Flax, also known as linseed, (binomial name: Linum usitatissimum, a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae), is an ancient and versatile plant of many uses. Dyed flax fibers have been found dating to 30,000 B.C., suggesting that it may have been the first plant domesticated for human use. In addition to its fibers, flax seeds have nutritional value for both human and animal consumption. From the earliest times these seeds also have been pressed for oil used in dyes and paints.

Today flax is a source for linen thread, cloth and paper, as well as paint, oilcloth, linoleum, ink and even health foods. In the past, it was one of the earliest crops introduced by European colonists to North America, and growing and processing flax was a common part of life in 18th and 19th century America. Flax fiber was used to make sacks and shirts, thread for the cobbler, rope for the farm, and bedding, towels and tablecloths for the home. Flax was such a useful and valuable resource for our forefathers that it was often listed as an agricultural trade good accepted by cabinetmakers, metalworkers and other artisans creating finished work for the farm or household.

Many examples of the basic tools for working with flax have survived and are popular country or primitive accessories for today’s collectors. They include flax breakers (rollers, flails or bench mounted), cutters, tall baskets for holding and moving raw flax, hatchels for separating the inner fibers from the outer husk, and wheels for turning the fibers into thread.

Reference note by p4A editorial staff; August 2012.

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