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Color my world

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Once upon a time, tools – like cars – came in just one color, usually the metallic gray of their metal casings.

Today, of course, walking into the tool department of a home center is like that first scene in the “Wizard of Oz” after Dorothy’s house lands: A world of endless gray instantly bursts into a rainbow of color. In the past tools were gray or black, based on the metal they were made of. But once synthetics and plastics took over, a few colors crept in. I can’t remember who was first, but I’m guessing that Makita blue may have been one of the earliest. I also recall some kind of awful greenish/beige color that Black & Decker tried ages ago.

But once DeWalt decided to use an eye-popping yellow (which early detractors said reminded them of bananas), their success opened the floodgates of color. DeWalt yellow and that original Makita blue have been joined by Ryobi and Bosch blue; Hitachi and Festool green; Milwaukee, Craftsman and Skill red; Black & Decker, Ridgid and Fein orange. The same thing applies to hand tools and cutters with red Bessey clamps, orange CMT bits, yellow Stanley screwdrivers, and the list goes on and on.

We humans can be very Pavlovian when it comes to color. Last week, I bought a gallon of windshield washer fluid and my wife nearly had a fit because it wasn’t blue. “What is this stuff?” she demanded. “Will it still work in my car?” She was so used to blue washer fluid that when she saw the jug of orange liquid on the counter she actually had to read the label to find out what it was, and then still doubted it. The jug remains on the counter, as yet unopened.

I’m the same way in the shop. Although I have several drills, for years a DeWalt 14.4-volt was my favorite. In spite of the fact that I had others scattered throughout the shop, whenever I needed a drill I instinctively started looking for yellow, even though two blue ones may have been closer to hand. With the purchase of one of those new Lithium-Ion mini drills my color-coded search has changed to one of Ridgid orange whenever I want to drill a hole or drive screws.

In fact, when I look around my shop I’m amazed at how the colors remind me of Oz with their prevalence. But, hey, visually speaking a lot of woodshops could use a splash of color.

Besides, they make my plaid shirts in the winter and my Hawaiian shirts in the summer a little less garish by comparison.

Till next time,


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