One of the earliest methods of removing the seed from the wheat stalks, called threshing, was with a jointed flail. The harvested stems of wheat were spread onto the floor of a barn or other flattened area and a group of men with flails would literally beat the grain from the ears of wheat with the beaters. The barn doors were left open and the natural draft blew out some of the waste.
The design for this timber tool is thousands of years old and comprises a long timber handle hinged with a universal joint to another shorter length of timber called the beater. In England the flail was colloquially referred to as a "stick and a half". Despite its simplicity, the job of flailing required skill and was hard and exacting.
Use of the flail is recorded in the Bible, in Isaiah 28:27, 28 and the practice was well established in England in the Middle Ages. A 15th century calendar in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the "Playfair Book of Hours", shows threshing with a jointed flail. The handle was variously known as a "hand-staff" or "helve" and the beater a "whipple" or "supple". Other traditional methods of threshing included having animals draw heavy sleds across the wheat heads.
This flail is an example of a traditional harvesting tool used in Australia before the mechanisation of threshing from the mid. 19th century. It would probably have been used in conjunction with other harvesting tools, including a sickle and a scythe.
Blandford, Percy W. "Old Farm Tools and Machinery: An Illustrated History", David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, England, 1976, pp. 126-7.
Quick, Graeme, R. & Wesley F. Buchele, "The Grain Harvesters", American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St Joseph, Michigan, U.S.A., 1978, pp.11-12.
Wright, Philip A., "Old Farm Implements", David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, England, 1974, pp. 48.
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry