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A modern hammer is directly descended from ancient hand tools.

A tool may be defined as a device or piece of equipment that is used to facilitate or accomplish a mechanical task. A broader definition of a tool is an entity used to interface between two or more domains, to facilitate more effective action of one domain on the other.

The most basic tools are simple machines. For example, a hammer typically interfaces between the operator's hand and the nail the operator wishes to strike. A saw interfaces between the carpenter and the piece of wood being cut. A crowbar functions as a lever: when pressure is exerted farther away from the pivot point, greater force is transmitted along the lever. Also, in communications technology, a telephone (or the phone system) is a tool that allows communication between people. In computer science, a tool is a software program that may generate, modify, or analyze other programs.

Some historical highlights

Evidence of the manufacture and use of stone tools dates back to the beginnings of the Stone Age, although it is possible that earlier tools of less durable material may not have survived. Stone tools found in China have been dated (magnetostratigraphically) to approximately 1.36 million years ago. The transition from stone to metal tools roughly coincided with the development of metal smelting, agriculture, and animal domestication around the fourth millennium B.C.E. Early metal tools were made of copper and then bronze, followed by iron.

The development of civilizations was intimately linked to the development of various types of tools. There was a major expansion in the invention and production of mechanical devices during the Middle Ages, with the systematic employment of new energy sources, namely, water (in the form of waterwheels) and wind (in the form of windmills).

The production of new tools surged during the Industrial Revolution, in the form of machine tools. Advocates of nanotechnology expect a similar surge as tools become microscopic in size.[1][2]

Types of tools and their functions

  • Cutting tools: Cutting tools are wedge-shaped implements that produce a shearing force along a narrow face. Examples are the knives, scythes, sickles, gouges, and drill bits. Ideally, the edge of the tool needs to be harder than the material being cut, or else the blade will become dulled with repeated use. But even resilient tools require periodic sharpening, which is the process of removing deformation wear from the edge.
  • Moving tools: These are tools used to move things of varying sizes, ranging from tiny to huge. Concentrating force tools like the hammer moves a nail, and the maul moves a stake. They operate by applying physical compression to a surface. In the case of the screwdriver, the force is sideways and called torque. Writing implements deliver a fluid to a surface via compression to activate the ink cartridge. Also grabbing and twisting nuts and blots with pliers, a glove, a wrench, etc...) All these tools move items by some kind of force. Also Trucks, Rockets and Planes move larger items.
  • Tools that trigger chemical changes: They include lighters, blowtorches and solvent sprays. They may ignite materials, raise the temperature, and lead to chemical changes.
  • Guiding and measuring tools: Examples are a straightedge (including the ruler), set square, and theodolite (that measures horizontal and vertical angles).
  • Shaping tools: Examples of shaping tools include molds, jigs, trowels, concrete formwork, and caulk.
  • Fastening tools: Examples of fastening tools are welders, rivet guns, nail guns, and glue guns.

Machine tools

A machine tool is a powered mechanical device, typically used to fabricate metal components of machines by machining, which is the selective removal of metal. The term machine tool is usually reserved for a tool that uses a power source other than human effort, but it may also be powered by a person if appropriately set up. Examples of machine tools include lathes, broaching machines, hobbing machines, shapers, planers, Stewart platform mills, and grinders.

Multi-use tools

  • A multitool is a hand tool that incorporates several tools in a single, portable device.
  • Lineman's pliers incorporate a gripper and cutter, and may be used secondarily as a hammer.
  • Hand saws often incorporate the functionality of the carpenter's square in the right-angle between the blade's dull edge and the saw's handle.

Tool substitution

Often, by design or coincidence, a tool may share key functional attributes with one or more other tools. In this case, some tools can substitute for other tools, either as a make-shift solution or as a matter of practical efficiency. "One tool does it all" is a motto of some importance for workers who cannot practically carry every specialized tool to the location of every work task.

Tool substitution may be divided broadly into two classes: substitution "by design" (or "multi-purpose" use) and substitution as "make-shift." In many cases, the designed secondary functions of tools are not widely known. As an example of the former, many wood-cutting hand saws integrate a carpenter's square by incorporating a specially shaped handle that allows 90° and 45° angles to be marked by aligning the appropriate part of the handle with an edge and scribing along the back edge of the saw. The latter is illustrated by the saying "All tools can be used as hammers." Many tools may be used as hammers, even though few tools are intentionally designed for that purpose.


Protective gear is recommended for people who use tools. Personal protective equipment includes such items as gloves, safety glasses, ear defenders, and biohazard suits. These items themselves are not considered tools, because they do not directly help perform work but they protect the worker from injury.

Development of human civilization

Most anthropologists believe that the use of tools was an important step in the development of human civilization.[3] Humans have an opposable thumb—useful in holding tools—and increased dramatically in intelligence, which aided in the use of tools.[4]

It is in the domain of media and communications technology that a counter-intuitive aspect of our relationships with our tools first began to gain popular recognition. Marshall McLuhan famously said "We shape our tools. And then our tools shape us." McLuhan was referring to the fact that our social practices adapt with our use of new tools and the refinements we make to existing tools.

Philosophical implications

Philosophers once thought that only humans had the ability to make and use tools. It has, however, been observed that various other species can use tools, including monkeys, apes, sea otters, and several types of birds. In addition, zoologists have reported that some birds and monkeys can make tools.[5][6][7]

Many now think that the unique relationship between humans and tools is that we are the only species that uses tools to make other tools.

See also


  1. David Whelan (2004), Nanotechnology: Big Potential In Tiny Particles Retrieved October 21, 2008.
  2. Katrina C. Arabe (2004), Will this Tiny Science Usher in the Next Industrial Revolution? ThomasNet. Retrieved October 21, 2008.
  3. Sam Lilley, Men, Machines and History; The Story of Tools and Machines in Relation to Social Progress (New York: International Publishers, 1966, OCLC 504396).
  4. M.J. Farabee (2001), Human Evolution: Primates and Their Adaptations Retrieved October 21, 2008.
  5. William H. Calvin (1991), Woman, the Toolmaker? In The Throwing Madonna: Essays on the Brain. Bantam. Retrieved October 21, 2008.
  6. Chimp Minds Scientific American Frontiers, Program #1504. Transcript at, Airdate Feb. 9, 2005.
  7. Chimpanzee Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure. Retrieved October 21, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Dodds, Steve. 2005. Tools: A Tool-by-Tool Guide to Choosing and Using 150 Home Essentials. Richmond Hill, Ont: Firefly. ISBN 978-1554070602
  • Ettlinger, Steve. 2002. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Everything Sold in Hardware Stores and Garden Centers (Except the Plants). Philadelphia, PA: Courage Books. ISBN 0762414936
  • Krar, Stephen F., Arthur Gill, and Peter Smid. 2005. Technology of Machine Tools, 6th ed. Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0078307228
  • Miller, Rex, and Mark R. Miller. 2004. Audel Machine Shop Tools and Operations, 5th ed. The Audel Machinist's Library. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Pub. ISBN 0764555278
  • Nagyszalanczy, Sandor. 2003. The Homeowner's Ultimate Tool Guide: Choosing the Right Tool for Every Home Improvement Job. Newtown, CT: Taunton Press. ISBN 1561585823
  • Rae, Andy. 2002. Choosing & Using Hand Tools. New York: Lark Books. ISBN 1600592740


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