Our Tools and Why We Love Them

Two antique adjustable wrenches.

March 11th is National Worship of Tools Day, and no one knows who established the observance. That's appropriate in a way, because it's a reverence that doesn't require an outside sponsor or endorsement. I once saw a photograph of an antique hammer with an oddly curved wooden handle. The description of the picture explained that the craftsman had used the hammer so much, the handle wore down to fit his hand perfectly. That is how intimate the relationship is between the tool user and the tool. We have to rely on these implements, and—strange as it sounds—in turn, they become our friends.

Some acquaintances are based on a chance meeting, other friends have to be made. If you read old woodworking books, or even modern magazines and websites on the subject, you’ll see that many if not most of the articles are on the creation of tools. A trip through an antique store will show you many handmade planes or miter boxes, built to suit the kind of woodworking done in the particular shop in which they were made. This is how the arsenal of the craftsperson is built. We surround ourselves with what we need for our jobs, and what we can’t buy, we make.

Inspiration and Problem Solver

Once we’ve established a friendship with a tool, the relationship can develop from there. Sometimes the tool acts as inspiration. I have a pocket-hole jig and will use that specific type of joinery as a starting point while planning out projects. Or imagine that feeling you get when you pick up a circular saw for the first time. All the types of cuts you can make come to mind and suddenly you’re thinking about a new deck for the backyard.

Other times, the tool is a solution. How many times have we gone to the hardware store for that perfect tool for the situation? A basin wrench is one of those unique tools. Especially after a cramped hour under a sink with a couple of the wrong slip-jaw wrenches. Or maybe what you need for the job is a battery powered caulking gun to save your hands from cramping. After struggling with the wrong equipment for too long, finally having that just right tool is a revelation.

Our Tools and Why We Love Them (sized)

Learning Curve and Outright Hazard

But these friends aren’t always reliable. Sometimes tools obey our commands, other times they seem to act like they have a mind of their own. When a jigsaw goes off line, we curse it as if it’s listening. We talk to our tools because we’ve formed a connection with them, a give and take. We have to learn our abilities as well as the proper way of handling the tools. If we make a mistake, it can sometimes be catastrophic. So we learn to respect the table saw.

Many of us have old friends that go back to childhood. The relationship between man and his tools is much older than that. Human history is traced through our use of tools. These items were so prized, people were buried with them. When we talk about the stone, bronze and iron age, it’s in reference to what we made our tools out of. Some of these early devices are so fundamental that we’re using the same designs now.

Materials might change through time­—titanium instead of iron, or polymers instead of wood—but the concept remains the same. Because the craftsperson’s first fundamental tools remain the same. Their hands.

From Ancient to Antique to Hi-Tech

To this day, almost any tool we use—AC or battery or muscle powered—is an extension of our hands. Some even use the weight of our whole body, as with the old chest braced hand-crank drills. When we walk the aisles of the hardware store, picking up the tools, we’re testing how it will fit in our palm and fingers. That first contact is the first handshake between friends.

We’ve all heard this phrase: “He knows it like the back of his hand.” If that hammer handle I mentioned earlier fit perfectly into the craftsman’s hand, you can bet he knew that tool very well. And together they had a long and productive friendship.