The tradition of handmade tools

The tradition of handmade tools

Japan has always held hand crafts in very high regard. Kids learn how to make origami from a very young age, and many young men and women choose to pursue a craftsman's career in Japan's traditional factories, learning crafts and skills passed down over a thousand years.

Today you can find many tools made by hand, but they are merely hand finished. Unfortunately the heavy work is usually done in other countries in poor working conditions, and then shipped to modern countries for the finishing touches. There are a few companies that focus on making everything by hand, keeping the old traditions alive and at the same time modernizing their premises to attract young workers. Those are mostly found in Japan, Europe, USA and the UK.

Handmade tools in Japan are considered to have their own personality, given to them by their creator. This belief can be clearly felt with kitchen knives. A lot of times if you test a knife for its durability, or its sharpness, you'll find that it is similar to others.

However, the shape, the finishing touches, the texture of the metal, the choice of metal, the polished handle, the angle of sharpening etc are unique to each manufacturer. Metaphorically speaking, every blade an identity. Sometimes they literally have identities as the limited editions are numbered and signed by the makers using traditional metal techniques, passed down from swordsmiths.

''Any tool can be made by a machine, but you cannot make it by a machine and keep the same high standards as a handmade tool'', told me a knife maker in Sanjo, Niigata.

This spirit of craftsmanship and the unique topography of Japan led to highly specialised tools. There are thousands of knife designs, countless shapes of pliers, cutters, secateurs, glasses, ceramics, woodworks etc. 

A tool has a purpose, and that purpose is unique. This view contradicts the western idea of multipurpose tools (think of a Swiss Knife). A westerner may not hesitate to use a knife if he can't find a screwdriver, because it will get the job done. A Japanese will drive to buy a screwdriver, to get the job done right.

This approach of perfecting the process to perfect the product, allows you to enjoy everyday items, made in great working conditions in Japan, by hands of artisans who love what they do, and put care and some spirit into their products.

If you want to experience what it was like to purchase a good item one or two centuries ago, try to explore Japanese handcrafted tools. Higher prices, long lasting built, and personal touches from the manufacturer. A well considered choice for something you are going to keep for a long time, possibly passing it to your children.

London handmade bonsai flower tool
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