In the book Tools: Making Things Around The World, author Hubert Comte presents photos of and the stories behind tools used around the world to make things from materials such as wood, stone, metal, glass, leather, and even food.
A doctor of art history specializing in the “philosophy of tools,” Comte presents a visually appealing collection of photographs, diagrams, drawings, articles, and even literary quotes which situate each tool in a unique time and place. Tools examines the evolution of the human and natural origins of tools, categorizing them by the materials and industries with which they are associated, such as agriculture, textiles, wood, metal, etc. The book offers a decidedly international look at all forms of tools used by people from prehistory to the modern day.
It’s a large-format “coffee-table” book with copious dramatic and beautiful photographs, but what really makes Tools stand out is the way Comte recognizes the never-ending husbandry of the tool world: the way tools are used to make tools, which are then used to make other tools. Starting each time within a group of tools used to work a specific material, he follows each tool’s distinct lineage to give the reader rare insight into the material, the tool, and even the people who use it.
For example, Comte begins with one of the most common materials: wood. His journey begins with the tools used by lumberjacks to harvest the wood, then follows this line of thinking through the creation of the ax. The ax leads to tools such as the scorer (used for marking wood), and the saw-set, which leads to the creation of saws. By the time he reaches modern carpentry, he’s covered dozens of professions and their kits of unique tools like the clogmaker’s gouge, the cooper’s (barrelmaker’s) hammer, and the cabinetmaker’s miter box.
This book serves as reference, entertainment, and textbook material alike. It comes off the shelf often when we’re trying to determine the purpose of a found tool, or even just for light, fun, reading.
Tools‘ cover price is $75, but used copies are readily available online for a quarter of that, and this book seems to turn up often at Half-Price Books and other used bookstores.
Comte, Hubert. Tools: Making Things Around the World. Trans. Molly Stevens and David Marinelli. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997. (Hardcover, 352 pages) ISBN: 0810938995