Monday, October 17, 2016

The Useful And The Useless (pic)

Click photo to enlarge.

In today’s photo, you’ll see two severely neglected tools. In the foreground is an antique grubbing hoe that was my father’s, and probably his father’s before him. I’ve used it a lot myself, when I was young. It was used for cutting light brush and heavy weeds in the pasture and elsewhere, in those out-of-the-way spots where the cutter-bar of the tractor wouldn’t reach (corners, steep hillsides, etc.).

If you look up the term “grubbing hoe” on the internet, you’ll get all kinds of pictures of round-handled eye hoes. I never really considered a common eye hoe a grubbing hoe, even when made heavy-duty, as some are. For one thing, they’re cast or forged as one piece. The grubbing hoes of my youth (and I’ve seen many) were made in TWO pieces, so the heavy blade could be replaced by cutting or grinding the heads off the three rivets holding it and putting another piece of tempered steel in its place. Most blades were 5-6 inches long and 4-5 inches wide. I’ve seen the thickness vary from that of a recycled plow coulter to nearly a half-inch. It DOES have to be tempered though, or it won’t keep an edge or last very long.

Also, the eye of all the grubbing hoes that I’ve ever seen weren’t round, but were a modified rectangle—full round on the bottom and with the corners rounded on top, and taller than wide. The handle was like that of an axe in the hand, including a swell at the end of the 4’ handle, but it still slid in from the top of the blade, like a regular eye hoe. It was also swung full overhead like an axe when cutting really heavy stuff, but it could also be used like a regular hoe in the garden. In fact, most folks back then much preferred a grubbing hoe in the garden, as the weight made the work easier. The handle in this hoe was getting to the point of replacement long before I forgot and left it under a pile of salvaged lumber that I’d brought up from the farm when I sold it. It definitely needs replaced now, which means that it will probably take at least a couple years, since I’ll first have to find a good hickory (or MAYBE ash), cut it, split it, dry it and then make the handle myself. I’ve never seen these sort of handles in the stores, even back when I was a kid. I hope I get it done someday, since there’s been many a time over the years when I could have used it.

Behind the grubbing hoe in the photo, you’ll see a brush hook. I bought it new many years ago, used it a few times, stood it in the barn and never bothered with it again. Maybe I just don’t know the proper way to use it, but I always used it in a chopping motion, like an axe. The only thing is that I found an axe to be ten times better. The one thing that it WAS good for was slapping me in the head with half-severed brush, briers and vines. I think I’ll throw the loop away and put a one-handed handle on the end of the blade to turn it into a bill hook, also known as a fascine knife. Small ones are good for corn and weeds and brush THAT YOU ARE HOLDING WITH THE OTHER HAND. They’re still used a lot in England to lay hedges and for other agricultural purposes.

In times past, some were made with handles from four to ten feet long for orchard and forestry use, before the idea of pole saws came along. They were also used in war with devastating results. For both tree and battlefield use, they were generally hooked behind a limb (or a chink in someone’s armor) and pulled quickly downward, or forward. Halberds are closely related, and are still carried by the pope’s guards. One thing is for sure; I don’t plan on getting whacked on the head anymore. © 2016


Sunnybrook Farm said...

There are a couple guys who show up at the flea market associated with antique farm days where there are lots of old gas engines and similar things. Anyway these guys sell hand made handles for all the tools you can't find in the store. I have seen ones for the round holed hoes but haven't looked for a square one. Even cant hook handles. I have some hickory that should be ready for a few handles that I need to make, I got all motivated when you made your wooden maul a while back so cut and seasoned a few sections of a hickory.

Gorges Smythe said...

I imagine those handles are from split stock rather than sawn, SF, so they'll be much better than you can buy in the stores. Also, I'm glad you have some hickory drying. The old fellow across the road, who used to make all our handles, would split it down almost to size and then let it dry for a year in his workshop. He had a wood stove in there for really cold weather, so that probably helped.