The Right Tool For The Times

The Shared Surface Interaction Tool was designed to be used when interacting with surfaces of public spaces.

Courtesy Daniel Sutton

Lafayette-based blacksmith Daniel Sutton doesn’t know how to sew face masks, but he’s found another, far more metal way to contribute to public safety during the pandemic. He’s making and selling (for $22.99) a four-inch long device that can be used to open door latches, push elevator buttons and operate touch screens—all without handling those potentially germ-laden surfaces.

He got the idea for his not-very-artfully-named Shared Surface Interaction Tool in early April, when an acquaintance told him about a similar project he’d seen on Kickstarter.

“Those tools weren’t actually available at the time, so a friend who knew I was into blacksmithing asked if I could come up with something similar,” Sutton says.

Indeed he could. He quickly developed his own iteration of the concept, made out of brass tubing he laboriously heated and shaped over his own forge. It takes about 15 minutes to crank out one copy, and so far he’s made around 50 and sold more than 30.

The piece is small enough to carry on a keychain and fit unobtrusively into one’s pocket, but sturdy enough to pull open a heavy parking garage door. Building them wasn’t much of a strain for Sutton, because when it comes to bending metal, this definitely isn’t his first rodeo. He started his professional life as a chemist, doing chemical-instrument development for a Lafayette company. When he was laid off in 2008, he happened across a magazine article that got him interested in blacksmithing. He took some classes at Conner Prairie and started hanging out with the Indiana Blacksmithing Association, and was soon making and selling everything from custom belt buckles to bottle openers to beehive maintenance tools.

“Typically my blacksmithing is part-time work, but right now it’s my main job,” he says.

Though few things sound as retro as hammering red-hot hot metal over a coke-fired forge, Sutton hasn’t entirely forsaken his scientific roots. Before he started making his Shared Surface Interaction Tool, he first designed the piece online, using a CAD (computer-assisted design) computer program.

“Much of the stuff I do, I draw in CAD first,” he says. “That was something I learned while doing R&D work.”