Convivial Tools

Every time I pause to observe the marks left by the tool, I look at the fibers of the oak. You can follow the movement of the grain with your fingertip. It carries on without any concern for the chalk lines or pencil markings, suddenly curving, sometimes plunging, elsewhere whirlpooling around a knot, departing unpredictably and never straight. These lines have a lot to say, and I am reminded of a remark the poet Gary Snyder made to his friend Jim Harrison: “And so each one of these huge old coastal live oaks, with their remarkably twisting, turning, tumultuous structure…. It’s one expression of what it’s like to live in the wind.”

The bit of my axe strikes wood again.

Doloire, axe, froe, chisel, plane, adze… Hand tools, through their simple marriage of iron and wood, allow the user to follow the complex demands of the timber. They allow us to make use of curved pieces, which would otherwise end up as firewood. Hand tools also permit the utilization of unusually dimensioned logs. Hand tools can go where machines cannot. They are  maneuverable – guided by our hands. According to philosopher Ivan Illich, “Most hand tools lend themselves to convivial use.” Illich explains a convivial tool as follows: 

“Tools foster conviviality to the extent to which they can be easily used, by anybody, as often or as seldom as desired, for the accomplishment of a purpose chosen by the user. The use of such tools by one person does not restrain another from using them equally. They do not require previous certification of the user. Their existence does not impose any obligation to use them. They allow the user to express his meaning in action.”

–Joseph Brihiez, excerpt from “Walking with Wood/ Se Promenar avec Le Bois,” in Issue Ten


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