Even a single nail has its own unique place in the universe.


As a carpenter, I appreciate the value of the lowly nail. It’s amazing that a straight piece of simple wire can firmly grip together 2 pieces of wood and hold them tightly for decades. The Egyptians used nails over 5,000 years ago and the design has never changed. Jesus was attached to the Cross by less than a handful of them and the world was forever changed. 


HOUSES HELD together by nails can last for centuries. I often wonder what has gone on within the walls of homes I built many years ago. I sometimes think about the families that may have lived in them and if they took care of my work. And I wonder if the houses will still be standing after I am gone. It would be nice to leave something worthwhile. I know the nails I drove into those walls then are as tight now as when I was putting all that concentration into sinking them deep into wood with only two strikes of a 20-ounce hammer. One tap to start the nail and a slam to send it home.


MODERN CARPENTERS will never know the satisfaction of hand-pounding a fistful of cold, hard 16 penny nails pulled from a worn-out leather pouch or hear that pleasing ring of steel hitting against steel and that final smack of a hammer against  wood. Today’s carpenter loads his pneumatic gun with rows of nails attached together like a rack of .50 caliber machine gun bullets and can shoot 20 nails in the time it takes me to drive only one.


EVEN THOUGH today’s carpenters will never know the pain of  missing a nail and pounding a thumb, nail guns can be as dangerous as real guns that fire real bullets. In terms of muzzle energy, a nail gun is roughly equal to a 9 mm pistol. The wife of a fellow carpenter once baked me a chocolate cake because I yanked a long nail out of the palm of her husband’s hand after he had accidentally shot himself. He was grateful that I did it without thinking. I saw it, immediately pulled it out and threw it as far away as I could into the woods. I have many other gruesome construction accident stories like this one, but this probably isn’t the best place to relate them. I could fill a book.  


WHEN I first became a carpenter, my tools were those that had remained unchanged for centuries. The hammer dates back 3 million years. Planes, saws, squares, and chisels have been around since man first started constructing projects with wood. 


I USED to pop in a nail with a couple of licks, spin my hammer like a pistol in the air and drop it in my tool holster like Barney Fife. Then seemingly overnight, technology turned all my natural talents into useless skills that didn’t impress anyone. Need to level a door? There’s an app for that. You don’t even need a measuring tape. Simply aim that dot at two different points and you immediately have the exact measurement accurate to the sixteenth of an inch. Right on your phone. You can do it from your chair.  And it truly is accurate. I doubled checked results with my old school 25’ Steel Stanley Tape Measure. 


MY BROTHER and I used to have this trick that would thoroughly impress any construction boss. The gag was that when we needed something that had a 1/8” measurement, we could call it a 1/32” measurement. And 1/16” would become 1/64”. Therefore, if my brother said he needed me to cut a piece of trim at 49 and 3/64ths of an inch what he really meant was a piece 49 3/16”. A piece 23 and 5/32” was actually 23 5/8”. It was a dumb trick, but our bosses thought we were the most precise carpenters on the planet. We couldn’t get away with that trick now. He could easily learn that we were cheating on his phone.

Another jobsite trick I did for a time was I would make myself look more intelligent than I really am by completely filling out a crossword puzzle with any word that would fit in the squares. I didn’t even look at the clues. Any word would do. I’d then walk around the job site during lunch with the newspaper neatly folded under my arm with the “finished” puzzle exposed to the crew and a sharpened pencil behind my ear.  The laborers used to call me “El Professor”. Nowadays, people aren’t impressed with anyone who does crossword puzzles. They know it’s too easy to look up answers on Google. 


MY POINT to all of this is that your youth is finished on the day you realize you won’t live forever. Becoming a dinosaur doesn’t help much either.

 Steve Reece is a contributing writer for the Reporter and a known crime fighter. Email him at stevereece@gmail.com.