Russian Language Blog

The right tool for the job Posted by on Sep 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Once upon a time, when мы с товарищами снимали небольшую квартиру недалеко от Киевского вокзала (“some friends and I were renting a small apartment not far from the Kievsky train terminal”), the door on one of the kitchen cupboards got a bit wobbly, because a петля (“hinge”) was loose. Alas, although it was a furnished apartment, the furnishings didn’t include a toolbox, and we had no immediate way to fix the hinge. So when our landlord showed up a couple days later to collect our rent, I asked to borrow a screwdriver:

Ммммм… мы хотим… аааа… то есть, нам нужна вот такая штука, для… штука для того, чтобы: [here I pantomimed using an invisible screwdriver to tighten an imaginary screw]

Well, this did work, since our landlord smiled, popped downstairs to his car, and was back in ten minutes with his инструменты (“tools”), and fixed the hinge in a jiffy. But using pantomime to ask for a “thingy” is rather inelegant, and for me it was just another one of those constant reminders of how limited my Russian was: I could more or less understand newspaper editorials about the devaluation of the ruble, but was over my head when I needed something as ridiculously simple as a screwdriver.

Tools for (Un)Attaching Things

So, let’s take a further look at some of vocabulary that’s useful when you’re talking about basic household repairs — beginning, of course, with отвёртка, “screwdriver.” Etymologically, it more or less means “a thing for unscrewing”, and derives from the verb отвёртывать/отвернуть, “to loosen by turning”. The opposing verb is завёртывать/завернуть, “to tighten by turning,” but for some reason, a screwdriver is an отвёртка, not a завёртка. The screw itself is a винт — а word that an also mean, in other contexts, the “propeller” of an airplane or boat. However, don’t get винт get mixed up with болт (guess!) — they both have spiral threads around them, but a болт has a corresponding гайка (“nut”) and a screw doesn’t. And for tightening a bolt/nut assembly, you might use a ключ (“wrench; spanner”) instead of an отвёртка, depending on the bolt’s design.

The disadvantage to a винт is that you may need to make a starter hole with a сверло (“drill”). But if you don’t have a drill handy sometimes a nail will do the job: in Russian, what you need is a гвоздь (masc., gen. гвоздя). A small nail is a гвоздик, but don’t get this mixed up with the feminine noun гвоздика, which means “cloves” in the sense of those aromatic things you stick into a baked ham.

Of course, a nail isn’t much good without a молоток — i.e., a heavy piece of metal (or sometimes wood) fixed to one end of a рукоятка (“handle”). The non-diminutive молот generally means those really massive hammers used by кузнецы (“blacksmiths”) or Norse gods; so if you mean the “hammer” in a home toolbox, молоток is better. (This is also the word for an auctioneer’s hammer, and the phrase продавать/продать что-нибудь с молотка means “to sell something at auction”).

The verb “to hammer” can generally be expressed with вбивать/вбить (perf. я вбью, ты вбьёшь…), optionally followed by the instrumental молотком:

Она вбивает гвоздик молотком (“She’s driving in the nail with a hammer”)

Another handy verb construction that generally works for screws and nails and bolts is приделывать/приделать что-нибудь к чему-нибудь, “to attach something to something”:

Я приделал полку к стене винтами (“I attached the shelf to the wall with screws”).

But what if you need to remove a bent nail, or a rusted screw? In that case, you can use клещи (“pliers”, always pl., gen. клещей) to схватывать/схватить винт или гвоздик (“grasp the screw or nail”).

Tools for Cutting

Now that you know some tools for putting things together, let’s consider some for taking things apart — or, more specifically, cutting bits of things off of other things.

The пила (“saw”) is one such tool — as a Russian dictionary might define it, your basic handsaw is a зубчатая металлическая пластинка с рукояткой (“a toothed metal sheet with a handle”), though of course there are also powered tools with a дисковая пила (“circular saw”). And the most basic verb for “sawing” is пилить (я пилю, ты пилишь…), but you can attach various “motion prefixes” to produce a more precise meaning. For instance, отпиливать/отпилить implies “to saw off (the end of something)”, while распиливать/распилить is “to saw into many pieces”.

I already mentioned the noun сверло (“drill”); we don’t necessarily think of drills as “cutting tools,” but that’s essentially what they do. And the basic verb you need to use a drill in Russian is сверлить/просверлить (“to drill”). In English, we can “drill a piece of wood” or “drill a hole in the wood”; in Russian, the direct object of сверлить/просверлить is the solid object being drilled, and not the отверстие (here, “hole”) that you’re making.

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  1. Stas:

    Well, if you need a sledge-hammer, let’s say to fix Russian car, you can safely ask for the word молот.

    And гвозди usually забивают (perf. я забиваю, ты забиваёшь…), а не вбивают.