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The Book of Tools

The French call it a perche. Every house in the Alpine villages here used to have several. They are made of pine wood. Most of the year they lean against some tall wall, sheltered from the sun or snow by overhanging roofs. When a plantation of pines is planted there are invariably certain saplings which do less will than others in the fight for sunlight. It is these frailer ones which, after a year or so, are uprooted and striped to become perches. They dry out, they become lighter in weight, and they change colour – they become a grey of a galena stone. A perche is a pole used in the autumn for agitating, shaking and banging the topmost branches of the fruit trees around the house. The fruit come tumbling down on to the sheets of plastic or linen laid out on the grass below. They are collected and put into barrels to ferment; and from the fermented fruit eau-de-vie is distilled. Some tools are mere instruments; others are accomplices. The perche, like the scythe, is an accomplice, I think of this very tall pole, the colour of a galena stone, pointing at the sky.

John Berger © 2004




Here is the indoors tool I have chosen. With it I wind up a pendulum clock which must be hundred years old. It was manufactured by the Ansonia Brass Company in Connecticut, USA. They were specialists in timepieces for “Ship, steamboats, locomotives and dwellings.” The clock is 50cm tall and has hinged glass door on which has been painted a beehive, shaped like this «, with bees flying around it. Bees, from early Greece onwards, have been used as a sign for the passing of time. The clock stands on a high shelf against the chimney in the kitchen. I don’t necessarily notice instantly when the clock stops. Sooner or later, however, a blank, breathless silence attracts my attention. To wind up the clock I have to stand on tiptoe, with my hands as far above my head as I can reach. The original key was lost-perhaps several times? This one is a substitute. I insert it between the Roman numerals III and IV and make 10 half-turns. Then I ease the pendulum to one side with a finger and it starts swinging. On tiptoe, hands far above my head, I have the feeling, before I shut behind the ticking clock is in the kitchen breathing again.

John Berger © 2004




A Favourite Outside Tool
When working for your living with tools there must be a hundred, easily, to recall for comment. Sure there are. My son Carson, who often works with me, was certain I would choose the peavey. He has seen us work that grand pivot stick to wise purchase — tossing a tree log over, often one heavier than the woodstove inside our house. Impossible tasks accomplished. But it’s not the peavey this time. Nor my dear wood-splitting maul I visit almost every morning, taped thick around the top of the handle under the heavy head. Or my hammers — mostso the hatchet headed hammer for cedar shingles, a virtuoso of hammers. Not the so many rakes, shovels, iron bars for my stone work, or even my wheelbarrows that move the field stone from one place to another. They also moved so many yards of crushed stone, firewood by the decades, groceries from a far off parked truck in the pith of deep woods winter snows. And my son, when much younger, hopped in for many rides in these wheelbarrows. So did his mother. But the tool that rode the most with me, the one I learned from as a woodcutter novice coming off a pair of long Swedish bowsaws and just had to make my way into teaching myself the ropes and earn my living cutting trees, was my Jonsered-90 chain saw. Big bold red hefty motherfucker, but it cut like no other saw I ever handled. Twenty-inch cutting bar. I’ve had too many close calls with limbs, kickback stumps, pinched base cuts and never anyone around to talk, bitch, moan with about it all, except Jonsered-90. And talk we did; as I also talked to each tree I cut, especially the handsome and full headdress beauties. Many winters I could be found hiked away from the house with a backpack of fuel jugs, wedges, an axe, and the Jonsered slung over my shoulder carried up a hill that way. Bought in 1977 from a guy who ran a small engine business in his barn, and I’m sure he looked at me and then the saw and thought for sure trouble was ahead. True, I tore two knuckles to the bone when my hand slipped across the sharp chain when unlocking nuts for the bar. I was surprised the Jonsered would do this to me, or did I do it to myself? Between the saw and myself we talked this way. And there were no other accidents, but hundreds of jobs ahead that paid for the saw many times over. Until, one day dropping roadside trees — making a better clearing for a forest yard — Jonsered snarled and cut and worked well, and then wouldn’t start. Busted piston. It made it to almost twenty-five years. Oh sure, I babied the saw to keep it all those years. I have logger friends that go through chain saws like work boots. But like I said, this was a friend. The saw now sits on an upper shelf in my tool-room because it’s still heavy and I’m older and I’ve been told there are much lighter and faster saws now on the market. But do they talk and listen?

Bob Arnold © 2004

Bob Arnold has since made a book of his own ‘Tools For A Stone Bridhouse


A Favourite Indoor Tool
What’s an indoor tool that I haven’t been able to make an outdoor tool? I can’t think of any. There are five portable typewriters collected over the years that I wrote a book each on. A plucky, old Smith Corona that I used to write my book On Stone; each day trying to come in from outdoor work and saving an hour or two to write another chapter. But I also wrote with one of my portable typewriters outdoors — took one with me in 1975 to Newfoundland in an equally old VW bug and would type postcards to friends on the roof of the car, or on the deck of the ferry sailing over. However, no matter how much I love my old typewriters, they aren’t my choice for a favorite indoor tool. That goes to my portable (and “portable” is the key word for all indoor tools) record player. Housed in its soft leather brown case. It plays 45s and 33s but I only play the latter and own thousands. The record player’s $14 stylus is easily replaceable from the Crosley Company. It was my friend Marie Harris who raved about its merits and I believed her, and before I knew it, Susan had surprised me with one for my birthday. Since then it has played music in every room of the house. The unit has a long attached cord to plug in, so I can have it playing as far away from the house as 300 feet off three extension cord lengths. I have taken it to carpentry jobs with circular saw, table saw and the record player juiced off the same power cord...
Nina Simone, John Fahey, Skip James high enough away from the dust and commotion but spinning and serenading nonetheless. When done for the day, wrap the tools up, move everything undercover. Stack the sawhorses. Rake up scraps. Close the lid on the record player and snap it shut.

Bob Arnold © 2004










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