Hand tools (no engines, chips, electricity or compressed air) have changed over time, but very slowly compared to what are sometimes called “power tools”. Old tools (100 years ago and more) were interesting, and often beautiful. The photo on the left shows a drill probably used to drill holes for knob-and-tube wiring in a framed or even completed house, and an old wooden brace from the time when braces ruled the roost , well before drills powered by electric motors, and now driven by ion batteries took over. I seem to have accumulated quite a few such tools just because they are beautiful, and using them makes me realize how challenging woodworking used to be.
But many hand tools have changed very little. The photo on the right shows a “modern” pick, shovel, and rake, that have certainly not changed in my lifetime, and are still heavily used in the day of leaf blowers, bull-dozers, and jack hammers. The next one on the left shows three hammers, the top one having belonged to my mother, who was building furniture and helping on the house before I was born, and was given to me as my first hammer. I still use it. I recently bought the one below it, and it is surprisingly similar to the one made 90 years ago. The one at the bottom, also recently bought new, is obviously striving for recognition as high technology, and I am less likely to break the handle, but quite frankly, I am not convinced that it functions a whole lot better than the 90 year old one, and it definitely cost more.
But many hand tools have improved greatly, due to the availability of new materials and manufacturing processes. The final photo shows two “grabbers”. Some of you may remember the large one with the wooden handle, because it is typical of those used in grocery and other stores to take items off of the top shelves. It is fun to use, as it is large and clunky and gives you the choice of one of two handles to close the grippers, depending on how high the desired object is.
But the small one, given to me when I had knee replacements a few years ago in hopes that I would not climb on rickety stools to reach things, and that I could get my pants on before I became limber again without bothering my wife, is indeed impressive. I had not had experience with these things at all, but this one is strong, able to fold for traveling, and very grabby indeed. It is extremely simple, relying on a simple spring to keep it open, and a nylon cord to close the claw. It is very light weight, the structure being a simple square tube of thin aluminum, and the two surfaces that close on the target are brilliantly made. I tested it in the hospital on everything from glasses of water, through pillows and picking up pills, to a large vase of flowers that was in my room. And yes, I still have it.
A professor friend of mine, who had also gone through surgery and was given one, fell so in love with it that he decided that his world had increased in size by four feet (roughly twice the length of the grabber), and proceeded to add four feet to the width of the desk in his office, and two feet to the height of his bookshelves. He also claimed to have radically increased the usable storage space in his garage and closet at home, and loves to entertain himself by challenging his friends to games of skill with his grabber and trouncing them viciously.
Most hand tools have improved over time, but slowly, and that is part of the reason I love them. Using them gives me more satisfaction than power tools and in the long run allows me to keep more fingers, and I do not have to spend money and develop new skills because improvements occur (as with digital devices). They are generally easier on the environment, offer free exercise, and let you impress you friends, neighbors, and sometimes even your spouse with your skills. Although in all honesty I must admit I am fighting the temptation to buy a new drill motor and electric screw driver because they now come with lithium ion batteries, which produce more power and hold more charge than the nickel metal hydride batteries in my present one. And I use lots of machinery when working with metal. Nobody is pure.