When explaining my decision to use only hand tools to accomplish all of my tasks, as an agrarian I could give the simple answer: they guarantee my commitment to hard work. Often times, I stop the explanation there. When approaching a project, I would rather choose the path that puts my body to work, giving my mind time to think while my body completes the task at hand, rather than only using my mind while letting my body languish. It is more satisfying and more healthful this way. I don’t use hand tools just because I enjoy it more, though. It is logic on many levels which led me to this decision.
When choosing which tool to use for a certain job, you must first assess the job itself. How large is the job, and what tool is the smallest or least complicated that I could successfully employ? What is the largest or most complicated that I could successfully employ? Which one makes more sense for the job? How expensive – in time and/or money – is each tool to employ? How many hours will it take you to harvest your oats with a sickle? How much money will it take to purchase a grain combine (and how many hours of wages will it take to earn that money)? Every tool, no matter how large or small, needs to be maintained. The sickle will require very frequent sharpening with a stone and a new wooden handle very rarely. The combine will require diesel, a few different kinds of oil, many shapes and sizes of nuts and bolts, belts and pulleys, screens and fans, and many hours per year of your or your mechanic’s time.
How will your choice of tools impact your long term goals? A sickle will only be able to harvest a finite acreage of oats before you will need not only a second sickle, but a second human to use it. A combine can harvest an almost limitless acreage, but there is soil compaction (a topic for a later date) and a minimum number of acres to harvest before it is feasible in the first place. Are you growing anything other than oats? Can the sickle or the combine be re-purposed throughout the year so as not to be sitting idly in a shed? What will you hear, smell, see, and feel while you use your tool of choice? Can you anticipate problems – back pain from the sickle, weight gain from sitting in the combine?
For me, the choice was easy. I have faith in my ability to do enough work, without mechanical “help”, to feed my family. Give it an honest try yourself, you may be surprised at how many bushels per acre you can grow, harvest, and process with just one human power and a few hand tools.