Monday 15 November 2021

Eponymous adzeAx

 You need the right tool for the job. If you're just futzing around in a corner of the haggard clearing nettles and "dirt", then anything with a steel edge will do: a scythe, a bill-hook, a shovel. But to work for hours, it's definitely worth investing in something fit for purpose and preferably fit for your build. Thus my well-used and much beloved scythe is adjustable for the spacing of the handles and the pitch of the blade. Someone with longer legs or shorter arms should really adjust the settings or use their own cutter. Like wise if you're five-feet-nothing you're better off sawing the last foot off the handle of your shovel. Apart from my scythe, the handiest implement in my tool-shed is my azada - a Spanish chopping spade. It's downward action is the best for tilling a potato patch or clearing a drain. You basically cannot buy one in Ireland, which is a loss.

Let's hear it for Ed Pulaski, the leader of a fire-crew in the Idaho Hills during the Big Blowup of 1910 when 1 million hectares of forest from Montana up into British Columbia went up in smoke. Fire is no respecter of an international border. A change of wind caused the blaze to surround Pulaski's crew of 45 foresters. But, knowing the local terrain from long experience, he led the crew to an abandonned mine adit and forced them to stay there lying on the ground until danger was past. 40 of the men survived many of them injured from burns and smoke inhalation [Microdocumentary by Steffen Riley]. 

We only know this story because in the following years Pulaski developed and pushed a particular design of chopper which came to be named eponymously: it's not an ax-adz or an adze/axe or even a Pulaski Ax it's a Pulaski. During the 1930s, this design spread out from the Northern Rockies all over North America with the appro of the US Forest Service. The front end is a (razor-sharp) axe for felling brush and brashing larger trunks. The other side of the shaft sports a heavier-duty curved blade for chopping roots and dirt, and generally depriving the fire of fuel. Seems to do the job. But really the basic design goes back 2,000 years to the Roman legionary's dolabra.

Talking of antient historie, I'll give a shout to Pat the Salt's favorite tool-about-the-site: the griffán or graff which is superficially identical to a Pulaski. It's a pick-axe with two blades: one at right-angles to the other: a wider grubbing blade backed by a shorter sharper blade that destroys tree roots. Much heavier than my azada so not imo useful unless you have biblically stony ground to break up . . . as last Saturday when we were planting trees.

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