Wooden Pitch Forks February 13, 1942
Perhaps you will find a few wooden pitch forks offered at farmer’s sales during this winter. If you listen to the bidding you will be surprised to learn that there are many who are willing to part with cash in exchange for the implement. You will find farmer’s bidding against antique collectors. The reason for this unique circumstance is that such forks are now on the border line between useful objects and antiques which speak of an earlier day.
Many farmers like to use a “Schittelgawwel” at threshing time. They are especially useful in clearing the threshing floor of stray strands of straw. Antique dealers want them because they represent a handcraft which is all but forgotten.
These forks were made of hickory saplings, one of the toughest kinds of wood. The manufacture of the implements called for a stick of hickory ranging in thickness from an inch to an inch and a half in width and more than five feet long. The thickness of the stick determined the number of prongs that could be cut out of the business end of the fork. The number of prongs vary from two to seven, the greater the number of prongs, the more expert the craftsmanship required in the manufacture.
The end of the stick which was to serve as the business end was measured into widths of ¾ inches each and then cut with a rip saw. These cut sections were to become the prongs. The next step was to bore holes through these strips in which wooden dowel pins could later be inserted into the holes to hold the prongs apart and in their proper positions.
After this operation the fork end of the stick was steamed so that the fork could be curved and the prongs spread out in the shape of a fan. The butt of the fan was placed in a “schneidbank” or Schnitzelbank and held there tightly while the craftsman shaped and smoothed the prongs with his “schneid messer” or drawing knife.
When the prongs were properly shaped the wooden dowel pins were inserted, the fork assumed its true shape. But the raw hickory had to be charred in a grate to insure that it would retain its shape. After all of this was done the surface of the fork and handle was given a coating of resin to provide smoothness and to fill in uneven spaces. An iron rivet through the base of the fan bound the spread prongs together.