The fodder chopper is a safe and easy way to do heavy-duty chopping around the homestead.
It is far better than using a cleaver or machete for the job.
Follow these steps to make your own fodder chopper.
With a hammer and prick punch, mark the workpiece for fullering about 3-1/2 inches from one end.
Heat to cherry red and flatten the workpiece, as shown. (Motor vehicle leaf springs have a curve in them.)
Heat to bright orange or yellow. Over a fuller in the Hardy hole of the anvil, make a deep indentation in the edge of the workpiece at the location previously marked. As the workpiece is very hard steel, and thick, this may take several heats. The fuller (indentation) establishes the transition from blade to tang.
Reheat to yellow and draw the tang, as shown, to about 1/2-inch square and slightly tapered. As with most steps in making this tool, several heats are required.
With a sledge and flatter, flatten the four sides of the tang, as shown. The holdfast shown in use keeps the workpiece from bouncing around.
Heat to yellow. Quench all but the front few inches of the workpiece. Doing so allows you to set aside tongs and grip the workpiece by the tang. Continue to do this for Steps 6 through 9.
Heat to orange. Over a hot cutting chisel mounted in the Hardy hole, slit the bottom edge of the workpiece about halfway through, at 1 inch back from the tip, as shown.
Replace the chisel in the Hardy hole with a fuller. A 9/16-inch or 5/8-inch fuller should do. Heat the front of the workpiece to yellow and open the slit made in Step 7 over the fuller. It should look as shown.
Heat to orange. Over the face and edge of the anvil, draw the tip to a taper as shown in photos 9A and 9B.
Several heats will be required due to the hard, thick steel being forged.
Heat to yellow. Over the face of the anvil, working close to its edge, draw the blade to a taper, as shown in photos 10A and 10B.
Hammer evenly so that the edge remains as straight as possible as it gets progressively thinner. Draw it to about a 1/16-inch thickness at the edge—thinner if you’re able. But focus on keeping the taper gradual and even along the full length of the blade.
Heat to yellow. Using a sledge and flatter, as shown, smooth the flat surfaces of the blade as shown. Do both sides.
Take another heat. Position the blade next to the edge of the anvil and smooth the beveled surfaces of the blade, as shown. Again, do both sides.
Quench. Use an angle grinder with a cut-off blade to neatly trim the front end of the blade, as shown. This can also be done at a high heat with a hot cutting chisel, over the cutting shelf on an anvil. Avoid notching the underside of the tapered tip.
Heat the tapered tip of the tool to yellow and bend it as shown. The downward bend is made over a fuller mounted in the hardy hole as in Photo 14A.
The upward recurve is done over the tip of the horn, as shown in Photo 14B. (Note: The lowest point of the hook being formed should align with the cutting edge of the blade.)
For this step, take a dull red heat. Over the face of the anvil, as shown, flatten and align the hook made in Step 14. This requires only light blows, so use a light hammer.
Heat to yellow. Quickly place the workpiece on the face of the anvil, edge up or down, and tap gently with the flatter, as shown, to make the cutting edge as straight as possible.
Heat the workpiece from the front to an inch or so past the point where the tang starts. Then, as shown in Photo 17A, quench to isolate the heat in the area where the tang and blade meet.
Quickly clamp the blade in a vise and, using a bending fork, deflect the tang upwards 15 to 20 degrees, as shown in Photo 17B.
Rough grind the blade on a bench grinder (Photo 18A) and hone to a razor edge.
For this, I used a 200-grit sanding belt (Photo 18B).
I also used a slow-turning, fine stone with a water bath (Photo 18C).
Drive a file handle, bored 2 inches deep, onto the tang. They’re available at most hardware stores.
Make a heavy staple to anchor the hook of the fodder chopper in a wood round or atop a heavy bench. When making a staple, bend it so that one leg is slightly longer than the other. This makes it easier to position the staple accurately before driving it. Heat and draw one end of a length of 3/8-inch-diameter rod to a square, tapered point.
Over a hot cutting chisel mounted in the Hardy hole of the anvil, cut the rod off at 8 inches. Heat and forge the other end to a point as was done in Step 1.
Heat the workpiece. Clamp one end in a vise, leaving 5 inches protruding. Using a hammer and a piece of 1-inch-diameter rod as a mandrel, bend the workpiece into a “U” shape, as shown. Finally, drive the staple into the top of a log round, leaving just enough clearance to slip the hook of the fodder chopper under the protruding arch. Start chopping!
It had its own distinctive rhythm and sound. Chop…chop…chop…chop. A short pause, and then again. Chop…chop…chop…chop.
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It didn’t echo from the woods. It didn’t come from the direction of the woodshed. It came from the barn. It was the sound of the fodder chopper coming down atop a log round, and it was familiar to a hundred generations who lived on farmsteads.
Freshly mown grass was cut into short lengths, making it easier to digest, especially for older animals afflicted with dental problems. Turnips, mangels, swedes and other root crops were chopped into small pieces so that pigs and horses didn’t choke on them. Whole potatoes were cut into pieces with one or two eyes, for use as seed. Animal bones were chopped for access to the marrow. Small branches were chopped into short lengths for kindling. The heads of chickens, bound for the stew pot or frying pan, were lopped off. Whatever needed to be reduced in size went on the chopping block.
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Before mechanical choppers were introduced in the early 1800s, most chopping on one-horse and no-horse farms was done by hand, with a heavy knife, atop a log round or a heavy, purpose-made bench. Often as not the knife—a cleaver, bill hook or machete—was freely swung. But a fodder chopper—a cleaver anchored to a ring or staple by a hook forged into its tip—was just as common. It was less tiring to use and safer. A blade anchored at one end applies leverage instead of being entirely dependent upon momentum for its force. And a blade anchored at one end makes an errant blow—the sort that gashes a wrist or severs a finger—less likely.
Recently, I needed to photograph one of those old-time choppers for a book I’m writing on garden tools. In the end, it was easier to forge one than to fetch around museums and historical sites for one to borrow. I grabbed a short length of truck spring out of my scrap iron pile, sketched the basic steps on my worktable, and proceeded to heat and hammer. When it was done, I tried the tool out and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to chop fodder and make seed potatoes. Here’s how it was made.
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- Approx. 1 foot of truck leaf spring (3/8-inch x 3/8-inch x 1-1/2-inch strip of high-carbon steel)
- At least 8 inches of 3/8-inch-diameter mild steel rod
- One 5-1/2-inch file handle (bored to 1/2-inch diameter and 3 inches deep)
This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Fall 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.
Prepare to toughen up your body for survival situations with these tips.
by clayhibbard / Nov 10, 2015