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Seeing whiteforge‘s picture above in the Toolmonger Flickr pool reminded me of an imaginary game I used to play as a kid. Maybe you played it, too: We’d imagine what would happen if someone picked us up and magically dumped us on another Earth-like planet with nothing but the clothes on our back and our skills. What would we do? (Sure, you might know all about steel, but can you make it?)

It’s a fun exercise to play as an adult as well, and it illustrates why I’ve always thought blacksmithing is cool. It’s a very tool-meta interest. Blacksmiths generally make their own tools (or make them for each other), and they use the tools they make to make more complex tools. That was pretty much the gist of most of the best arguments we’d make to each other about how we’d soon be soaking in nuclear-powered jacuzzis on our fantasy planets — we’d build everything one step at a time.

Honestly, though, I’d run out of skills long before reaching the same level of technology I depend on today. But I bet I could design and construct a basic lumber mill, which would make building a house (and selling lumber to the natives) a hell of a lot easier. I’ve made a square nail or two as well, and though I don’t want to think too hard about making thousands of ’em, I’d rather do that than be without.

Anyway, take this post as yet another plug for getting involved in blacksmithing. If nothing else, you can make a killer argument to your friends the next time you play “what if?”


10 Responses to How Many Tools Could You Recreate With No Help?

  1. BigEdJr says:

    I too have played and still play that game. I always think back to that old school Start Trek, when Captain Kirk get magically transported to some unknown planet and has to fight some monster creature thing to the death. He finds a bunch of minerals and figures out how to make gun powder and makes a crude hand cannon thing.

    I always think, “Man, just in case… I better learn how to make gun powder…”

  2. Steve says:

    Saltpeter and sugar. I remember that from my days making model rockets. Its a little more complex then that, but its a solid propellant.

  3. Jupe Blue says:

    I think all tools are basically modifications of rocks, sticks or vines. Start with basics and work your way up.

  4. Harvey says:

    On a completely different level, that phrase “would happen if someone picked us up and magically dumped us on another Earth-like planet with nothing but the clothes on our back and our skills” is so true to the newly evolving gameplay of an indie PC game called MineCraft.

    i can’t really say anything better than what’s said in this fan-trailer

    a core gameplay mechanic is taking raw materials, processing them, and making tools.

    *I’m not affiliated with Minecraft in any way, just thought it’s an easy way to actually play out the concept brought up here

  5. Bill says:

    Read Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, not the movie. It changed my outlook since I was 10.

  6. FredB says:

    The Dave Gingery books will show you how to build machine tools from scratch.

  7. craig says:

    the peace corps had a neat pamphlet regarding improvised tools. the metal nut on a tree branch (hammer) always seemed the start for me. maybe a copy is floating around the web.

  8. Brau says:

    “(Sure, you might know all about steel, but can you make it?)”

    You mean, mine the ore, gather/mine fuel, make a forge/crucible, refine the ore, all while trying to find enough food to eat?

    Just to wax a bit philosophical, I honestly don’t think even a couple of people could achieve this. To my mind it requires a large existing community infrastructure, and perhaps why the metal ages never came to fruition until larger nations had conquered the technically primitive tribes and clans that preceded them.

    But yeah, I’ve thought of this, along with being sent back in time …. and being run out of town as a witch for unwittingly doing things they can’t comprehend.

  9. mike says:

    Look at the traditional way steel was made for samurai swords. Iron rich sand and charcoal inside of a big clay furnace.

    Steam engine wouldnt be that hard to build.

    If you have access to copper you could make a crude generator.

    Some traditional glass blowing skills and you have light bulbs and vacuum tube electronics and radios.

  10. I agree with Brau here, that you’d have your hands full simply surviving. Take a member of the opposite gender with you. When you’ve bred a lot and established a sizable civilization, then you can watch each other’s backs and work on technology. But that might be many generations down the line, so what you need to do first is set up a simple, stable system of tribal government, and a writing system with good longevity, so your descendants can read all about steelmaking and actually do it someday.

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