Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Digging tools for the garden: fork versus changkul

Farmers and gardeners in Asia use one general purpose tool for digging, lifting soils, leveling the ground, and slicing off weeds at ground level. This is called the CHANGKUL in Malaysia. In the hands of an expert, the changkul is a very versatile, precise and cheap tool. For the the amateur, the European garden fork is a much better tool for digging. You place the fork exactly where you want dig, before pushing it into the ground. For lifting rhizomes and tubers, nothing can beat a fork.

The European garden fork has never caught on in Asia. Because a fork works like a lever in turning over heavy soils, the steel teeth and wooden handle must be able to absorb strong lateral force without breaking. Good forks are made of high quality steel and special timber. It is a curious fact that despite the abundance of timber species in Malaysia, only one Malaysian timber has ever made the grade as a resilient tool handle. This is 'tempinis', Streblus elongatus, formerly used for shoulder poles ('kandar' sticks)used in carrying heavy loads on the shoulders. The loads were balanced one at each end of the pole. This timber is no longer in the market, for lack of demand.

We won't moan the passing of the kandar stick, but it is a pity nobody is interested in improving the quality of locally-made hand tools, and bringing tempinis back into production.


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