I know this may sound strange but do you ever think about your relationship with your tools? I know the word "relationship" is a little scary; but this one doesn't require any commitment and you certainly don't have to talk about your feelings. It's the best of both worlds.

I've had a series of long-term and very meaningful relationships with my tape measures over the years. Time takes its toll and I've had to replace a lot of them after their cases cracked and the numbers rubbed off. But somewhere between brand new and busted there's a sweet moment for each one where I'd have been lost without them. You might say they've brought new dimensions into my life. Not that this hasn't caused problems among some of my other tools who feel like they just don't measure up. My circ saw was particularly bitter about it, spitting out, "That punk tool it can't make the cut." But you'd expect that from a tool as guarded as a circular saw.

When I was a young carpenter, I was so proud of what I did for a living that I'd wear my tape measure on my belt everywhere. "Hey Grandma, want to know how long your dining room table is?" "No thanks, dear." "OK then can I measure the turkey?" And of course as I matured I carried longer and wider tapes as a sign of strength and success.

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TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Credit: Editor Rick Schwolsky

But what is building if not a game of inches? And what is a tape measure if not the guide to all that follows. It can mark the beginning of a project and a career. It also can be a great source of amusement, like when a new carpenter finally gets the end hooked on and calls out the numbers: "That's 15 feet, uh, 5 inches, and 3 of the little ones." Now that's enough comedy to occupy a five-man crew all day.

My tape measure and I went everywhere together; at every stage of construction, there it was. And no matter how bad the news might be it never lied, and it always offered solutions.

I have lots of memories. There's the game we always played together, where I'd guess the length of a board, the dimension of a room, the width of a new driveway, and my tape would tell me the answers. It was always right. I remember the quiet moments together at the trim rack in the lumberyard, piecing together the layers of molding for a fireplace mantel or figuring out the reveals on a three-piece crown fascia. Or the time I needed to copy a great corner detail from a house in town. The two of us sneaked up to the house at 6 a.m. one morning, grabbed the critical dimensions, and high-tailed it through the bushes. I was sure I could hear it snickering as we ran back to the truck.

A tape measure is a simple tool, but the relationship between tool and user couldn't be more complex. It's a system and means of communication in itself, and forms common ground between us. Picture two men silhouetted against the sky both pointing tapes toward their work as they talk. In the end, no matter how talented and famous an architect is or how detailed CAD drawings can get, it all comes down to a hand sliding into a tool pouch for a tape measure. It's like reaching for the truth every time.