If you’re a guy reading this post, you likely knew what I was asking for.
I might be stretching the truth a bit, but if you’re a gal, you likely said, “Huh?”
Why is that?
First of all, let’s put everyone on the same page here. A crescent wrench actually refers to an adjustable wrench that was originally made in 1907 by the Crescent Tool Company of Jamestown, NY. Much like Kleenex is to tissues or Band-Aid is to bandages, the crescent wrench was popularized by the company that first manufactured it.
While that little tidbit of data will only earn you points in a trivia game, it’s kind of interesting information to have – especially if you’re a woman in construction.
I’ve worked in the construction industry for most of my adult life. And while I don’t actually have to drive nails or hang drywall, I have some first-hand knowledge of how to do the jobs.
I was lucky. I grew up working in my family’s summer resort business in Canada. At the time, I’m not so sure I felt lucky; but looking back, it helped shaped so many things in my life. I was the oldest of two girls, and Dad needed help. He always told me that I could do anything any boy could do, and I believed him. Of course, I’m guessing some of that was propaganda just so I’d work harder and not complain.
So, from a very young age, you’d find me following Dad around to each cottage, the boat house and the tool shed. At 8, I begged him to let me cut the grass. By the time I was 9, I already knew how to fix the mower when it was low on oil or the spark plug needed changing. I remember him pulling out tools one-by-one, telling me what they were called and how they were used. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I was learning the “tools of the trade” – every trade.
My family was pretty conservative back then. They wouldn’t pay for something they could do themselves, and that meant just about everything. I learned how to shingle a roof, build a dock, hang drywall (that stuff is heavy!), mix and pour concrete, build a laminate countertop, lay linoleum, fix the plumbing, wire a light fixture, fix a boat motor and paint everything in sight. It really wasn’t fair that I was the only one brave enough to sit on the boat house roof to paint the metal flashing!
It wasn’t as if I was a tomboy or that Dad thought any of these jobs could be categorized as man’s or woman’s work – it was just work that had to be done. I also learned how to clean cottages, to cook meals, take reservations and how to speak to customers – always with a smile on my face and light in my eyes.
The years passed, and I married a man that was just as good with his hands as Dad was. I carried on the tradition of helping with projects around our home – always happy to roll up my sleeves and pitch in. And like a nurse handing the surgeon his instruments, I was always at the ready with the right tool.
Fast forward to my construction jobs – first in commercial and then residential. My employers, and better yet, the contractors at the job sites were more than surprised that the blonde with the skirt and high heels actually knew a thing or two about the work that was being done. Very few knew my background, but knowing the right methods, terminology and tools gave me the credibility I might not have had otherwise. How good it was to be involved with finding solutions to problems, not just hearing about them afterward.
I’ve come to realize that construction, although still a male-dominated industry, is not unlike any other. If you want to fit in, and if you want to be part of the workforce that earns their living doing it, you have to learn the language. That means learning the names of the tools, understanding what they’re used for and maybe even trying your hand at some of the jobs yourself.
My dad and I still believe I can do whatever I set my mind to, and now my daughter believes it about herself too. Don’t let your gender determine where you choose to work. Take the time to learn the “lingo,” and you’ll fit in just fine.
Now hand me that crescent wrench.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I’d love to hear some of your ideas on this subject.