04 February 2011

A Tale of Hoe

Several and a half years ago, we had an old man come to work for us once a week as a "gardener." In most developing countries this means "day labourer with few particular skills." Pieter is an old local who grew up in the area, and told us many interesting tales of years gone by. He attended school in the building that is now Kate's house; Archie and Veronica's house was a small shop in his youth. Pieter is now in his mid-60's and foreman of an alien-clearance team. Very tough manual work, and I know that I wouldn't stand a chance of keeping up with the sheer physicality of it.
Pieter stands all of about 5ft tall. At one time, when he was still working for us, he took to bringing his own Hoe to work. He explained to me that he was used to working with it, a push-Hoe, rather than the rather heavy draw-Hoe I had supplied. After a while he left it here permanently, and asked me to accept it as a gift. And what a gift it was! Ignoramus that I am, I had never worked with a push-hoe before, but it quickly became one of my Indispensables – a tool I simply won't be without. I took to using it for all sorts of tasks beyond its intended design. It is one of my Vital Implements for drawing drills for direct sowing. An essential necessity when cleaning out the Chicken House, and a staunch ally when ring-barking young Blackwoods. Not to mention its design purpose – chopping weeds off from their roots.
Its antique, hand-crafted charm was a seduction in its own right. The hoe head itself is nothing special – a bit of sharp, steel blade fastened to a tapering hollow receptacle for the shaft. The shaft, however, was something special. A gnarly, uneven piece of some local wood – I suspect Iron Wood – cracked in places along its length, worn smooth by decades of hands and seasoned against all decay by the salty sweat of those hands. I love that Hoe.
The other day the handle broke.
Right down inside the metal bit, where a screw keeps the head from parting ways with the staff. I've been expecting this for some time, really, but still, it was quite a blow when it came!
So, off to the co-op for a new staff. An ordinary rake- or broom-handle won't do. Too skinny to take the tough work of hacking through weed roots. A new Hoe is not to be thought of. The only ones available have a heavy, clunky steel blade welded to a thin, cold steel shaft that sits uncharitable and sullen in the hand. I found a suitable staff, advertised as a "Haying Fork Handle". About 3cm in diameter, and 1.8m long, made of some very dense, heavy wood, probably Kari Gum. Well, OK, then! A bit of grinding work to taper the end of the shaft, and it fitted beautifully into the business-end of my Hoe.
What a Joy!
Little had I suspected how hard Pieter's Hoe was working me! Having been crafted for a man much shorter than I, the handle of the Hoe was correspondingly too short for me, though I hadn't realised this previously.
There's a lesson in here about making sure that tools are properly adjusted and sized for your physique. I know that the Scythe people recommend that you make your own snath (the "handle") for just this reason. So why don't people tell you that this is important for tools like Hoes and Spades, too?
Not only, that, but the new handle is heavy. And this makes hoeing pathways clear of weeds and absolute doddle! You get the thing moving, and it sheers its way through the most tenacious roots and stems without pause or strain. With Pieter's original handle I was pushing and shoving like mad, ending up with blisters on the palm of my pushing-hand from shoving the end of that pole. No more! 
Then too, the generous diameter of the new shaft means that hands never tire from trying to keep a firm grip on a too-thin handle. Just this morning I cleared two pathways in half the time it would previously have taken me to do just one!
Moral of the story? Make sure your tools are properly sized to your own dimensions and physique.

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