Norway’s little-known tool trio
The krafse, krafsebrett & fyllhakke are unbeatable for working the surface of the ground
M. Michael Brady
All peoples have devised implements and tools to meet their needs. Aside from those bound to national custom, such as Asian rice bowls and chopsticks, many countries have better implements for universal tasks. German kitchen utensils are widely known for their practical design. Boat builders know that the most secure screws are driven using the Canadian Robertson system of square-tip screwdrivers and square-hole-headed screws.
Norway has three gardening and construction tools unlike those evolved elsewhere. The krafse (literally “scratcher,” resembles a field hoe), krafsebrett (krafse pan), and fyllhakke (literally “fill hoe,” resembles a pointed grub hoe or an adze hoe) are unbeatable for working the surface of the ground, especially for moving any weight of earth or stones. The krafse has a half-moon-shaped blade set oblique to the shaft. Depending on the angle at which it is held, the blade can lightly skim the underlying surface, like a squeegee sweeping water from glass, or can dig deeply, as does a field hoe. The krafsebrett is used for removing material swept up by the krafse. The fyllhakke has a pointed blade in the shape of an almond shell, attached obliquely to the shaft just below the rounded end. It is unbeatable for digging small furrows, as used for planting a row of seeds or bulbs, and for picking stones out of soil.
Anyone who has ever worked with the three tools in cramped spaces, as in ditches or foundations, realizes that they are indispensable for that purpose. The simple chore of removing soil from the bottom of a trench, backbreaking work with a spade, is easy with a krafse and a krafsebrett. In fact, the hand-powered moving of anything on the ground—spreading gravel on a driveway, distributing fertilizer, leveling sand—is workwise most efficient if you use a krafse. This may be why the krafse is Norway’s most popular gardening and construction hand tool.
Despite the obvious advantages of these tools and their predominance in Norway, they have yet to be equally appreciated elsewhere. Even in neighboring Denmark and Sweden, they are little known. The tools are indigenously Norwegian.
Throwbacks to Earlier Times
In most instances, indigenous tools are newer than commonplace ones. Not so with the krafse, krafsebrett, and fyllhakke. They are throwbacks to implements once more universal. Norwegians kept and improved them while they were abandoned elsewhere. The progenitors of the three tools were devised in the late Iron Age for iron ore mining in Central Europe. Their present forms first emerged in common mining tools of the 15th and 16th centuries, as shown in woodcuts in De re metallica (1556) by Georgius Agricola, the Latinized version of the name Georg Bauer, an early German metallurgist.
German miners probably brought the tools to Norway in the mid to late 16th century when major iron ore deposits were first found and worked. Norwegians gave the tools descriptive names designating their uses: krafse means “to scrape/scratch and pull towards,” and fyll means “fill” or “rubble.”
The tools stayed in the hands of miners for more than three centuries. They were first used for other purposes in the 19th century. Until the 1940s, makers of the tools apparently felt they should offer explanations of them. In Norwegian tool catalogs of the 1920s and 1930s, the krafse is called malmkrafse (malm means “iron ore”) and the krafsebrett is called malmfat (iron ore dish).
Modern machines have replaced hand tools in mines. The krafse family has now gained respectability in its ascent from the bowels of the earth to use on its surface. Modern steels have replaced the forged iron of the original mining tools, cutting their weight and increasing their utility.
In addition to their primary uses in gardening, construction, and road and railway maintenance, the krafse, krafsebrett, and fyllhakke have appealing ancillary applications. Archaeologists have found that the tools are better than their traditional coal spades and scuttles in excavating sites as a skilled sweep of a krafse can pull fine layers into a krafsebrett for examination. Fishermen use krafse and fyllhakke to quickly clean decks and holds. Day-care centers often have a krafse and krafsebrett to tidy sandboxes. The three tools are unbeatable for such tasks. Might they gain stature in travel to other countries?
This article originally appeared in the October 5, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.