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Father and Son Tool Aprons

The father’s perspective
by Emanuel Silva

Being able to perform everyday tasks on my jobsites requires a well-balanced tool apron with all the appropriate tools needed. That’s the reason why my CLC (Custom Leather Crafts) tool apron is the most important tool I own.

(Note: Click images to enlarge.)

The apron’s wide and deep, smooth pockets house all my other important tools—tools I never go to work without. My tool apron is fitted with lightweight tools that won’t weigh me down throughout the days. Each pocket has been customized to fit each tool neatly and securely. With my tool apron fitting comfortably and organized, I can tackle any project confidently.  

Most of my previous tool aprons were not big enough to hold the tools I needed and also keep them organized. A few of the aprons I had were cheaply made, lasting only a few months before noticing problems with their stitching.

It took me 13 years and 10-15 tool aprons to get to the one that I own now. I started searching for the perfect apron the moment I entered a nine-month carpentry program at North Bennett Street School in Boston back in 1992. Since then, I’ve tried all types of tool aprons from leather to nylon. I also tried tool belts with side pockets that hung down as low as my knees, which made it difficult to work with and also walk. But with this tool apron fitting comfortably around my waist every day, I am able to work productively and confidently.

Why I prefer a tool apron over a tool belt

For the projects I work on, I’d rather wear a tool apron than a tool belt. Tool aprons are much smaller and generally lighter than tool belts. They help me move around tight jobsites easier and safer. Tool belts can be very bulky with many pockets hanging off the sides and tools sticking out of them. This will cause damage when working in tight, small jobs such as kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, etc. Climbing up and down ladders can also be a challenge with the possibility of tools falling out.

I first started wearing my tool apron on my front side, but I wasn’t too comfortable with it. The main reason was because I had too many tools in the pockets, which made it hard for me to move around. After removing the tools I didn’t need and organizing the pockets, the tool apron felt better but I still wasn’t happy with it.

About a year later, I started wearing it on my backside. It was nice to have nothing in front of me and reaching behind for tools was pretty easy once I got used to it. Some of the tools are easier than others to take out or put back. I usually carry different styles of bits for all the screws we use today. Finding a specific bit can be a challenge when you can’t see what you’re grabbing and that will cost you time. I wore it this way for awhile until I bought my CLC tool apron. That’s when I went back to wearing it on my front side.

Quality makes for longevity

My tool apron has been with me on jobsites for the past last 11 years. It may look worn out and tired, but it still houses all my tools perfectly. In fact, the tools actually fit better now than they did the first few months—the apron has relaxed over the years, which helps the tools sit snugly in their pockets.

This apron is made from top grain-oiled leather. It’s durable and long lasting for whatever job it sees. All the pockets are secured with several weather resistant rivets, making for a solid connection. The stitching throughout is very strong and neatly done, with all of the bottom corners of the pockets reinforced with extra leather. This helps prevent the pockets from wearing faster over time.

There are 11 pockets with smooth leather for easy access. These pockets are wide and deep, so I have no problem holding tools or fasteners and nothing hangs down too far to my knees. There is a center pocket that holds my tape measure, but could also hold fasteners or any other type of tool if needed.

The apron has two handles that make for easy adjustments for comfort, or they can be used as carrying handles. 

To fasten the belt, it comes with a 2-in. wide adjustable belt. This belt is made from leather with a double-tongue steel-roller buckle which keeps the belt secure and comfortable.

There are two leather hammer hoops on the sides of the apron, and above them are four slots for pencils along with a bigger slot to hold a utility knife or any other small tool.

What’s in my tool apron?

I have accumulated these tools over the years to make my jobs easier.

The first tool that always stays in its own separate pocket is my tape measure. For what I do, I only use a 25-ft. tape or sometimes a 16-ft. The biggest advantage is its lighter weight. Lots of the other tapes are too bulky and heavy.

The next couple of tools are my pencils. Having two pencils or more is always a necessity—if one point breaks you have a backup, but more importantly, if you drop one from a high elevation, you don’t have to climb down a ladder just to retrieve a pencil!

Having a speed square is a must. Not only does it help with layouts, it’s also a great tool for guiding your saw to make straight cuts.
We are always prying off boards or lifting objects into place, and a small pry bar makes easy work of that. This bar is small enough that it fits nicely in my apron. It also works great as a small cat’s paw and scraper.
Lots of times I find myself needing to cut something when my saw is not around or if I just don’t need it, my folding saw does the job. This pruning saw cuts everything from hardwood and pressure-treated to all kinds of PVC trim.
My utility knife is one of my most used tools. I use it for countless jobs like cutting wallboard, flashing tapes, housewraps, or scoring a joint to remove a board; I also use it to sharpen my pencils throughout day.
I use my bevel square to find an angle quickly. This tool is very easy to use, plus it removes all the lengthy math work required to find an angle.
Believe it or not, one of my least used tools is my small level. Other than plumbing up a baluster for a railing or checking a water pipe for pitch or level, which I rarely do, I don’t have much use for it.

I usually reach for my 16-in. level. This tool will probably be removed from the apron.

Another tool I use on occasion is my mini multi-screwdriver kit. It has four different size bits with two of each being a Phillips and a flat head. These small bits are great for small screws that fasten bath fixtures together. I always use them on my bathroom projects. This particular tool has a clip, so I just hang it off the interior of one of the pockets.

One tool I do reach for many times is my chisel. I use it to mortise hinges, cut in for door latches or just remove unwanted wood in certain areas. To keep my chisel sharp, I pass it over my Diamond bench stone a few times. This bench stone also works great for sharpening many other tools I own.

Having to use lots of different types and styles of screws on today’s projects requires multiple kinds of bits. I’ve dedicated my front right pocket for these bits only. These bits can also be used with my multi-screwdriver, which houses four of them, or they can be inserted into one of my cordless drivers.

Whenever I need to cut a nail off a board or cut some light-gauge wire, I use my wire cutters. They also help grab and pull out nails that are in hard-to-reach places such as wood siding. This tool is mostly used when I’m replacing siding around a window or door or any other kind of light demo.

A chalk line has many uses. I use mine to snap lines on sheet goods in order to cut out certain shapes. They also can act as a plumb bob to help set doors or check a wall for plumb. I often use one to set a footing as a guide to achieve a straight board.

When it comes to setting a nail, I set it with a nail set. I carry three different sizes (1/32, 2/32, and 3/32).

These nail sets don’t see much action these days, because we use nail guns that do a great job at setting the nails. Mostly I use the larger 3/32 to help set common nails when I’m framing and the 2/32 when I do finish work.

I actually don’t use the 1/32 much and I ended up removing it from my apron a few years back.

One tool I use for many tasks is my hammer. I had a 20-oz. EST Wing finish hammer for 15 years. I really enjoyed it, but as I got older I found it to be heavier and harder to grip.

I purchased a 10-oz. Stiletto finish hammer with a wooden handle about ten years ago and it’s worth every dollar I paid ($110). With this hammer and its titanium head, I can drive nails with ease. It’s very light in weight, which puts less force on my wrist; this 10-oz. hammer is the equivalent to a 16-oz. hammer with 45% less weight. It’s so light that I actually don’t even feel it hanging off my tool apron.

 

The only complaint I have is that a wooden handle can be slippery when your hands get sweaty or cold. I’m not big into wearing gloves when I use my hammer. I could have put tape on it or used a special wrap, but I found a better way: I drilled several 3/8-in. holes with a spade bit around the lower part of the handle about 1/8 in. deep.

Then I drilled 3/16-in. holes in between the previous holes also about 1/8 in. deep. These holes will help absorb the sweat and also give my hand some traction.

The last thing I did was sand over the whole lower section of the hammer with 60-grit sand paper to roughen it up. I also added some black paint to the holes to give it some style.

The last tool I keep in my apron, and the oldest, are my safety glasses, which are 16 years old.

These glasses are made to fit over my prescription glasses. I use them whenever I cut or nail a board to help prevent eye injuries. The frames are in great shape but the lenses are getting pretty scratched up.

I have been searching for this exact style of safety glasses for quite some time and haven’t been successful. I own a pair of prescription safety glasses that I don’t like because they don’t fit right and they fog up a lot.

How I customized my tool apron

When I first got this apron, all my tools fit in their pockets with plenty of space to spare. This meant that some of the tools would shift around and sometimes end up in different spots in their pockets. I wanted to keep them from moving around so I decided to secure them in their spaces using zip ties.

I really only needed to secure four tools, so two for each upper side pocket would require four zip ties. I started by locating each tool to their exact place that would require a 1/4 x 8-in. zip tie. Using a black marker, I made a mark along each side of each tool and drilled a 1/8-in. hole through the backside of the pockets. Then, through the backside, I slipped the zip ties through and around the tools, and snugged them up.

In order for the tools to be accessible, I made sure not to over-tighten the zip ties. After checking each tool’s fit, I used my snips to cut the excess off of each tie. With the tools secured in their pockets, these tools are always where I need them. Also by having them sit closer to the corners of the pockets, I am able to slide my speed square in between two pockets on one side and my small mini driver on the other side when needed.

Having leather hammer hoops on both sides is great because you can choose which side to house your hammer. I found that using them keeps my hammer too low. I always wore a separate hammer hoop attached to my pants belt.

As I was adding zip ties to hold the tools in my pockets, I thought, “why not use it to secure my hammer hoop to my apron’s belt?” So I drilled the rivets off that hold the metal hoop to the leather strap, and then I placed the metal hoop on the belt at my desired location and traced out the two mount holes from the hoop. I used my 1/8-in. drill bit and fastened the hoop with two zip ties, so I was able to have my hammer secured solidly at a comfortable height.

I use the right side leather hammer hoop to carry my chalk line and the other I use to carry different tools like my hammer tacker or pry bars when needed.

Ever since I installed the zip ties about seven years ago, I have only had a few break on me. One was on my hammer hoop, which took five years to break, and the other was the one holding my small pry bar. Those are great odds, considering working inside and outside with all the seasonal changes we have here in the northeast.

This belt works great now, but sooner or later I’ll have to replace it. I guess I’ll have to break out my back up.

 

•••

The son’s perspective
by Carter Silva

I’ve been working with my dad on our home since I was one year old. The tools that I had were plastic play tools that I would use and scatter all around wherever I was helping. Having them all over the place meant I was always looking for a certain tool, and that usually ended with my dad tripping over them. He then told me that I needed to have my own tool apron to help keep my tools together, and to keep him injury-free.

I started with a small canvas work apron that he bought from our local home center. He put the tools that I would use most in my apron. With those tools I would go around and help him level off trim, nail off boards, screw knobs to doors, and measure anything he needed. As I got a little older, he would give me important tasks that would require some REAL TOOLS, which made me really excited to help.

First he gave me a small kids’ leather tool apron to carry the tools needed—a 6 ft. tape measure, a small level, a small combination square, safety glasses that I kept forgetting to wear (but wore them when he told me to), and my favorite, a small hammer with a wooden handle. He would show me how to use all those tools safely and, the more I used them, the better I got.

Now that I am 13, I’m able to wear a tool apron that most carpenters wear. And about two years ago, my dad gave me one of his old tool aprons that I now use when I help him fix our house. This tool apron fits me comfortably and does not weigh me down. I’ve tried wearing it on my front and backside, and I’ve found that I prefer to wear it on my back.

With these tools I’m able to perform any remodeling jobs I do with my dad. The tools I carry are pretty much the same tools my dad carries. Having the right tool in the right pocket helps me work through my jobs effectively and efficiently.

What’s in my tool apron?

For starters, I changed my small 16-oz. wooden hammer for a 20-oz. straight claw hammer. This hammer helps me sink nails easier and faster. It also helps me pull nails from boards and pry them apart. When I need to pry off some molding or open a can of paint, I reach for my small pry bar, which also works great for scraping off loose paint. It also has a small cat’s paw to help me remove old small nails. Another tool I use to pull or cut nails is my cutting pliers. This works great for cutting smaller nails, though I have a hard time squeezing the pliers to cut thicker nails—I usually tell my dad to cut those.

My speed square is one tool that I’m always using to make a straight or angled line. It’s also useful for figuring out angles (which I am still learning). In order for me to make lines and write down numbers, I carry two pencils so I always have a backup in case one breaks or gets misplaced. I use the pencil sharpener installed in my dad’s work truck to keep them sharpened throughout the day.

One of my favorite tools, which took me a while to be able to use, is my folding saw. This tool is AWESOME. My dad explained to me over and over how to use it properly, and he was very clear about how dangerous it can be. Since I’m not able to use a power saw yet, I pretty much cut everything with my folding saw. It is AWESOME, if I didn’t mention it.

Another tool that I really enjoy is my utility knife. I use it to cut house wrap, self- adhering flashings, and roof shingles, and I also use it to shave down cedar shingles when installing siding. Like my folding saw, my dad waited to give me my utility knife until I was older and more responsible, and I am always extra careful with it.

When I was younger, I used a small level to check windowsills and shelves, but over the years I discovered that he always used the right size levels when installing windows and doors (for better accuracy). This meant 2, 4, and 6-ft. levels. My small level sits in my tool apron and only gets used a few times just like my dad’s.

When I hammer nails into trim or siding, I sometimes leave the nails high so I don’t damage the board. I then use my nail sets to set them just below the surface. Sometimes when I’m helping my dad frame a wall and the head of the framing nail won’t sit flush, I use my larger nail set to set it flush.

We use several different kinds of screws with different style heads. They are a #2-Phillips bit, a #2-square bit, three star bits, ranging from #15, #20, and #25, and a 5/16-hex bit to install timber screws. These bits sit in one pocket for easy access. I also have a small mini multi-screwdriver kit that I hardly use. I just started leaving that in my toolbox for those rare moments when I might need it.

Having a chalk line has been very helpful. I use mine with my dad to help snap lines on sheet goods in order to make straight or angled cuts. We also use it to help plumb a wall or straighten a beam. This tool is easy and fun to use.

The last tool that I carry in my tool apron is my tape measure. I was always trying to measure everything with my plastic tape measure when I was younger, but when I turned six, my dad gave me a REAL 6-ft. tape measure. He taught me how to read it and use it to measure boards. After a few months, I was able to take a measurement and transfer it to a board without his help. I now have a 16-ft. tape and have been using it to measure everything from digging a footing to measuring clapboard.

Some readers will no doubt raise a cry of alarm when they see Carter helping me at the table saw. But I’ve trained Carter on proper tool use, from his first hammer to his first drill motor. Carter knows that the second man at the table saw is strictly there for out-feed support: the second man never grabs the workpiece, doesn’t attempt to guide it or steer it or hold it against the fence, and they never pull on it!

Of course, with all these tools now familiar and in my tool apron, I’m eagerly awaiting the next set of tools I’ll get to learn how to use: POWER TOOLS.                

Comments/Discussion

19 Responses to “Father and Son Tool Aprons”

  1. Dave

    Great article, made me rethink why/how the hammers are so low on my belt. Enjoy these times working together with your son!

    Reply
    • Emanuel

      Thanks Dave,

      Glad you enjoyed the article. Everyday working with Carter I feel lucky that he enjoys this craft as much as I do and his willing to learn.

      Emanuel

      Reply
  2. Mike

    Thanks!

    I really enjoy reading how others have found what works for them. In construction, we have the luxury to rig our bags to whatever makes us more efficient or comfortable or whatever.

    I never thought about carrying a folding saw before. I lean more toward the Samurai Carpenter and keep a pull saw close by.

    Here’s a picture of my bags. I admit I was poor/cheap back in the day. These bags came for free when I bought my first SCMS. http://para-cad.com/_Media/screenshot-2015-03-17-17210_med_hr.png

    I’m also guilty of carrying (2) of some of the more important things.

    Thanks again for the article.

    Reply
    • Emanuel

      Hi Mike,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Yes, it is great that we can customize our own tool bags. Thanks for sharing yours with us.

      Thanks again
      Emanuel

      Reply
  3. Gregory

    Nice article, especially your son’s perspective. The world needs more of the last picture. I do the same with my son with supervision, safety etc. As always, great information.

    Reply
    • Carter

      Thanks Gregory,
      Thanks for reading the article and also thanks for acknowledging the last photo.

      Thanks again,
      Carter

      Reply
  4. Leigh Barnes

    Emanuel,
    Reading your article brought back fond memories of my youth. Starting at the same age your son is now my Dad and I together spent the next seven summers building a family vacation home in Vermont. Looking back now at age 68 they are the most treasured memories I have of him. Enjoy the time you two spend “building” those memories together, I promise you they will last a lifetime.
    Leigh

    Reply
    • Emanuel

      Hi Leigh,
      I’m glad I helped bring back some fond memories of your dad.
      Great memories that last a life time.

      Thanks again
      Emanuel

      Reply
  5. Wayne Johnston

    yes a lot the tools I use are the same. but I try to use tools that are quality made. Especially Craftsman, and Stanley. Not too long ago
    I bought a torpedo level it is a Johnson level. The vials in it were made for easier visibility. The other levels were the same way. I try to use tools that the wear and tear is slight not heavy. Wayne Johnston.

    Reply
    • Emanuel

      Hi Wayne,
      Thanks for reading my article. Yes, having good quality tools makes us do a better quality job on our projects.

      Thanks again
      Emanuel

      Reply
  6. Rich

    I wipe my finger on my pouch too but I do it under (behind) the outer pouch. Keeps the mess out of sight!

    Reply
  7. Doug

    Great article. I went out and bought a belt not knowing an apron was better suited. I work at a cabinet shop and do installs and demo.
    Doug in CT

    Reply
    • Emanuel

      Hi Doug,
      Glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful. Hope that tool apron is working great for you.

      Thanks
      Emanuel

      Reply
  8. Sam

    Excellent article as usual. I’ve enjoyed your stuff over the years as well as seeing your truck parked in your customer’s driveway in the same neighborhood where I was working. It reminded me that you’re the real deal, not just writing about it.

    I’ve been taking my, now fourteen year old son, to work since he was still wearing a diaper. We’re about to head off to a repair job right now where his training will now be an asset. He has worked with me mixing concrete, installing cabinets, building decks, and doing siding and trim repairs. One day he worked 12 hours as a laborer for me and two other experienced carpenters. They loved his hustle. He made more money that day than he had ever seen at once. At the end of the day, as we ate a large supper at Chipotle, I asked him how he felt. He said, he was never more tired, but he was proud of himself and the project he helped us finish to meet our deadline. If more boys went to work with their dads, I and ask my contractor friends wouldn’t have such a hard time finding quality help. Keep it up!

    Reply
    • Emanuel

      Hi Sam,

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Finding quality help is the hardest part of my business. The good thing is that the trade schools are seeing more kids entering now then awhile back. Hopefully that will help fill the skills gap we are all seeing.

      Maybe if you had some time, you could do a small article with your son on one of your projects. Sounds like he is a great helper.
      Contact Gary Katz!!

      Thanks
      Emanuel

      Reply
  9. Sean McGurn

    Emanuel, I enjoy your articles. I’ve been a carpenter for many years here in Missouri.Around my area most guys wear large side nail bags with suspenders. I’ve had these in the past but prefer a front loading apron much like yours.I do remodel and rehab work and smaller tool belts are much more practical. Also, its great that your son is learning the trade.

    Reply
    • Emanuel

      Hi Sean,
      Thanks for reading my articles. I’m happy you enjoyed them.

      Thanks again
      Emanuel

      Reply
  10. Jason Hammer

    I am trim carpenter from Indiana and I my son is 12 years old and he worked with me on and off for the last 4 years. This past summer he worked with me all but 3 days he was out of school (his choice of course). I am teaching him the same way. How to use the tools correctly. He is got to the point where he can make some cuts for me on a miter saw. And can install baseboards and shoe molding almost all on his own. In joy the time you and your son are together it will really mean something to him and you later. Plus it keeps them out of trouble. Lol we need more young people learning this trade and good work ethics at a young age.

    Reply

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