The Tool Book - book review

by Liz Beavis

I always really enjoyed workshop classes at highschool, both wood and metal work were a lot of fun.  I just like making things I suppose.  I do remember one teacher must have been told that we had to also learn theory, so one lesson per week was spent (wasted) by copying out of a book on tools.  I specifically remember copying out a section on chisels, I would have much rather been using a chisel, so I don't have a good history with books on tools!  However, I was intrigued when Penguin asked me to review a new offering, The Tool Book: A Tool Lover's Guide to Over 200 Hand Tools (although the version I have is subtitled: The Australian companion to over 200 Hand Tools).


The book has sections dedicated to different types of tools, including measuring, cutting, fastening, striking, digging, sharpening and decorating.  Each section starts with a quick history of the tool category, and then has photos and descriptions of a selection of the examples, with more in depth pages on how to use and choose various tools.  Finally each section has a page on how to maintain tools.

The foreword by Nick Offerman was a bit confusing for me because I am only aware of his role as Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation (brilliant!) in which his character was a craftsman, but I didn't know that he also appears on a new show called Making It, which I understand is a program where he interviews people who make things.  Anyway, when I first read it I couldn't figure out if it was the Nick or Ron writing, but a bit of googling has cleared up the confusion.

Which brings me to the odd habit that DK books have of adjusting things like sub-titles to pretend that the book is "Australian" but not bothering to make sure that the entire book appears Australian.  The book is very obviously not Australian, it begins with a foreword from someone who is not really famous in Australia, and it includes terms that we don't use here, it suggests building a timber tool shed (let's feed the termites!), and it doesn't even have a mattock in the digging section!  They did get photos and quotes from 14 Australian tradespeople (including one token female glass blower!).  All four authors are based in the UK, it was originally published in the UK.  I just don't see the point of pretending that its Australian.



In the review request, Penguin mentioned that they were targeting this book as a Father's Day gift.  Personally I think this is mis-guided.  As an engineer and a feminist, I don't think an interest in tools is limited to males.  I actually think this would be a terrible gift for some men. 

As a test, I tried to find a tool in the book that Pete (my metal worker husband) had not heard of, so I read out some of the more unusual tools and he was able to describe all of them.  Don't give this book to a tradie, they already know about tools, its their job.  There is probably a niche market of men who do not already know about tools and would find this book interesting or useful, however, most either know what they need to know through experience or are not interested in tools (a potential passive-aggressive nudge at the man who doesn't do enough trade work around the house maybe?).

I think this book would actually be better suited to a teenagers who are just getting interested in wood or metal working trades and would benefit from a basic overview of the different types of tools, history and maintenance requirements.  I found it interesting myself, as I had not heard of some of the tools.  I have learnt a lot about tools through tidying up Pete's shed (asking "what is this?" all the time, so I can decide where to hide/put it for him).  


The maintenance information was the most useful part that I think I will refer back to regularly.  We own a lot of tools (three sheds full of tools!) and I don't know if we really look after them all.  My contribution to making things is often limited to organising and sorting the tools as I don't really have the skills for anything complex, and I think I can also help with cleaning and maintaining them.  Pete recently put up a bracket in one of the sheds so that we can hang up the garden tools, so that is a good start (one of our shovels has termite damage on the handle from being left outside too long!).

Note that the book is only about "hand tools", so does not include any powertools, welders, oxy cutting etc (any of the fun tools!).  But I do have a lot of respect for the appropriate use of hand tools, I think they can give a better finish and require more skill to use effectively.  I also like that you can use them remotely without bringing the generator. 

Overall, its an interesting book with lovely photos, great for a beginner who wants to know more about tools.  It is not Australian.  It is not only for men.

What do you think?  How did you learn about tools? 


1 comment

  • Chris

    A good, honest, review. While I do know a lot about hand tools, I know I could always stand to learn more about them. I especially liked how they included the maintenance part. I know we fail at sharpening our shovels, spades, mattocks and axes! I need a whopping big vice to do that kind of job, to hold the tool in place. When I get my tool shed built, that’s exactly what I’ll have!

    I did buy a small axe stone, designed to use by hand though. Just so I could sharpen our axes. Nothing worse than working with a dull blade! I imagine that would be something, the book covered?

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