The Beauty of Hand Tools

"It is well known that men love tools. As a matter of fact their prize possession is often referred to as a tool." [The History of Wood Part 8 by Daniel Torkelson]

Japanese Sumitsubos - The sumitsubo is used for marking long straight lines onto various surfaces. A thread (tsuboito) is tied to a rounded piece of wood with a needle fixed at the end (karuko). The other end of the thread is passed through the small opening at the end of the sumitsubo (itoguchi), through the depression containing ink (ike) and wound around a spool (itomaki-guruma). The ink is stored in the ike soaked in silk wadding. Silk threads are used as tsuboito. (courtesy Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum, Japan)

Japanese and many Western artisans have long considered tool making to be an art as much as a science. Gifted tool makers are revered in those societies and museums dedicated to the preservation and history of tools, including woodworking tools.

In India, on the other hand, tool makers and woodworkers are considered to be lowly "mistries" and their craft not a matter of serious study or preservation. We pay for that negligence in the form of shoddy workmanship, poorly made tools and so on. This is a pity because India has a long tradition of woodworking. For hundreds of years Indian artisans produced exquisite objects from wood embellished with detailed carvings, lacquer work and inlays. These masterpieces were once sought after all over the world. Even this history has largely been lost.

I have been fortunate to meet a couple of like-minded people who care not just for the utilitarian value of tools but their aesthetics as well. Together we plan to make a few tools of our own that will be both useful and attractive to behold. More on that project later.

Meanwhile, I have acquired a few hand tools that look as interesting as they are useful.

Wooden Mallet
This wooden mallet presented to me by Col CV Bala was turned by him in his home workshop. It is one solid piece made from Baboul wood and has the necessary heft required to bash a chisel. It is a beautifully balanced mallet which sits well and does not cause fatigue. It also looks great made as it is out beautifully figured wood and given an oil finish.

This is another tool made by Col Bala. A simple awl can be attractive as well as robust. This one will last me for many years.

Stanley Awl
This is a mass produced Stanley awl I had picked up some months ago. It is no big deal but I consider it a lovely tool. It is small and fits well in my palm and the cherry paint finished with lacquer gives it a special feel.

Small Hobby Planes
This exquisite set of small hobby planes is one of my favourites. I've included a cell phone in the photograph to give an idea of how tiny the planes are. The great thing is that they all work perfectly; their sharp blades are ideal for making fine adjustments. This one is made by Sobha Industries and comes in a small sponge lined wooden box.

I am particularly fond of Japanese hand tools but cannot afford the really good ones because of their prohibitive prices. The Japanese tools are hand made by master artisans who make their tools with great care and love. Some of them are heirloom pieces that sell for lakhs.

But here in India I am sure we could make superb tools, as we must have in the past, for a few hundred rupees. That is a project that would be worth taking up some day.

Indranil Banerjie
2 July 2014


  1. Just found your blog. Dude, a big congrats on being able to follow your hobby in India.
    Not many have the time and resources to do it.

    I am avid wood working enthusiast in the US and always thought this was impossible to do back home.

    Great blog.

  2. Mr. Banerjee Sir

    Welcome back. I have been missing your post. This was a nice article.

    I have been reading Hand Tools - Their Ways & Workings by Aldren Watson, and you ought to look at it too. First it has lovely illustrations, always a good thing in books, but the stories & history makes it quite a compelling read.

    I had also read measure twice cut once by Norm Abrams. I was disappointed with this. I prefer Mr. Abrams' videos.

    On a lighter note, if Col. Bala is handing out any more mallets, Sir please put me on a list. It was a lovely photograph, and seemed like a lovely tool.

    Thanks again, & welcome back

    Umaji Chowgule

  3. Umaji: Thanks very much, feels good to know someone's reading the blog!
    Aldren Watson's book is a good one. I think I reviewed in one of my blogs. Haven;t read Measure Twice Cut Ince but will give it a miss now that you say it isn't worth it. I have ordered a book on Japanese hand tools; will do a review if it is interesting. Will pass on your request to Bala. Cheers.

  4. I have also been impatiently waiting for your next post. Its been a while since we heard from you. Again, a wonderful article and beautiful tools! I was wondering where you order the Sobha planes. I don't see an online ordering facility in their website. Any inputs are welcome.
    - Regards, Sridhar

  5. Sridhar: Get in touch with Ms Reema at and tell her your requirement.

  6. Thank you Indranil! I will get in touch with her.
    - Regards, Sridhar


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