Tools in the Toolbox

By Neal Ritter

Tools in many ways define us as human beings. We make tools to make tools, refining and defining our environment to meet our needs. This could be making a sharp stone flake to cut and shape a digging stick to harvest food. Or shaping and sharpening a bone needle to sew clothing to protect us from the elements. Or using a saw and hammer to build a saw horse to support materials we are cutting in a home improvement project.

Much of the handcrafting element of primitive skills centers around making tools. These could be firemaking tools, hunting tools, containers. All aspects of crafting our needs from our surroundings.

My son Lutreo has grown up surrounded by primitive skills. He was trying to make a fire with a handdrill when he was eighteen months old, imitating the practice he saw around him. He has been using knives, rasps, saws and axes from an early age. In addition to metal tools, he has also been surrounded by stone tools.

When he embarks on a new project, which is almost daily, he grabs whatever tools are available to help complete his vision. Recently, this was making a boat out of cottonwood bark, a fun material easy to find on our farm in Colorado. Predictably, he grabbed a couple of knives, and a rasp. However, to hollow out the boat he found my adze, a tool he has never used before, and figured out how to use it to shape the inside of the boat. My favorite choice was when he needed to drill a hole for the mast, to hold up the sail. He chose a stone tipped pump drill. Growing up surrounded by these skills, for him resources and materials exist in a fluid continuum, and he selects whatever is at hand that will accomplish the task.

I look forward to the day when my own tool use is as free and creative.

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