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Essential Tools and Skills Network

 A Grassroots Global Network

The “Basic Concept” may be summed up in a question:

“…is it possible to live with the environment and alter it, as man must do, and still not violate it?
–Christopher Williams, Craftsmen of Necessity, 1968

Countless individuals before and since have aired that question. In the face of much evidence to the contrary, many have decided the answer is an optimistic “Yes!”

The inevitable follow-ups “What then must we do?” and “How should we live day-to-day?” are still up for debate. Attempting to contribute to the answers, this network’s focus is on tools — good essential tools. Guided by ecological concepts presented by many visionaries, we define “essential” tools as those which:

  1. are well designed and made, functioning reliably over a long period of time;
  2. do not require continual inputs such as fuel from non-renewable sources or frequent replacement of parts;
  3. are generally repairable by the user or someone within the community, and when worn out can be transformed into other tools, or compost, without the need for a complex “recycling” infrastructure;
  4. are powered by a) a person or a draft animal; b) wind, water or sun (this catagory requiring further qualification).
  5. when used, help to preserve knowledge and skills proven valuable over many generations worldwide.

Our Tasks in More Detail

  • To locate, consolidate, distill and present information pertinent to the use of essential tools. Some can be gleaned from the Internet or from books; many important parts are in the form of vernacular knowledge only. However, the literature on some subjects (e.g. gardening, home building) can be overwhelming, and to a neophyte outright confusing. Our directory strives to pool much of it together under one roof in an organized way. We will continue to seek individuals competent in specific subjects who will help with the process — (e.g. identifying the best few percent of gardening books which would then be listed in the directory).Conversely, books on certain subjects or in some languages are so rare that we will be lucky to find even one really good one. (We hope to inspire some translations from other tongues into English, the “capitalist Esperanto” of the modern world.)Photographs and videos generally (but not always!) represent a faster route to learning than books, though many editions are sorely incomplete and/or of low grade. As with books, these will be sorted out by capable evaluators.Apart from theoretical information on these topics, this Network will search for and identify individuals and learning/teaching centres that can physically demonstrate the respective skills and provide hands-on instruction.(Before the oil-driven industrial age is completely over, we believe that many more schools of sustainable living will be springing up like mushrooms after a warm summer rain… and one of our goals is to further the process.)
  • Complementary to providing learning material is the selecting of tools which meet the stated parameters, and compiling a comprehensive list of their sources.However, resources to make and distribute things around the globe are limited. More than three decades after Donella Meadows’ Limits to Growth, mainstream minds are finally becoming aware of that fact. Regardless of the differences we each perceive by looking over the horizon of Peak Oil, one thing is certain: seriouscontraction will be the order of the day.One meaning of contraction is “living with less”. Considering the vast number of sentient beings consuming the life-supporting energy forms of this over-exploited planet, we propose to reduce the clutter of extra items produced, purchased and transported; in other words, not advocating the acquisition of superfluous tools, even if they are well-made. Hence the concept of “essential”!

    The combined directory will be organized and cross-referenced by topic as well as by country/region and by language. Below are the provisional groups of subjects (which will be subdivided further).

    • 1. Food:
      a) identifying, gathering, preparing and storing edible wilds (including animal sources);
      b) growing, harvesting, storing and processing grains, vegetables, fruits and mushrooms;
      c) caring for livestock, and processing/storing their products.
    • 2. Shelter: a) temporary or emergency
      b) basic kinds of permanent dwellings (from mainly local materials).
    • 3.Warmth and light (fireplaces, stoves, baking ovens, candles, lamps).
    • 4. Health care (including childbirth) without institutional assistance or interference.
    • 5. Woodworking (tool handles, basic furniture and utensils, agricultural implements)
    • 6. The Craft of the Village Blacksmith (repairs to and maintenance of common tools, making new ones from scrap steel).
    • 7. Processing fibres (e.g. wool, flax, hemp), tanning animal skins, basket-making.
    • 8. Motive power other than that of the human body: a) draft animals (their care, harness, implements); b) direct solar, wind and water systems. (By “direct” we mean independent of battery banks or a grid interface — see note).
    • 9. Ecological forest/woodland care.
    • 10. Early Skills and Technology (making primitive tools, cordage, clothing, rudimentary shelters).

    The last theme on the list may be of interest to only a small percentage of the folks reading this. However, we contend that those remaining primal skills are worthy of preservation by more than dusty books on library shelves, because — again in the words of Christopher Williams — “…it seems to be necessary to re-establish our direction. If we succeed in assimilating the ecological sophistication of indigenous societies with our knowledge and establish a modern organic technology, the result will be a happy one.

    At the same time, libraries should be scoured for many of the “jewels in hiding”.


    The best information and/or practical instruction on some subjects may only be available in a foreign language or in some faraway country, for example. Information alone can be spread around the globe speedily and at little cost. Moving instructors or students long distances is an ecological contradiction. As a temporary measure it may be justified; however, much consideration ought to be given to the question of how those distances can be shortened in the soonest and most convivial way.

    The same is true for the actual tools. The rampant outsourcing of manufacturing to countries with cheap labour and nearly no environmental or human abuse laws has had at least three decidedly negative effects:

    a) Vast amounts of materials are shipped across the world, and back again in processed forms, using fossil energy.
    b) Hundreds of reputable old domestic manufacturers, large and small, as well as individual craftspersons, unable to compete with cheaply-produced imports, have had to close up shop.
    c) In the process, the quality standards are typically lowered. The present generation of tool users is being “dumbed down” to accept poorer performance and/or a shorter life expectancy from nearly all household and trade products. (Yes, there are exceptions, but this is the major trend!).

     

    To counter the above developments, this Network will encourage:

    a) quality over low price;
    b) locally produced tools and materials over imports;
    c) the reduction of energy spent on distribution of goods.

    All these are complex issues requiring frequent reassessment. Given the times we live in, we must all be neither too inflexible nor too lax, and never complacent. This endeavor involves the moving of figurative boulders, not pebbles.

    Commitment, perseverance and feedback from all involved will be called for. This is a case where “There’s no time to lose“!


    We are sending a questionnaire to seasoned small farmers, gardeners, woodworkers, blacksmiths etc. asking them to:
    1. list the most essential tools of their trade; and
    2. list additions which are simply useful to have (or crucial only to some specialized task) but are not vital to their activities.
    Contact Us:
    The Vido Family
    1636 Kintore Rd.
    Lower Kintore, N.B.
    E7H 2L4 Canada
    email hidden; JavaScript is required


Jan. 2008
Updated Oct. 2009