I just dropped the price of
the permaculture playing cards
for a wee bit.

 

 

uses include:
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- convincing folks that you are not crazy
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- gambling distraction
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A question for scythe users.  RSS feed

 
Charles Tarnard
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I'm going back and forth on whether or not I should get a scythe. I live in a tiny house (1000sf) on a tiny lot (1/10 acre). Most of what I would need it for would be weed whacker duties. What concerns me about getting one is most of my weed whacking needs are located above concrete and asphalt surfaces. Along the curb, in the driveway, and against a retaining wall.

Is this kind of use the sort of thing that will destroy a blade in short time no matter how careful the user is or can it do the job? Would a blade capable of this be easily adapted to cutting small swaths of grass?

I would love to not need that rock chucker anymore. Thanks for any replies/ advice.
 
S Carreg
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I am a scythe newbie - went on a course for the Austrian scythe and have been using it for the last month, on a slightly bigger scale than you - a few acres I have also used it around the garden, where we have a small patio, wood-bordered and rock-bordered beds, and uneven ground. Based on my experience so far, I would say that it sounds like your situation is not ideal for a scythe. I have tufty grass around my beds and patio because if I get too close I jam or scrape the blade. I love my scythe and am happy enough with the results that it's worth it, because of everything else I'm using it for, but if you need a neater finish and that's *all* you're going to do with it, it may not be worth it. Is there any way you could borrow one from someone to try it out? If you do get one, you should definitely go for a shorter blade option.
 
Emily Brown
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I use one like this:

http://www.amazon.com/Ames-True-Temper-Deluxe-1945000/dp/B00004S1RZ/rs12-20

It sounds like it might be a better choice for your property than a scythe. It works kind of like a scythe too. You swing it like a golf club. I've hit mine against more than one rock and the blade is fine.
 
Rufus Laggren
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Though I have not used a scythe (I have a couple city lots) I researched a similar question last year. FWIW my conclusion was if the tool was not too expensive it'd be worth a try provided you got the right one. That is, a shorter scythe, maybe a little heavier, with a steeper snath for working in close around obstructions. If you haven't already come across it, Peter Vido at www.scytheconnection.com has a lot of info on his site. Granted he appears a bit of a master at the tool, but maybe the vid below will give you some clearer idea about close in work. If you watch the whole thing you'll see Peter working tightly around obstacles.

http://www.scytheconnection.com/adp/video/QtimeLg.html

The website has contact info and at the time I messaged them they responded quickly to questions.

Rufus
 
Charles Tarnard
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Thanks everybody. I think I'm going to keep looking at my local stores/ craigslist to try to find something that feels like it'll do the job. If that doesn't work, I may just bite the bullet and get a ditch/ bush blade. If that doesn't work I'll shed a single tear and go plug in the damn weed whacker.

Thanks again.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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As an experienced scythe user I would say that what you really need is a good quality grass hook--what you'll hear some folks erroneously call a "hand scythe." These are GREAT for spot-trimming up agains foundations or other potentially damaging objects and in nooks and crannies that a full-blown scythe would be excessive for.
 
Charles Tarnard
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What I ended up getting was a diamond hoe. Doesn't work quite the same as a scythe or grass hook, but is very effective at hacking and whacking around concrete. It's also not horrible for getting under some painfully compacted dirt.

I'm seeding some fleur de lawn in the next couple of weeks. I may look into a scythe again as that comes up and establishes if my reel mower isn't able to get that done the way I like. For now, though, I am in good shape.

Thank you everyone.
 
ben harpo
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A diamond hoe is for cultivating not mowing

I'm experienced with a scythe and I say pavement, curbs, walls, and posts present no problem whatsoever. Rocky unlevel ground is where I tear up my blades.
 
Charles Tarnard
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ben harpo wrote:A diamond hoe is for cultivating not mowing

I'm experienced with a scythe and I say pavement, curbs, walls, and posts present no problem whatsoever. Rocky unlevel ground is where I tear up my blades.


I have a reel mower. I asked the question because at the time I needed something to excavate the crack between the asphalt and curb along the street, a prime spot for clover and dandelion to annoy the neighbors (I don't care so much if they annoy the neighbors in among my plants, but I try to keep a minimum level of "appropriate maintenance"). In the past I would have used my weedwhacker, but I hate that thing. The way I used the diamond hoe around the edge of the curb would not have been good for a tool designed to cut grass like a scythe, in hindsight.

I also currently have a reel mower. I was hoping to replace the weedwhacker, edger, and reel mower with one tool, but I no longer have the confidence in a scythe to do what I needed around the curbs. Like I said in my earlier post, I may revisit a scythe in the spring if my reel mower isn't getting it done or I start having a lot of brush clearing exercises, but not for edging like I used the diamond hoe for.

I also used it to soften some dirt that I needed to move in my back yard. It was excellent for that. You are right, it would make a long day mowing with it .
 
Zach Muller
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I bought a bush blade and a steel snath from marug company to replace my broken gas string trimmer. I found it is pretty great for slicing stuff in the lawn that my reel mower would only knock down. Along the chain link fence it was a little frustrating and often had better luck with the hand sickles I have. In the end I just put down cardboard under the fence to get rid of some of the impossible to get grass. Along the curb the scythe is great, way better than holding my old trimmer and breaking string every few seconds. For only a tenth of an acre I would be torn between sickles to a full blown scythe. I like reel mowers for cultivating lawn like areas. Another thing to consider, that a friend of mine has done is just dig out the turf along the edges and deep mulch so you can get everything easily with just a mower.
 
Charles Tarnard
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Zach Muller wrote:I bought a bush blade and a steel snath from marug company to replace my broken gas string trimmer. I found it is pretty great for slicing stuff in the lawn that my reel mower would only knock down. Along the chain link fence it was a little frustrating and often had better luck with the hand sickles I have. In the end I just put down cardboard under the fence to get rid of some of the impossible to get grass. Along the curb the scythe is great, way better than holding my old trimmer and breaking string every few seconds. For only a tenth of an acre I would be torn between sickles to a full blown scythe. I like reel mowers for cultivating lawn like areas. Another thing to consider, that a friend of mine has done is just dig out the turf along the edges and deep mulch so you can get everything easily with just a mower.


The mower, in the end, will only be for the back yard. That is the area I set up for the kids to play in, and (hopefully) that will be the only area not producing some kind of food. I still have a lot of work to do in the front yard to get it food producing in a meaningful way, but things are moving in the right direction. I have a hugel and some keyhole stuff ready to go for spring planting, but there is still a bunch of grass that needs to be killed off and turned into soil before I can say I'm really cutting into my diet with my food. I really, really, really, really, really like tools I can stand next to while using, which makes sickles unappealing to me. Once I get my front yard close to where I want it to be producing, I'll reassess the scythe situation.

I don't spend much time primping for my neighbors, but once or twice a year I look at my yard and think, 'it's time.' I think I picked a solid tool for that particular job, and the price was right. Hopefully I don't have to make that decision again.
 
Zach Muller
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I can definitely relate, the worst downside of sickle is bending over or being on your knee to use it. I have a friend living in laurelhurst and last time I went to visit him I stayed in sunnyside. Good heavens walking through some of those hoods was just a dream, one amazing intensively planted front plot after another. It was music to my eyes! I have had luck establishing a garden over grass in two ways. One was Turn over the top layer and just sift through with your hands to remove most of the grass roots and immediately plant something fast germinating and keep picking the small grass bits out as they show their faces. Or cover grass with a tarp for a few weeks or so to weaken it then just basically rake the weakened grass out trying not to take too much of the very top soil layer with it, and plant immediately. Good luck!
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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When using a grass hook (commonly improperly dubbed a sickle) it's important to use proper stance to minimize strain on the body. Use a wide stance and strongly bent knees (almost as if going to sit down on a low bench) with a straight back, and your rear end out (sounds silly, I know, but we're talking about comfort, and it doesn't look as goofy as it sounds!) You'll find the weight of your torso being carried through the front of your hips into the top of your thighs, making for a very comfortable and braced position.

If able to locate one, a long-handled grass hook or the slightly longer single-nibbed "scythook" can also be used, but these are a little less commonly found, let alone in good restorable condition.

As far as scythes go you might consider keeping an eye out for an American pattern in good condition and restoring it if you have the tools and ability to do so. One can find them inexpensively and they're not the monsters folks make them out to be--they just use a very different technique compared to the Euro type (though they have more things in common than differences, those differences are significant in actual use.) Here's just one of many restorations I've done over the past couple of years.




 
Rufus Laggren
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I like your paint job. It looks like the blade has a twist to it...? I can see where maybe that might work well as you swing the tool and the angle and cutting point (along the blade) change as your body twists. Or not. I'm not sure what I'm looking at. The angle of the blade (across the blade, not along it's length) relative to the snath looks small - like the snath would need to be more parallel to the ground than usual in order for the edge of the blade to get down low.

I have one back in Chicago that I can't get a look at right now that IIRC has almost no angle to the blade; the snath looks more or less normal. Can't figure out how it was used; but I have heard the railroads commissioned scythes and I wonder if was intended not for grass but for growth higher up encroaching the tracks. Still not sure how it would be used...

Rufus
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Rufus Laggren wrote:I like your paint job. It looks like the blade has a twist to it...? I can see where maybe that might work well as you swing the tool and the angle and cutting point (along the blade) change as your body twists. Or not. I'm not sure what I'm looking at. The angle of the blade (across the blade, not along it's length) relative to the snath looks small - like the snath would need to be more parallel to the ground than usual in order for the edge of the blade to get down low.

I have one back in Chicago that I can't get a look at right now that IIRC has almost no angle to the blade; the snath looks more or less normal. Can't figure out how it was used; but I have heard the railroads commissioned scythes and I wonder if was intended not for grass but for growth higher up encroaching the tracks. Still not sure how it would be used...

Rufus


No twist. The tang angle has been adjusted by heating with an induction heater and the application of a bending wrench before being allowed to air cool. There is a "crown" to the blade which means that if you here to hold the heel of the blade flat against a surface you would see the blade gradually lift as it approaches the toe. This both helps prevent ramming the tip into the dirt when in bumpy ground, but also keeps the edge more level through the stroke since it counters the tilted rotation of the torso.

In terms of the blade on that scythe of yours, tang angle is going to depend on environment, and more often than not people either didn't adjust the tang OR did so incorrectly (such as by twisting the blade in a vise, which puts the heel out of alignment.) The lay of American blades is a little different than with the continental European type since you don't have a dished form. The blade, when riding the ground, does so on its rib rather than on the belly. A Euro blade, when "level" on a flat surface, still has the edge laying upwards because of the belly. With an American blade the angle is much easier to see. A "neutral" lay tends to be the best for general mowing, being neither so low as to be ideal for close-cropped lawn grasses nor so upward as to be ideal for bush work. The unit can then be "tillered" with the vertical positioning of the left hand to bring the lay into perfect adjustment for the conditions at hand, along with adjustments in stance to maintain good form.

It was traditional with American blades (as well as English ones) for the tangs to come flat and be adjusted locally by a smith or other metalworker to bring it to the proper angle for the combination of user, blade, and snath. Since this cost money in most cases, one often finds examples where people either just didn't bother to do it (good for us, since it's a blank slate!) or cranked on the tang with the blade locked in a vise to twist the blade (requires correction before properly setting the tang) but one does occasionally find blades, usually of very good quality due to the sensibility of the user, where the tang is properly adjusted. Some British blades bore instructions on their labels on adjusting the angle, which they called the "cray" of the blade, and I have a vintage "new old stock" Seymour snath that mentions adjusting the blade lay.

The wider and/or more heavily curved the blade is, the more important tang adjustment is since the difference in the run of the blade along its length will be magnified by how far out of alignment it is.
 
Zach Muller
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I like that paint job as well Benjamin, nice lookin tool! Since you seem to know you stuff I thought I could maybe get more info on this

On the left is the one I bought from the marugg company and it was called a sickle
On the right is an antique tool I found at an outdoor market labeled as a scythe. It has a much heavier blade than the sickle and it sits an inch behind the level of the handle when looking at it straight on. Is this technically a grass hook and not sickle? I know it would be bastardizing an antique but I have considered putting a longer handle on it so I would have a long, medium, and short to accommodate more tasks. As it is now the antique one, once sharpened, can easily cut woody stems up to a quarter inch without pause.
 
Charles Tarnard
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If people are concerned about this going off topic, I am perfectly content to sit back and be educated as to the best use and care of these variety of tools.

Carry on.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Zach Muller wrote:I like that paint job as well Benjamin, nice lookin tool! Since you seem to know you stuff I thought I could maybe get more info on this

On the left is the one I bought from the marugg company and it was called a sickle
On the right is an antique tool I found at an outdoor market labeled as a scythe. It has a much heavier blade than the sickle and it sits an inch behind the level of the handle when looking at it straight on. Is this technically a grass hook and not sickle? I know it would be bastardizing an antique but I have considered putting a longer handle on it so I would have a long, medium, and short to accommodate more tasks. As it is now the antique one, once sharpened, can easily cut woody stems up to a quarter inch without pause.


Thanks. I've done around 8 of them at this point with various paint jobs. Full restorations including complete disassembly, electrolytic rust removal treatment, repair of any cracks or splits in the wood if present, clear coating of all metal components, refit of mounting collar, replacement of damaged or missing nibs, shaving down (as appropriate), sanding, and painting of the snath, correction of any twists or bends in the blade, reshaping of blade profile, heating the tang via magnetic induction and adjusting the tang angle, regrinding the edge using a water-cooled grinding wheel to produce a traditional hollow-ground edge, then final honing, tuning, and adjustment.

In terms of your question, both would be considered grass hooks. Sickles or reaping hooks are chiefly intended for the harvest of cereal crops and tend to have longer and more slender blades designed to aid in the gathering and bundling of sheafs. These are more what a true harvesting sickle is like in form:




The three on the top in this photo are sickles or reaping hooks, while the one on the bottom is a fag-hook and was used for faggoting (gathering and bundling thin sticks, often for erosion control or a permeable ford across a ditch, amongst other uses.)



Grass hooks are used for trimming vegetation, and can be found in sub-classes commonly referred to as "scythe-type" or "sickle-type". Both of the ones in your image are variations of the sickle type. while scythe-type ones are more along these lines:




The stamped and bent sickle-type grass hooks with an offset for knuckle clearance like the one on the right in your image were economy models, providing no benefit other than being cheap to produce and doing their job well enough. Forged sickle-type grass hooks like this one in my collection were used for removal of a mixture of vegetation and woody stemmed plants and as such required a slightly more robust build than those used only on grass:



The scythe-type grass hook is my preferred type when specifically cutting grasses. Many of the ones that use stamped and press-formed blades bolted to a forged shank are adjustable, allowing for a more open or closed hang to the blade. The bottom bolt has one hole and acts as a pivot, while the top bolt has 2-3 holes in the blade that allow you to alter the angle. This is useful depending on the technique you choose to apply in the use of the tool. When doing trimming of open spaces that are too cramped for a scythe (such as between the barn and the chicken coop on my homestead) then you can pivot the blade rapidly from the wrist, rapidly clearing a significant area in pretty short time. The grass will scatter loosely with this method, but is easily raked if need be, and does not obstruct the cut. A very close-cropped professional look is attained with this method. The other method (often useful with a more open hang) it to grasp tufts of grass with the off hand, guide the point behind the tuft, and then draw back to sever the tuft. This method is often used for trimming work like removing grass growing next to a foundation or a chain link or welded wire fence (as opposed to a stretched wire fence, which a scythe may cut under without issue.)
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Also, by all means "bastardize" that grass hook. Long-handled models were not uncommon, and TrueTemper actually still makes one. Most typically the long-handled type made use of a tang-and-ferrule method of attachment much like one finds on a cultivator, potato hook, bow rake, etc. versus the riveted construction method, but you could slit the end of the pole, pre-drill your holes in the wood to align with the rivet holes, and use a piece of conduit for a ferrule then rivet through that. The one thing to make sure of is not to be too rough on the offset flat stock sickle-type grass hooks because where the bend of the offset is made tends to become a stress point and I've seen a number of them that have been cracked there before. This is mostly an issue of thin steel and abusive use, but it's something to be mindful of.
 
Zach Muller
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Thank you very much for all the great info and photos. Now I can confidently call my tools what they really are! I think I will take some inspiration from you and make the restoration and modification of the vintage grass hook one of my later winter projects. By next season I will be ready to chop and drop anything nature has to offer.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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My pleasure! With the revival of interest in continental European scythes both the grass hook and the American scythe have largely been overlooked or dismissed without serious examination or study. It's my hope to shed some light on their usefulness and bring them up to a similar level of shared enthusiasm.

 
Charles Tarnard
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Maybe it was in one of your posts, but if it was, I missed it.

What is the primary difference in performance or function between the American and European scythe? Most of what I have read merely says one sucks and the other doesn't. I've seen videos that show an American scythe clearing a field, but the end result of that looked lumpy and rough due to what I assume was the attack angle of the American scythe, not the ideal application for an urban lawn, IMO.

Educate me.

Edit::: I'd really prefer to not buy online, and there are places to get an American scythe locally, so if you could convince me of how to make one work, that would be swell.

Thanks. This thread went from nice to amazing very quickly.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Charles Tarnard wrote:Maybe it was in one of your posts, but if it was, I missed it.

What is the primary difference in performance or function between the American and European scythe? Most of what I have read merely says one sucks and the other doesn't. I've seen videos that show an American scythe clearing a field, but the end result of that looked lumpy and rough due to what I assume was the attack angle of the American scythe, not the ideal application for an urban lawn, IMO.

Educate me.

Edit::: I'd really prefer to not buy online, and there are places to get an American scythe locally, so if you could convince me of how to make one work, that would be swell.

Thanks. This thread went from nice to amazing very quickly.


Field work is very different from lawn work, so that's often the reason for a "lumpy" or rough finish under such circumstances. Chances were good it was me that you saw the video of (user name FortyTwoBlades) and the field being mowed is horse pasture with clay soil. It gets swampy when wet and rock hard when dry, resulting in very uneven ground. Additionally, dogwood grows actively and intersperses itself with other plants. I tend not to be concerned so much with the aesthetics of the swath so much as knocking the growth down. Let's be honest--if you're knocking down weeds, getting a manicured swath doesn't matter compared to saving your edge! Slice through a dirt clod and you'll need to stop for a touchup. A rough stubble still generates ample forage!



When mowing the lawn, by contrast, I get a swath equal in quality to that of Euro blades. Here are some examples of lawn work results using a weed blade--this unit isn't even specifically set up for lawn work.







More recently (from the end of summer into early fall--obviously I'm not mowing now that there's snow on the ground) I've been using a 48" grain cradle blade on a vintage Seymour SN-8 aluminum snath, but that's a VERY advanced blade and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone that isn't yet fully proficient with a 30" standard grass blade.





As far as the differences go, here are a couple of documents I've written on the American scythe. The first is a guide regarding the tool in specific, the other being an open response to (my friend) Botan Anderson's popular "A Tale of Two Scythes" article.

A Primer on the Selection, Use, & Maintenance of the American Scythe

Dispelling the Myths of the American Scythe

Those ought to give some good reading material to start off. I have much more to write on the subject but rarely have the time I'd like. One small terminological note with the first document is that the plate that accepts the tang of the blade is listed as the mounting plate because at the time I had yet to unearth a satisfactory historical term for the part. However, it should instead be listed as the heel plate. I just haven't gotten around to updating the document yet. :p
 
Rufus Laggren
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Benjamin

I think you may have cast light on the scythe I have in Chicago. The tang is indeed, I believe, flat with the blade and I'll take a close look next spring when I go back and see what the heel looks like. As I recall there was no marring or peculiarly twists or bends so it's seems possible it has never been set up. I was hanging on the wall of a suberban basement rec room when I bought it, the PO having passed on the next world.

And... The two sickles in your first pics are simply beautiful. Ladies, I am sorry but I doubt any curve could as fine and purely catching as those shown by two old farm tools ... And until moments ago I could never have imagined saying some so purely idiotic! <G>


Rufus
 
Burra Maluca
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Rufus Laggren wrote: Ladies, I am sorry but I doubt any curve could as fine and purely catching as those shown by two old farm tools ...


In which case, you may appreciate this...



That version has no sound. If you want the complete one, click here, but I can't embed that one.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Burra Maluca wrote:
Rufus Laggren wrote: Ladies, I am sorry but I doubt any curve could as fine and purely catching as those shown by two old farm tools ...


In which case, you may appreciate this...



That version has no sound. If you want the complete one, click here, but I can't embed that one.


Careful now! Her boyfriend is a member here!
 
Burra Maluca
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Benjamin Bouchard wrote:
Careful now! Her boyfriend is a member here!


In that case, can he tell her from me that I never saw anyone use a scythe in real life. I had no-one to show me what to do. But I watched that beautiful video three times, picked a scythe up from the agricultural merchants and just went out and used it like it was the most natural thing in the world. So thankyou - you are an amazing teacher!
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Rufus Laggren wrote:Benjamin

I think you may have cast light on the scythe I have in Chicago. The tang is indeed, I believe, flat with the blade and I'll take a close look next spring when I go back and see what the heel looks like. As I recall there was no marring or peculiarly twists or bends so it's seems possible it has never been set up. I was hanging on the wall of a suberban basement rec room when I bought it, the PO having passed on the next world.

And... The two sickles in your first pics are simply beautiful. Ladies, I am sorry but I doubt any curve could as fine and purely catching as those shown by two old farm tools ... And until moments ago I could never have imagined saying some so purely idiotic! <G>


Rufus


Sounds ripe for restoration and tuning! If using a torch to heat the tang, stick a potato on the edge to keep it from overheating and destroying the heat treatment. Bending wrenches can be tricky to find but a monkey wrench (NOT a pipe wrench) will do in a pinch. Which reminds me--I found a source for some that look promising but need to order some in for the shop. As far as curves go, check out these!








 
Rufus Laggren
Posts: 481
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
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> curves

I like those long loopy blades best... <g>

> boy friend a member here...

Well if 1/2 the folk here are half as lucky as that guy, we'd better not all buy lottery tickets or it'd bankrupt the system! <g>

Burra, I've actually looked through much of their website a few years ago. A great bit of work the family has put together and I'm just glad they are sharing their views and interests and skills. Even though it makes me itch a little and wonder what the hey I've been doing w/my life in the city...


Rufus
 
Well don't expect me to do the dishes! This ad has been cleaned for your convenience:
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