As a woman I have a unique appreciation of the right tools. Having used them for much of my life, I don’t take it for granted when I find something that works well for me, and I marvel at how much harder life must have been before modern tools were invented.
As all of us women know, most hand tools are designed for men. They are made for big hands and upper body strength. Often they’re awkward to hold and sometimes difficult to use. More often than not, I have to put my noggin to work to figure out how to use leverage or gravity to make up for smaller hands and lack of physical size and strength.
We’re working long hard hours to build our house on the old abandoned farmstead where my partner grew up (and his dad before him). It’s a huge task. Fences need to be moved to keep cows out of our area, trees need to be cleared, dirt work to be done, old equipment and buildings to be dealt with, water lines to be put in, a garden and orchard to be prepared … the list goes on.
Tools seem to move around on their own when we’re not looking. Working on several acres, we tend to get spread out. No matter how consciously I try to put things back where they belong so I can find them later, they inevitably sneak away when I’m not looking. They can jump, too. Out of pockets, off of shelves, into dark corners. Yesterday a whole box full made a break for it and got disked into the garden when a bolt on the toolbox on the tractor came loose. I suggested that we water them and see what comes up this summer. Maybe a metal detector would be a better idea, since a sledge hammer or pipe wrench would probably win a fight with a rototiller.
There are old tools everywhere on the farm. Everything from big farm machinery (some dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century) to old harnesses for work horses to a shop absolutely full of hand tools and an old forge. The farm was built and run by hand, using iron and horses and archaic engines. It’s hard to imagine the long days of back-breaking physical labor, getting up before the sun and going to bed well after it. I can see why women were often relegated to the less strenuous (but just as exhausting) household work, given the sheer strength needed for the farm work.
The other day my partner commented, “You know, if my dad had a skidsteer, I don’t think he would have had kids.” We’re using a skidsteer and tractor for the heavy work. The amount that one person can accomplish in one day with a skidsteer would have taken a week or more back then. The attachments are amazing. If someone starting out homesteading asked what I thought the best investment would be, I would say hands down a good skidsteer and a few attachments. The upfront cost is large, but over the years they pay for themselves tenfold.
So far we’re using a tree shear, grapple and stump grinder to clear the area of old unhealthy trees where we are planting a fruit orchard. We use forks for moving old equipment out of the way and pulling posts, the bucket for leveling and dirt work, and a trencher for digging water lines. The best part is I can do all this work. There’s still plenty of hand work that needs to be done, but the modern machinery makes all the difference in the world.