Finding an antique tool in the hedgerow and restoring it

An overgrown field full of spiky plants hides a number of treasures.  So far I have found a large copper saucepan, various bits of old wood, a space invaders crisp packet from the 80's and a 12" rusty curved knife.

I stashed most of it away in my mini barn (made from an old pig ark) but the blade piqued my interest.  What was it and why was it under a massively overgrown hedgerow?  I took it home and gave it an initial clean up and discovered some markings on the side of it.  The markings read Elwell 1948 (with an up arrow)  A quick bit of google research told me that it was the head from an old slasher (the up arrow signifies that it was made for the military).

A slasher1 which is a disappointingly accurate name but not a very exciting one, was/is used for trimming hedges before the use of the mechanical tractor mounted machines that trim the roadside hedgerows every year.  It does pretty much the same job just much more slowly and is much more exhausting to use.  There are times of year that a tractor can't make it onto the fields due to the weather and the firmness of the ground.  The slasher, I suppose, can be used in all weathers.

I found this fantastic video made in the 40's of a traditional hedge layer.  He uses his slasher toward the end of the film.  He makes it look very easy.  I'm guessing that his slasher was alot sharper than my rusty old scrap. Most of the hedges on the roadside edge of my plot are a bit gappy and will need laying over at some point.  I might start next year. Doing little sections every winter until it is all done.

This video and my interest in restoring/fixing old things, made me decide to restore this old thing and use it for what it was designed to do. I think it will not only be useful for the yearly touching up of the hedges but it will also be good for dealing with thick bits of bramble and nettle that the scythe might complain about.  

Here it is once I have removed most of the surface rust.  Not bad I thought.  I used wet and dry sandpaper to remove the rust and minimise some of the pitting.  I then used a chainsaw file to start to sharpen the blade.  I was surprised how quickly the blade returned to a usable state.  I then used progressively finer stones until my edge was as close to razor sharp as I could make it. Now to make a handle!  

Luckily I had a few planks of ash that I had got from my friend Dan Hussey2 who sold me a plank which I was using to make into walking sticks. I had some left over and decided it would make a perfect slasher handle.  36" is the ideal length apparently - the perfect length for a good two handed swing and small enough to be used for close more precise work.  I cut it to length and rough cut the shape i wanted.  I used my hand plane and spokeshave to finesse the shape and began the smoothing process.  Followed by some sanding.  

Once the handle was the right size and shape and a good fit, I banged it into place by holding the handle with the blade uppermost and banging it down on a concrete floor.  This vibration creates a very tight fit as the head of the slasher slowly snugs down onto the handle. Once it was tight in place and aligned perfectly with the handle, I drilled the holes for the rivets. I used a couple of 6mm shovel rivets for this and the process was surprisingly easy. I drilled holes through the existing holes in the slasher head, into the ash and out the other hole on the handle.  I then tapped through both rivets which were too long at this point.  I used a junior hacksaw to cut off the excess leaving 5mm protruding on each rivet.  I then used the rounded end of a ball peen hammer to hammer the rivet over leaving a head on both sides of the rivet holding everything tightly in place.

Finally, a wipe of boiled linseed oil on the handle and it was ready for service.

I have to admit using it on any branches over a couple of years old and it struggles but on the young wippy growth it cuts through mostly like butter.  This is no doubt why in the video above it says hedges should be trimmed yearly. After about an hour of trimming I was sweating and aching - gym membership not required! But it was worth it - no petrol required either - and my hedges were tidied up for the year. I have left the tops longer on the roadside section this will hopeful make the laying over easier next winter. If I manage to keep this weekly blog going I will no doubt post about that too.  

Here's to finding things under hedges and using them again! 

Now to work out what can I use that Space Invaders packet for.




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