Growing Like a Weed
(Page 4 of 4)
Primitive scutching tools included wooden 'knives' or 'paddles' with V-shaped notches through which crushed stalks were drawn to remove non-fibrous parts of the stem loosened by braking. Mechanized scutching tools were generally built into the mechanical brake by adding specially-shaped rollers whose flutes scraped the stalks rather than crushing them.
Primitive hackling tools essentially consisted of a board through which a number of iron spikes had been driven. Hanks of hemp fiber would be drawn through the spikes, which combed out most of the remaining stem debris, and collected the shorter fibers (called 'tow') among the base of the spikes, while consistently orienting the long fibers for spinning or rope making. Mechanized hacklers were also often built as part of a complete fiber-processing machine. These devices generally used drums with spikes, which effectively cleaned and separated the fiber, but they didn't orient the long fibers in a consistent manner, and thus the fiber was less valuable unless a final hand-hackling step was undertaken.
The water-retting process yielded more uniform fiber with a direct cost of even more labor. The U.S. Navy paid a premium for water-retted hemp in the early 1800s, but farmers found that the work was so hard that it was simply not worth it.
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