Exercise One: Tool Taxonomy


In pairs, students will be assigned a hand-tool related to a historically significant craft in the domain of ceramics, metal-work, or wood-work. Students will investigate their tool through physical experimentation, direct observation, and background research to develop intuition about hand-craft’s complex interplay between physical dexterity, material affordance, and tool geometry. Work will be conducted in pairs with students taking turns actively practicing use of the tool and observing their partner through careful documentation.


In this exercise students will:

  1. Gain historical and tacit knowledge about the use of hand-tools.
  2. Develop a feel for proper tool grip and attack.
  3. Understand the bias of specific tools toward specific geometries/outcomes.
  4. Compare exemplary artifacts, produced by craftspeople, to physical experimentation in class.
  5. Develop techniques of observation to extract general principles of potential tool use in fabrication scenarios.


  1. Tuesday 01.13.15
    1. Experiment with the tool in your hand, testing for different grips, developing an intuition for balance and gross motor skills related to imagined use of the tool (In Class).
    2. While your partner is experimenting with his/her tool take some time to observe and take a first pass at documenting their movements through sketch, video, and camera (In Class).
    3. Draw a diagram in your notebook that visually describes your intuition regarding the interaction of forces between the hand, the tool, and the material worked by the tool. Draw the trajectory of the tool in use and the resultant material subtraction or deformation from such use (Begin in Class, Finish for Homework).
    4. Investigate your given tool to better understand how it is used using the questions listed below as a guide and document your findings in your notebook (For Homework).
    5. Based upon your investigation and experimentation prepare a plan to physically experiment with your tool using a small material sample during the next class. In your notebook document what you want to make, the techniques used to achieve your goals, and the precedent artifacts related to your ambitions (For Homework).


How has the tool historically been used? What materials it is used with? What types of artifacts has it helped produce? What other tools are often used with it? What is the proper grip(s) for the tool? What techniques are commonly used to control the tool? Has the tool been replaced in any way by industrial machinery? What trades / guilds use this tool? What geometries or patterns does the tool bias?

  1. Thursday 01.15.15
    1. Based upon your experimentation and investigation produce a series of physical experiments that test your intuition about your tool (In Class).
    2. While your partner is experimenting carefully observe and document their work (In Class).
    3. Practice use of your tool and produce samples more aligned with your intent (For Homework).
  2. Tuesday 01.20.15
    1. Practice use of your tool and produce a refined sample demonstrating your intent (Begin in Class, Finish For Homework).
    2. Draw a more refined tool diagram based upon your observations to date. Your drawing may incorporate digital media. (For Homework).
  3. Thursday 01.22.15
    1. Discuss artifacts and drawings from exercise one in group review (In Class).


For the in-class review, please be prepared to discuss your findings, including showing drawings and sample artifacts.  Please refer to the prompt questions above for specific discussion points.

For the artifacts: a series of physical artifacts that evidence exploration of material and tool constraints.  For the “final artifact”,  something showing the development of technique where intention and result combine.

For documentation: evidence that you are developing techniques of observation and analysis.  Examples: video, drawings, photos.  The final diagram should be a visual explanation of the overlapping constraints of physical dexterity, tool, and material affordance.  Please remember your initial sketch which documented your initial expectations.  Please include at least one example of historical artifacts produced using the tool.

Prior to the next class, please submit a short text writeup with accompanying drawing images and a video link to the XSEAD site as discussed on the Submissions page.  Please be sure to add your project to the appropriate ‘pool’ as linked.


The Nature and Art of Workmanship, David Pye  (See Blackboard)
The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert (University of Michigan Archives)

The Key to Metal Bumping, Frank T. Sargent (Course Reserve)
TM Tech Video Tutorials (YouTube)

Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology, Bruce Hoadley
The Complete Manual of Woodworking, Albert Jackson and David Day (Course Reserve)

Ceramics / Plaster
Plastering SkillsF. Van Den Branden and Thomas L. Hartsell (Course Reserve)
Ceramics Handbooks Series, UPenn Press