The Flail

The next step was threshing, that is separating the grain kernels from the straw, then separating the grain kernels from the chaff. Early threshing was done on a flat hard surface, and as clean as possible. The kernel seed separation was usually done with a flail. The Museum has an example of a flail, probably homemade.
It simply consists of a long sturdy wooden pole, with a heavy short thick club attached by chain links to the end allowing it to flex. The flail was swung to pound the flexible club against the heads of the bundles to knock (most of) the grain kernels loose. (Sometimes a cow or ox would be walked round and round, tramping on the grain to the same effect. The drawback was that since livestock are not “housebroken,” the flour made from the grain probably had a flavor not found in modern commercial flour). The straw was then removed with a pitchfork, and the grain kernels swept up and winnowed. Winnowing consisted in tossing the grain in the air with a gentle breeze blowing away the chaff and husks. As with flailing, the separation of the grain kernels by winnowing was not a complete one, and any weed seeds probably remained with the grain.
By Don McCollor. October 2022
Photos by Linda Westrom