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1 Introduction | Tools

This image shows an assortment of pneumatic tungsten carbide points, flat chisels, claw and bushing tools with mallet-headed points and a hammer-headed trimmer.  From Kelso Tool Company, Scotland.


Human beings were once thought to be unique because they were the only animals that used tools. Today it is known that birds and animals also use tools, so such a distinction cannot be made.  What might still distinguish humans is a tendency to make one tool in order to make another tool. 


The itinerant granite carver uses a blacksmith made hammer and heavy fire-tempered point to carve part of a monumental standing figure - Chongqing, Sichuan Province, China Drillers continue to use pneumatic jack-hammer drills and long tungsten-tipped drill bits to split marble blocks in the YA AN Long Dou Gou Tou quarry in China.


The effort by which Homo Faber (the skilled wo/man) secures some of his raw material can be so far removed from the final achievement that there is no visual connection at all.   Digging, then burning the red stones that are iron ore, then forging an impure clinker into useable metal, then shaping that metal into a plough or hoe that can be used to plant and harvest crops, then designing a different family of tools to husk, chop, transport and store the harvest, then finally cooking the food in a previously constructed skillet or pot. When the food is cooked a spoonful is removed to put into the mouth of a hungry child. The journey from red earth to hungry child is the kind of immense stretch that tools make possible.

To make one tool in order to make another tool takes mental flexibility that would not be needed to make two independent tools.  It is of a different order when the final result has no resemblance to what one has begun with. Seeing beyond what is adjacent and evident expands a sense of time.  A temporal element it enables a sequence of constructions. The tool is a link.

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