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H7783 Harvesting hand tool, sickle or reaping hook, balanced type, marked 'Ward 3', metal/timber, date unknown, used in [Australia]. Click to enlarge.

Sickle or reaping hook used to hand harvest cereal crops

This curved knife with a wooden handle is a sickle. It is typical of the curved reaping hooks used since ancient times to harvest wheat, barley, hay and other cereal crops. Its design changed little over thousands of years and has been used for harvesting in Australia right up until the 20th century. Cutting wheat with a sickle was slow, backbreaking work.

Reaping refers to the combined cutting and gathering of the crop and was the first step in harvesting. The design originated independently in many parts of the world and came in a variety of styles. Illustrations of farmers reaping with sickles survive from Egyptian and Roman times while the sickle was mentioned in the Bible. The earliest sickles were made of clay but bronze or copper alloy ones were used in Anatolia, (Turkey) around 2000 BC.

In Australia in the nineteenth century the harvesting of cereal crops was undertaken by hand. Often women used the smaller sickle while men harvested with a long-handled scythe. Hand reaping was a slow process and only about half an acre to an acre could be harvested with a sickle during a hard day's labour. The light slender blade made it necessary for the worker to stoop and only a few stems of wheat could be cut with each stroke. These were held in a bunch by the other hand. The cut stems were later bound into sheaves.

A debilitating lack of labour for the harvest in South Australia saw the development of the horse-drawn stripper for harvesting from the mid-nineteenth century but some of the other States were notoriously slow in harvesting advances and hand harvesting with a sickle and scythe continued until the early 20th century.


Blandford, Percy W. "Old Farm Tools and Machinery An Illustrated History", David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, England, 1976, pp. 113-114.

Quick, Graeme, R. & Wesley F. Buchele, "The Grain Harvesters", American Society of Agricultural Engineers, St Joseph, Michigan, U.S.A., 1978, pp.2-7.

Wright, Philip A., "Old Farm Implements", David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, England, 1974, pp. 39.

Margaret Simpson
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry
September 2009


Object No.


Object Statement

Harvesting hand tool, sickle or reaping hook, balanced type, marked 'Ward 3', metal/timber, date unknown, used in [Australia]

Physical Description

Harvesting hand tool, sickle or reaping hook, balanced type, marked 'Ward 3', metal/timber, date unknown, used in [Australia]

This sickle has a 13 inch (33 cm) very sharp curved metal blade, which has been hand forged, and a 5 inch (13 cm) wooden handle. The handle has a pair of parallel wooden grooves around the handle. The sickle has the wording "Ward 3" stamped into the blade which may be a size or model indicator.



The sickle is the general name for this harvesting tool. A larger version was known as a reaping hook and a heavier version, used in the South of England, was called a bagging hook. The bagging hook weighed about 4 lb (1.8 kg) but came in a variety of sizes of curve with square and round points and with straight or shaped handles.

Early sickles had smooth blades although a serrated cutting edge was also tried. This made it less likely to slip on damp straw.

This sickle is an example of a balanced sickle design in that the blade curves backward at the blade heel then curves forward in a sweep. The balanced sickle was used with a circular wrist motion and differs from the straight pulling movement of the reaping knife. The balanced sickle was a notable advance in design because it involved a more natural movement which reduced fatigue and permitted the reaper to cut grain over four times as fast as could be cut with a grain knife. The angle of the blade was also important. It was sometimes on the same plane as the blade but was better if cranked to give clearance above the ground.

Sickles were originally made by local blacksmiths and were hand-forged from wrought iron. By the early 19th century better grades of steel became available and they were subsequently made in workshops, typically in the Midlands and South Yorkshire areas of Britain.



Nothing is known about the history of this sickle. It was donated to the Museum in 1965 by Mr J.A. Clayton.


Credit Line

Gift of Mr J A Clayton, 1965

Acquisition Date

10 September 1965

Cite this Object


Sickle or reaping hook used to hand harvest cereal crops 2019, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 6 July 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Sickle or reaping hook used to hand harvest cereal crops |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=6 July 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in The Steam Revolution at the Powerhouse Museum.

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