Phoenix Works – How to use an English Scythe

A week ago, fellow Scythe Association. member Chris Riley posted a link to an interesting article on the history of the Phoenix works on the group list.

Like Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Phoenix works was based in the Sheffield area and were manufacturers of English scythe blades and sickles. The article is fascinating and can be read in full here.

One of the best bits of the article is photographs of a small instructional leaflet that was sent out with blades from the factory. The photos are reproduced below, with thanks to Ridgeway History for allowing us to use them.

“In order for purchasers to make best use of the scythe, the Company published a small booklet describing the fitting, cutting and sharpening of their number 10 and number 15 riveted scythe. The booklet is shown below and includes photographs of James Fisher demonstrating the various actions.” Ridegway History

What is fascinating about the leaflet is how similar it is to what we are doing and teaching now. “Before using a scythe it is important to fit the scythe to the actual man who will be operating it” the leaflet advises. The cutting action is similar, as is the advice to cut close to the ground when mowing grass.

The phrase “A scythe should not be used as though it were a golf club or a sickle” is something that perhaps TV’s Poldark should note (so I hear, I still haven’t seen him in action).

Lastly, the sharpening advice nearly exactly matches the technique we use. Perhaps it looks more glamorous to sharpen standing up with the scythe standing on the top of the snath, but it is much more controlled if the tip of the blade is placed on the ground. The blade can easily be held firm without needing to constantly readjust your hand position and the blade edge can be clearly seen.