No gas, no batteries, no electricity required

By Tom Poland

All it requires is a steady hand. It doesn’t disturb the peace on Saturday mornings. So quiet is it, I doubt it’d suffer banning in ever-vigilant California. If you hear it working, at most you’ll hear a swish of air and a cutting raspy sound. Maybe. It’s that quiet. Back in a place called yesteryear, if by chance you heard the swishing, it came in an easygoing pleasing rhythm, but nothing about it was easy — not to many. In fact, you might have heard a bad word or two when it caught the leg of its operator or blisters began to form. The sling blade worked quite well with left-handed and right-handed fellas. Gals too. I remember seeing a man pass it from one hand to the other as he cut weeds on both sides. He seemed an athlete with the ease in which he leveled weeds. I don’t see sling blades much anymore unless I stumble across one on the wall of some throwback restaurant. Maybe in a museum or in some country store propped up in a corner, or more likely hanging on a nail in an old barn. I have not seen one in use in many years. Should you see one, you won’t see any plastic on a sling blade. No controls. No knobs. No adjustments needed. It was as low tech as they come. All it demanded was a sharpening of the blades. And, as one fellow said, “It was one of those tools you could leave by the side of the road, and it’d be there when you returned.” I dreaded using ours. Dad would tell me to fetch the sling blade and get busy cutting a thick stand of Johnson grass. I never got any good with it although I should have, because the sling blade, with its two-sided serrated blade, cut going and coming and I used it many a day. It conquered many a weed, many a pine seedling, honeysuckle, and I daresay it took a turn at kudzu too. And it did so quietly. I dreaded using it more than any other tool because it was boring. Maybe some of you found it boring as well. Then progress brought us electric- and gas-powered weedeaters. Not long ago battery-operated weedeaters made the scene. All seemed a gift from the gods. But are they? In this era of handwringing over emissions and climate change, the old manual sling blade looks friendlier and friendlier as environmental worries go. All it required was a steady hand driven by muscle power. You had no worries about gas fumes nor did you worry about tangling with a power cord. Of course, none of that was on Dad’s mind seeing honeysuckle invading the back yard. Knowing full well that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, he dispatched me to slay the vines, sling blade in hand. Well, the sling blade isn’t extinct. I talked to some folks and several say they still use it. I’m glad to hear that. Consider them unintentional environmentalists. Most others use weedeaters and varied power tools. For the most part, the handy, reliable sling blade has become passé. Now this relic of earlier times, like manual pruning shears, hammers, rakes, posthole diggers, and old manual mowers sees limited use. The arrival of powered weedeaters along with their cousins the nail guns, mowers of all types, leaf blowers, and electric shears changed things. The problem with power tools is it doesn’t take much for them to break and soon they end up in the junk heap. But, if you look in some far-flung country outpost, you might see an old sling blade in use. It won’t need batteries, gas or electricity. Sharpening and a steady hand are all it needs along with patience, muscle power and a good attitude.

Author: Rachel Howell

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