The Sensuous Gadgeteer: How to Use Tools and How Tools Work

The Sensuous Gadgeteer, published in 1973, was unique then and now because it taught not only how to use tools but also how tools work and why they work.

| September/October 1973

  • 023-038-01-The-Sensuous-Gadgeter
    The cover of Bill Adler's book The Sensuous Gadgeteer.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Symmetrical-taper-blade
    A knife blade with a symmetrical taper is curved on both sides. With this type of blade it can be difficult to distinguish the sharp edge from the dull edge.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Scimitar-Blade
    A knife with a scimitar taper has a straight side that is dull and a curved side that is sharp. It's easy to distinguish the sharp side from the dull side.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Stone-sharping
    TOP: The correct angle and direction  to move a knife over a sharpening stone. BOTTOM: Sweep the knife over the stone so that each part of the cutting edge contacts the surface.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Sharpening-knives
    A series of diagrams demonstrating how a knife can lose a wedge shape in the process of dulling and sharpening its edge.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Stropping-a-knife
    The correct angle and direction to sweep a knife blade across a strop.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Kinds-of-Wood
    Sawing apart a block of wood parallel to the grain, rotating the pieces a quarter turn, and gluing them back together will prevent warping.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-wood-fiber
    LEFT: Carving or cutting with the grain entail pressing wood fibers together, while carving or cutting against the grain entails pushing them apart. RIGHT: A newly cut piece of wood with grain lines showing.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Hollowing-your-knive
    A hollow ground knife blade has concave faces rather than convex or flat faces.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Ball-Pen-Hammer
    A standard ball peen hammer design, used for shaping soft metal.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Hack-Saw
    A common design for a hack saw. CIRCULAR INSET: Direction of power stroke when cutting metal.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Using-the-hammer
    TOP: Method of straightening a bent nail. MIDDLE: When replacing the handle of a hammer, saw a slot or split into end that fits inside the metal hammer head, then use a wedge to make the handle fit tight to the head. BOTTOM: Method of shrinking the end of a copper fitting using a hammer and anvil.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Mallets
    Four types of mallet and the material they're made from.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Sharpening-Gouges
    TOP LEFT: A sharpening stone for gouges. TOP RIGHT: Correct position to hold a chisel when sharpening on a grinder wheel. BOTTOM LEFT: The parts of a powered grinding wheel. BOTTOM RIGHT: An intricately patterned piece of wood carved with a gouge.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Using-the-chisel
    The five step to gouging out a rectangular space on a door for a hinge using a chisel.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 023-038-01-Chisels
    LEFT: The chisel is for making flat cuts. RIGHT: The gouge is for cutting a trough and shaping curved surfaces.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • gadgeteer - manual plane
    Standard design for a manual plane.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • 023-038-01-The-Sensuous-Gadgeter
  • 023-038-01-Symmetrical-taper-blade
  • 023-038-01-Scimitar-Blade
  • 023-038-01-Stone-sharping
  • 023-038-01-Sharpening-knives
  • 023-038-01-Stropping-a-knife
  • 023-038-01-Kinds-of-Wood
  • 023-038-01-wood-fiber
  • 023-038-01-Hollowing-your-knive
  • 023-038-01-Ball-Pen-Hammer
  • 023-038-01-Hack-Saw
  • 023-038-01-Using-the-hammer
  • 023-038-01-Mallets
  • 023-038-01-Sharpening-Gouges
  • 023-038-01-Using-the-chisel
  • 023-038-01-Chisels
  • gadgeteer - manual plane

There you are, on your own place at last ... and your joy turns to a sinking in the stomach when you look hard at the sagging, leaky reality of the buildings you're supposed to "fix up." In the enthusiasm of homestead hunting, maybe you sort of forgot that—while you like the idea of being handy with tools—you've never gotten very far into carpentry (not to mention metalwork or any of the other skills you'll probably need sooner or later).  

Well—even if your saw squeals, your knife slips, and your screws somehow always end up going in crooked—don't despair. Relief is in sight, in the form of a book called The Sensuous Gadgeteer, by Bill Abler. This new work is one "how-to" manual that really starts at ground level with which tool is which, what it's for, and exactly how to use it. Better still, Bill also tells you just why the device functions as it does ... and that basic grasp of mechanics will do more than any list of "don'ts" to prevent you from ruining a good drill or chisel by misuse or careless maintenance.  

Useful as it is, learning how to use tools is just the beginning of the lore you'll discover in The Sensuous Gadgeteer. With Abler as your instructor you may find yourself deep in processes you never dreamed of attempting: sawing and drilling plexiglass, grinding steel rod, sandcasting, or any of the innumerable operations Bill explains in plain English.  

A "feel" for his material—an understanding of its capabilities and its behavior under all sorts of conditions—is the craftsman's most valuable piece of equipment. It's probably true that this sense can't be taught directly, but Bill Abler (who subtitles his book "Bringing Tools and Materials To Life") conveys it more successfully, for a wider variety of substances, than any other writer we've run across.  



In short, if you didn't grow up looking over a handyman's shoulder—and how many of us did?— The Sensuous Gadgeteer is about the best substitute around ... as we hope you'll agree when you've sampled the pages that follow.  

SPECIAL NOTE: The following section was picked up—page for page—from uncorrected layout sheets for  The Sensuous Gadgeteer. Don't be alarmed if you note a typo or two and an odd reference to "the ball in the cage that you drew earlier"... which you know nothing about. The typos are there just to keep you awake and we couldn't very well have preserved the flavor of the forthcoming book if we'd deleted the reference from the world's only copy of layout sheets for the guide ... now could we?—MOTHER EARTH NEWS  





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