Objects such as the humble Stanley knife can attribute their archetypal status to their design which has remained unchanged for decades, due most in part to their utility and functionality. The knife’s status is therefore born out of humanity’s need for simple basic tools and their valuable functions. It perhaps connects with us on a subconscious and a rather primal level; as many craftspeople will tell you, the simplest tools are often the best.
I, for instance, love my cabinet scraper – possibly the simplest tool there is. It is nothing more that a rectangle of hardened tooling steel with a sharp scraping burr on the long edge that the cabinetmaker uses to achieve a fine finish on bare wood. I love the fact that you can get such perfect results, given, of course, that you spend time and effort learning the special technique of first sharpening and then using it correctly. In this way, tools are an immensely rewarding pursuit; the user constantly driven to hone their blade to an even sharper edge or to achieve an even straighter line of cut just to satisfy their appetite for a greater level of control over their medium.
In the much grander scheme of things, this is what human civilisation is founded on – the control and harnessing of the natural world through intelligence and skill, and tools play arguably the greatest part in this.
The first cutting tools were created when our ancestors discovered that if they stuck a piece of flint, they could form a sharp edge. This giant leap insured our proliferation as a species and left the blade and other such hand tools deeply ingrained in our collective conscious. Aside from their indispensable nature, perhaps this is why we have such a connection with simple implements and why so many of them become universal.
S.E. Rasmussen in his 1964 publication Experiencing Architecture has this to offer:
When we regard the tools produced by man … we find that by means of material, form, color and other perceptive qualities, man has been able to give each tool its individual character. Each one seems to have its own personality which fairly speaks to us like a helpful friend, a good comrade. And each implement has its own particular effect upon our minds.
Tools therefore, elevate a state of conciousness. They become extensions of both our physical limbs and our minds and it is this quality which we as craftspeople are so drawn to. It is not uncommon for a craftsperson to pick up a new tool and be at once filled with inspiration for things that they can achieve with it. I myself have often picked up a new plane or drawer knife and after five or ten minutes of playing around, have come up with any number of ideas about what to do with it. It is tactile feedback and immediate response such as this that help the craftsperson connect, on a very meaningful level, their minds with their tools, and with it, all their creative drive and flair.