Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 15 years, you’ve probably seen, or at least heard of, Adam Savage. He’s the lovable, zany guy from MythBusters and MythBusters Jr., the main face of Tested.com, and owner of Savage Industries, where he designs his own utility carry-all bags.
His work includes creating special effects for major movies and commercials, completing a countless number of scientific experiments and engineering projects, and building some of the most difficult and exquisitely fabricated props and replicas both for film and personal enrichment. As if that isn’t enough, he’s adding a new title to his curriculum vitae — Adam Savage, writer and author.
His new book, Every Tool’s a Hammer: Life is What Your Make It, is about … well, it’s kind of hard to nail it down (bad pun intended). While it’s somewhat a chronicle of his career as a creator and his love for making things, it’s more a clever exploration of the mental and physical sides of making, from a place of humor, kindness and passion.
Hammer is full of personal anecdotes, tips, and tricks for both in- and outside the workshop, which Savage hopes will help propel the reader toward becoming the best maker they can be. For every story he shares, he shares information about the materials, tools, and techniques that helped get him through it.
When making gets mental
Much of Every Tool’s a Hammer deals with the mental side of making. As an extremely passionate maker himself, Savage truly understands the emotional expenses of creating. Many passages read like an inspiring, supportive letter of encouragement from your best friend.
One of the most impressive things about the book is how Savage writes openly about his feelings of vulnerability. There are some points that are so deeply moving that I found myself teary-eyed from both ancient aches and inspiration.
There are lessons he learned about the importance of sharing knowledge, giving credit, and knowing when to ask for help. It dives a bit into the importance of having deadlines and working to overcome our most frustrating traits, too.
He shares his methods for turning blunders into life lessons as he fondly, often amusingly, recalls some of the projects he botched in big ways (a wooden toy, a bicycle, a college set design, etc.). The underlying reasons vary, but there’s always a lesson for the reader to take away and tuck into their toolbelt.
Just as he offers up his mistakes, he doesn’t shy away from expressing the joy and elation he finds in the things that go right. For these stories, he provides information on the techniques, experiences, and tips from other makers that have helped him along the way.
Enter the physical realm
Experience, both in a wide variety of skills and the knowledge gained from previous builds, is the key to success. Savage spends a lot of time writing about organization and communication techniques, suggesting that these skills are some of the most powerful tools you can have in your arsenal.
For both, you’ll need paper and pencil. He walks through the value of writing lists for organizing plans, thoughts, and completing projects. To communicate with others, he says drawing what you envision can keep everyone on the same page.
Splashed throughout Every Tool’s a Hammer, you’ll find examples of Savage’s own hand-drawn paper plans and lists, alongside concise and reasonable instructions on how and why he does things in particular ways. It’s not only informative, but helpful to have these visual aids.
Speaking of visual aids, you can learn about knolling, which is a means of visual organization where like pieces are sorted together and arranged on your work surface in parallel, or at 90 degree angles. It makes your work surface easier to see.
As a former found object artist who had piles of junk lying around his personal space, you couldn’t tell it now. Savage has become an advocate for a tidy shop and organizing it in a way that makes sense for your needs, while appealing to you visually.
He’s not a fan of packing everything away into cabinets and junk drawers for aesthetics, though; all of his most-used tools are out and organized, generally within arm’s reach. It’s this system that allows him to make things move fluidly during fast-paced work.
There’s a lot of information on materials included, too. Cardboard has an entire chapter dedicated to it. According to Savage, screws are better than a quick and dirty glue job, but glue can work on a lot of things and is pretty much always a better option than tape.
The last chapter in the book is about sweeping up at the end of the day and the effect it can have not only on your future productivity, but on your mind. Coming back to a clean shop is a kindness to future you, and increases the joy found in your workspace.
Is it good?
Yes, Every Tool’s a Hammer is fantastic, but I can’t say it’s for everyone. Obviously, not everyone is passionate about making. But if you paint, weld, compose music, craft, cosplay, or simply just make anything, then there is something for you inside the cover.
There are points that may not be of as much concern to some types of makers that are obvious or necessary to others. After all, Savage is speaking to a wide variety of people who work in hundreds of different crafts
Despite some minor curse words, Hammer would be fantastic for young adult and teen makers. Being a maker can make you an outcast, especially with school-aged kids, and I believe this could be extremely beneficial to young minds.
I even pulled some highlights from it to share with my 10-year-old, Orion, who says it makes him feel optimistic about his own making and “less like a weirdo knowing that someone like Adam that is super successful, smart, and funny, could also relate with how it feels to be in my shoes- as that kid.” Honestly, if nothing else, it opens a dialogue that we should be having with our kids, and maybe, more painfully, ourselves.
Savage makes you feel included and valued for your creativity, regardless of your trade, craft, or skill level. It’s for all makers, everywhere, even those who dream about creating but are too afraid or don’t know how to start.
Ultimately, it’s like standing at the welcome mat of the making world and getting invited in with a big warm hug. Every Tool’s a Hammer: Life is What You Make It encourages you to create, to share, and to grow, and that is an absolutely beautiful gift.