Category Archives: tools

Start Pinking and Stop Fraying

It was a strange-looking pair of scissors that my late mum and other senior female relatives used frequently to impart a zig-zag boundary around the pieces of cloth they used to make their dresses.

I later found out that it was called “Pinking Shears”.  Apparently it was invented by one Samuel Briskman in 1931 (there are other claims), to help minimise fraying of textile along cut edges.  Doubtful initially, I was later convinced that this gadget could let the dressmakers Stop Worrying & Start Living (happily, I think) as they turned fabric into garments.

But I suspect in these days and times, many youngsters would be confounded by an encounter with this vintage but ingenious tool.

By the way, in Penang we called it 马齿剪刀 (horse-teeth scissors)

The Grain Reaper

I wonder how many people know what a sickle is. In our kampong house of the 50s and 60s, we had one of these menacing-looking grain reapers, which I understand were used by padi farmers to do their harvesting. But we were not into farming then.

I recall however, that in the coconut plantation where we lived, coconut harvesters tied these sickles to the ends of long bamboo poles and then used these extended-reach cutters to bring down clusters of coconuts.

The tool, with its curved shape, was also good for clearing lalang around the house, and hacking away unwanted branches on trees.

There were also macabre stories of other uses too….but these are too grim for discussion here.

Hard Nut To Crack, Half Nuts To Scrape

Coconuts have featured very prominently in our culinary temptations since time immemorial, especially for folks like me who lived my childhood in a kampong well-endowed with coconut trees.

In those days, we did not have the fearsome machines which could tear apart anything into smithereens within seconds — instead we used a simple manual scraper, usually attached to a wooden “bangku”-like body.   There were many different styles to the design, some even had X-rated (oops, I mean to say X-shaped) bodies, but all required careful and patient repetitive hand action.

The coconuts were de-husked first, and then using a heavy knife, the hard shell was cracked in two with a sharp, smart strike.  The water was drained, and then the half nuts were ready for the scraping process.

Old Brooms Swept Clean

Since the day when I came into planet Earth till the time I emigrated to Singapore, the family had relied on 2 types of totally “green” tools for keeping the home clean.

The Straw Broom was used to sweep the floor, remove dust, sand particles and little pieces of junk that had been accidentally dropped on the floor.

The other was the Penyapu Lidi – mainly used to sweep dead leaves away in the fenced compound around the house.   Also deployed in the kitchen for clearing away water after washing.

Have not used either type for the last 20 years, ever since they were deemed “non grata” in face of the vacuum cleaner.  Haiz….my contribution to global warming.

Brush From The Past

Those were the days before plastics invaded planet Earth. Remember these brushes ?  Let me share a blast from the past.

They were used by practically every household for scrubbing laundry, kitchen sinks, floors, dishes, shoes, etc. The brown ones were softer than the black ones.   The latter were used mainly to tackle stubborn stains and deeply-entrenched grime from all kinds of surfaces.

I learned that the brown ones were made from coconut tree fibres – can anyone verify that ? Am not so sure what the black ones were made of.

Anyway, these days, the black ones seem very difficult to find.

Hoe-some and Hole-some Fun

Does anyone still remember what a cangkul is ?    The nearest equivalent in English is “hoe”.

You might not believe this : in my younger days in the kampong, one of our favorite pastimes was to take the family heirloom – a legacy cangkul – and dig holes in the fenced compound surrounding the house.  My friends would play “war games” by digging two-feet deep craters in the soil, pretending we were some sort of WW1 trench soldiers, and then lobbying baby coconuts at each other.

At other times, we pretended to be animal-trappers, covering smaller holes with branches and leaves, and imagining some wild boar would be falling into them.  The squeals and screams of the “victims”,  of course came from some of us.

Of course too, our parents did not know whether to laugh or to cry or do both at the same time.  Hah, the fun was hoe-some, hole-some and awesome !

Itch-Old Anti-Corruption Tool ?

The stage for corruption is often set when the itchy occasion arises where “you scratch my back, I scratch yours”.   This might be the cure – I scratch my back, you scratch yours.  Well, just kidding.

When I was still much younger, I used to wonder why Grandma always carried with her an 18-inch long bamboo piece with a funny miniature hand at the end.  Before long, as my once-supple body stiffened up, and my limbs became as flexible as the legs of a stool, and every joint creaked and moaned as I moved, the back scratcher has come to occupy its very own niche in my survival kit.  I think there are 3 in my home now.

Oh, do carry one with you when you travel – Don’t Leave Home Without It !