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What did people whack weeds with before weed-whackers?

For a variety of reasons (poor outdoor storage, limited outlets, etc. ) I do not want to get a gas or electric weed whacker, so I started to think of other options for maintaining the parts of my lawn that would normally call for a weed-whacker.

Presumably there was a need to whack weeds where a mower couldn’t reach before the weed whacker was invented. What tool (or tools) fulfilled this purpose and are they still available?

(Note: a cordless electric weed-whacker is probably really my best option but I am curious as to other options out there)

11 Answers 11

We own a tool that looks just like the one on the right here:

I used it just last week – it’s good for goldenrod, raspberries, oregano and the like. After a round with this the mower can handle it. Instructions for using it are at the American Trails site, among other places. We own a gas powered trimmer, but this is actually quicker (and lighter and quieter) when you want to do a fairly wide swath of clearing and you’re not trying to be precise. As for sharpening, we’ve had it for over 20 years and have never sharpened it. One side is now easier to use than the other, so I’ll think about sharpening it, but I really don’t know how. I’m ambidextrous so I just give preference to the better side.

For precise work, like the edges of paths, we use the oversize scissors pictured in the other answer, or the aforementioned gas trimmer if things are really getting so overgrown that it’s worth getting it out. We also pull up goldenrod, ragweed, and small pine trees by hand when we happen to be walking nearby.

What did people whack weeds with before weed-whackers? For a variety of reasons (poor outdoor storage, limited outlets, etc. ) I do not want to get a gas or electric weed whacker, so I started to

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  • Cut Weeds Quietly in Small Spaces With a Special Tool

Cut Weeds Quietly in Small Spaces With a Special Tool

A handheld weed cutter gets into spaces where mowers and string trimmers would fail, and it makes weeding a more mindful experience, bringing out the tiny goings-on in my garden.

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When it comes to cutting down weeds in small spaces, sometimes a lawn mower is not the right tool for the job. I have an unusual space where even a string trimmer could be the wrong tool. Last fall, in my hasty decision to plant perennial herbs I’d been given, I designed a garden based on triangles. Rather than filling the triangular beds, I planted along the lines while leaving the middle open for future plants. I did this without really knowing how big the plants would get, whether they would spread and which ones I’d want to propagate. I thought I was leaving my options open, but what I really left open were several small spaces with unknown wild residents. Karen Lanier

Much to my surprise, the perennial herbs I planted last fall survived the winter and sprung back to life, along with the cover crop of white clover and weedy volunteers—dandelion, thistle, dock, wild onions and hairy vetch. While the chaotic cluster might be acceptable within the privacy of a tucked-away back yard, this garden is on a friend’s property, where I enjoy gardening with my buddies. In our shared space, I need to be respectful of the overall standards and expectations. This awkwardly impractical shape for a lawn mower is surrounded by other fields that have to be mowed as well as gardens that are linear and orderly.

For my small, oddly shaped garden bed, I borrowed a weed cutter and learned how to swing it. I tried this new-to-me tool to knock back the weeds, keep them shorter than the planted herbs and to prevent the population explosion of their seed-heads. The weed cutter is double-bladed with a largely serrated edge. My first lesson in using it included making sure my feet were out of the way at all times. It would really, really hurt if I missed and hit my shin. The tool is angled in a way that reminds me of a golf putter. I try to keep my back straight while my arms are relaxed but controlled as I wave it across the field near my feet.

After I started cutting, I found it to be a little bit addictive. When I use it, I get into a repetitive, meditative, whole-body rhythm. I work up a sweat, and I challenge my hands, forearms and the muscles along my sides. The most difficult aspect is controlling the momentum of the swinging blade. When I sense that I’m starting to get sloppy, I stop before I hurt myself. Karen Lanier

Reasons I like the double-bladed weed cutter tool:

The weed cutter makes mass weeding a more mindful experience, and the swish-swish-swish sounds accompany birdsong and breezes quite nicely. My intuitive garden design disregards machines. It is an intentional space made for me and my plants, not for mowers, tillers, trimmers or irrigation. No, none of those were priorities when I thought of a garden space where I’ll leisurely explore new herbs such as agrimony, skullcap, wormwood and all-heal. I wanted to take my time and learn how to harvest them, get to know their growth patterns and how the plants already there would affect them. This is a space for someone who loves to notice all the tiny things, such as spiders skating midair from fleabane to dandelion, honeybees foraging on flowers and the morning dew adding highlights to the weedy, wild beauty.

A handheld weed cutter gets into spaces where mowers and string trimmers would fail, and it makes weeding a more mindful experience, bringing out the tiny goings-on in my garden.