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3 The Hand

Why is it that one tool will feel comfortable in the hand and another will not?  That comfort must have to do with the way the distance between the tool and the craftsman disappears.  The specifics of the tool — its shape, the material it is made from, the temperature, weight, balance — can occasionally merge so completely with the body that the tool becomes invisible.  All the adjustments are seamless.  The connection fully engages like in the perfect meshing of different gears.


This image shows a piece of sandstone being carved in a workshop in Dazu, China, close to the Dazu cave complex.  It is an example of a technique of sandstone carving where a very sharp tungsten carbide chisel is used.  This is a fairly contemporary finishing tool; the sharpness allows the carver to shave the stone by pushing the tool with his hand, rather than using a percussive hammer. This action is akin to woodcarving.  The gesture of the hands during this process is beautiful and you can see the care and concentration in the work the craftsman is creating. Grinding marble with a rotary dremmel tool.  Qu Yang workshop, Heibei, China


The hand itself is also a tool, and like other tools, it is a link. A naked hand is excellent at grasping but hopeless at hammering. The moment a hammer is picked up it simultaneously expands and narrows the hand’s capabilities. The generalist nature of the hand is narrowed into the specialist outlook of the tool.

There is a part of every tool that is invisible. The physical substance of a tool is surrounded by the invisible shape of its potential; this implied goal cannot be seen directly. A tool possesses a kind of gravity and it is known mostly by the effect it has on other things it touches. We know of the existence of this potential even before an action is finished. Some tools determine the results so effectively that shapes and residual marks can be read backwards. We can know something about the process by the traces the tool leaves behind.

There are tools made for working in clay that determine the sculptural form regardless of the skill of the practitioner.  They automatically produce curves that, for instance, evoke some of Henry Moore’s sculptures. Such potentials are expansions of a tool, but they are also its limits.  A sledgehammer implies an action that is different from a tacking hammer. A screwdriver implies rotation; a pair of pliers includes its pinch.

A strange deformation happens when a tool is applied to a task for which it was never designed.  There is created a kind of double exposure. This ability to exceed a predetermined existence is also part of a tool’s potential but it is one that is less predictable.  It can lead to some interesting results but the outcome is not always successful.

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