When things are broken

Why do we throw out a tool when it no longer works? Is it because we see tools as just objects that can be easily discarded? What does an upcycler do, when a tool is no longer use-full?

The thoughts of philosopher, Martin Heidegger, might offer a hint. He proposed that a tool is not an object but a thing that exists in two states: as ‘present to hand’ and  ‘ready to hand’. This dual state gives tools a kind of magical quality.  

In the workshop @ UpShop Industries, tools have this thing-like feeling. There are so many tools, all neatly arranged and on display:  ‘ready to hand’ and available for all sorts of tasks like cutting banner material – and also always visible as ‘present to hand’.  These are not mere objects; they are things.

But what happens when a tool fails or breaks. Heidegger proposes that, when it is ‘in our hands, we no longer see the tool as a thing; it disappears because we are focused upon the task itself.  If this ‘flow’ of making is disrupted, does the tool become a thing again, or just a broken object ready for the tip? 

For an upcycler, the broken tool still retains this magical thing-ness. The hand plane displayed @ Upshop was once a blunt and corroded object that Mario salvaged from a market. Mario dismantled it, cleaned all the parts with a wire buff and an electric grinder and oiled them. The threads were cleaned and checked, the blades honed – and then the tool was reassembled.



What was use-less becomes use-full. A tool is dis-assembled and re-assembled. But something else happens, too, in the process of repair.  Mario did not just see the hand plane as a discarded object to be fixed. He recognised it as a thing that was still both ‘present to hand’ and ‘ready to hand’ even though it could not be used.

Things that are broken still have a life and are just awaiting restoration. If we could just see tools through the eyes of an upcycler  perhaps then we might not be so quick to discard them.





, iinterested in these thoughts on tools as things? start here with JONATHAN HALE’s conversation).