Update on Hay Knives

By Roger, Bob | The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., September 2004 | Go to article overview

Update on Hay Knives


Roger, Bob, The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.


My article, "A Compendium of Hay Knives," in the June issue of The chronile generated some useful additional information from our readers. I present this information here now along with a few more knives recently found.

Using Hay Knives

EAIA member O. M. Ramsey sent in a short article about hay knives that he had published in the Midwest Tool Collectors Association publication, The Gristmill (no. 62, March 1991). The main theme of his article was about how various crops were stored in the barn mow and how hay knives were used to cut sections from the stack or mow. His article included an illustration of ten different knives. I believe nine of them were covered in "A Compendium," but the tenth had a very large saw cut blade (perhaps six to eight inches wide and at least three feet long) fastened to a large wooden in-line handle, like a carpenters' wood saw.

More Articles Uncovered

In re-reading old issues of The Chronicle, I found two additional references for what I think are hay knives, one by Silas Wheeler1 and the other by Milton Makepeace.2

In his article, Wheeler showed what he called a cider cheese cutter from Massachusetts, which he said was for cutting the cheese off the burlap after pressing the cider out (Figure 1). Having worked in a cider mill, I never needed a cutter to get the cheese off the burlap-I just turned it over and shook it off. I believe Wheeler's knife, shown in Figure 1, is probably a spade-style hay knife that found its way into a cider mill.

Makepeace showed what he thought may be a bogroot cutter from a farm in Connecticut. It may have been used as such, but it looks like a combination handand spade-style hay knife. Such combinations were patented and probably made. For example, Slusser's patent of 1913 is for a combination saw-cut and spadestyle knife. Makepeace's knife is shown in Figure 2.

Comparing Turner, Keen Kutter, and Iwan

In my earlier discussion of Kellogg's patent knife (shown in Figure 15 of the June article), I mentioned that the markings on my knife were not readable. Recently, I saw an exact copy of my knife in almost unused condition with a very clear marking on the rear end of the blade, "PAT JUL 20 1875," which is Kellogg's patent date.

I have recently obtained an unmarked Turner's patent spade-style hay knife (1878 patent) and an Iwan's patent spade-style knife (1914 patent), which gave me the chance to lay the three spade-style knives (Turner, Keen Kutter, and Iwan) side-by-side and compare them. Figures 3 to 9 show various views of these three knives. Turner's is unmarked, Iwan's is marked "IWAN'S SOLID SOCKET HAY KNIFE," and the Keen Kutter is marked "KEEN KUTTER." The blades on Iwan's knife are long-ago replacements and have been put un backward (the edge bevel should be on the back). The handle grip on the Keen Kutter may be an old replacement, for it is marked "PAT JAN 7 1919," which is probably a patent for the handle style.

True to Turner's patent, his knife does not have the handle brace extended from the back of the blade that the Keen Kutter knife has. Iwan's knife has a socket for the handle. Turner's blade tips are "squared" instead of pointed as on the Keen Kutter knife. The grooves on Turner's and Iwan's footrests are perpendicular to the rest, while those on the Keen Kutter are parallel to the rest. The metal handle support on Turner's is a cast piece, while the other two handle supports are formed from sheet steel.

Ariel Sprout's Patent

EAIA member Carl Sprout commented that his great-great-great-grandfather's brother, Ariel Sprout, was the patentee of the combination hay knives/forks shown in patent 54,431 (1866) and patent 64,163 (1867). Carl has newspaper articles concerning their manufacture. According to Carl, Ariel's father, Ebenezer, and mother, Meriam, had eight boys and three girls. The boys in order of age were: Asa R., Aerial B., Erastus T., Charles, Zebina E. …

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