A sickle is an ancient tool used for the harvesting of cereal crops and for clearing land. It has existed for many thousands of years, being made from materials of the time. Early on, these were flint and bone, while they are hardened steel and plastic in the present day. A sickle blade is usually curved and attached to a handle. Let’s find out more about the sickle below.
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Where did the Sickle Come From?
The word sickle seems to have its origins in ancient Germanic sicel, which was then used in old English as sicol. The term can also be found in Dutch sikkel and Latin secula and comes from secare, meaning ‘to cut.’
The precise origin of the sickle is unknown, but it has been used in various forms for many thousands of years in Europe, Africa, the East and South, and Central America.
Early sickles have been found in archeological digs dating back to the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Age. The earliest ever found was made of flint with a bone handle.
Sickle blades can be smooth or serrated. The early flint examples all have a serrated edge, while later bronze age ones are smooth-edged.
Today, it is still possible to get both smooth or serrated blades, and it was traditionally the village blacksmith who would make simple sickles for the local people.
The first serrated sickles to be made industrially came from England and later were produced by the Company Redtendacher in Scharnstein, Austria, in around 1897. They were the largest maker of scythes, which are related to sickles, in the world.
In 1970 Redtenbacher was still making one and a half million serrated sickles each year, sold mainly to Latin America and Africa.
Other Austrian companies were producing smooth-edged sickles too, and had been doing so for centuries.
Many family-owned businesses in Spain, Portugal, and Italy made both serrated and smooth sickles until the middle of the 20th Century.
Today high-quality sickles are still being produced in Italy, while China also produces vast numbers each year.
Sickles and their close cousins, scythes have long been an essential tool for harvesting cereal crops in many parts of the world. Globally millions would perish each year if sickles weren’t being utilized for this critical job.
American Sickle History
Sickles have been discovered in the southwest of North America, with a unique design. It is believed they may have originated in the Far East.
Evidence suggests that people from the Kodiak Islands made sickles out of the sharpened shoulder bones of large animals. These were used for cutting grass.
Artifacts discovered in New Mexico and Arizona are made from the horns of mountain sheep or the mandibles of deer.
What is a Sickle Used for?
All around the globe today, many people still use sickles to harvest crops, including rice, wheat, and field beans. They are also helpful in cutting grass and clearing land.
More historically, the sickle had some other uses. Druids used sickles in religious rituals while some cultures put them to service as weapons, particularly in Japan, China, and North Central Africa.
In Nepal, India, a particular type of sickle is used to prepare vegetables for cooking. The tool’s handle is pushed down with the toes, and a back and forth motion cuts up the vegetables.
In countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, sickles are used in martial arts.
How to Use a Sickle?
A sickle is used in short sweeping motions to clear grass and weeds close to the ground as if you’re trying to throw a skimming pebble across a pond. You can also cut away branches by using a downward chopping motion.
In this video, you will see how to clear a simple path using a sickle and a clearing stick:
Don’t use your sickle to clear away cuttings. Instead, use a stick with a hook or a separate weeding sickle, a straight stick with a small blade set at 90° on the end.
How to Sharpen a Sickle
Before using your sickle, you must first ensure it is sharp. A blunt sickle won’t cut much, and it can actually be more dangerous as you’ll put force behind it.
In the video above, you can see one method by which to keep your sickle sharp, using a particular type of sharpening stone.
Wet stones tend to give a sharper edge, and when sharpening blades on them, it’s important to keep the angle of the blade at about 20 degrees to the stone.
With a sickle, you need to ensure you are sharpening the entire length of the blade. This practice, known as honing, will need doing frequently on both sides.
If the blade is damaged, it may require peening before it can be sharpened. Peening involves repeatedly hammering the blade, which thins out the metal edge.
Where to Buy a Sickle
Sickles are still relatively easy to get hold of as they still remain popular despite modern-day motorized tools.
You can buy sickles at garden stores, Home Depot, or on websites such as Amazon, and eBay.
This very ancient tool is as popular around the world today as it has always been. Without the sickle, many people would go hungry as there simply isn’t another cheap and effective tool that can take its place for harvesting crops.
Today there are a wide variety of different types of sickle available, but still, the most recognized is the semi-circular metal blade fixed to a wooden handle.
Due to the nature of sickles, being very sharp with large blades, great care must be exercised when using them or serious injuries may be inflicted.
It is always best to wear gloves when using a sickle to protect your hands. In addition, long, thick work pants and boots are also a wise precaution.
If you’d like to learn more about hand tools and their uses, you may enjoy reading more articles in our series, including a general list of helpful farming hand tools (like a wheelbarrow), which can be found on our website.