I've always been interested in gadgets, so much so that I've spent lots of money over the years buying them, or having them bought for me, or assuming control over them when the person for whom the item was purchased has no intention of using it.
My workshop has many of these items. The biscuit joiner is one of them.
If you don't have a clue to the identity of the biscuit joiner, then I'm hoping that you know what a dowel is. A dowel is basically a sturdy little bit of wood that joins two other pieces of wood.
For example, the top of a wooden table is often made of several pieces of wood. The pieces are joined by dowels. To accomplish this, you drill a hole of a certain size in one piece of wood and then drill a matching hole in a second piece of wood. You put a dab of woodworker's glue in each hole, slide the dowel into one of the holes and then take the second piece of wood and slide the hole over the dowel.
Doing so creates a sturdy joint that, if you've done everything correctly, you cannot see.
The biscuit joiner was supposed to have been an improvement on the dowel, so that's why I bought one. The biscuit is, well, a biscuit, slightly thinner than a Ritz cracker but resembling it somewhat. The machine cuts a slice in the wood large and deep enough to accommodate half of the biscuit. It cuts a matching slice in the piece of wood you will be joining to it.
It cost me about $150 eight years ago. I've never used it. It sits in its nice metal box with an easy-to-transport handle, collecting dust on a shelf in my workshop. You see, right after I bought the biscuit joiner, I found a $20 tool that allows me to make perfect dowel holes. I didn't really need the biscuit joiner after all.
The one gadget -- if you can call it a gadget -- I make most use of is the Internet. I use it constantly. It has become an important part of my daily life, just as the Real Estate-Realtor Times website obviously is an integral part of yours, since, from your letters, I know you are linking to it quite regularly.
The real estate industry initially greeted the Internet with fear. Back in 1995, I attended a meeting at which John Tuccillo, the former chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, discussed the potential that the Internet had for the industry.
Many real estate agents believed that giving the public unlimited access to the same information they had "owned" for so many years meant the end of their careers. Others responded to the advent of this new technological age by buying every gadget in sight, and then spending more time mastering these gizmos than selling real estate.
The main point Tuccillo made in his speech was that having access to information was simply not enough. The public needed professionals to help it sift through all that data that was now available to them. A decade later, we still have plenty of real estate agents -- more than one million, according to the NAR, the majority armed with sifters.
The industry has been transformed, and for the better, in most cases.
The construction industry, too, is being transformed by the Internet.
The other day I was doing a radio interview with Art McKeown, the host of the "Art the Builder" show on WWDB in Philadelphia. Art, who is a veteran builder, wanted to talk about the do-it-yourself portions of my book, including the chapter on Internet resources for consumers planning to remodel their houses.
"A lot of times," Art said, "the customer knows more than I do about products that are available." So that means that he has to do his research, too, before the job gets under way.
Sometimes contractors don't want to be dictated to by the consumer. A customer will talk about something that he or she has seen on-line, and the contractor will dismiss it out of hand.
In the old days, it was much easier for a contractor to do this. The first contractor I hired in my younger, more innocent days told me that I could have anything I wanted, but when I began asking for things, he would respond that the request just could not be met.
He couldn't get away with it today. The Internet has seen to that.
It's a very, very useful gadget.