Hand Tools Throughout History expiry

Tools in prehistoric time

Prehistoric man began making tools out of stone. Flint was the rock of choice because it was abundant and accessible, and because it was relatively easy to sharpen, giving a strong cutting edge used for a variety of purposes. Perhaps the first hand tool to be made during the prehistoric era was the axe. Many examples of flint axes have been found in various regions of the world. As men evolved so did their hand-eye coordination, their ability to work materials like stone and wood, their ingenuity and creativity as well. This also meant that new tools were being made to meet the more sophisticated requirements of evolving Homo sapiens.

Tools in antiquity

In the classical period, toolmaking had come a long way since the rudimentary flint blades and tools of the Stone Age. Classical cultures like ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and many other peoples of the Mediterranean, as well as Asia Minor were actively developing new hand tools to serve their craftsmanship needs. Given their versatility and their ability to double as weapons, axes and adzes were the first tools to be used by most ancient cultures. However, as trades diversified and more objects had to be made, tools sets also diversified and expanded.

Benches, vices and clamps

Benches first appeared in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Those early benches were not the same as the modern, heavy duty workbenches but somewhat similar in design and function. Basically, the ancient bench held the work in place by pegs which were driven in special, pre-drilled holes in the bench itself. The same method was used to hold work in place on benches for many centuries to follow. After the Middle Ages the humble workbench saw certain development in the form of wooden screw vices which replaced the pegs as means of holding work in place. By the early 1600s, wooden screw vices had entirely replaced pegs. In the early 1800s, the proper workbench known to people today was developed. One of the tools that made a difference in the crafts and trades of the Middle Ages was the metal clamp. Metal clamps allowed for much stronger and stable grip on work while fastened on the bench. Initially metal clamps used wooden screws to tighten them but these were eventually replaced by metal screws, providing even stronger grip. In the early 1600s, carpenters took full advantage of the new metal clamp and screw tools — their work got easier and their products started to display even higher quality workmanship. However the modern G-shaped workbench clamp did not appear until the 19th century.

Pictured: Work Bench and Vice


From an early time, planes proved to be amongst the most important carpenter tools throughout all of history. During the early Roman period, the plane had already become an essential tool for any carpenter or joiner. Wood and iron planes quickly spread to all corners of the Roman Empire. Some of the finest examples of planes were found in and around the town of Silchester in Hampshire, UK. The Romans developed a wide range of planes for different purposes. There were smoothing planes, moulding planes, jack planes etc. More sophisticated work meant better, more efficient planes. Roman carpenters were so good and made use of their tools so well that quality of their work was not matched anywhere on continental Europe for another seventeen centuries.

Pictured: A Modern Bench Plane

Planes saw limited use during the medieval period as the demands for quality work diminished as Europe was going through its Dark Age. During this time, the emphasis was on woodcarving rather than joinery. Overall, there is very little information on hand tools and tool making prior to the 1600s. Historians were forced to draw information and make conclusions based on pictures, manuscripts, old books etc. In the 17th century however, the plane saw a full revival and was once again an essential tool for any craftsman. Planes began being produced on a mass scale making for a higher quality tool.

Hammers and Mallets

Hammers and mallets began life as one of the crudest tools humans ever created. At the very start, a simple stone that fit in one’s hand served as a hammer. During the ancient Greek period, hammers evolved and became a worthy part of any tool kit. Ancient Greeks introduced handle as part of the hammer, and quickly understood the advantages of the hammerhead and wooden handle combination. The first hammers were made of bronze, then of iron and eventually steel was the metal of choice for these heavy duty tools. The Romans made extensive use of nails in all of their construction projects so in result they developed the claw hammer we know today. In Britain, hammers were also being developed and perfected. The first distinctive example of this tool to come out of the British Isles was the ‘Exeter’ or ‘London’ type of hammer which had rounded striking faces. As times rolled by and technology, industry and crafts advanced further, the need for specialist hammers and mallets became apparent. In result a wide range of special purpose hammers and mallets developed for the needs of each trade. Mallets were first used in the Egyptian and Roman period. Those early versions of the tool were widely used by both cultures on all sorts of work. The square sectioned ‘English’ mallet however did not appear until the late medieval period.

Pictured: A Modern Claw Hammer

Many of the hand tools developed by the ancients are still in use today. Although revised, modernised and much stronger and more efficient the importance of these invaluable objects remains as high as ever. These days, high-quality handyman services are also carried out using specialist tools and equipment. Use of better tools allows for more sophisticated products and higher quality workmanship.

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