A scythe and the right conditions can turn cutting grass from a chore to a joy
The edges of our forest garden have been getting rather overgrown. I got up early to give them a trim.
My effort was well rewarded. The early morning dew and a sharp blade made the grass easy to mow.
Add in beautiful surroundings, gentle exercise, bird song and the early morning sun and I had a most enjoyable hour.
Listen out for the swish of the scythe, bird song and the odd goat bleat in the video!
The elements of joyful scything
Here are a few of the things that make scything more enjoyable.
An early start (or a late one)
When you mow can make a vast difference to how joyful the task is.
It is not entirely clear why, but damp grass scythes more easily then dry. Scything a patch of grass early in the morning with the dew on is easy. The same patch will feel harder to cut at 2pm on a hot, sunny afternoon.
Mowing in the evening as the dew falls is also nice and is preferable to sweating away in the heat of the day!
If you don’t mind getting a bit wet, drizzly days can be great for mowing too.
A sharp blade
This morning I was using a very well peened Falci 128 blade. I put very little effort into pushing the blade through the grass. There was no need for force as the sharp blade sliced through the grass like butter.
It is hard to describe just how light the whole tool feels in my hands. I well remember my early mowing days, when I would grasp the grips so tightly that my hands would ache by the end of a session!
Now I have learned to relax my grip, just balancing the scythe in my hands and using it to guide the blade through the grass.
There are two aspects to a sharp blade – honing and peening.
…is sharpening the blade with a stone. For joyful mowing, this needs to be done frequently. And I mean frequently – something like every 5 minutes.
The reason for having your stone in a stone holder on your belt is so that it is always with you. It takes less then a minute to stop, wipe the blade down with a handful of grass, run the stone over it and begin mowing again.
You will quickly learn to appreciate the small effort it takes to stop and sharpen. Even now I get tempted to mow just a few more strokes before stopping…. Yet the effects of a good hone are remarkable, with the mowing instantly transformed back to an easy, flowing action. The time taken to stop and hone is more then saved in the ease of mowing with a sharp blade.
…is the second aspect of sharpness in an Austrian style scythe blade.
Over time, frequent honing of the blade changes the profile of the edge and it becomes less ideally shaped for cutting. The edge put on the blade by honing does not last as long, mowing becomes less easy and the mower finds him / herself honing more frequently for less reward.
During peening, the edge of the blade is cold hammered to restore the ideal cutting profile. More information about peening can be found here.
A well peened blade is a sharp blade and will make mowing easy. Of course, the edge needs to be tailored to the task in hand. Mowing lawns requires a fine, well peened edge. The same edge would be too delicate for mowing brambles and would easily be damaged.
Unfortunately, peening is an aspect of scythe maintenance that some beginners view with apprehension. While the thought of taking a hammer to your precious blade can feel intimidating, the rewards are well worth it.
Don’t be afraid of it! Get your jig set up (you can make a simple peening bench or just mount it in a log) and have a go.The sooner you begin the easier the task will be. There is much more hammer work needed if a blade has been heavily used before it’s first peen.
A scythe that fits
As the popularity of scything has increased less specialist businesses have begun stocking scythes. On one of our courses last year a participant brought along a recently purchased scythe. It was amazingly cheap, less then £30 if I remember correctly.
Unfortunately cheap is how you would describe the quality of the item too! It had little of the functionality that I would expect in a scythe. It would probably only be useful as a “bilhook on a stick” for bashing through thick undergrowth.
The blade was heavy, poorly finished and would be a challenge to get anything like sharp. The blade attachment was poorly designed, weak and hard to get securely tight. While the grips on the snath were adjustable it would have been hard to adjust the snath to achieve a good ergonmic mowing position.
I can pick up someone else’s scythe and mow with it, even if the owner is much taller or shorter then me. I do this by adjusting my body position to ensure that the blade maintains the correct relationship with the grass needed to cut.
However, to mow in comfort for any length of time and without the risk of strain or injury I much prefer to use my own snath that I have adjusted to match my body and mowing style.
A good snath will come in different lengths and have adjustable hand grips so that it can be set up to match the height, body configuration and mowing style of the owner. On many cheaper snaths it is hard, if not impossible to do this.
This may mean the mower ends up bending over to use the scythe, leading to potential back strain. We see this with many older english scythes – the snaths were designed for people who were generally shorter then we are now.
The points of interaction between the snath and the user should be well designed for greatest comfort during use.
The shape of the grips on the snaths we use and supply have been shaped to sit comfortably in the hand. They are attached such that the hands fall into a natural position, reducing strain in the wrists.
The weight of the scythe also contributes to comfort during mowing. We find wooden snaths are sufficiently strong, yet light so that they are not tiring to use.
An achievable task
I mowed for about an hour this morning. I made good progress with the task in hand but stopped long before I got tired or too desperate for my breakfast. If the goats hadn’t been calling to be milked I might well have gone on longer!
Scythers frequently tell me that they enjoy how quick it is to pick up a scythe and get mowing.
Once you have carried out the initial set up, your scythe can sit in your shed, just waiting to be taken out and used. A quick check that the blade is well positioned and tight, a quick hone and away you go!
Compare this to the effort need to get out the strimmer or brushcutter, put on the protective gear, carry it to where it is needed, get it started etc etc. Once all this is done, the temptation is to push on working longer then is comfortable.
The scythe can easily be used for short but frequent work. A spot of mowing can be slotted into the morning, or after work, grass cutting can be done in manageable, enjoyable bursts.