Monday, November 28, 2011

Beyond Fuels 2: The Tools Beyond Fuels

My former housemate Jon is a very handy guy to have around. He's good at fixing things--in fact, he fixes things for a living. When I expressed interest in learning these kinds of skills, he loaned me two of his books. (It's been sort of a long-term loan as I borrowed them quite a while back.)

The Way Things Work by David Macaulay is an introduction to the basic physical principles of tools. While it does explore electricity and nuclear power plants (and the newest edition focuses on computers) the early chapters give a basic understanding of how simple things actually work.

In fact, the first part is called The Mechanics of Movement and discusses the Inclined Plane, Levers, Wheels and Axles, Gears and Belts, Cams and Cranks and Pulleys, and Springs and Screws and Rotating Wheels. If you can ignore the overly cute mammoths, this book will give you a clear and simple picture of the physics behind the tools and machines we use. Even better, it shows how some of these very basic concepts are used in many complicated machines. Later sections explain how boats and pumps and toilets and thermostats work. All in all, incredibly useful to someone who has no real knowledge of why and how tools (and machines) work. And if fossil fuels go away, knowing the use, care, and repair of tools and simple machines is going to be very important.

The other book Jon loaned me is a very old, very useful book called A Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane. Eric Sloane points out that the word 'museum' used to mean a printed collection of facts. His book is a collection of information about the tools used in the US before mass production took over. They were hand made with care and each was one of a kind. The book gives a lot of information about the functions of tools and what was used for what--particularly which implement was used to fashion what before power tools took over. Each page has beautiful drawings of the tools and is filled with information on their use.

If fuels are going away, so are power tools. To live beyond fuels means that we can't take any technology for granted. Not just power tools, but even things like assuming the lights will work and we can just purchase what we want. Knowing how to make and craft things, how things work and how they are repaired, and how to do this all using simple tools will be essential. We will need an real understanding of what basic hand tools are and how they work. Once they were how everything were made and built. I believe that this is how they will be again.

Quote of the Day: "The Civil War period marked a turning point in tool design... Before that time, the word tool meant an implement that could make one thing at a time; mass production tools then entered the scene, and the word tool, which had meant only 'hand tool', took on many added meanings. ...
"Generally speaking, hand tools made after the Civil War period lacked the simple beauty of those of the ante-bellum period. Things were made to sell quickly, things were made in large quantities so that they could be catalogued identically, and hand-made implements began to disappear. ...
"When we consider tools, we are dealing with human benefactors of the most primary sort. Tools increase and vary human power, they economize human time, and they convert raw substances into valuable and useful products. ...
"An extraordinary awareness of life and time permeated our early days; when something was made and the maker was satisfied, it wasn't complete until his mark and the date were added. Nowadays things are almost obsolete before they leave the drawing board." - Eric Sloane

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