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Tools Used to Perform Simple Tasks

by Ron Kurtus (revised 12 July 2013)

A tool is a device that is used to perform a simple task, such as grasping, cutting, guiding or gaining a mechanical advantage. Tools typically use simple machines and basic physical principles to perform a task. There are numerous examples of tools just around your house.

Some animals have been known to use tools to achieve a goal. But humans are the only ones known to make a tool or machine as a combination of other tools.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion

Tools and simple machines

The purpose of a simple machine is to facilitate work or the movement of an object. A machine will create a mechanical advantage that will increase the output force, distance or speed, or it can change the direction or reduce friction or other resistive force.

On the other hand, the purpose of a tool is to perform a specific task. Instead of reducing friction, tools often use friction to aid in grasping, cutting, guiding, separating or wearing down.

Although humans usually provide the force to power a tool, there are also tools that are powered by animals, motors and engines.

Examples of tools that perform tasks

Examples of tools and the simple machines or principles used include:

Tools for grasping

A pair of pliers uses a lever action to provide a force to grasp an object. Friction is also employed to hold the object.

A fork is a tool to lift up food. It also has a wedge to stick into food, using friction.

Chop-sticks use a lever action and friction to hold food.

Tool to hold in place

A screw consists of a wedge wrapped around another wedge, such that it can be inserted into a material to hold something in place. Friction also holds the screw in place.

Tools to push apart

A crowbar is a tool that is a form of lever that is used to increase the force in pulling things apart. It also has a wedge-shaped front edge to get into tight places.

A horse-drawn farm plow uses a wedge to cut into the soil and animal energy to power it.

Tool as a container

A spoon scoops food and liquid to hold it. Friction is required.

A cup is a tool to contain or hold liquids.

Tools used for cutting

A knife is a form of wedge that can cut or pull materials apart through applying a force. The wedge is at such a sharp angle that it can easily cut into a material.

A saw is another tool that uses the sharp wedges to cut into wood.

A power saw uses an electric motor to provide the forces need to operate it.

A pair of scissors uses levers and wedges to cut material.

Tool to apply impact

Swinging a hammer uses its momentum to apply force to an object like a nail.

Tool to wear down with friction

Sandpaper is a tool that uses friction to wear down another material.

Tool to hold in place

A door stopper uses a wedge and friction to hold a door in place.

There are many other examples of common tools.

Tools used by animals

Some animals have been seen using tools to achieve their goals.

Chimpanzees have used rocks to break open nuts and sticks as a way to gather termites from their nests. Certain crows have been observed bending twigs into hooks in order to get insects out of a hole in a tree.

You could consider a spider's web as a tool to capture prey. Also, birds build nests that are used to contain eggs and protect their young. Gorillas build a bed of leaves in which to sleep at night.

Although some animals use tools, humans are the only ones that use tools to make a tools or machines.


A tool is a device that is used to perform a simple task. Tools typically use simple machines and basic physical principles to perform that task. There are numerous examples of tools, including a pair of pliers, a knife and a crowbar. Some animals have been known to use tools to achieve a goal or perform a task.

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