When is tricky these days, but it’s the only question my expectant monkey mind can ask. Time feels especially squishy this year, as my daily schedule drifts further and further away from the traditional 9-5 work window and months slip by and weeks drag on. It’s been hard to get my arms around time, but my best estimate is that I do this thing every other week or so, and I want to tell you about it.
Whenever I When? myself into agitation; whenever an iffy day gets its claws into me in a previously unimaginable 2020-ish way; whenever I find myself pausing on walks wanting to knock the phones out of people’s hands; whenever it’s a gloomy November in my soul and I have to pause for a moment to remember the month, I escape to the sofa to cleanse myself with a couple hours of what I have endearingly named Hands TV.
Black gloves, screwdrivers, wrenches, rotary grinders, isopropyl alcohol, sandblasters, and toothbrushes… all working on chainsaws, toy trucks, unidentified military components, and Game Boys. Time-lapse restoration videos have become my escape from 2020. I fire up the YouTube app and sit through hours of dudes scrubbing and grinding on old busted junk until my shadow lifts and progress, justice, peace, safety, and a smile feel possible again.
I began watching Hands TV out of curiosity. An interest in Japanese woodcut prints led me to videos about Japanese joinery and hand tools. The algorithm extended this logical path into a delirious wish for decontextualized restoration videos of Egyptian daggers, and off I went down the autoplay road. It’s been true love ever since.
The rules of the genre are straight-forward:
- Only restore items that fit on a workbench
- The first and last shot must always be your hands placing the object on the workbench
- No talking, no music
- No faces, only hands
- Wear gloves most of the time
- Jump cuts galore
- After disassembly, Knoll all the parts together for one hero shot
- Sanding and grinding sequences should be sped up to 2-3× (you eventually acclimate to the sounds that resemble dental work)
- Use time-lapse footage when needed, especially when soaking parts in rust remover or ultrasonic cleaning solution
- Tersely label what you’re doing with text in the corner
- Always provide a link to your screwdriver kit and merch
- Chekov’s blowtorch (if you see a blowtorch in any shot, it will be used)
Hands TV has become a way to fill time while stuck in my quarantine haze, an unlikely antidote to media-induced despair, and a counterpoint to doomscrolling. It is care as entertainment: a fulfilled wish to watch something come together instead of fall apart, and an opportunity to witness a reversal of neglect with low emotional and cognitive overhead. This perspective is a tiny bit treacly and very much an overreach, but it’s been a tough year, I’m exhausted, and tri-hex screwdrivers now get me emotional. Beyond all that, there is very often fire and burnt stuff. If you’re curious, I’ve linked a few of my favorite videos below.