THE TOOL MAKER
HAVE YOU EVER MET A MAN WHO MADE HIS OWN TOOLS?
Worn Quarterly - April 2020
Written by Jeff Wadkins, Photography by Cass Cleave
Have you ever met a man who made his own tools? I have. His name's Patt Avila, and here's the story of how we met...
It was several summers back.
I was working as a lifeguard patrolling the South beaches. The kinda beaches a lifeguard like me lusts for - empty stretches with mostly sea glass n’ unridden waves. I was driving the water line when off in the distance I noticed something different to my well trained eye. As I closed in, I could make out a couple men pushing something I had never seen, some type of home built handcart, with big tires and an even bigger, gnarled piece of wood on it.
Years later that man Patt would teach me, “it ain't wood it's a burl and that burl will tell you a story."
Keep in mind this is years before I would ever dream to run the hills 'n valleys with Patt. The other guy pushing with a purpose you rarely see was David, a guy I knew from the beach crew. There they were, putting everything they had into that hell bent contraption and for some reason, a reason greater than I could reckon, they needed that piece of wood and I wasn’t gonna stop them. I remember just like it was yesterday, me in my uniform, blues, badge 'n gun belt. Patt in his - wife beater, red bandana, and a knife in a sheath. The knife and leather sheath, the belt and the belt buckle holding it were all made by his own hands, but again, none of this I would know 'til years later.
I jumped outta my truck and said, "you boys need a hand?”
Shocked as hell that I wasn’t putting him in cuffs Patt said, ”hell yes." I was fresh off back surgery, and still wearing suspenders to hold the cop belt off my used lifeguard soul and broken back. I'm not gonna lie, I didn’t push very hard. In fact, I am very sure if I hadn’t shown up those two men woulda got that burl just fine, but it was right then and there a bond was made and the truth would slowly be told.
As I watched those two trudge off down the beach, I thought, "what do men do with a piece of wood like that?" Patt invited me to his place but I was always too intimidated to stop by. Now fast forward those couple of years to the first day I worked with Patt at his place. We were welding and grinding on my truck. As we were taking turns banging on the bent and broken hitch, Patt said, "I could tell you know how to work." He went on about something, but I drifted off. He was grinding and talking, but all I could feel was my bloodline, and all I could smell was the sweet scent of the holler. I knew I was somewhere that would become special for me.
You see, when two men come together to build or create something, you can get a sense for that man right away. How do they work? Can they turn a wrench? Pound a Hammer? Know when to push and know when to push harder? You can start to get a sense of how that man values his life n' time here on earth.
Patt and I have become dear friends. We run the hills n’ valleys looking for logs and big cats (Patt loves looking for cougars). He says, “if you don’t look, you ain't gonna see 'em okay”. Thats what Patt always tells me as he’s looking off in the distance.
So, have you ever met a man that made his own tools? I have.
Patt Avela, and every hammer he possesses he made the wooden handles for. All custom shaped with his own unique markings gouged along the side for a sure grip. More hammers than I have ever seen a man possess. Hammers of all shapes and sizes all for hammering different materials including leather, metal, wood, and even horses. That's right, Patt's been shoeing horses since he was 13. He bought his first anvil at 15 after a good day shoeing with his dad. He still pounds on that anvil today. While Patt tells me these days he's only a cowboy when it rains, I think that he's a cowboy through and through - even though he gave up the professional rodeo riding. Yes, Patt rode buckin' horses and roped calves with the best of them. He still has a love for horses, just not riding them anymore.
I learned pretty quick that Patt was unique, the last of a dying breed in these parts.
There is meaning, stories, connection, and personal craftsmanship in all of Patt's belongings. Patt works with metal, wood, leather (yes, he makes breathtaking saddles and is currently making his own boots). I love working with Patt. He teaches me to honor your friends, work smart, use what’s around you and fix it if it’s broke (don’t throw it away). But most importantly, Patt has taught me never give up your freedom.