Words From a Mas­ter Crafts­man

Picture of hammers and tools from Ford Hallam's website - http://fordhallam.com, used with permission.

Pic­ture of ham­mers and tools from Ford Hallam’s web­site — http://fordhallam.com, used with per­mis­sion.

Ford Hal­lam is an extraordin­ar­ily tal­en­ted met­al smith trained in the Japan­ese tra­di­tion. A short film was made about his work, Utsushi — in Search of Katsushira’s Tiger which I think every­one should watch. I have watched it many many times and I take great joy in it each time. Oppor­tun­it­ies to watch a mas­ter at work in this way are too rare.

Utsushi itself is a won­der­ful concept for any­one work­ing to recre­ate the crafts or arte­facts of the past but it will be the top­ic of a future post.

Today Ford pos­ted this on his face­book page, and I am repro­du­cing it here with his per­mis­sion.

A work­er may be the hammer’s mas­ter, but the ham­mer still pre­vails. A tool knows exactly how it is meant to be handled, while the user of the tool can only have an approx­im­ate idea.”
Mil­an Kun­dera

Con­trary to what some may ima­gine I’m not a tool col­lect­or. In my philo­sophy the most import­ant tool any maker posses is their hands. The skill­ful and sens­it­ive use of our hands is what gives life to our cre­ations. Nat­ur­ally, we need to use tools to manip­u­late the media we choose to work but allow­ing too many com­plic­ated con­triv­ances between our skin and our medi­um can only stifle expres­sion. Like a game of Chinese Whis­pers each degree of sep­ar­a­tion between fin­gers and met­al dulls and dis­torts our voice.

I’m actu­ally dis­trust­ful of what I see as the fet­ish­isa­tion of tools. Is this an inev­it­able aspect of our con­sumer­ist mar­ket­place? If it is it’s pro­foundly iron­ic giv­en that real makers don’t make to accu­mu­late but quite the oppos­ite. There’s no harm in dec­or­at­ing a favour­ite ham­mer or giv­ing a fancy twist to your chas­ing tools…but when this elev­ates the tool to some­thing bey­ond merely a means to an end than I feel focus has been lost. The tools become a sub­sti­tute for real work, but no amount of these sub­sti­tutes will sat­is­fy the genu­ine need to make. There’s no easy way, we’ve just got to do the work. There’s no labour to be saved…saved for what?

Mil­an Kundera’s quote makes a very import­ant point. Our tools, those most simple and ancient ones, those which served our ancest­ors for thou­sands of years, have much to teach us…if we could only listen. But our tend­ency to be dis­trac­ted by every new gad­get, labour sav­ing gizmo or ‘new and improved’ tool keeps us from get­ting a glimpse of the real poten­tial of the fun­da­ment­als of any art. There will always be some­thing new, some­thing prom­ising an easi­er way or claim­ing to bypass the need to devel­op real skill, but these allur­ing Sirens flat­ter to deceive.

It’s not about the tools, it’s what you do with them. Care for them, even hon­our them, but ask your­self this: do you want merely to play with cool tools OR do you really want to cre­ate, to give voice to your most authen­t­ic ima­gin­ings ?

Post­script: I real­ise that most of what I’ve writ­ten may appear extreme or even an affront to some. It’s not meant to offend. I’m merely offer­ing food for thought and a slightly dif­fer­ent per­spect­ive. Namaste all.

For the record, I don’t think Ford’s pos­i­tion is extreme in the slight­est. I think that tool­mak­ing can rise to the level of an art into itself, but the col­lec­tion of such tools is dif­fer­ent from the mere acquis­i­tion of tools in the hope that they will some­how magic­ally pro­duce bet­ter work as a sub­sti­tute for prac­tice, fail­ure, learn­ing and more prac­tice.

Your hands are the most import­ant tools you have, and you need per­haps five oth­ers to make great shoes.

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