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cradle scythe

hand cradle. An instrument added to a scythe, for cutting grain. It consists of a light framework of long, flexible teeth parallel to the scythe, designed to receive the grain as cut, and to lay it evenly in swaths. — Webster, 1882

scythe. An instrument for mowing grass, grain, or the like, composed of a long, curving blade, with a sharp edge, made fast to a handle, called a snath, which is bent into a convenient form for swinging the blade to advantage. — Webster, 1882

How to Cradle Grain. “All strike as one, with a symphonant cadence; / All step at once, with a measured advance; / Bowing together the brawny arm’s aidance, / Into the slow swing of the shoulders’ expanse.” – Burleigh.

In Little House in the Big Woods (Chapter 11, “Harvest”), Pa and Uncle Henry cut their oats with a cradle. In Farmer Boy (Chapter 19, “Early Harvest”), Father Wilder and Almanzo cut their oats with a cradle. In Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder tells us the difference between a scythe and a cradle, but since there are no scythes in Little House in the Big Woods, she doesn’t bother to describe them there.

A snath with a blade is a scythe. A scythe with teeth is a cradle. Cradles are used to cut oats; scythes aren’t. A snath is the long S-shaped wooden shaft with a handle near the middle and a long curved blade at the end, forming a scythe. The cradle is a frame of wood with long curved ribs added to the snath and projecting above and parallel to the scythe blade; it cuts grains and lays them in a straight swath. The cradle acted as a gathering rake and allowed the harvester to deposit the grain in an even pile with every swing of the scythe.

Back when Pa and Uncle Henry were cutting oats in the Big Woods, a strong man could cradle two to three acres per day. A fifty-acre field would keep a man occupied for twenty days. About a week was all that a man could count on before his grain became too ripe to handle without waste, but Uncle Henry (at least) must have had a small oat field of about five acres, since it only took the two men a day to cut his oats, and that was counting the afternoon distractions caused by Cousin Charley.

To see a youtube video which includes both the cradle and shocking oats (it’s not at the beginning, so keep watching), go HERE.


hand cradle (BW 11; FB 19; THGY 16, 21; PG)

scythe (FB 19; BPC 8, 25)