Some thoughts on tools

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So as you might have gathered from the title, this post falls solidly into the category of “shameless self-promotion…”  But aside from that it is also a good chance for me to talk about tools in general, and the Cool Tools blog/podcast specifically.  To get the self-promotion out of the way, I was recently featured by Kevin Kelly (Founding editor of Wired Magazine, formed editor/publisher of The Whole Earth Review) and Mark Frauenfelder (former editor of MAKE magazine, co-owner of boingboing.net) on their podcast “Cool Tools”.


 

The podcast asks their guests to pick four tools and talk about them, ostensibly these should be “favorite” or unique tools.  When I found out I was going to be on and they asked for this list in advance, I realized that picking four “tools” that felt unique, essential, and interesting was more of a challenge than I had anticipated.  I use a lot of things that could be considered tools, and I wanted my choices to reflect my practice but also to be accessible.  As much as I love having access to and using the Tormach PCNC1100 CNC mill here at Anderson Ranch, I have to admit that I likely won’t have one in my own shop any time soon, and as a $20,000 plus machine, accessible is not a term that comes to mind when I think of it.  

I dug deep and I came up with four tools that I feel are relatively affordable/accessible, and are things that have made my studio practice that much more pleasurable.  I felt pretty clever including my favorite drafting film in that bunch, as it sits squarely outside of what I typically associate with the category of tool, but is an incredible asset to have on hand, and does the jobs I give it with ease.
This experience got me thinking though, in the last year and a half here at the Ranch, I have been able to work in a shop that is well appointed.  I am able to complete complex fabrication and machining tasks with ease and efficiency, and I have been aware of this.  While I do take advantage of this fact, I want to remain as independent as possible, making sure that my practice is not unduly reliant on external resources.  I love to be self-contained.  Not because I particularly subscribe to or admire the myth of the individual as it exists in US culture, but because I want to make sure that my practice is personally sustainable…   When I say “personally sustainable”, what I mean is that I want to be able to continue my practice without a lot of outside support.  I spent nearly ten years between undergraduate and graduate school working in my own studios.  This time really cemented in me the importance of being able to produce on my own.  My work was sometimes defined by the tools that I had on hand, but more often I found that as I looked at problems in search of solutions, rather than problems in search of particular tools, I was able to make work that did the things that I wanted it to.  

Looking forward to the future, this ethos remains important to me.  I will never be wealthy, this is a near certainty given my chosen course in education, my family background, and the fact that wealth isn’t really something that I aspire to.  This means that tools have to count.  I like that, I enjoy feeling as though my collection of tools (though vast by some standards) is paired down and lean, sinewy even.  I am becoming more conscious of this as I age and as I move around.  I was reminded again of this a couple of weeks ago when I went to go look at some tools that a semi-retired engineer had for sale about an hour or so from here.  He had a great collection of hand tools and electronics tools as well…  As I was going through drawer after drawer of stuff, he gently reminded me that I should only buy what I will use and that collecting tools does no one any good.
I suppose the point of all of this (aside from self aggrandizing) is that tools want to be used, and should be.  As such, tools are choices that represent others choices declined or not made.  It is as much a reminder for me as it is a warning to others to bear this in mind when it comes to making these choices. 

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