Hand Tools

Every other Thursday we give oral presentations on construction tools–saws, levels, hammers, utility knives, ladders, to name a few recent topics.

The first time our deaf classmate stepped up to present, I was curious how it would work. Maybe he’d deliver a PowerPoint? Instead, he stood at the front of the room and signed, while his interpreter translated his silent gestures into spoken English.

After introducing himself, he said, through the voice of his aid, something along the lines of “Please stop pointing across the room and expecting me to know what you want.”

It was as if he had been waiting for weeks to make the request, and it’s no wonder, given how many of us flail ambiguously in his direction, as if frantic waving of hands were the universal gesture for, “Is there a spare DeWalt battery in the charger?” or “Do you have the chamfer router bit?” I was embarrassed.

Then he gave us a primer on hand signs for common gadgets in the shop.

For example, he showed us how to sign “chalk line,” by snapping an invisible string to make a perfect edge. And how to sign “measure,” by bumping the tips of two thumbs together. There were signs for wood, saw, screwdriver, and thank you. I can only imagine how difficult it is to navigate the shop in silence; I rely on sound to keep me safe among so many buzzing blades and slamming hammers.

We met his excellent presentation with applause—and some concern that it might be insensitive to rely on audible adulation.

Then someone said, “I thought we were supposed to talk about construction tools?”

The interpreter delivered an eloquent response:

“His hands ARE his tools.”

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