The hammer stone is thought to be man’s first recorded tool, and for most of us a hammer is the first tool we own. As I headed off to college and my first apartment, I was given a Rubbermaid toolbox with a brand-new claw hammer and a variety pack of screwdrivers. I was officially on my own and in charge of simple repairs.

I still have that hammer. Flecked with paint and rust, it hangs between my father’s hefty Estwing and my grandfather’s hickory-handled, Stanley Hercules. The Estwing, a single piece of forged steel with a grip wrapped in leather, is as beautiful as it is functional. Striking a nail with it feels effortless. A swing of the balanced head transforms weight into power. The nimble, 7 oz. Hercules is my choice for precise, delicate jobs such as tapping in a tiny nail poking out of an antique desk or hanging a picture frame. I can conjure up a hazy memory of my Grandpa Isono using it to make us a compost sifter with his gnarled, clever hands.

My father used his hammer to make my most cherished Christmas gift. For the month of December 1974, my sister and I were forbidden from entering the garage. Every evening after work he would descend the stairs, and all we would hear from behind the closed door was the muffled pounding of a hammer and the screeches of a saw cleaving wood. Our father was always more at home with a book than a tool, more philosophical than physical. What in the world could he be making?

On Christmas morning we woke to find a two-story, Cape Cod doll house in front of the tree. It was painted white with green shutters. The front door had routed panels and a brass doorknob.

That was my first house. I made miniature furniture. I quilted a tiny comforter out of fabric I dyed with onion skins and marigolds. Now, over 50 years later, I’m making furniture using his hammer for my full-size house. This year marks the 20th Father’s Day without my father. I no longer need to go shop for a gift. Instead, I feel as though I am holding his large hand when I grasp that stacked leather handle, and I find strength in his gift to me.

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