It's all about having the right tool for the job...
  • Brian Trotter

It's all about having the right tool for the job...

Whether it's a smartphone app, a keyboard shortcut, or a good old-fashioned mechanical device, having the right tool can make all the difference. And it can turn a simple weekend project into an appreciation of our collective innovate spirit.

Let me explain...

This extended coronavirus lockdown has been hard on many aspects of life. In our house, it's been especially hard on one thing in particular, our kitchen faucet. It was installed a few years ago, and given that it's wedged at the top of a cabinet, between a wall and two huge sink basins, I tightened it as best I could by hand and thought, "that should work".

And it did. For a while. But now that we're all home all the time, and washing our hands at that kitchen sink 87 times a day, it wriggles loose every few weeks. In a short conversation with the Home Depot rep, I learned that I need a "basin wrench". A long telescoping device with spring-activated jaws that clamp down on that faucet locknut and allow you to tighten the nut.

People have been tightening faucets for a long time, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but the basin wrench hasn't really changed much since it was invented by Louis Sharpe back in 1938. His original patent #2,166,449 ("Basin Wrench") was for a wrench, "the principal object being the provision of an adjustable offset wrench for work in confined places." Yep, that's what I need. And for those of you that appreciate a good and beautiful drawing, take a look at this. Basically a single-picture instruction manual for the entire device.

And it gets more interesting. All the way back in 1876, one George Buzzell patented an "Improvement in Wrenches" (US Patent #183,901). It's a bit more manual, requiring the user to set the width of the clamp with a little lock-key, but it's clearly meant for the same purpose: "the removal of nuts or screws in places that are not readily accessible to wrenches of ordinary construction."

As an aside, I wish the USPTO would still accept patent applications that use this 'Old West Wanted Poster' font...

But seriously, think about this. 1876. That's 144 years ago. Ulysses S. Grant was still President of the United States. Alexander Graham Bell patented the original telephone that same year. And Mr. Buzzell's wrench can still fix my faucet in 2020.

In our fast-paced world, the cool innovation of today can seem old and tired only a few years later. So it's comforting to know that a well-designed tool from almost 150 years ago can still get the job done.