Wednesday 17 February 2021


There was a brief fashion when it was suggested that our, human, official name should be Homo faber [looking at you Hannah Arendt] in recognition of the fact that "handy-man the tool-maker" had done more for us than Homo sapiens whose wisdom has delivered an awfu' lot of useless nonsense: The Blob for starters.

Perhaps the quintessence of tools is the humble hammer which was probably first a handy sized rock which an early ancestor used to pound open an aurochs femur to access the brain-nourishing bone-marrow within. Why just last week, I used a slightly larger two-hander stone to pound in a fence-stake because it was just the one stake and not worth walking up the field to fetch my 2kg sledge hammer for. That image should bring into focus that not all hammers are the same: that sledge would be no use at all to an upholster.

A couple of years ago I downloaded the PDF of a 1940-vintage catalog from Joseph Tyzack & Sons Ltd, Meersbrook Works, Sheffield. Manufacturers of trowels, saws and tools of every description. Someone has lovingly scanned this profusely illustrated book from a copy shipped out to a hardware store in New Zealand. There's an index, of course, offering a variety of hammers: brick, builders', Canterbury, claw, coal, comb, engineers', Exeter, fruiterers', gardeners', grocers', joiners', Kent, lath; Masons' club, M' mosaic, M' punch, M' walling; nail, adze-eye, plumbers', rivetting, scaffolding, scutch, slaters', tack, telephonist or pattern-makers, Warrington. I won't bore you with more than one picture:

This is so informative about how life was 80 years ago. Grocers needed a tool that was a combi axe / hammer / pry-bar for accessing robustly crated tea, fruit and nuts. Shipping containers did away with the need for a lot of intermediate packaging to make the product water- and pilfer-proof.  Our friend the upholsterer can order a tack-hammer as well. No clear to me why telephonists need a hammer at all, let alone customised to the profession. And a word to the wise: the gardener's hammer on p 157 is exactly the same as the 3-leg best steel claw hammer p 45 shown above - you won't need both.

Tools are, of course, fit for purpose: they have evolved since the "Ug, bang two rocks together, mate; that will pull the girls". But they are also subject to cultural inertia, the long handled pointed shovel, universal in Ireland, is a specialty item in England and handles for forks and spades come with D or T handles depending on location too. Surely some equivalent tools are ergonomically better than others but there are only a few such studies. Phew! now I shift the Tyzack PDF from Desktop to Archive.

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