An Irreverence for Tools


I have no reverence for my tools. I don’t care if they’re hand tools or machines. They’re granted a place in my shop because they help me to do my work. I use them for their intended purposes. And often I use them for completely unintended purposes. They just have to get a specific job done the way I need it done. I have insulted some of my tools. Drill a hole in the casting? Sure, even in a hand plane. Modify some part because it doesn’t fit me just right, or because it might then do something really interesting and unusual? Absolutely. Build a jig for a tool that doesn’t usually see a jig? Of course. I have goals in mind, and these things are my servants. I need them to do exactly what I tell them to do. And I don’t care if they’re not used to that kind of work. I don’t take back-talk from my tools.

This is not a new attitude. Poring through old drawings I’ve discovered many of my ‘inventions’ and modifications were already commonly in use 250 years ago ( I should have looked first) – and they probably originated a century or more before that.

This is not to say I don’t care about my tools. I care very much. They’re stored carefully, in a rather nice cabinet, sharpened often, and trued and flattened when it’s called for. I get great pleasure from using them. And I want to be sure they’re ready for anything I throw at them. But prctice and using my body properly is the best way to ensure that I’ll get everything I need out of them. And understanding the essence of my tools and the wood means that I’ll have a better idea of just how I can get the most from the tools.

What do I care about? The work.

And the work I revere was usually made with very similar attitudes. The great craftsmen (both past and present) took advantage of every trick they knew or could think of to get the results they wanted. And to get those results as efficiently as possible.

Jeff Miller