The Unexpected Upside of Using Hand Tools

Not too long ago I set up as a vendor at a Seed Swap in Ashland, Oregon. I didn’t expect a huge day of sales, but I was hoping to connect with local gardeners, improve my seed stash and get my name out there.

I had my table strewn with hand tools, and the wall behind me was full of long handled tools of all sorts. There were many gardeners and farmers there, displaying their seeds, and a decent stream of folks ambling around, chatting and seed swapping.

At one point, I’m approached by a tall gentleman with a gray ponytail and a faded button down shirt:   The hippy, gardening father I never had. 🙂

Jim tells me that he and his wife recently put in some new garden beds in a terrace system and immediately planted a cover crop of oats, clover and vetch.

He’s wondering what might be a good tool to cut all this plant matter down in the late spring when they begin to flower.

I reach for a couple Japanese sickles—a light and a medium weight, suggest that either will do the job well, and allow him the option of “upgrading” to a full-size scythe sometime down the road.

These tools are also easy to maintain and quite efficient on a small scale.

He decides on two medium-weight sickles and heads on his way.

Maybe a week later I get a call from Jim. He has a few questions about sharpening his sickles and is very excited to share with me how he’s been using them to cut back new growth on blackberry bushes.

We chat for a bit and he agrees to write up a little review of the sickles, which I’ll share here:

“Thank you for recommending this excellent tool! The Japanese sickle does the job superbly. I’m delighted with how well it cuts grasses and weeds, and I’ve even used it to clear new growth from blackberries with great results.”

These are some of my favorite conversations to have with our customers, and I find it so satisfying to connect people with tools that help them reach their goals. But what happened next surprised me.

Sometime later, in early summer, I attended a dry-land farming field day at our local ag. extension’s farm to learn more about growing crops without supplemental irrigation.

Pretty cool stuff, especially in our climate, where three months without any rain is common.

I had just popped a sample of some dry-land-grown melon in my mouth when someone tapped my shoulder.

There was Jim, looking at me with a kindly look in his eye. He said that he wanted to thank me again for recommending the sickle and that he had since purchased a scythe as well. He was loving both of them.

He felt that using the sickle set him on a new trajectory, a path.

Not only a path to learning to use a scythe, but a path to becoming more involved and connected with his landscape.

A path to becoming a better steward.

Jim’s earnestness and thoughtfulness really touched me, and it helped me to realize that the deeper reason I promote hand tools is to help foster that sense of connection, involvement and purpose that many of us feel when we’re outside, working with our hands, and growing something as inherently valuable as food or medicine.

Yes, I hope that our tools will make your work easier and more efficient (something I mention often).

But on a deeper level it is my hope that by using hand tools, we’ll become not just more efficient; but healthier, happier, more connected people.