Ol’ school tools

Feelings run from frustration to determination. The sense of reward – world domination – when I push through the last millimetres of steel bracket is thrilling. Maybe akin to that sense of achievement as a little girl when I learned to lift my little legs off the ground and ride unaided on my first little bike.

In my continued exploits, trying to get off fossil fuels, I’ve been adding some finishing touches to the garden beds and tweaking my wagon opting to use hand tools exclusively.

It’s been quite the thought-provoking and skill-inducing education.

As usual, my resourceful, skilled, frugal, repurposing ‘masters of the universe’ parents have given me some great tips. Dad is my go-to person for information on all tool-based things (although Mark, Martyn and Nic are a great help). An example of community in action, they are all a font of information in their own way.

I can now sharpen a hand saw with a file, kind of. I can drill through tough steel with a hand drill, slowly. I can cut and drill through corrugated iron sheets with ease on my own. My hand drill (a welcome hand-me-down from my Dad), is now one of my most prized possessions. 

hand drill

Why wasn’t I told this would be so easy? The hand drill is about as quick as an electric drill! Why don’t people use these tools more often?

Dad says it’s all they had when he was young. Martyn’s grandfather built a local community hall with nothing but hand tools. We all have a story of how it ‘used to be done’.

Of course, this all leads to a greater need for others – in a direct, non-monetary way, that is. I have to change my expectations about how I get things done. Close reliance on others in my local community comes with this territory. That’s a good thing.

Paraphrasing Ethan Hughes of The Possibility Alliance:

The simpler we live, the more we need others. When we don’t have machines we need each other – we tie into relationships more.

Relationships become the fabric of our world, as it has been for most of human existence.

It’s called the ‘relational’ economy.

The advent of the ‘technology of convenience’ has led to the decline in the use of hand tools and, paired with our resulting faster lives, to the decline in our general planetary and individual well-being. Hands-on, useful, low-tech, ‘don’t need to hire an expert’ kinda’ skills are disappearing.

‹ …Insert the usual diatribes on ‘efficiency’, ‘convenience’ and time saved with appliances and power tools here… ›

The call to ‘efficiency’ and ‘convenience’ is a hallmark of our fossil fuel addicted society, consuming our lives, spreading to the far corners of the globe, creating cultural homogenisation and mass production everywhere. And potentially leading to our downfall.

Is it time and efficiency we value most?

Then all our ‘mod cons’ make sense, kind of. There’s a pretty easy argument to be made about whether we actually have more time. There’s also an argument to be made about the efficiency with which we are destroying our home in the name of ‘efficiency’.

Quality hand tools live long lives. Even the best, most expensive, power tool will not last as long as a good hand tool. Sure, a power tool will do more work in a shorter time, but hand tools are passed from generation to generation. There’s no built-in or planned obsolescence. It’s planet-friendly.

What happens when we value life above all else?

Enter the wonderful world of low-tech hand tools and other ‘appropriate’ technologies.

We, in the West, seem to have developed an aversion to simple low-tech solutions. Most of the simple, low-tech stuff we come up with is shipped off to ‘developing’ countries without a thought given to how we might embrace them ourselves.

Is it because we are so pushed for time? Is it a sign of wealth to have the latest gadget? Or perhaps it’s just that we have been overcome by clever marketing campaigns and now believe there is only one right way to get things done – with appliances, power tools and quickly?

In a recent article in the New York Times, Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, writes:

‘Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable. Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper. After you have experienced streaming television, waiting to see a show at a prescribed hour seems silly, even a little undignified. To resist convenience — not to own a cellphone, not to use Google — has come to require a special kind of dedication that is often taken for eccentricity, if not fanaticism.’

There is a beauty to the slow pace and mindful attentiveness inherent in the use of hand tools. It’s human paced living. In my limited experience with these tools (and in the same vein as my newly discovered love of walking), a deeper connection to my surroundings and an added layer of meaning in my life is promoted that is difficult to translate.

Tim Wu adds:

‘Let’s reflect on the tyranny of convenience, try more often to resist its stupefying power, and see what happens. We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.’


And now for a related ‘feel-good’, local story:

This is Tobias from Bamboo By Design. We met at a workshop at Djanbung Gardens (a local permaculture farm). He makes his own tools and knives in his own handmade forge using recycled materials. His knives in the photo below were made from old spanners and car springs. He is also responsible for the wooden handles. Working with Djanbung to develop a biochar setup at the workshop space, he will eventually run his forge with charcoal and create a closed loop, fossil fuel free system.


I feel incredibly inspired by this kind of creativity.

Tobias, Ethan Hughes and others around our beautiful globe are taking us in the direction we need to be heading. Unlike many of the high-tech solutions to climate change being adopted, and in the pipeline, often requiring experts and money, these old school, low-tech solutions are proven and easy for the lay person to replicate.

Bring back the hand tools, I say. Bring back the old skills – the Earth-centred, human-powered, properly sustainable skills.

Mold them to our current context and watch the Earth respond.


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10 thoughts on “Ol’ school tools

  1. Hi Jo Such a beautiful smile along with the right attitude to life will take you wherever you want to go. All my love and best wishes for the future. Regards Robin

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Jo,
    great to read some of your musings again.
    I love hand tools, they give a much greater connection to your work. If you are able to watch it, there is a great show called ‘secrets of the castle’ which documents part of a 25 year project to build a medieval castle in France, using only the methods they would have used. It’s fascinating to see how such a thing can happen with a bit of peoplepower and relatively simple tools and techniques.
    All the best,

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha ha we both read the same guy. Yes, he has it very well put hasn’t he.

    I have been observing my self ever since and it is true if I drive to visit a friend it is not as satisfying a trip than if I visit by my bike. With the bike it is a full on adventure with being in the elements, the effort, the engagement with the smells, sights and interactions with random passers by. I come home feeling content with having had a real adventure on top of the visit it’s self. Same thing walking or taking public transport.. and engaging with random strangers should the opportunity present it’s self.

    Yes, convenience makes things quicks and single pointed. From A to B and that is all. It robs us of random mindfulness opportunities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree. That has been my experience when riding or walking places too. Also, as Ethan Hughes (Possibility Alliance) says, if it’s more effort to get there, you stay longer, making the visit so much more engaging….at least that’s true for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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