We have a reputation as weirdo hippy freaks in our street, I suspect, because of our bizarre and inexplicable devotion to hand tools. We mow our lawn with a hand mower. In our first few years here we cut down a few dead trees and then cut them up with hand tools of various sorts, and the thing that took the longest was stopping to fend off well-meaning offers of power tools by all the astounded neighbours.
We seem to have this weird notion that power tools are essential for many simple jobs. I know of no-one else for streets around who uses a hand mower, and yet our hand mower is lighter than most petrol or electrical models, and just as easy to push through the grass, with the added benefit that it doesn’t destroy our hearing, kick up kilos of dust (and allergens) into the air, or asphyxiate us with petrol fumes. Plus it is far less likely to cut our feet off if we make a mistake with it, although it is unwise to fall backwards onto one. Take my word for it.
The strange thing is that it is actually easier to use our hand mower than most powered mowers I have tried. Ok, I probably couldn’t use it to get through a backyard that had been left unmown throughout spring and was now signposted “here be dragons”, but then I’ve tried an electric mower on that type of grass and burnt out the motor without getting even a metre forward.
Yet the neighbours still regard us with a bemused air when we get it out on the weekend. It is free to run (apart from occasionally sharpening the blades). It is quiet, clean, and smells good (did you know that freshly cut grass contains no fewer than 5 stress reducing chemicals? True!). Zero carbon, zero downside. Why are people still ruining my day with smelly air-rippers?
I suspect it’s habit, as much as anything. Our parents used petrol mowers, so we do too. It is true that the original hand mowers were incredibly heavy – but I am talking 80 year old models (of which we still have on in the shed). It’s a serious workout to push that beast. But our more recent model, maybe 15 years old now, I can lift with one hand. It does occasionally get jammed by a twig or a pebble hiding under the grass, but rather than flinging it at me at high speed, it simply stops, until I pull it backwards and the culprit falls out. Worst comes to worst I may need to turn the blades backwards – the work of a moment.
So why are we obsessed with power tools? Our neighbour has a chainsaw that, I swear, is actually more work to use than a sharpened hand saw, plus it is hideously noisy and smells bad. But he is appalled at the idea of a hand saw. What is it that power tools offer us? Is it a sense of strength that we don’t get from our own bodies anymore? Is it the illusion of power over nature that we crave? I’ve got bad news if that’s the case – nature has us permanently in her power, and she is getting cranky!
Leave your power tools to the side, and see if you can’t manage with a hand tool one day. You might be surprised and how easy, pleasant, and even fun it can be. Meanwhile, I’ve got a bike to ride. But that’s another story!