From Make: Tips My Dad Says

Gareth Branwyn says: "Earlier in the week, we asked our staff, some of our MAKE contributors, and you, dear reader, to share some maker tips and words of wisdom from your dads and granddads. We got a lot of great contributions, stellar words of dad-ish wisdom, filled with practical ingenuity, good humor, and garage philosophy as only dad can brew it up. Probably our favorites were from Photo Editor Sam Murphy’s dad: 'If you ever have to shoot someone, make sure you empty the gun. That makes it look like you were scared' (Okay… thanks, dad. Good to know), and from staff writer, Brookelynn Morris’ pops: 'If you get in trouble when you are diving for abalone, drop your weight belt. It will be right where you left it at the bottom of the ocean when you go back to find it.'"
My father (a lawyer) told me that company culture is driven from the top — if it’s the people who make the product, you’re good; sell the product, you’re OK. If the accountants take over, look for another job, and if the lawyers take over, run as fast as you can the other way. –Alden Hart

Hot glass looks the same as cold glass. -rrot

Never tap a gauge harder than you would tap the bridge of your nose. -David Seitz

Tips My Dad Says (Happy Father’s Day to All of the MAKE Pops)


  1. Good stuff! I’ll get my kids to read these – they could use a lot more fatherly advice than they get. (Yeah, right.)

    Lotsa nice comments about good tools in there. My Dad wasn’t so much into good tools, but I figured that one out myself. They do make life easier, as I have the experience on both sides to know.

  2. My favorite fatherly advice came not from my father, but from Steve Martin’s “The Jerk:”
    1) The Lord loves a working man.
    2) Don’t trust whitey.
    3) See a doctor and get rid of it.

  3. One from my dad, “The best way to avoid running out of gas is to keep the top half of the tank full.”

  4. My dad was always big into boats (zodiacs, aluminum river boats,canoes, etc.), and though he never said it, my brother did: “Never buy a boat you can’t pick up and put in the back of your truck.”

    1. In a similar vien…

      I turned out the be the mechanic in the family. My dad was never very handy, despite the fact that we’ve both owned motorcycles.
      One thing I learned from his mistakes is never to buy a motorcycle that you can’t prop up by yourself.

  5. My mother always would be very self effacing about her cooking– and complain “Oh, I overcooked this, oh, this meat is too tough…” to which my father would ALWAYS reply: “It’s a hellofa lot tougher when there ain’t none.”

  6. In reference to not burning bridges, especially when it comes to ex-employers and ex-clients:

    “Don’t spit in water you may need to drink one day”

    After a screwup or other self-caused negative event:

    “Chalk this one up to experience”

    I miss him…

  7. My father was a screenwriter.His agent told me, “Ken has never missed a deadline in his entire life.” He once delivered a two-parter of Battlestar Galactica (the old series) by driving it into the studio with walking pneumonia.

    I asked him how he did it, and he just shrugged. “You sit down and do the work.”

    I cannot say I have always lived up to his example, but it is a powerful cure for self-pity when I am feeling overwhelmed.

  8. 1: It all goes to the same place (while mixing all the different food on his plate into a uniform mush).

    2: DON’T force it. If you can add more lithium grease…

    4: Never start a fight. But, if someone starts one with you, always know how to finish it (while teaching me knives and hand-to-hand).

    3: The dog farted. It wasn’t me.

  9. I’d just like to point out that there’s an implicit assumption that making things is the provenance of Dad in this post. Not to gainsay any of the wonderful things we’ve learned from our dads, but this is precisely the kind of cultural transmission that makes it less likely that my daughter, if or when she’s born, will feel comfortable in the shop. I don’t like that idea.

    1. Y’know, MAKE magazine, Father’s Day, kinda goes with the territory. Women are underrepresented in that sort of craft, but it’s really not the day to call them out.

      I have a friend–the wife of another friend–who regularly helped me with my car for awhile. She knew more about cars than nearly everyone else I know (except the one mechanic dude) combined.

      1. Y’know, MAKE magazine, Father’s Day, kinda goes with the territory. Women are underrepresented in that sort of craft, but it’s really not the day to call them out.

        Really? When is the correct day to point out this sort of thing? Tuesdays? I’ll call people out for this whenever I see it, so that it happens less and less.

        1. It’s a day to celebrate fathers. Take your soapbox elsewhere.

          My ex-wife complained that she was raised with dolls so I offered to teach her how to use a wrench and a variable speed drill. She was always too busy, every single time.

          It’s come a long way, and it’s still got a long way to go. It’s not just men that are to blame.

          Get off my Father’s day! Punk.

    2. Thanks for that, saurabh. It’s wonderful to honour Maker Dads, but doing so without having previously honoured Maker Moms just forges another neural connection in boingboing’s audience that Makering is mainly for the male parental unit.

      And I can both notice this, and honour the givers of maker wisdom; the thoughts aren’t mutually exclusive. I am amazing that way; I am human, and I contain multitudes.

  10. My dad, Vince Belillo, told me “don’t use a slip knot if you don’t want it to slip”. He didn’t just mean ropes. I miss you old man.

  11. “Don’t believe anything you hear and half of what you see, you’ll have a chance to make it in this world”

  12. After reading the advice about taping a gauge, how many of us tapped our nose? I know I did.

  13. My grandfathers didn’t speak much, but they taught me how to do almost everything I know how to do (including cooking and being there for family).

  14. My dad used to pass along sage advice AFTER I’d screwed up, even if he saw the disaster coming in advance. Here’s one I’ve passed along to my own kids AFTER their own idiotic behavior:

    If you’re gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough.

  15. My dad showed me so much that I can’t pick out any individual thing to mention. Everything I do is in some way influenced by his upbringing. But the piece of advice I always remember didn’t come from him, but from the Headmistress at our primary school. It’s an old chestnut, but there was something about the way she said it that’s made it stick all these years, and it’s very pertinant to makers of all sorts: “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

    I make things and repair things, and I still try to live up to her advice.

  16. Both of my parents are makers, and I feel as comfortable in the shop as I do in the sewing room. I’m not sure how this article contributes to daughters feeling uncomfortable in the shop, it just made me nostalgic for all the hours my dad spent teaching me how to use tools properly. I think it’s unfair to assume that the words of wisdom from these fathers were spoken only to sons.

    My personal favorite quote from my father is “If you have to eat three frogs, eat the big one first.”

    1. “I think it’s unfair to assume that the words of wisdom from these fathers were spoken only to sons.”

      Hear, hear! Of course, this is the kind of statement I’d hear from my mother (honest). One thing she’s always made sure of is that her sons never read too much of their own issues into things they saw or heard, and that they remained objective. I’m sure I’ve slipped up a few times.

      Of course, having four boys and no luck in the girls department, there were no daughters to whom to pass on the advice.

      The best advice I can remember my father giving is, “Now that you’re a man, you can make your own decisions. However, you’ve got to remember that means you also have to accept the consequences of those decisions.”

  17. My dad wasn’t much of a successful maker so the saying around our house was: measure twice, cut once … and apply a firm pressure to stop the bleeding until the paramedics arrive.

  18. “If you have to deliver bad news, do it immediately and in person.”

    “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

    “Take what you want, but eat what you take.”

    I’m gonna go help my dad with his garden now. That guy is awesome.

  19. Dad was a Highway Contractor/Engineer and I got to work with him for several years.

    1. Face Danger – (helpful while flagging on busy highways or trying to turn a truck around on a steep mountain road or just in general)
    2. Brake going into curves, speed up coming out of them. (this works for life in general also)

    and most importantly

    3. Surround yourself with those that lift you up.

    Miss you Dad!

  20. “measure twice, cut once…”
    Thanks Dad! He taught me to weld, solder, tinker and be a maker in general.
    He’s a Metalworker, Woodworker, Miracle worker and a retired Consultant surgeon
    (that especially hold true then!). I’ve never seen anyone else spend three weeks in
    the garage winding a home made solenoid for his vintage flying squirrel…
    Mind you, My mums a maker too, you sometimes have to with no other choice…
    I believe its a ‘head’ thing not a ‘sex’ thing.
    (lol, sorry anon, just saw your post!)

  21. “If at first you don’t succeed, make a bigger one”
    “If it isn’t broken, modify it”
    “If it *is* broken, open it up for a look, you can’t make it work any less…”

  22. “After ‘tight’, there’s ‘broken'”
    “Make always sure yourself that the fuse is out”
    “You can always cut it shorter, but never longer”

  23. The tip about lawyers taking over a company also applies to the salesmen. If they take over, they will kill that company in short order. Anyone who only makes money on commission can’t be trusted to care if his deals lose money.

    One of my father’s favorite aphorisms I later found out was actually from a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon. “Just because it says ‘pickles’ on the barrel don’t mean it’s got pickles. You can’t be certain till you get the lid off’n it.”

  24. My father is not a big one for sage advice. And while he’s taught me a lot the stereotypical dad advice mostly came from my grandfathers. My one grandpa (Joe) was so obsessed with his knives, keeping them sharp and treating them proper.When he passed all I could think to do was sharpen the knives. And to this day when some one dies I have to spend as much time as it takes sharpening every knife in the house.

    But beyond that little obsession of mine my other grandfather (Richard) gave me perhaps the best bit of advice anyone has ever gotten. I was maybe 14. Some depressing movie was on the TV and he looks at me and he says:

    “There’s so much shit in this world. Why would you want to waste your time on that?”

  25. “Life is a meaningless nightmare of suffering. So save string.”

    – Leonard Zelig’s father

  26. Next we need a collection of rules of thumb.

    To this batch I’ll add:
    Make it longer than needed. We have wire cutters but no wire stretchers.

    If you aren’t going to clamp a small workpiece to the drill press table before drilling and just hold it there with your hand instead, better check the stock in the First Aid cabinet.

  27. On basic fairness: “I’ll cut, you choose”, When sharing or dividing something, like food

  28. My grandfather:

    You can always find sympathy. It’s in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.

  29. The things my father taught me could fill the Internet. But he always said:

    Good, Better, Best
    Never let it rest
    Until all your Goods are Better,
    and all your Betters are Best.

  30. My Dad isn’t a pithy saying kind of guy, and his advice tends toward slowing down and carefully considering options before proceeding with anything.

    But he’s a brilliant craftsman and has restored a number of vintage cars to better than new from the most clapped out piles of rusted panels and engine parts you can imagine.

    When I was 16 he got me a car that was barely road worthy, and anything that went wrong with it we fixed, including the body work.

    Whenever I’m sanding and finishing any project I can feel him over my shoulder, gently urging me on to just a slightly smoother finish, and then slightly better again.

  31. ‘Stupid people aren’t being stupid only to annoy you. . .it’s just the way they are.’

    Thanks Dad.

  32. Always be polite and pleasant but firm to everyone, especially to angry and/or idiotic and/or druggie patients, if only because there’s simply no better alternative to approach those situations.

    He’s never outright said this to me, but his example’s always made it clear.

  33. “Get ’em while they’re young.” Which was about weeding, but the principle is, “take care of a problem before it gets out of hand.”

    “Look it up.” Dad encouraged us to find things out for ourselves. Not in a “I don’t have time for you” way, but a “finding things out is cool!” way. (He’s an enormous nerd.)

    “Try it anyway.” When we had doubts that such-and-such would work, he’d give us that one. Which I hated. But now use on other people. Because you might be surprised.

    Dad, you’re awesome and I love you.

    1. “Get ’em while they’re young.” Which was about weeding, but the principle is, “take care of a problem before it gets out of hand.”

      Totally read ‘weeding’ as ‘wedding’ and felt that advice was a bit inappropriate. Glad I re-read it!

      From Dad:

      If you fail something because you’re letting yourself get distracted it’s not the end of the world, but you will have to work hard and for longer to make up for it.

      From Mum:

      You’re never stuck in the job you’re doing. There is always the option to start something new, even when you’re old.

      Mum’s just finished a Nursing Diploma. She’s 62. She’s also got two degrees (Building and Microbiology) and a teaching Diploma.

  34. “Never force it.” Everything was designed to be opened, closed, tightened, etc. I still think of this every time I start to reach for a larger tool.

    And for life advice, “This too shall pass.”

  35. I posted this same thing in the make forum…

    My father was a long haul truck driver for most of his life. He picked up many sayings…may favorite is:

    “The cheapest thing you can pay is attention.”

  36. One of my favorites, possibly because it meant I was about to see him do of something dangerous:

    “You should never do this. But if you ever have to, here’s how to do it right…”

  37. When hanging out late in bars as a kid I would hear…”Watch out for the quiet ones” and “It’s not how much dog is in the fight, but how much fight is in the dog.” and “You can’t party with the night owls, and wake with the morning doves.” My dad’s talk was not cheap, as I learned what a waste of time hanging out late in bars can be. He knew I would figure it out for my self. A great man with patience would know this.

  38. In confused nodding agreement to Punky Brewster’s support of the Just Say No campaign my father gave me this advice to live by – “Absolutely, if someone tries to sell you drugs, they are not your friend, because real friends give them to you for free”

  39. From Gramp: “If you are ever in a fight, make sure you throw the 1st punch and that you only need one punch, if necessary by holding a stone in your fist.”

  40. “It’s easy to make a big expensive piece of metal into lotsa tiny worthless bits of metal. Harder to go the other way around.”

  41. Not my Dad, but from a nun in my high school…”Never think of yourself as a failure — you can always be used as a bad example.” Timeless, yes?

  42. Whenever I’m really worried about something work or money related my father, a highly decorated combat veteran says:

    “Is anyone shooting at you?”

    That’s perspective. While my problems might ‘seem’ big sometimes, there are problems that can be a lot bigger.

  43. My dad’s a lawyer. Best advice he’s given has been the 3 things to say to cops: I don’t want to talk to you; I want to talk to my lawyer now; come back with a warrant.

  44. Amen to maker dads being inspirational to offspring regardless of gender, my dad certainly was to me.

    He wasn’t much for quotable pithiness, but he taught me
    • that worrying isn’t usually good for much,
    • that if I don’t know how, I can always learn… ignorance is only a temporary obstacle,
    • don’t throw out things that may be useful later, and
    • the joy and satisfaction of a good project planned and completed.

    Miss you dad!

  45. “Credit cards are a substitute for the cash in your bank account that you don’t happen to have on your person.”

    “However many variables there are in an algebra problem, it will take that many equations to solve it.”

    “A dash of rum in the batter makes french toast 10 X tastier.”

    “If you ask me once, and I say no, that’s it. Ask me again, and not only will you not get what you want, but you’ll wind up with less that what you had to begin with.”

    During disagreements and difficult conversations, avoid any language at all that sounds accusatory. Instead of, “You do this and it pisses people off,” try , “People don’t like it when they see someone do this and here’s why.” Putting people on the defensive makes them less apt to listen.

  46. As a young man I asked my Dad how you pick a good woman. Having observed his relationship with my Mom all my life, I expected to get some high quality advice… and I did.

    After he stopped laughing and wiped the tears from his eyes, he said, not unkindly, “Son, they pick us“.

  47. untouched newspaper, other than the first page, is sterile, and can be used as a field dressing in a pinch.

    reverse your batteries when your portable device is off and you’re carrying it in a bag.

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