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Mowing Machine Knife Grinders

Richard Van Vleck
From Scientific Medical & Mechanical Antiques, No. 21
A McCormick sickle grinder in use on the author's Deering mower.Daniel Ayers' patented 1868 "grinder for reaper knives".

By the end of the last century, most farmers with all but the smallest fields had laid aside the cradle and scythe, along with their associated hand sharpening tools. However, the sickle sections of the new harvesting machines required even more care to maintain optimum performance and minimum draft. Several types of knife grinders were devised, beginning in 1859, when David Hinman, of Berea, Ohio, patented a mower knife holder on a small hand cranked grindstone. In 1867, Henry Whitall, of Woodbury, New Jersey, invented a grinder that clamped to the harvesterís cutter bar, not requiring removal of the knife. And, in 1868, Daniel Ayres, of Sheldon, Illinois, patented his hand held grinder for reaper knives. The following year, Anson Thayer, of Syracuse, New York, added a guide to the end of a hand grinder which rested on top of the cutter bar. The operator worked from behind the cutter bar, an ideal position when grinding mowers, but, ill-suited for many harvesters. In the late 1880ís and Ď90ís, many sickle sharpeners were placed on the market. Most of these required the knife to be removed from the mower, unlike many of the earlier devices.
The Fowler grinder, as advertised by the Taughannock Emery Wheel Co. in a 1900
trade journal.
A Fowler sickle grinder marked S.Cheney & Son, Manius, NY. A ball joint provides adjustment of the grinding wheel.

By 1900, the most common type of sickle grinder clamped onto the wheel of the mowing machine and securely held the knife while the hand cranked grinding wheel automatically moved up and down the edges of adjacent sections. A 1906 trade journal lists 22 different makers of mowing machine knife grinders, 6 of which were newly merged IHC companies. Deering introduced a foot pedal sickle grinder in 1899, and, McCormick marketed an identical bicycle grinder the following year. While sickle grinders have, so far, generally been overlooked by collectors, their time may be near. The early 20th century IHC hand crank grinders, especially those marked McCormick, are quite common, but, the great variety of earlier models are much more elusive. Often, the grindstone is missing from hand grinders, making their intended purpose unclear to auction and flea market buyers. Every Ayres grinder I have ever seen offered for sale has been called a breast drill. Its 12 inch diameter flywheel gear provides the high speed required of a grinding stone. Such high speed and low power would prove impractical for a drill, which is, perhaps, why Ayers did not claim this as an alternative use for his grinder.

More than 60 different sickle grinders were patented prior to 1900, and many more in the early 20th century, making this a fertile area for future collecting. At the moment, new collectors will find little competition and reasonable prices.

Early Sickle Sharpeners

1860-79 1880-891890-95 1896-1900

other SMMA articles

Author: Richard Van Vleck
© 1996 by Greybird Publishing, Taneytown, MD.
Reprinted from SMMA #21.