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A hand baler is a piece of farm equipment that allows people to pack and tie bales of straw, hay, pine needles, and other materials manually. It has a more limited capacity than an industrial baler, but is less expensive to assemble and use, which can make it suitable for small farms and homesteads. Hand balers can be purchased or rented for specific projects, or may be built from simple materials. Some farms may agree to share resources and could split a hand baler as needed during harvest season.
The device consists of a large box with braces to hold baling twine or wire. Users can pack the material they want to bale into the box and pack it down with a tamper. After each packing, they can add more material, until the bale cannot be compressed any more. Tying the twine or wire allows them to secure the bale so they can open a panel on the box and release it, setting the hand baler up to make the next bale.
This process can be extremely fast when people coordinate their efforts and are experienced with hand balers. While it isn’t efficient for extremely large farms, it can work well for modestly-sized fields of hay, alfalfa, and other materials. The finished bales are of uniform size and shape so they can be readily stacked and stored. As with industrial balers, it is important to make sure the material is totally dry before packing, as otherwise mold could develop inside the bales.
Construction supplies for building a hand baler can be relatively inexpensive. Timber and siding are needed along with fasteners to build the machine and set up slots for the baling twine. Once constructed, operating costs are low; it may be necessary to periodically oil the hinges and it should be stored in a dry area to prevent warping, but doesn’t require additional maintenance or work. It is also easy to learn to use, which can be an advantage with shared farm equipment when people don’t want to operate the equipment for neighbors or spend a lot of time training them in its use.
In addition to being useful with plant materials, a hand baler can be used for other purposes. Recyclables like cardboard, plastic, and cans can be packed in bales to make them easier to handle. Baling these materials may make it easier to take them to a recycling center, and to keep them confined so litter doesn’t develop around a work shed or other area used for handling recycling.