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Monday, January 20, 2014

Making Split Tobacco Sticks Years Past



Tobacco provided a reliable source on income for my parents, who were born in Wolfe County, Kentucky.  Dad (Rodney Spencer) often told me stories of working in the tobacco fields, both when he was a child and later as adult.  Dad and his brother (Ray Spencer) would spend the day with their pa-paw (John T Spencer) hoeing and plowing the fields, then of a night sneaking out of the house and riding the work horses until well after midnight, without a saddle using a string for a bridle. 


The tobacco was harvested late in the summer each year.  The tobacco plants were cut using a tobacco knife. Several tobacco plants were placed on tobacco sticks, which were hauled on sleds to the tobacco barn to cure, later the tobacco leaves were removed from the tobacco stalk and sold at market.


Dad, papaw, and grand-paw made their own tobacco sticks.  A large tree was cut down.  The logs were cut into approximately five foot lengths.  Each log was then split into smaller and pieces, using a froe and a wooden mallet until the tobacco sticks were the end product. 


A froe was a simple tool which functioned more like a wedge than a cutting tool. The blade was driven into a block of wood with a wood club or mallet which struck the back of the metal blade. The wooden handle served as a lever to pry the blade sideways deepening the split with further blows.  Dad’s papaw had a blacksmith’s shop and he made the froe they used.


Often, the fall of the year was a slow period of time.  Dad told me that on a good day, they could make 250-500 tobacco sticks. Several thousand tobacco sticks were needed for the tobacco grown on the family farm, however extra sticks were made and sold for much needed dollars.  The tobacco sticks sold for about $0.03/each.


Our family no longer grows tobacco crops, however I have a small web site , where I sell handmade walking sticks.  The best tobacco sticks are selected from the barn.  The tobacco stick is cut to length and hand sanded to remove splinters from the wood.  Several coats of oil based wood sealer is applied, followed by three coats of oil based polyurethane.


Most farmers have thrown away or burned the tobacco sticks used on the tobacco farms.  The tobacco barns are slowly being torn down, soon the tobacco fields will be empty of tobacco.  Creating walking sticks from the tobacco sticks is a way for me to save a small piece of our family history by providing walking sticks for people to enjoy for years to come.


Please come to my web site and enjoy the family pictures.

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