Interesting tools used to manage a rice field and a mountain forest in the Japanese countryside.
I have the privilege of being able to help out from time to time on the family farm. When we are in town, I enjoy hunting through the workshop and barn to see what old tools can be found and grandpa often asks me to to repair and sharpen his tools. I notice that he keeps coming back to the old tools, despite the fact that he has several newer and shinier “home centre” versions around as well. Some of the best loved tools have been in use for almost a century so hand sharpening and careful repair ensures that they will last for many more.
Between sharpening and working in the forest, I took a few quick photos for my own study and hope to create some similar specialty tools in the forge one of these days. The most interesting to me is the nata, a form of brush knife that has several curved designs that span the gap between a nobori gama sickle and a bamboo hatchet.
Some nata have a blunt tip for protecting the edge from rocks while harvesting mountain plants, some are narrower and more curved for use in the rice fields, and some are almost straight with no tip, for use on heavy shrubs and small trees. Forged from very thick stock, they have a reverse taper from the tip to the handle, and the handle has a ring on the end and is wrapped tightly with rope.
Some of the other tools are saws for wood and bamboo, with wooden scabbards for bush carry, an axe shaped hatchet, a small one-handed pick, and kuwa for hoeing or heavy weeding in rooted or rocky areas. Both of the kuwa needed to be remounted on their handles and the pick needed a new handle. Though not particularly hard, the seasoned decay-resistant hinoki that was on hand will serve well for its intended use.
Heading off to the forest to remove an invasive weed species from the new chestnut grove.
The hand forged nata in a range of styles and shapes for various tasks. The dark polish shows the ones that have been in use more recently. Judging by the rust and wear patterns, the one on the far right is the oldest by far though it has a newer handle.
Three generations return from working in the forest, weeding the new chestnut grove.
Finishing touches on a replacement handle. Video here: Making a handle for a small pick
Sharpening A Nata
grandpa has a half dozen variations of these ancient tools and keeps going back to them despite having newer ones on the shelf…the old ones are hand forged and very thick and sturdy, with an integral rope-wrapped handle and lots of heft…the style can vary from a slightly curved bamboo hatchet shape to a sickle style with deep brush tip…i started with a fairly coarse synthetic stone and then went to a fine natural finishing stone.