Industrious and creative individuals take tool use very seriously. However, ceramic artists invest significant amounts of time in designing and creating purposeful tools, turning them into permanent, valued possessions. Our tools range from mass-produced sponges to DIY hacks on everyday objects, to treasured, but useful, artifacts we have found or have been gifted over the course of our careers. Each one of them is a valuable asset that plays an important role in each object we make.
Why do we love tools so much? Not only are they functional and full of potential, but they’re also nice to look at, especially when they become well-worn. And, beautiful and useful objects are our business. I find that no matter how many tools I have and insist on buying (aka collecting) there are a few that I gravitate toward more than others. Of the over 100 tools in my little red tool box, the ones below are my favorites for both practical and sentimental reasons. Clockwise from top left: 1) circle cutter used by my mom and her mom before her (not sure this is how she intended me to use it); 2) baker’s bench scraper used by my dad, a baker for over 30 years; 3) soft red rubber rib, hands down the best tool I own; 4) curved Surform; 5) metal cutter from a cling-wrap box; 6) fat handled X-Acto knife; 7) fork with thick tines; 8) rubber-tipped tool; 9) dental tools; 10) decorative needle tool with a protective cap on one end and a loop on the other so it can be worn around the neck and never lost. While I’m sure I could create work without these tools, I’m not sure I would want to. They make the experience both easier and enjoyable as I reach for each tool knowing exactly what it can do and in some cases, remembering who gifted it to me.
In this issue, tools are the key to better work; whether that means the object made or the act of making. Nancy Zoller was given a homemade extruder die to help her create baking dishes; Sumi von Dassow throws an invaluable device to help water the garden; Steve Davis gets technical about kilns—a tool we all want to use more efficiently; and Robin Ouellette redraws Lili Krakowski’s homemade gadgets that everyone can make on their own with scraps from the studio. I imagine these tools are on each of the author’s own top ten list. What’s on your list?