Design

Handmade Tools at Inspiration Farm: a Demonstration

This video takes us to Bellingham, Washington, where Brian Kerkvliet — the steward and co-creator of the permaculture farm, Inspiration — demonstrates three tools whose design he has honed over the years: a scythe, a grass rake and a U-bar, or broadfork.

The first tool he demonstrates is the scythe. Initially Brian tried to learn and use various traditional scythes, but found them very cumbersome. So he spent a few years to get the right methodology, the right blade and the right technique to sharpen the blade. He modified and adapted them to suit his body weight and height ergonomically, so that they are more or less effortless to use. The modified design enables him to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

He maintains the sharpness of the blade by two techniques — one is he sharpens the edge by a natural wet stone in the field after every 5-7 minutes of usage and secondly, by a technique called peening. With this technique, after 12-20 hours of usage depending on what is been cut, the edge of the blade is hammered using an anvil and a hammer. The good thing about cutting grass by scythe is that the grass grows back very quickly and the long stem grasses make excellent animal fodder and are good for mulching as they decompose slowly.

The second tool is the grass rake. It is a simple device made up of multiple bamboo spikes. It is lightweight and has good reach. It doesn’t work well with grasses cut by a lawn mover or weed whacker. But with grasses cut using a scythe it does an excellent job, as scythed grasses have a single long stem.

The third tool is the U-bar, or broadfork. It aerates the soil without changing the soil strata — the organic layer stays on top and the mineral layer stays below. It doesn’t smear and compress the soil like a rototiller. It takes about 15-20 minutes for each vegetable bed and once done it is good for 3-4 years, depending on your soil type and structure.

What he strongly recommends is to have tools tailored for a particular task and physically suited to a individual person. His advice is to fine tune every tool so that it feels good in your hands, has the right balance and it does exactly what you want to do.

Ravindra Krishnamurthy

Ravindra Krishnamurthy is a freelance science writer covering science, tech, the environment, health, food, and culture.

One Comment

  1. For those of us that don’t have the skills to make this ourselves, is there anyone making these tools that one could order through?

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