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favorite tools for chop and drop

 
Deb Berman
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What are people's favorite tools for chop and drop? I have a small farm, not a dense backyard permaculture garden, so pruners/secateurs would not be a usual choice for me, especially when I want to cut things off at the ground level. For softer plants up to say, thistle and burdock, what do people use? A machete? a sickle? I have used grass scythes and brush scythes in my life, but sometimes there is not enough turn around space to avoid catching the scythe on a tree or a fencepost etc.

Suvia in Idaho
 
Leila Rich
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Deb Berman wrote:What are people's favorite tools for chop and drop? (...) machete? a sickle?

I use both. I find a sickle best for cutting through stuff I want to bundle up, like comfrey, as well as pulling through long grass that a machete would bounce off.
But a machete is faster and more practical for slashing long, soft weeds.
Sickle's make me a bit nervous: a tool who's design requires me to wield it pointy-end towards me...
 
Ryan Barrett
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I'm a big fan of the woodsman's pal
 
John Polk
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That Woodsman's Pal also comes in a longer handled version...less stooping.
They were standard issue to many of the Marines landing in the jungles of Pacifica during WWII.
Tough tools.

 
S Carreg
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I have this great tool but I dont know what it's called! I found it in the shed when we moved in. It's a flat metal blade that is thin and flexible and not actually sharpened, but sharp enough if you see what I mean. it has a curve at the bottom and then comes up straight to a wooden handle, you use it for chopping at ground level, swing it like a golf club. If you or anyone you know is even a novice metalworker you could make one of these out of scrap, I can post a pic if you like?
 
dave brenneman
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S Carreg wrote:I have this great tool but I dont know what it's called! I found it in the shed when we moved in. It's a flat metal blade that is thin and flexible and not actually sharpened, but sharp enough if you see what I mean. it has a curve at the bottom and then comes up straight to a wooden handle, you use it for chopping at ground level, swing it like a golf club. If you or anyone you know is even a novice metalworker you could make one of these out of scrap, I can post a pic if you like?


does it look like this?



I've heard that called a "weed whip", it may have other names as well.
 
Chris Fox
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I picked up a Corn Knife at tractor supply a few months ago and it works perfectly.

http://www.tractorsupply.com/product__10151_-1_10051_15783
 
R Scott
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Chris Fox wrote:I picked up a Corn Knife at tractor supply a few months ago and it works perfectly.

http://www.tractorsupply.com/product__10151_-1_10051_15783


That looks NOTHING like what we called a corn knife. This is what we called a corn knife: http://www.tractorsupply.com/en/store/groundworkreg%3B-chop-saw-with-wooden-handle-21-1-2-in-l

My tool of choice for thistle and burdock is a rogue hoe. It can be sharpened as sharp as you want, and will cut anything up to about a 2" sapling in a single whack with practice. Easy to cut thistles at the base without getting into the thorns, then chop it on the ground.

http://www.roguehoe.com/trailbuilding/trailbuilding.html

 
Matu Collins
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I love the sickle. I don't use it with the blade pointing toward myself, I grab a fistfull with my left hand and cut aiming away with the sickle in my right. I feel like I have more control with the sickle than the machete. Also, I like being down on the ground to see what it is that's growing, we have great diversity. My area isn't tiny, but it's manageable.

I have two scythes but haven't had the skill to use them well yet. Even when professionally sharpened they don't seem sharp enough. Also, I am usually working with small children about, so swinging the large blade is tricky.
 
Judith Browning
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I almost began a new thread and then found this one that was discussing tools......just came in from 'chopping and dropping' around some plants using a sickle. I love it as a tool but almost need something smaller and something that doesn't require that bent over position and something that I could possibly use either handed...i feel really twisted after a period of time.
The spaces I am cutting in are one or two square feet and the plants I am chopping are chickweed, vetch, rye grass, clovers, chicory, dock, mustards, dandelions...lots of lambs quarters too but I am trying not to cut it because it is our green of choice right now.
I am trying this year to grow more mulches in place or at least somewhere near the plants.
i am imagining a smaller sickle blade curve on a longer handle and somehow something I can use in either hand... I do pull towards myself not away as Matu described, although I might try that. When I bundle and cut I wear a leather glove on the hand that bundles....it just took once to learn that lesson.
...any ideas?
 
Charles Tarnard
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I just started using my scythe, and when properly sharp it shears thick stemmed (not woody) or leafy things without much lead space. Thin blades of grass require a little pace for my blade to cut through them, otherwise they just lay down and mock me.

I am also noticing that I need a smaller blade for areas that are tight, and that any tool is going to be difficult to acquire pace in those places. I too am thinking about a sickle on a stick, or maybe a ditch blade, but it's hard to know if they'd function any better without a second hand on the vegetation.
 
Zach Muller
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I have been using a few different tools like scythe, sickle, grass hook. I have been holding the grass and cutting toward when I want to collect grass heads for the chickens, or use the scythe and then rake the grass up to put in the coop. I have been experimenting with a grass hook on a stick and I will share my experiences.




I initially put this long bamboo handle on my lightest grass hook because I am trying to cut the grass, but spare the white clover that I am collecting seeds from. And I am Sick of stooping to use a sickle or grass hook. So I wanted a tool somewhere between my brush scythe and my handheld blades.

Immediately I realized that using this long handled hook was a strain on the wrist since all the weight is in the far end. Another downside is getting the blade up to its usual cutting speed is difficult. Rather than precision you get a moving blade that is a lot harder to control than a scythe or short handle sickle/hook.

I remember a geoff lawton video where he had a medium handle with a very short blade that I think he slices and chopped with almost like a lightweight hatchet or something. I can't find it, but it seemed like a very useful tool.
 
Judith Browning
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Charles and Zach...Have either of you tried using a 'cobra' hoe? I was tempted at onetime to get one. I think it might solve the bending over problem but maybe not cut as large an area at one time. I think it is intended to use in tight places.
Zach...you saved me from trying a sickle on a stick!
Some of my problem is vision also....I have such a variety of plants to cut and others to leave and at all stages of growth, that I am afraid standing up to cut I might not see that next layer of seedlings that I intended to keep. Polyculture challenges.....
 
Charles Tarnard
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I don't think that cobra head would suit me well. Most of what I'm cutting now is grass and what are traditionally called weeds. My problem is I built a bunch of raised beds and mounds with everything just far enough apart to walk between, but not far enough apart to get a mower or my current scythe in between.

The cobra looks like it could be a pretty surgical tool, but right now I'm just trying to figure out how to clean up my publicly visible jungle to make it a jungle with clean edges... without actually buying any tools.
 
Matu Collins
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Leila Rich wrote:
Deb Berman wrote:What are people's favorite tools for chop and drop? (...) machete? a sickle?

I use both. I find a sickle best for cutting through stuff I want to bundle up, like comfrey, as well as pulling through long grass that a machete would bounce off.
But a machete is faster and more practical for slashing long, soft weeds.
Sickle's make me a bit nervous: a tool who's design requires me to wield it pointy-end towards me...


Machetes are nice, and I use the sickle my own way, grabbing bundles of weeds or grass with my left hand and snnnicking it off away from my body with a sickle in my right. I have used various shapes of sickles and my favorite is the c shaped one.

Last year, carrying around a newborn I discovered a great method similar to chop and drop- I call it stomp and drop! It only works for some kinds of weeds. It's great for poke, and pretty good for stemmy things like asters, goldenrod and milkweed. Not great for grasses.
 
Landon Sunrich
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I do almost all my day to day work, minus the large projects where I'll use a shovel and pick and fork, with a machete, a sickle and a knife or two (one sharp for cutting one dull for digging) and that's when I'm using tools and not just snapping twigs and mucking around with digging sticks. Digging sticks rock. They sit there on the ground all mulch like until you need them and then you pick them up and dig with them and get them even more covered with soil goodness then you forget about them and grab another once you need it. I have sticks laying around everywhere. Also I've written this elsewhere but I keep the 4-6 inches at the tip of my sickle really dull and use it for digging and popping up roots and ripping up turf. I do the opposite with a machete - tip sharp, area near handle dull. Just how I keep my tools
 
Landon Sunrich
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Ryan Barrett wrote:I'm a big fan of the woodsman's pal


Just checked this out. Looks solid.
 
Charles Tarnard
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Matu Collins wrote: Not great for grasses.


Story of my life.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Judith Browning wrote:I almost began a new thread and then found this one that was discussing tools......just came in from 'chopping and dropping' around some plants using a sickle. I love it as a tool but almost need something smaller and something that doesn't require that bent over position and something that I could possibly use either handed...i feel really twisted after a period of time.
The spaces I am cutting in are one or two square feet and the plants I am chopping are chickweed, vetch, rye grass, clovers, chicory, dock, mustards, dandelions...lots of lambs quarters too but I am trying not to cut it because it is our green of choice right now.
I am trying this year to grow more mulches in place or at least somewhere near the plants.
i am imagining a smaller sickle blade curve on a longer handle and somehow something I can use in either hand... I do pull towards myself not away as Matu described, although I might try that. When I bundle and cut I wear a leather glove on the hand that bundles....it just took once to learn that lesson.
...any ideas?


Try a Japanese Kama. It is their version of the sickle but has a more straight blade that is shorter than the normal curved sickle.
 
Judith Browning
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Thanks, Bryant....I did a search for 'Japanese Kama' and one of the first sites to show was at Permies! "Kama...Japanese Rice Sickle"

I'm going to see about finding a picture to post also. It is definitely sounding like what I am needing and maybe can use with a long handle.

This site has handmade ones....Permaculture tools


and a picture
PC040555.jpg
[Thumbnail for PC040555.jpg]
handmade serrated sickle (rice knife)
 
Judith Browning
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Kris schulenburg
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this is great for picking and choosing what you want to leave and what you want to chop. You can chop at different depths if you want to get rid of something or set it back. I don't know what it is called.
000_0005.JPG
[Thumbnail for 000_0005.JPG]
 
Nacho Collado
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we are in our 3rd spring in our piece of land, we don't till and don't use fossil fuels, only hand tools. Along this time we have used diferent tools, at first, machete and sickle, but definately bush scythe is the way to go.
We have wide variety of so called weeds (actuallya lot of them are edible) of course weed cover has been changing with time, at first land was cover with big thistles ( mostly Silybum marianum)

Here you can see clearing the edge to build a perimetral fence, at the background is one of my sons who is over 6'tall




Sort of a room into the thistle mass


At this stage we used machetes for big extensions and sickles when we needed some detailed work


Later in summer we had to stop, cause there were a lot of wasp nests in the dry thistles, i have to say that wasps are good bugs and warned us when we were close to their nests so we could let the place for later, and continue our chop and drop a couple of yards away.


later in september when first thunders came and wasps completed their cicle, we finished the chop and drop simply stepping on the thistles with our nice boots


But the queen of the tools for our weed chop and drop is the scithe, is the most comfortable and efective tool for the task.


For little spaces we use edge grass scissors for green grass and prunning scissors for thicker and wooden plants
 
Zach Muller
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Judith Browning wrote:Charles and Zach...Have either of you tried using a 'cobra' hoe? I was tempted at onetime to get one. I think it might solve the bending over problem but maybe not cut as large an area at one time. I think it is intended to use in tight places.
Zach...you saved me from trying a sickle on a stick!
Some of my problem is vision also....I have such a variety of plants to cut and others to leave and at all stages of growth, that I am afraid standing up to cut I might not see that next layer of seedlings that I intended to keep. Polyculture challenges.....


I have not tried a cobra hoe but they look interesting. I know what you mean about variety, at this point in the season I am mainly pulling out single plants that I want to discourage, in among a dense thicket of other plants and seedlings I want to encourage.



Nacho that is one impressive stand of thistles! The machete seems to be an ideal tool when your dealing with such a tall and dense mass.
 
Nacho Collado
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Zach Muller wrote:
Nacho that is one impressive stand of thistles! The machete seems to be an ideal tool when your dealing with such a tall and dense mass.


Not so ideal, you have to duck to chop the base of the thistles, wich is an uncomfortable posture, and they fall on you like timber
thistles fight back...


on the other hand scythe gives you a more comfortable work posture and you are not right under the falling thistles

here's a video of the last spring (2013) we didn't let the thistles grow too high, and also there were a lot more variety of new pioneer plants, as you can see bush scythe can deal with them all in an efective way.


Scythe is the way to go for large areas (our piece of land is 2.4 acres) this is the same corner spot seen in the video this last weekend


we also did chop and drop of the fruit tree area
(south bound view and south-east bound view)


we also did chop and drop into the Massai chicken yard (west bound view)

 
R Scott
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Machetes and thistles are a BAD combination. You definitely want a scythe or a really good hoe to keep your arms out of the danger zone--and good tall boots to keep your ankles safe as you walk across the cut ones.

 
Paul Cereghino
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No question in my mind that the European scythe is the best tool at larger scales and for any material up to one year raspberry size. With skill you can work in pretty small spaces, you are upright, and can mow large areas close to the ground.. so it is good for both chop and drop, and cut and carry if you are importing or hoarding biomass. It requires skill both in use and sharpening (peening and honing). It is well worth the reward.

As soon as you get woody, I switch to a machette, or japanese brush axe (Nobori Kama) on a longer haft. There are increasingly few situations where I would choose these over a scythe with a ditch blade (shorter and heavier).

In smaller space I step down to the a japanese sickle (kama) or a rice knife, but it is amazing where you can get with a scythe, this is really for the hand work between plants, and then I usually just dump mulch on top that I have cut elsewhere with a scythe.

In all cases, regular and thorough sharpening is absolutely critical (if you value your effort)... medium and fine grit scythe stones for most tools, except the machete which takes a fine single cut file.

This is after 20 years as a landscaper, but now managing my current acre with scything as occasional exercise. I have tried just about every tool I could find, and I really value my effort and my back.

Did I mention a scythe yet... no really.
 
Michael Vormwald
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This looked good to me so I picked one up...thanks for the tip.

Chris Fox wrote:I picked up a Corn Knife at tractor supply a few months ago and it works perfectly.

http://www.tractorsupply.com/product__10151_-1_10051_15783
 
Judith Browning
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We have had so much rain I am having trouble keeping up with my chop and drop around sweet potatoes and other lower growing plants. The sickle is too big and the small old hickory paring knife I tried was too small...so searching through my kitchen drawers I found this knife that I never use in the kitchen...it's 7" blade is working great for cutting chicory, daikon, lambsquarters, etc..I am cutting some off just at soil level so I'll see how long it holds it's edge after making contact with sandy soil and a few rocks. Instead of pulling towards me as I do with the sickle I am able to cut at a downward angle while holding the plant material...I feel a little safer doing that.
chop and drop 002.jpg
[Thumbnail for chop and drop 002.jpg]
 
R Scott
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Judith Browning wrote:We have had so much rain I am having trouble keeping up with my chop and drop around sweet potatoes and other lower growing plants. The sickle is too big and the small old hickory paring knife I tried was too small...so searching through my kitchen drawers I found this knife that I never use in the kitchen...it's 7" blade is working great for cutting chicory, daikon, lambsquarters, etc..I am cutting some off just at soil level so I'll see how long it holds it's edge after making contact with sandy soil and a few rocks. Instead of pulling towards me as I do with the sickle I am able to cut at a downward angle while holding the plant material...I feel a little safer doing that.


Those are AWESOME knives, often used by bushcrafters as a budget field/hunting knife. Actually superior steel to most knives today. Carbon steel, so it keeps an edge and resharpens EASY (using a rock if you have to). Just don't let it rust.

I need to find one in a secondhand store or garage sale. Much better option than a new hori hori.
 
Judith Browning
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That is good to know, R. Scott....I never found it that useful as a kitchen knife and have considered donating it to the local thrift store but instead threw it in the 'don't use very often if ever' drawer.
Just came in from cutting some more stuff and I am totally loving it...it is the right size, right weight and if my hand gets tired I slip downward not towards my left hand that holds the vegetation as with the sickle.


EDIT... I am pretty sure we bought this at a yard sale or junk store for very little ...i know it wasn't bought new.
 
Matu Collins
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I wish someone who is really good at scything would come show me technique. I have two of different weights and am not very successful with either. I've watched how to videos to no avail
 
Charles Tarnard
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Matu Collins wrote:I wish someone who is really good at scything would come show me technique. I have two of different weights and am not very successful with either. I've watched how to videos to no avail


I'm still pretty new myself, but I'm noticing that:

1. There is NO WAY that my scythe is anywhere near as sharp as Benjamin's. If I move my scythe that slowly it cuts exactly zero grass.

2. The placement of the nibs really changes the optimal swing path. I've adjusted my nibs a couple times. The nibs on my scythe don't like to be adjusted so I have to set them, wait for the metal to shape, and then tighten again and again until it finally sticks and holds. My previous setting made the optimal swing path kind of a hacking motion at the the ground. Not physically demanding, but it didn't cut very evenly for mowing. It worked great for hacking down some crimson clover and peas in my front yard. My current setting make a pulling motion with my left arm the most optimal. A much more even and easy to control cut, but right now it is causing some blistering in my left hand. Once the nibs set properly the blistering might stop.

I definitely need to get some proper sharpening tools to get that 'cut yourself shaving by looking at it sideways' edge before I go fine tuning my nibs again.
 
Michael Vormwald
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When I first saw this thread, I was thinking hand tools...and good hand tools are good, but... The other day I was looking at the garden at the weed growing in the sides of my raised beds (mounds). I use my B&D Grasshog weedeater around the perimeter to keep the grass/weeds away from the electric fence wire so I thought what the heck and took the weedeater into the garden. For bigger areas, I use my DR Trimmer.
 
Cj Sloane
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I've been using my new Craftman lithium battery weed wacker around my new saplings.

It works great but I had to buy a face shield, goggles weren't enough protection from all the stinging nettles and whatnot getting thrown up to my face!
 
Dan Tutor
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Judith Browning wrote:Thanks, Bryant....I did a search for 'Japanese Kama' and one of the first sites to show was at Permies! "Kama...Japanese Rice Sickle"

I'm going to see about finding a picture to post also. It is definitely sounding like what I am needing and maybe can use with a long handle.

This site has handmade ones....Permaculture tools


and a picture

Is that Geoff Lawtons son making those tools? That's awesome! Thank you for that link.

I got one of these on amazon for 11$! It has a serrated blade, and works amazingly well, it even cleaned up honeysuckle and forsythia 1/2" thick. Much better than a machete, less effort extended and easy pulling motion. Thank you for the heads up Judith!

 
Judith Browning
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I merged your thread with this one....lot's of good ideas in one place.
 
Matt Powers
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My family and I live in the Sierra Foothills where those fires were last year that made national tv. We are living the drought (and the diversion of our watershed to SF/LA).

Our soil is so brittle that I prefer to compost weeds in place by chopping & dropping. That means that I have weeds constantly growing around my food, but I also always have a ready mulch supply. At a certain point it starts to lean one way or the other and if it returns to weeds you have to root things up, do a heavy mulch layer and kill everything, or live with it. I usually don't have them return if I chop and drop them a few times. They gracefully bow out. The soil is great too!

Do you have a favorite chop & drop tool? Where did you get it?

My favorite is the PermacultureTools.com.au rice knife:
 
C. Kelley
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Location: zone 4b/5a Midcoast Maine
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My favorite chop & drop tool is very similar, a Japanese hand sickle, though the angle between the handle and blade is closer to 90* than yours - I think I'd like yours better, mine can be a bit finicky in tight corners sometimes. We take the same approach to managing our sad, thin granite & clay soils behind the apartment building we're currently living in - it baffles the neighbors, but We Don't Mow and it gives me the control to leave some of the more useful plants that just happen to be growing outside the garden beds (mullein, dandelions, burdock...the garden paths are more beds than the beds are right now!). Everyone has had a year or so now to watch me picking wild strawberries on the parking verges and doing half the garden "weeding" straight into my dinner basket, so they'll live. I think I'm getting contagious, too, as someone asked me the other day as I was passing with my dog if a particular plant was wild strawberry (it wasn't, but they saw the PLANT, not just a generic green thing, and that means I'm helping people to see the food all around them)...

My family were drought refugees from CA during the last big dry, I don't envy you the fires there. But then we have nor'Easters, and 141" of snow this last year, so...
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands
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My favorite chop and drop tool:


Which is often followed by:


In the fall I really love this method: It handles corn stalks slick as can be.
 
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