Tuesday, November 23, 2010

one size does not fit all...

Anyone with a body knows that  all bodies are not the same. And yet, tools lose conviviality when they don't fit, the hand, the arm, or the height.

Every time I mop the floor with our sponge mop, I argue with it, that it doesn't fit. Sponge mops are made for women of a height of 5 ft. 6 in. or so, and a 6 foot man is too tall to find comfort in the use of the tool. I have to bend over too far, and having googled and found no extenders available I made one myself. It is turned on the lathe with a 4 inch end sized to fit tightly in the inside of the mop handle, and with the remaining 10 inches extending its length.  I used J-B Weld inside the metal tube to secure the wood extension in place, and now, for the first time ever, I can stand up to my full height as I do my part of the weekly housecleaning. The handle extender is so simple I'm surprised they don't sell them at Walmart.

Beside the discomfort of bending over, there is a study described in Scientific American ...and Posture's Effect on Testosterone that sheds light on the relationship between male posture and development of the male hormone testosterone. Not only is being bent over a mop considered "unmanly" by some, it is also a posture that extends unmanliness throughout your life, through its effects on your hormonal balance. Mopping while extended to your full height may have beneficial effects while being bent over in subservience to the mop will not.

At one time, tools were made to fit the person using them. An example in the drawing above comes from Rudolph Drillis' article "Folklore and Biomechanics, Human Factors, October 1963. It makes me wonder, how often things are designed for the convenience of the manufacturer or the convenience of the shipper, and not the ease of actual use by the intended user.  Believe me, many things are made to sell to you without the actual you in mind. Rudolph J. Drillis had done an interesting study of ergonomics involving the peasants of Latvia that resulted in illustrations like the one above. There is a relationship between conviviality and our tools. Are tools shaped to fit, allowing us to convey a sense of joy through work, or are they awkward to the body distorting both the body and attitude as work is done? It is said that a poor craftsman blames his tools. Perhaps that is true. A craftsman may have the wherewithal to fix what is wrong with his (or her) tools and thus become an even better craftsman, or in this case, a more proficient floor mopper.


toysmith said...

I worked for a major computer company in the 1990s, when ergonomically superior split keyboards were coming on the market. These allowed the user to type without pronating the wrists and causing repetitive strain injuries.

Our company, however, was not offering a split keyboard option. The rumor circulating among the rank-and-file was this: if we were to design and sell a split keyboard, we'd be implicitly acknowledging that our old design was "defective" and known to cause injuries, thereby inviting a swarm of lawsuits. I don't know whether this was the "real" reason, but the fact that it was so believable is a sad commentary on the state of the legal system.

Doug Stowe said...

Larry, that's the same reason that table saw manufacturers rejected saw stop technology. It was better not to make the change rather than foster the assumption that all the table saws sold for the last hundred years were defective.

John Grossbohlin said...

This discussion reminds me of work done by Frederick Taylor, Father of Scientific Management, on the design of shovels. The plethora of shovels that came along after that was driven by Taylor's finding that the optimal load was 21 1/2 pounds. Obviously a much larger shovel could be used for relatively light bulky items than for dense heavy items. Knowing this I have been dismayed for years by the very limited selection of shovels that can be found in even a "good" hardware store today--I cannot ever seem to find the right shovel for my intended task.

Regarding hand tools in general, I think the biggest problem we face today is that hand tools are no longer the tools of industry. For example, when files were used in industry there were hundreds of designs and sizes. See Nicholson's Treatise on Files for a taste of the varieties formerly offered http://www.evenfallstudios.com/woodworks_library/a_treatise_on_files_and_rasps_nicholson1878.pdf . Same thing happened to planes, handsaws, etc. for woodworkers. It took folks like Tom Lie-Nielson to revive the quality, variety and availability of planes and other tools. I dare say this revival could only have happened in the face of a relatively large number of hobbyists/professionals who possessed adequate discretionary income with which to purchase his wares.

It is likely that all the functional aspects of hand tools were figured out 100+ years ago. Taking the tools out of industry left a limited market dominated by hobbyists and homeowners. Add in the fact that post WWII hobbyists and homeowners wanted electric tools and it's no wonder we ended up with a limited selection of hand tools that don't necessarily work well. It wasn't until working at Colonial Williamsburg that I found out that fine work could be done with hand tools... I was a "power tool kid!"