April 2021

The Joy of Fewer Tools

There is a mind-numbing array of tools available for woodworking, which in my eyes points to a distressing trend in guitar building, woodworking, and handwork in general: tools are becoming big business. The tool business has become profitable enough that tool companies are developing tools at an astounding rate, with products increasing in cost and sophistication. While that’s good for the tool business, I think it’s bad for the concept of craft. Marketers know very well the allure that tools hold for most shop workers, touting their products as the best for the job. “You can do this without having to learn the skill! Our tool is foolproof and will do it all for you!” Many of these products reduce or eliminate the learning curve in acquiring the skills to achieve the desired end result, and for me, therein lies the rub. These tools are especially appealing to newer workers, helping them complete a task that they may not have yet learned to perform themselves.
Patiently learning a task then takes a back seat to buying the tool that guarantees results. So while these tools enable new workers to get results, the standards—craftsmanship, if you will— that a worker may seek to eventually attain will fall by the wayside, to be replaced by whatever standard the tool designer or manufacturer may have deemed “good enough.” The newer worker then also accepts the result as pretty good. Once the tool has been found sufficient to get the job done, the worker uses it repeatedly, getting the same result, with no incentive or opportunity to do it better next time in the pursuit of mastery.

In getting good enough results without learning the needed skill, the means for completing the task has been bought, not earned. I’d like to see more craft workers learn the skills. Once we learn those skills, we own them for life, which gives us the chance to build continuity when we pass them on to other workers. Or better yet, to our children.