Dignity and purpose

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Blog entry by toolchap posted 02-09-2011 07:19 AM 1448 reads 0 times favorited 25 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Before I start this I want to warn all left-brainers out there to bypass this one. If you choose to read it and it does not sit well with you, then show me respect by leaving this be. It will be difficult enough to express this in words but I am going to try. Brevity shall be lost here….

According to scientists all matter is inter-connected. Now I am not one of the theoretical types who can spout figures and facts and dates. I blunder along experiencing beauty and mystery and trying to garnish my life with the beauty I find along the way. But this led my thinking to the case of tools having a soul. Understand that when I say “tools”, I mean anything mankind uses to manipulate his environment around him.

So a tool is born at the hands of whoever manufactered it. It has a purpose and it knows it. It also is aware of the spirit in which it was made. It is aware of its level of quality, the materials used in it not wasted. As this tool proceeds in life at the hands of one craftsman and then the next, it carries with it a memory of work done and a comforting calmness, ever growing and like some people, its beauty becomes more apparent as it gets older. It has proved itself and knows its value, has been loved once, twice, perhaps many times by some good craftsmen and even those who perhaps did not understand the possibility of it having a soul, knew that when they worked with it, it did more than others of its ilk. My “favourite” this or that.

Earth giving us what we need, perhaps looks on, or is at least aware of this. For then the reason changes. For example: A chisel is made whose virtual sole function is to make someone a profit. It has an inferior steel with a painted wooden handle proclaiming its quality and professionalism and such gibberish. I imagine this chisel to know this. To start its journey thus, knowing it is going to be discarded. It started from the same basic raw materials as other quality chisels did, but the fork in the road came with the decision of profit over shavings. We made the call. We support this. Profit not being the evil, merely crossing the border between theft and profit.

Sharing the extended version of this with my wife, her comment was : “What about snake serum?” The woman still has the ability to floor me. I was dreamily thinking of deep patinas on centuries old handles. I love it. It stopped me short and we chatted about it. I don’t know the facts and figures but estimate that at least 95% of serum is water. As a tool the serum has one purpose for one time only. To save a life. Magnificent! How would it build a history of dignity and purpose? Of course! As with all things it reverts to its original and continues with or without us. For me this was an epiphany. Water held the memory of all man and all life.

I shared this with a few dear friends and each embellished and added a few thoughts to the picture. To them and the craftsmen who are aware that the project is not the only purpose, thanks for your provocation. It is akin to discovering that the journey is the destination.

I felt the need to get this down in writing. It has many imperfections and I would like to be able to edit it later and add to it and hone it as it clarifies and develops.

25 comments so far

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3887 days

#1 posted 02-09-2011 11:00 AM

well then ?

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View ksSlim's profile


1275 posts in 2884 days

#2 posted 02-09-2011 03:26 PM

The line is almost imperceptible to some and a wall to others.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View helluvawreck's profile


31019 posts in 2860 days

#3 posted 02-09-2011 04:00 PM

Meaning no disrespect, one thing that I would say is that there are many religious overtones to this thread. :) It will be interesting to see what becomes of it.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View ratchet's profile


1391 posts in 3781 days

#4 posted 02-09-2011 04:31 PM

The craftsman his tools very precise
Refines, hones and sharpens his knives
Working with his loves ~ mahogany and teak
Known to hum, as there is no speak
Revealing the rings of character and age
The scent of fresh cut wood
Releases the sage, from within

Anyway…I similarly feel this about using old tools. When you add the age/character of wood its more of a symphony coming together to play rather than a set of steps to the goal of a finished project.

Enlightenment takes work.

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3154 days

#5 posted 02-09-2011 04:37 PM

I know tools don’t have souls, but I find it interesting how a material can drasticly change its usefulness over its lifetime.

There was once a seed planted in the forest. Our maker provided water and minerals and it grew into a tall Oak tree. That tree was cut down and eventually milled into a part for a wooden frame, hidden inside the dark confines of a cushion-ey couch. From the forest, to the mill, to the store, to the original buyer, to the yard sale, to the workshop, the couch made quite a journey. It finally outlived its usefulness as a couch, and was torn apart in hopes of providing usable, raw materials. That Oak piece was found, hiding inside, still successfully serving its individual purpose. Shortly after removal, it was chosen for a project. It was cut it down to rough shape and carved it into a long wooden spoon. It was more of an experiment to see if the woodworker could even do it. It was given to his wife where it served in their kitchen for years. Imagine if/when it breaks, the remainder of the handle could be used as a wooden dowel to pin a Tennon in place. Possibly, again, hidden in the dark for years and years. Only to be discovered by a scavanging penturner for his or her entry into the LJ Recycling contest.

I’ve always wanted to tell this story. BTW, its true, up to the point just before the spoon breaks. :) Thanks for the opportunity.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View Bertha's profile


13525 posts in 2687 days

#6 posted 02-09-2011 04:46 PM

I enjoyed this read. I hope tools have souls.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View toolchap's profile


150 posts in 2914 days

#7 posted 02-09-2011 05:16 PM

This was not written as a means of convincing anyone, but more as a personal reflection I wanted to share with the few who will immediately pick up what I am going on about. Perhaps in the reading and comments of this, a gathering takes place. My square and rule, tape and level, the trueness of my planing; these all give me the logic and hard truth. When I work, I am surrounded by old tools and to me the place whispers good things. If this is something not understood and your shop is one of din and productive efficiency only, then as I said earlier, walk on by. I have the utmost respect for a few of my realtime woodworking friends whose shops are the epitome of precision and they turn out work I could probably not do. I enjoy being with them, though I would not speak to them of those quiet moments when in a moments pause, there is an awareness of something as definite as mist just before the wind. To be neither held or quite understood.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2992 days

#8 posted 02-09-2011 06:07 PM

I don’t really think that it is inherent in the materials but more in the overall effect of a tool on the viewer when you look at the object as a whole. It is subtle but when it is right, it becomes a real thing. It becomes a force to attract you to reach out for it when you are working. Sometimes it can make you just want to pick it up and hold it even if you are not working with it. It just feels “right”. Some tools are just utilitarian. You don’t have an emotional attachment to them. Some become more. It is not really a new feeling. People have been feeling it since we first started making tools. It can be the the wear and modification over time. Not just some generic concept of patina. Sorry, most patina is just rust. They are the cues that makes the hand falls into the correct position that all the other people who have used it and it makes an invitation to be used in the same manner. The little personalizations and adaptations from the original form. The parts rubbed smoothed from use. The accumulation of names of previous owners.

It can also be from when the tool is made. The little embellishments or style. The extra care to make it beyond just the bare minimum. The attention to aesthetics and use. The selection of materials and finish. The thought behind how it will be used and what people looking at it think of the wielder. It creates it’s own place in our society. It can be through embellishment. It can create a story of how it is used or make some other connection with us. This guy gets it: It can also be raw technical personality. The kind of personality that makes you want to just pick it up and see how the parts fit together and play with it. John Economaki gets it, but completely different in a style that focuses on function. There are many others, these were just two contemporary examples. It used to be much more common but has been mostly lost in modern production.

We have a personal relationship with tools. They are what has made us what we are. It was not just intelligence. Many other creatures are arguably as smart as we are or close enough for discussion. We also have one tool that you have left out that is possibly the most important tool we have ever created. Language.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View toolchap's profile


150 posts in 2914 days

#9 posted 02-09-2011 06:18 PM

I have left out a plethora of tools. Language perhaps being the stumbling block in our society either through illiteracy, impatience, cultural misunderstanding or sheer obstinacy. The unwillingness to hear.

Your description is perfect and makes absolute sense.

View swirt's profile


2731 posts in 2966 days

#10 posted 02-09-2011 06:34 PM

I’d like to believe tools have souls, and mission and intent. But I also know that if I hand my idiot neighbor my best chisel that likely was used by many more talented people than I, he will end up hitting it with an engineer’s hammer in an attempt to work faster and smash the handle to bits, then he will continue pounding on the socket until it is rolled over. Then he will go to Lowes and buy me a bright shiny plastic abomination and act like he was doing me a favor. So I have trouble with the notion that guidance flows with the old tool. I wish it were true, but too many damn fools ruin and discard old tools on a daily basis. snifff

-- Galootish log blog,

View Clung's profile


98 posts in 2775 days

#11 posted 02-09-2011 06:38 PM

I enjoyed your thoughts. It fit with something I just read the other day:

“Things, too, absorb something of the lives of those who handle them. When, during a tea ceremony, a guest takes up a bowl, which had once been used by a famous master, he is awed by more than just remembered traditions. A breath of life, which had passed from the honored guest to the bowl, will touch him like a gentle sigh. The bowl speaks to his spirit. The Japanese have a special term for an object that has passed a long life in human companionship; they speak of “hand-patina.” This loving epithet not only tells us that the thing was touched and used by many hands, which rubbed its surface and muted its colors. The Japanese want, above all, to express their understanding of the forces of life that flowed into the object, which in turn, passes them on to future users.” (Eleanor von Erdberg, pg 15, “Japanese Folk Art: A Triumph of Simplicity” Japan Society, 1992)

I have several old tools that I use daily. I have no idea of their history, yet I sometimes wonder of the work they have done and the craftsman that held them; the “hand-patina” is pleasant indeed.

-- Clarence

View toolchap's profile


150 posts in 2914 days

#12 posted 02-09-2011 06:43 PM

Oh my goodness Swirt! You had me in stitches of laughter! Thank you for lightening up the real-estate here. I fully agree with you and perhaps I should add for those specificly on the fringes of lunacy as I am. My ten thumb ineptitude from early days somehow improved to the point where I can make a semi-semi decent existence from those beautiful things. So guidance or otherwise…...

View toolchap's profile


150 posts in 2914 days

#13 posted 02-09-2011 06:45 PM

Amen Clung..

View swirt's profile


2731 posts in 2966 days

#14 posted 02-09-2011 08:52 PM

Toolchap, I guess I get around the “damn fool” clause by thinking that these tools for all their experience are only capable of a whisper. For those that are quiet enough and patient enough to listen, perhaps some wisdom can flow from one to the other. When I make mistakes, I just think that I wasn’t listening carefully enough ;)

-- Galootish log blog,

View toolchap's profile


150 posts in 2914 days

#15 posted 02-09-2011 08:57 PM

Perhaps you are right. I like your thinking Swirt.

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