"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Tools maketh the man

A subject came up this week that is close to my heart, tools! Like any red blooded Aussie male I get all in a lather when the subject of tools comes up. Tool, by the way is simply an adult spelling of the word Toy. Well I think so anyway...
The question raised was what are the absolute essential tools for life on a farm? Obviously this is impossible to really answer properly as there will always be too many variables. But if I had to look at the question as "What are the ten most absolutely essential tools to run a small subsistence farm of mostly cropping and a small amount of livestock?" My answer would be something like:
  1. A good knife
  2. A good sharpening stone
  3. An axe
  4. A shovel
  5. A hoe
  6. A bucket
  7. Rope
  8. A large hammer
  9. A Steel and flint 
  10. A scythe
This would allow a sufficiently fit and knowledgeable individual to feed himself in a primitive fashion. Note that these are all, with the possible exception of the scythe, simple tools. No complex parts, very few moving parts, all man (or woman) powered and will all have a long lifespan with care. I have drawn on my experience both as a historian and a farmer to compile this list as it is simply an iron age farmers kit of tools and was proven to work for hundreds of years.

But the thing about tools is that in themselves they are utterly useless until coupled with a skilled user. Too often in this day and age I find people confusing power for skill. To explain- I have taught many people to work wood over the years* and before I will let an apprentice near the powered tools they must first gain competency with hand tools. Why? Because in skilled hands a hand operated tool will always be more versatile and accurate than a power tool**. Power tools tend to be fast and rough and not much else (and therefore the modern love of power tools speaks volumes...) but when true delicacy or accuracy is required a hand tool is the only solution.
Unfortunately most modern folks are under the impression that because a power tool is easier to use (or so the advertisements tell you) that they are therefore better. Consequently they will never learn the skills to use a hand tool and when they reach the limits of the power tools capacity they will stop, not knowing how to finish the job. This has suddenly created a dependency on electricity or oil as well as all the spare parts and sticky fluids required to make these things go. Very convenient for big business I am sure.
Anyway to get to the point, one day I was watching a new apprentice trying to figure out how to achieve a certain joint in a piece of timber. He fiddled about with the table saw trying to get the measurements set to the fine degree for the required cut. Eventually He retired to his workbench without turning the saw on and proceeded to make the cut with a hand saw and then clean it up with first chisels before a card scraper. When I asked him why he did this he said that he just could not be sure the table saw would be accurate enough and if it made a mess of the cut he would have to start this joint all over again. So even though it took him much longer, he opted to use a method he knew was going to work first time. In other words he would rather rely on his own skills when it really mattered. To say I was elated with his answer would be an understatement!

 *  I am a qualified cabinetmaker. I work in solid timber to make fine furniture (and one day I hope to do it as my sole income again).
** By hand tool I mean any tool powered through the user, a power tool refers to a tool large or small using an electric or internal combustion motor. In particular I am talking about woodworking tools as this is my area of expertise.

1 comment:

  1. Chough wax tablet cough

    Your apprentice