Scythe Instruction in Iraq

I wish I was blogging to say I’m just off to some far-flung corner of the world to run a scythe course and escape our current dreary Cumbrian weather. Actually Mr H. J. Hopfen Farm Implements Specialist  of the FAO was made available to the Iraqi Government between 25 Feb and 29 June 1954 to advise and introduce ‘useful improved implements’ one of which was the scythe and cradle.

His report on the project though short is very enjoyable. At that time the cutting of forage and cereals was performed almost entirely with the sickle though the scythe was known in a few places on the Turkish-Iranian border.  These were fitted to a straight snath with a single handgrip made from a short willow branch, bent to the shape of a ‘U’ to enclose the handle and the ends tied with string. Mr Hopfen observes that this design of handgrip is very simple and practical, easily repositioned for different users and even stronger than the grips that he himself had brought.

The original plan for a 2 week course run along with an Austrian scythe blacksmith was deemed ‘impossible’ and so Mr Hopfen carried out his training alone in the Kirkuk region during the month of May. Interest in the training was ‘considerable’ with up to 100 people attending the events which consisted of a demonstration by Mr Hopfen, an invitation to officials and farmers to try the scythe and cradle themselves and other ‘practical instruction and training’ (presumably care and maintenance of the scythe plus peening and sharpening.)

In one particularly pleasing  section, Mr Hopfen travels to the mountain areas around Sidiken on the Iranian-Turkish border to demonstrate the scythe. Unfortunately, ‘the farmers were so eager to obtain the few implement samples which the expert had taken to the mountains, that demonstrations had to be discontinued after only a few days as he had no implements left’! Similar problems were encountered in supply in Kirkuk so Mr Hopfen instructed local carpenters in the making of snaths and cradles.

Unfortunately for me, Mr Hopfen did not include any construction instructions in his report for carpenters local to Kendal though I also have a copy of ‘Small Farm Implements’ which he co-wrote and includes some better photos of cradles to work from. I’ll post them once I’ve finished reading it.

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About Steve Tomlin

I am a greenwood worker and scythe tutor. I carve spoons, bowls and other products from locally sourced greenwood. During the summer I teach scything around the UK.
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