Tolerance:

For Christmas that year he’d been given a Leatherman multitool (the EOD bomb squad Leatherman, if you must know). My current sidearm is a Leatherman Wave…

Chapter 9. Share:

We make a lot of stuff in my little shop in the Mission District. We also collaborate, commission, and trade skills, talents, and techniques with many other makers around the world. There’s a Buddhist sentiment, one of Buddha’s five reminders, paraphrased by Thich Nhat Hanh that speaks to the heart of what motivates me in our collaborations:

“My actions are my only true belongings: I cannot escape their consequences. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”

Chapter 11. Cardboard:

Making a cardboard model of your living space or your work space is super fun. It gives you a fantastic perspective of where you are, and it’s easy. I usually start by taking a paper bag, or a piece of butcher paper, and I draw out a rough floor plan of the space. I draw in arrows for the dimensions I’ll need, and I place a small box in the middle of that arrow. This makes it easy to see if I’ve missed any specific measurements.

Then I move through the house filling in each box until I have all the basic measurements (in inches) that also answer more functional questions about the space itself: How far is the door from the end of the wall? What is the spacing between the windows? All of that goes down. Now that I have the actual measurements, it’s time to convert to my scale. I move through box by box dividing by my scale number (usually 12). I add those new scaled values in red, to separate them from the visual cacophony the drawing has attained at this point.

What I’ll do then is draw out my measured plan of the house in proper scale on a piece of cardboard, leaving a border around the perimeter to give the model some breathing room and to give me some cushion to erect the walls, as most plans don’t account for the actual thickness of walls between rooms. Then I cut a whole bunch of cardboard strips that are the scaled heights of my walls, and start to assemble the model with hot glue.

A program called Pepakura can take 3-D drawings and “unfold” them until they’re printable as templates that fit on tiled sheets of standard copy paper.

Chapter 12. Hammers, Blades, and Scissors:

Whether you’re thinking of adding a set of screwdrivers or a reciprocating saw, buy the cheapest version you can find. Don’t just look at a discount hardware supplier like Harbor Freight, either. Look on Craigslist, go to garage sales, borrow from friends or your local maker space, beg your mom and dad to let you have what they’re not using.

Once you’ve got a new tool setup, it’s time to put it into action. For some people, the newness will produce enough enthusiasm that they will find reasons to use it. For others, it won’t automatically occur to them how to incorporate a new tool into the flow of the way they make things. If you’re one of those makers, the only way you’re going to get familiar with your new tools is to run them as a subroutine on top of your normal making patterns and problem-solving algorithms.

I’ve had dozens of these tools shared with me over the years. There was a Japanese pull saw; these beautiful C-Thru rulers and triangles that have a metal edge for cutting that I have been using for thirty years; and Forstner bits that blew my mind when I discovered that such a tool existed. After someone introduced me to step drills, I remember telling an engineer friend, “Dude, I have a drill that can drill a one-inch hole through one-thirty-second-inch acrylic and not shatter it.”

Mark Frauenfelder, editor in chief of Make: magazine: head-mounted magnifier and the Big Squeeze:

“This ten-dollar head-mounted magnifier that I got on Amazon is something I never expected I would use all the time. You wear it like a headband and it has this big lens that flips down over your eyes and it’s got layers of lenses on hinges so you can increase magnification.

Chapter 13. Sweep Up Every Day: Making at its most basic is a process of conception and construction. They are linked but not the same. We never conceive exactly what ends up getting built and we never build exactly what we conceive. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. Facing yourself means taking responsibility for that fact, and making peace with the reality that to build something real and substantive is to give up some measure of control over your preconceptions of what you imagined you were making in the first place.

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Every Tool's a Hammer: Life Is What You Make It by Adam Savage