Some tools perform in little duets. The blacksmith’s hammer works so well with the anvil that together they become a third tool. A blacksmith’s tongs hold (or in some cases cradle) a bit of hot metal while it is being worked on. The rapid spinning of the lathe creates a static point despite the fact that it is in motion because all action occurs at a single place in space. Tools often work together, privileging a point of intersection. That is the point where they co-mingle, and a transformation occurs. The intersection of a craftsman with his tools is also a moment of transformation. A craftsman’s tools become essential to his identity. Whenever a craftsman is separated from his tools he starts to feel as if he is someone else. He probably is. ‘Craftsmen know their tools’ it is said, but that is only part of the story. A more expansive word than ‘know’ would help here. Craftsmen also know the relationships between their tools and the material they are working with. Craftsmen become sensitive to response, and how it might change as the situation changes. One thing that changes the situation is when a power tool replaces a hand tool.
The sculptor B.Amore spoke of how the working relationship changes when hand tools are switched for power tools. She observed that a craftsman actually ‘rides’ a power tool and this requires a different set of skills. When a person is attached to a power tool the material becomes a kind of landscape through which the craftsman passes. Work happens within the context of immersion. Different things can be known.
Tools mimic larger geological processes— abrasion, impact, and compression. Tools can be agents of observation as they isolate, miniaturize and combine some of these bigger processes. Sometimes detailed knowledge of tools can help to read larger geological clues. Chisels fracture but they also might cut or scoop. Hammers bash or shatter, and sometimes-repeated small taps can smooth out unevenness. Abrasives either erode or polish and protect. A familiarity with tools and the ability to recognise the marks that individual tools make can enhance the scholarly speculations in such disciplines as art history, archeology, anthropology, philosophy, or sociology. Such knowledge can deepen the appreciation not only of individual objects but also of the processes that envelope them. By observing the result it is sometimes possible to identify processes, sequences, parallels and context.
Tools can embody more subtle principles, even a kind of ‘life.’ Look at the following description of character, control, and intrinsic spirit as Peter Voulkos discusses using a potter’s wheel: “When you are experimenting on the wheel there are a lot of things you cannot explain. You just say to yourself, the form will find its way – it always does.” This echoes Mother Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers who said: “Every force evolves a form.”
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