Thinking About Tools

Thinking About Tools

Published on Wednesday, March 10, 2010. This article appears in the April/May 2010 issue of American Craft Magazine.

Ceramics tools from Michael Sherrill's toolbox, many handmade by him. Some are from his Mudtools line, which he created when he found that the available clay tools didn't fit his needs and other ceramists felt the same way.

Many ways to contemplate these extensions of the hand, the eye and the brain.

It is hard to think about any craft without visualizing the tools used in that activity. There are, of course, those hand tools 
that have always been and will always be 
a part of what it means to be a maker. But as society has grown and changed, so has what has come to be considered part of a craftsperson's toolbox.

Our columnist Glenn Adamson praises the humble pencil as a tool for “thinking tentatively” and, literally, drawing its user into an active process, (Considering...). The eminent engineer and author Henry Petroski, in a philosophical yet down-to-earth discussion with critic Suzanne Ramjlak, considers tools-including the toothpick, the hammer and the steam engine-as he argues for the importance of engineering in solving our global problems (“Henry Petroski on Essential Engineering”).

For ceramist Michael Sherrill, tools and toolmaking are second nature, part of his artistic development and a direct route to beauty (“Natural Narratives”). And speaking of beauty, metalsmith Sue Aygarn-Kowalski creates appealing objects that could be used as tools—hammers, balances and such-but are destined for the gallery pedestal (Reviewed). Woodworker and writer Glenn Gordon takes note of the beauty coexisting with perfect functionality in the amazing planes produced by several small companies devoted to high-end hand tools for woodworking-a kind of “shop jewelry” fit for a trophy cabinet (Outskirts).

In our concern for the future of craft, we’ve given some thought to the tools used in higher education, and were eager to find out what decorative arts historian Jo Lauria would discover when she proposed to examine the role digital technology has played in the education of those who want to design and make things without losing the hand. After observing the way product design is being taught in three leading art schools, she reports back that contrary to what we might suppose, some of the new technologies are leading students back to a significant role for the hand (“Expanding the Toolbox”)


This preoccupation with tools prompted us as editors to look around the office for our own candidate for favorite, or at any rate ubiquitous, tool, setting aside, of course, the electronic devices that by now have become extensions of ourselves. The one we lighted on (Adamson having preempted the pencil) is definitely low-tech, little more than 30 years old, quite helpful in communication and “flagging,” has even been used in art, and comes in a variety of sizes and colorways. Perhaps you’ve already guessed. How would we in the modern office (or even at home, come to think of it) function without the Post-it note?