Tools of the trade
Country Smallholding|November 2020
In the second part of his mini-series on tools that are useful around the holding, Kevin Alviti takes an in-depth look at the iconic scythe, a thistle paddle and forks that were once virtually indispensable to small-scale farmers
Kevin Alviti

Manual labour fuelled the countryside for thousands of years. And even now there are some things that are either best done by hand or give a certain satisfaction if done in this way.

The move to mechanisation wasn’t plain sailing, but as people moved from working in the fields to grafting in factories some of those skills from the land started to die out, and with them their commonly used tools. Looking back now working large fields by hand seems extraordinary and a near-impossible task, not to mention the sheer numbers needed and the skills that each must possess.

These skills weren’t easy to acquire. Muscle memory is said to come from doing something over 1,000 times (and some say more) with hands toughened to the work and boasting calluses and muscles tired by the end of a long day of excessive work. Try and use a tool for more than an hour and see how you feel at the end of it, and now imagine doing it daily. And yet there is pleasure to be had here as well, but possibly in moderation. As John Seymour writes in his book Bring Me My Bow (1977): “Have you ever spent a few months doing steady manual labour out of doors? If you have, then can you honestly say that, once you got over the initial shock of it, you did not feel better, eat better, sleep better, make love better and think better? Physical toil in the open air, at work one can see the sense of doing, is pleasant, delightful and very good for us.”

Doing something manually shouldn’t always be the last resort, therefore, and instead in this age of quick fixes it should be viewed as something to be enjoyed, as well as a way to help the small-scale farmer maintain a connection to the past.

SCYTHE

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