Saturday, April 7, 2007


I've noticed that most people have a "default" approach to building, fastening or repairing things. Some folks go for some scrap metal and the welder. Some folks head for the woodpile with a cordless drill and a pocketfull of screws; others head the same direction with hammer and nails. Some grab a stack of cardboard and a roll of duct tape.

My "default setting" betrays my roots in the fiber arts: I tie things together. Usually, when I have a farm in my life, with baling twine. As proof, just notice how often I mention this material in my blog entries!

I'm referring, primarily, to the heavy plastic twine used on small square bales: by far the highest quality. In addition to carefully removing it from bales, I purchased two new spools of it. They should last for decades. The heavier grades of twine used for round bales are also OK. Some of the lighter grades don't hold up under sustained use.

I started out securing fence panels with plastic-coated clothesline wire. It was easy to work with, but after a couple years the plastic cracked and fell off, and metal fatigue was a problem in gate-type installations. It was easy to undo, but hard to re-twist reliably.

Fence clips are good for "normal" fencing, but not appropriate for many of my non-standard applications. They also require the use of fencing pliers: a marvelous, ingenious tool that is to blood blisters what utility knifes are to cut fingers and hammers are to mashed thumbs.

At first, I used baling twine in desparation, because it was on hand when I needed it. But over the years, I've really come to see it as the best option in many situation. It is strong, flexible, easily cut and fastened (once you learn the knots that work in it...not all of them do), cheap, lightweight, generally inert and safe, UV resistant, waterproof...what more could you want? (Other than a nicer selection of is the most common twine color in this area, and my overall least favorite color of the rainbow.)

So my fences are attached to posts with baling twine. Tarps are tied down with baling twine. Gates are hinged with baling twine. Temporary structures are tied together with baling twine. My bicycle cart hitches to my bicycle with baling twine. I even designed a crocheted pot scrubber from baling twine (they last for years). Some years ago I sold them at Farmer's Market; I learned to recommend that wives buy two of them, because so often husbands took them out to the shop and wouldn't bring them back.

Baling twine is also hazardous. I've tripped myself up on stray twine more often than I like. It's ruinous to lawn mowers and rototillers, and annoying when it becomes involved in hand digging, raking, or pitchforking. Numerous animals have had narrow escapes from being strangled by baling twine; a lamb lost a foot when stray baling twine cut off the circulation.

Few things irritate me more than loose baling twine strewn helter-skelter or draped over a fence post, waiting to ensnare a sheep or passer-by. The rule on the farm is that baling twine must be restrained at all times. With the uncut loops from small square bales, it's a simple matter to twist them into a little skein, like yarn, that is tangle-proof but easy to undo when needed. The strings from big round bales are cut and pulled off in twos or threes, and wound into a 6" diameter coil with the end knotted around it.

But as I return to the farm after my sabbatical, seeing it with a stranger's eyes, I find myself moved to try to break the baling twine habit. It just looks messy, no matter how practical. So I'm experimenting with white 1/8 nylon/polyester cord. One piece installed as a gate latch at least 3 years ago has held up well, so I'm trying other applications. An 8" loop tied through the eye of a snap hook seems to make an excellent quick connector for the fence and gate panels that I use as feeders for big round bales of alfalfa. So, little by little I'm transitioning away from the orange stuff. But I can't image going "cold turkey" --the farm would literally fall apart!

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