“The wind that bends the bunchgrass there scrubs away at epitaphs; someday the stones will all be smooth. If there is tragedy here, it is in the loss of stories. Their stories could have brought them back. Stories outshine instruments of gold. Stories outlast stone.”
– Ralph Beer
This saw handle has a story. If you look closely, beneath the dirty varnish you can see (and feel) the imprint of a masters finger. On one side is the dished impression left by his index finger, the other side clearly shows the trail left by his thumb. It’s stunning to think how many miles of lumber this blade parted. Take a closer look and notice the handle is rosewood. So much for all those experts who claim the “real” workers didn’t spend the extra buck on the fancy tools.
Anthropologists make a big deal about man the toolmaker, something that sets us apart. In reality, the animal kingdom is filled with creatures that use tools and natural materials to their benefit. Otters use stones as hammers and birds fashion condos from mud and twigs. But man takes tools to another level. We have the ability to make a tool an extension of our hand and mind. I recently had a chance to spend a little time with Chris Schwarz in his wood shop. He held a mallet in his hand and shared how the tools we use the most – our favorite tools, seem to get better over time. Almost as though the iron in a favorite plane takes a keener edge or that peening hammer strikes with a sweetness we can’t explain. Musicians often say the same thing about a guitar or violin. Do they really change and get better? This I know. Our tools become an extension of our hands and in doing so become a part of us.
Working on the furniture design book project (By Hand & Eye)with Jim Tolpin, something just as profound began to dawn on both of us. As we dove deep into the design language from our woodworking tradition, we both began to realize that this knowledge is intertwined with the traditional tool set and skill set, and much like that favorite plane quickly becomes intuitive. It has the potential to become an extension of our hands, something Jim calls “design at the point of a tool”. Perhaps you’ve had the simple joy of using a tool till it became a part of you. Could you imagine that your ability to design could occupy that same familiar place along side your favorite chisel or marking knife? Would you like to go there?