The Art of the Hatchel
Almost every homestead farm in the early 1800’s had or made the tools needed to feed and clothe the family. One of these tools was the hatchel, also called a hackle or a heckle depending upon the local language. The hatchel is a dangerous looking tool used in the processing of flax into cloth. It was a type of strong, sharp comb 6 to 10 inches wide and 12 to 24 inches long, through which the flax stalk was pulled to separate the fibers into thin strands which were then spun into thread for weaving linen cloth. Long round steel teeth were driven through a strong board in close rows to act as a flax comb. The hatchel teeth or spikes were about three inches long tapering to a sharp point and usually driven through steel sheet reinforcement to make them very strong. The spikes were driven closely in rows and angled toward the center of the tool. The accuracy and precision of driving the points toward an imaginary spot centered feet above the center of the board is truly beautiful in some hatchels. Some however made by less skilled craftsmen look more like a random lot of spikes driven through a board. You may find very well made hatchels dated, and with the initials of the maker. He would make a wooden cover to protect the teeth of the fine examples. A carefully made hatchel was not only a useful tool, but also a beautiful object of artistic sculpture made by a skilled artist.