Spanners (wrenches), Argenton l'Eglise

Surprisingly many animals use tools. Some even make tools, stripping the leaves off branches or sharpening sticks. Dolphins use sponges for foraging; mongooses and thrushes use stones as anvils as do wrasse and other fish; woodpecker finches use cactus spines to dig out insects; and crows have been filmed using tools in various ways, and even seen bending a piece of wire to make a hook.

Fire blower. Few tools are still in use that genuinely date back to the stone age, but this is probably one of them. It's about a metre (40 inches) long and has a hole drilled through from one end to the other. You apply your mouth to the thick end and blow, and the air comes out of a small hole in the thin end (the lightly charred end, in this case). It's more versatile than a bellows, and more reliable, though less powerful and more tiring. On the other hand, think of the effort required to drill a hole from one end to the other, especially with a stone-tipped drill. The little handle is just that: a handle.

What is fascinating about mankind (or humanity if you prefer) is the sheer range of tools that the species has designed and built. Even more fascinating is how useful some of them are, and how useless others are. And, of course, how weird and specialized some of them are.

Lab shank holder. Carving a leg of lamb is much easier if you clamp the bone in this holder

On top of this, a great deal has now been mechanized, so that machines are built by other machines, or by people using tools that are powered machines in their own right: power saws, for example, or power planes.

Wheel spanner. For much of my life I wondered what this was: I finally asked my father just before he died, when I was in my 60s. It's for operating big, wheel-controlled valves, the sort you see in ships' engine rooms. The hook loops over the rim of the wheel and the indentation sits on the outside. It simultaneously provides a bit more leverage and stops you burning your hand.

It's not just machines we make with machines, either: think of cakes, tables, clothes and photographs. Many of the tools in this section are actually kitchen utensils, but there are all kinds of other hand tools as well. Some were inherited from my father (a steam engineer) and some I bought, often at vide-greniers. There are (or will be) also photographic tools of many kinds too, though there is much more about photography on

The Five Shilling Knife

Argenta four-speed breast drill

Patent Oyster Opener (The Hunt for the Patent Oyster)

A Bent-wire Screwdriver (May 31st 2016)

Garlic presses (June 2nd 2016)

Bat (possibly multi-purpose tool, September 7th 2016)

The Patent Oyster: La Lucha Continua (more oyster openers, September 18th 2016)

The Patent Oyster Strikes Again (September 29th 2016)

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