An old pair of scissors with a yellow handle.
Photo: Lol Keegan

This Necessary New Book Honors the Craftsmanship of Tools

By Aileen Kwun
November 16, 2019
2 minute read

For as long as humans have walked the earth, we’ve devised ways of making life easier for ourselves. Some tools remain unchanged throughout the ages—“no need to reinvent the wheel,” after all—while others are impossibly novel, becoming obsolete before they’re adopted into mass existence. The use of tools is “arguably the very thing that makes us human. Our ability to fashion the objects around us—be they bone, stone, wood, or flint—into the implements that first aided us in our attempts to hunt, eat, cook, make, and build, mark[s] a pivotal point in our evolution,” writes Hole & Corner editor Mark Hopper, in his new book, The Story of Tools (Rizzoli). “Once prehistoric man learnt to shape the world around him to his own needs, it marked our difference from all other animals.”

Dedicated to the craftsmanship of tools, the book features makers specialized in creating objects ranging from the singular spoon knife (used to carve wooden spoons, naturally) to the common silver hammer. It also profiles Pink Floyd composer and tool collector Ron Geesin, who owns more than 4,000 adjustable spanners, and literally wrote the book on it.

The Story of Tools is the latest must-have for the world of tool-heads, and a welcome continuation of Andrea Branzi and Kenya Hara’s Neo-Prehistory, which traces human history through a collection of 100 verbs and objects. It also recalls the exhibition on tools at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum from a few years back, which considered the humble significance of a 1.5 million-year-old axe alongside today’s pocket-size supercomputer—otherwise known as a smartphone—which has only very recently become everyday, even if it seems inconceivable to now go more than a couple of days without one. Considering the source and ingenuity of mankind’s tools lends the kind of long-long-term meta perspective that’s useful—and frankly, a breath of fresh air—in an attention economy spent spliced across many screens.