Tool Appropriation, and Appreciation


Before recently joining Ogonek Custom Hardwoods I worked for years as a user experience designer. I attended various digital design conferences where there was always at least one presenter who discussed the topic of digital tools while showing a photo of woodworking tools. In some ways I get it … what can you really show as far as a picture for digital design tools? Also, woodworking tools are immediately recognizable as tools, and depending on their state of wear, can also convey the idea of putting in the hours to acquire a level of mastery.

Still, those images of tools always amused me, and I’d often snap a photo of a PowerPoint slide to send to Dan, who actually uses those kinds of tools. It happens often enough that I wonder, is it really just a metaphor? Or do many of us, deep down, wish we were really woodworkers?

When people ask me what Dan does and I tell them, I often see a glimmer of something in their eyes that looks like envy. I empathize with that reaction; I’ve spent 17 years as a knowledge worker and don’t have anything tangible to show for it. Nothing that can shelter a family, or that you can spread a meal on, or keep the sheep fenced in with. User experience borrows the concept of “embodiment” from other fields-- psychology and anthropology--which says people store knowledge within their bodies, not just their heads. Seeing Dan and his team work, I know that this is true. It can’t be a coincidence that one of the most popular posts on our Instagram account is a video of Jake drilling a hole into the end of a beam. You can see the confident knowledge in his hands and his stance as he does it.

For this post, I asked Dan to take a photo of some tools around the shop, “just find a jumble of tools and snap a picture”, I told him. But it turned out not to be a jumble; the tools were arranged carefully and lovingly like artists tools. And that’s what I’ve come to think of Dan and his team, not as builders, and certainly not as contractors, a term many people seem eager to apply to them once I explain what they do. But as artisans; artisans with both actual and embodied knowledge of their craft. I hope I’m lucky enough someday to live in a home they’ve created.