This page kindly provided by
Nicki and Dan of Scythes Australia:
Frequently Asked Questions about Scything
(this information is from the FAQ section of www.scythesaustralia.com.au
In this section, frequent reference is made to the Scythe Connection website. Peter Vido and his family in Canada have made it their mission to promote the use of the scythe as the ecological alternative to the tractor, lawn mower and weedeater. Over the last thirty years, Peter in particular has gained and disseminated a wealth of knowledge about scythes and scything that cannot be found anywhere else on the web. Rather than regurgitate his website, I have summarised the salient points, added my own experience, and then referred back to the “Source” for details.
Can I Scythe Blackberries And Other Woody Weeds?
Generally, we recommend that you only use your scythe on this season’s growth. So you can use it on very young blackberry brambles. However, it takes an experienced scyther to mow older growth without damaging the blade. Scything is about slicing, not hacking. Once you have the knack of this, the blade will let you know when an object is too much for it before you do any damage.
Why Should I Use A Scythe When I Have A Weed-eater?
A scythe is quiet, uses no fuel, has no moving parts to break down, doesn’t have to be pull started, and will last a lifetime if properly treated. Also, much to most people’s surprise, a scythe is both easier to use and more efficient than a weedeater. Truly, it is a peaceful, meditative form of exercise, carrying its own rewards in achievement.
Several years ago, I bought a cheap weed-eater. Thought I had a bargain. Firstly, it was very difficult to pull start (I’m not good at pull starting any equipment). When I finally got it started, the cutting line kept breaking. I spent most of my time adjusting the line or starting the machine. On the advice of the TAFE college, I wore a helmet with face guard and ear muffs. I also wore a back support as the high revolutions of the weed-eater at over a metre from the body put considerable strain on the spine. I couldn’t hear anything over the ear muffs and the muffled whine of the weed-eater. I managed to damage tree trunks while mowing around them. My skill level with the weed-eater was mediocre at best, which meant once I’d completed the task, it looked like a hack job. To add insult to injury, after 2 months of inconsistent use, the machine broke down, and I was told the part that had broken, the shaft, couldn’t be repaired or replaced. So the weed-eater has ended up in landfill. The Mexicans have a saying “I’m too poor to buy cheap tools.” How true.
On a more esoteric note, I find using a scythe is consistent with my desire to live lightly on the Earth. And I enjoy scything. Especially when it is carried out best – in the early morning to the sounds of the birds with the grasses and lighter weeds still full of dewy sap from the night before.
The scyther beat the man with the weed-eater in a competition at the Danish Scythe Festival 2008. Although the man got to the end first, he had to go back and mow a second swath as the weed-eater doesn’t mow as wide a swath as the scythe. The scythe left a neat windrow of grass. The weed-eater left – a mess!
Why Should I Use A Scythe Rather Than A Tractor, Ride-On Mower Or Lawn Mower?
Obviously there are many situations when a tractor is a more appropriate tool, particularly with large farms. But even on large farms, there are times when the scythe is the better choice. One major advantage of scything is its effectiveness in awkward to get at areas. Steep banks and around trees in undergrowth. Not places one could drive a tractor, ride-on mower or even a lawn mower in safety.
On small acreages and in suburban gardens, the scythe could truly replace the mechanised mowers to the quiet enjoyment of the home owner and the delight of the neighbours, no longer having their Sunday morning disturbed by the whine of the lawn mowers.
How Hard Is It To Learn How To Scythe?
Like any other skill, scything takes a while to master. The easiest way is to have someone show you and correct you as you make mistakes. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough experienced scythers left in Australia for most of us to have that luxury. In the absence of a hands-on teacher, you can study the DVD “Scything Techniques”, read the descriptions of how to scythe, have someone make a video of you whilst scything, and modify your style to make it more like you see on the DVD. Also, practise, practise, practise. Let the grass teach you. Some strokes you will find the grass cuts better than others. What are you doing differently? The Scything Connections website has two articles on scything, both very worthwhile reads: www.scytheconnection.com/adp/docs/movement.html and www.scytheconnection.com/adp/techn2.html
Can You Give Me Any Tips On How To Scythe?
As David Tresemer said in his book “The Scythe Book”, “… for every ‘rule’ or tradition I have for scythe design and technique, somebody someplace else did it a little differently and got the grass cut.”
The suggestions provided here are distilled from Peter Vido’s “Tai Chi” style mowing. Specifically they are for mowing swaths of grass about 2 ½ metres wide with every sweep. For trimming work in restricted areas, they need to be modified slightly.
First practice the correct stance without the scythetheconn
Stand with your feet approximately 90 cm (3 ft) apart, feet parallel to each other, facing forward.
Bend your knees slightly, keeping your back straight and relaxed.
Sway to the right, so that most of your weight in on your right foot and you are leaning slightly to the right. Do not extend beyond your knees. Your head, back and right leg all should be at nearly the same angle. As you rock to the right breath in.
Now rock on to the left foot, breathing out as you rock. Your right leg should gradually straighten and your left leg being to flex. Turn your torso towards the left as you rock, using your abdominal muscles to aid in the twisting movement. At the full extension of the stroke, your head, back and left leg should be at about the same angle.
As you put the weight on the left foot, slide the right foot forwards about 10 cm, then as the weight transfers back to the right foot, slide the left foot forwards 10 to 20 cm. (this is the distance you will advance into the grass swath with every pass). Start with 10 cm until you master that distance before you increase it.
Now practice the same stance with scythe in hand, but on freshly mown grass. You are not trying to mow any grass at this stage. Grass will only distract you from getting your movements right.
Hold the scythe with the upper grip in your left hand and the lower grip in your right hand, thumbs pointing away from you. Your hands shouldn’t be holding the grips tightly. You are not pushing the scythe. Instead they should be relaxed and almost guiding the scythe.
Start the movement with your torso swiveled round to the right, the blade in contact with the ground.
Rock to the left, rotating your torso to the right and bringing the scythe with you. The blade should stay in contact with the ground, creating an arc around your body. Your left elbow is the pivot point. The momentum of the rotation provides the energy to slice the grass.
As your weight rests on your left foot, slide your right foot forwards 10 cm.
Rotate your torso back to the right, changing the weight to your right foot and slide your left foot forwards 10 cm. The scythe follows back around the same arc, still keeping in contact with the ground.
Only after you can comfortably move the scythe around you in an arc whilst hugging the ground with the blade, shuffling forward 10 cm at a time, should you progress to actually mowing some grass.
For a detailed description of Peter’s scything technique, see the two articles on the Scythe Connection website, www.scytheconnection.com/adp/docs/movement.html and www.scytheconnection.com/adp/techn2.html.
Do I Have To Be Really Fit To Use A Scythe?
No, not at all. Although scything can be done at competition speeds, in which case it is a sport like any other, it also can be a relaxed, meditative exercise. My husband took up scything a few months short of his 68th birthday. He has had heart bypass surgery and his lungs aren’t good, yet he thoroughly enjoys scything. Gets a bit stroppy if I come up with a different job to be done in the early morning on the farm.
Can I Scythe With A Bad Back Or Bad Knees?
Maybe. Depends on how bad your back or knees are, and how you scythe. Peter Vido, the master scyther from Canada, has developed a scything style that has been classified as therapeutic by Drs. Helga and Otto Fleiss of the Steyr Institute of Vertebrae Research. Talking of Peter’s style, they concluded that “… at its best, wielding a scythe causes no stress to the spine and can indeed be considered body therapy.” For a detailed description of Peter’s scything technique, see the two articles on the Scythe Connection website, www.scytheconnection.com/adp/docs/movement.html and www.scytheconnection.com/adp/techn2.html.
How Dangerous Is A Scythe?
The blade is (or should be) razor sharp. Most people when they first hear of scything think they could cut their foot off with the scythe. This is highly unlikely as the blade is nowhere near your feet when you are mowing. However, children and dogs – or other pets – should be taught right from the start to respect the scythe or else be kept right away from it. When you are mowing, it is very dangerous to have children and dogs running about. Also, you should never leave the scythe lying in the grass once you have finished scything or are taking a break. Take care when you are carrying, transporting or storing the scythe. Some people make a canvas or leather sheathe for the blade. The other time the scythe could be dangerous is when you are peening and honing it. Wearing a cut resistant glove when peening reduces the risk considerably. Careful application to the task at hand is the key factor.
Whilst peening the blade, the blade is rested on the peener’s knees and supported by the non-hammering hand. Note that the peener is wearing a cut-resistant glove.
Can Children Use Scythes Too?
One of the best scythers I know started using a scythe as a 7 year old. She was lucky enough to have a father who made a snath to fit her, and who provided her with one of the shorter blades. Peter said he never forced any of his children to use the scythe, but Ashley in particular found it fun. As mentioned in the question “How Dangerous is the Scythe?” children need to realise that scything might be fun, but the scythe is a very sharp tool, NOT a toy.
Do I Have To Prepare My Blade For First Use?
Yes. At the Austrian factory the blade is protected with a layer of paint at the heel and lacquer for the rest of the blade for the long sea voyage. This has to be removed from the edge before it is first honed. Using a file, you need to scratch off the paint and lacquer right down the edge and in to about 5 mm. This is demonstrated on the DVD “Scything Techniques”, included in the purchase of your first scythe.
How Do I Sharpen My Austrian Scythe Blade?
There are two steps to sharpening the Austrian scythe. Firstly, it is cold-forged, or peened, using a hammer and anvil. This step creates the primary bevel. This bevel is first done in the scythe factory by the scythe smith. The mower repeats this step at regular intervals throughout the life of the blade to recreate the geometry of the primary bevel. The second step is the honing or whetting step whereby a secondary bevel is created. This step is carried out every 5 minutes or so whilst scything. However, the very act of honing wears off the tip of the edge thus necessitating repetition of the first step, the peening. For a much more comprehensive description of sharpening an Austrian blade, please see the Scythe Connection’s webpage www.scytheconnection.com/adp/docs/sharpening.html
Do I Need A Peening Jig?
If you have never peened metal before, a peening jig is advisable. The peening jig comes with two differently shaped caps. The first cap reaches approximately 4 mm from the blade edge. The second flattens the metal nearer the edge and thus produces a bevel. Once you have mastered the art of peening with a jig, you could try peening with a specially designed peening anvil and hammer. The advantage of peening with a hammer and anvil is that, once you have mastered the skill, you have much more control over the process. However, it is much easier to damage the blade when peening freehand. For more detail on peening, please see the Scythe Connection’s webpage http://www.scytheconnection.com/adp/docs/peening.html
Can I Sharpen My Austrian Blade On A Wheel
We do not advise sharpening an Austrian scythe blade on a sharpening wheel. The metal isn’t as hard as the old Australian/English scythe blades, and can be damaged by the heat generated by the wheel. Instead the blade is routinely peened and honed. See the question “How do I sharpen my Austrian scythe blade?”
How Can I Repair A Damaged Scythe Blade?
Damage to the blade should be repaired as it occurs rather than allowed to accumulate. For repair work, the hammer and anvil are more accurate than the peening jig because the damaged area is not obstructed by the peening jig. Follow the instructions provided by Peter Vido http://www.scytheconnection.com/adp/docs/bladeRepair.html In absence of a specially designed anvil as recommended in Peter’s instructions, though, my husband has found careful use of the peening jig manages minor repairs.
How Often Will I Need To Replace Scythe Parts?
That depends on how well you treat your scythe. If you wipe, and dry, your scythe blade after use, remove the scythe blade from the snath each time you peen and wipe the whole snath regularly with linseed oil, keep the scythe stored out of the weather, learn to scythe, and repair the blade as small damage occurs, your scythe will last many many years. The blade in fact could be passed on through the generations. At some time however your snath may need replacing. Ideally, you will learn to make your own snath from green timber, using the grips and blade attachment ring from the old snath. We have heard of some very creative snath handles…one from bamboo!!
Can I Make My Own Scythe Snath?
Absolutely. In fact, the best snaths are ones you make to suit your own scything style. However, if you are new to scything and don’t know what a snath should feel like and haven’t yet developed a scything style, you’ll probably need to start with a purchased commercial snath.
There are two types of snath you can make. The easiest one is a straight one-gripped snath as is used in Eastern Europe. The instructions for making this snath are on the Scythe Connection website www.scytheconnection.com/adp/snathmaking/index.html The second type of snath is similar to the one we sell, and is used in Western Europe. It has two grips, and is curved, although not as curved as the Australian/English snath. The Vidos regularly make this snath out of green timber they collect especially for the purpose. Peter carefully chooses the wood to have the curve he requires. He even chooses the wood for the right shaped grips. As yet, he hasn’t added instructions for making this snath to the Scythe Connection website. Yet in his DVD “Living Lightly”, a copy of which with his permission, I give to customers on the purchase of their first scythe, you can see him shaping green timber into a snath.
What Is The Best Australian Timber To Use For Snaths?
We are still looking for a good contender for snaths. So far we have come up with Acacia implexa (common name Australian hickory), and Eucalyptus regnans (one of the three Tasmanian Oak species). Someone tried bamboo, but I haven’t heard how successful that was. What was completely useless was a piece of pine that you get from a hardware store. After one of our first snath makers spend much care and effort lovingly fashioning a one-gripped snath, the snath broke in two on first impact.
Whatever the old axemen used as axe handles in your district will probably make good snaths. The important characteristics of timber you are looking for are strength, flexibility, ability to withstand impact blows and lightness.
Can I Manufacture My Own Scythe Blade?
You can give it a go. However, the Austrian scythe blade is a finely balanced and tempered wafer thin blade that is gently curved along 2 axes. Making the Austrian scythe blade is a 21 step process that involves master blacksmiths at every step. The machinery used in the process, e.g. large hammer mills, is also not for the faint hearted. Courtesy of Ing. Walter Blumauer, the last owner and manager of the world-renowned Redtenbacher scythe manufacturer, and the Sensenmuseum (Scythe Museum) in Austria, I will soon include photos of the blade making process with descriptions. Maybe an Austrian style blade making industry can be started here in Australia.
I have no experience with the Australian/English scythe blades. It could be that these are easier to manufacture.
How Can I Resurrect An Old Australian/English Scythe?
I’m not really the right person to ask. I picked up an old Australian/English scythe at a farm clearance sale (still the best place to get one), and realised I didn’t have the skills to make it useful again. It is in relatively good condition. The blade, the snath and the blade attachment mechanism are all still sound. I have been told that if I soak the snath in linseed oil, I may get some life back in the dried out timber. Also the blade needs to be sharpened on a sharpening wheel.
If, however, the snath is broken, you will need to make yourself a new one. Keep your eyes open for a tree limb that is shaped like the snath should be in which case you can fashion yourself up a new snath.
Peter Vido believes that even though the English scythe is more cumbersome than the Austrian scythe, it is still a superb tool and should be treated with respect as its time will come again.
What Should I Do With All Of The Grass I’ve Scythed?
When scything, it doesn’t matter how long the grass is, unlike when mowing with a lawn mower, which could choke on long grass. If you let the grass grow long before scything, it makes very good hay or mulch. We use our cut grass to build stores of “meadow hay” for feed supplement for our stock. If you don’t have a horse, cow, sheep or goat to feed the hay to, then use the scythed grass to mulch your trees and gardens. Or, you can mix it with manures and other “ingredients” to make your own compost heaps. One benefit of using a scythe is the natural “windrowing” of the cut grasses. It makes them much easier to collect and use.
Why Would I Want To Make Hay By Hand?
For people with small acreages who have stock to feed, you can make hay with just a scythe and a rake. As the hay is stored loose, it is easier for a novice to make quality hay than when using modern hay making equipment. Using modern hay making equipment is not for the faint hearted. Hay that is bailed when it is too moist will go mouldy and could even self-combust. Hay that is bailed when it is too dry is hard to bail, and the bails fall apart. If it rains before the hay is sufficiently dry, the quality of the hay decreases. For hand made hay on the other hand, you can mow the grass in the early morning while the dew is still on it, turn it once about 11 am and bring it into the shed in the late afternoon. Although Australia’s high evaporation rate is a disadvantage in many things, it is great for hay-making.
At a carbon farming conference I attended in November 2008, one of the speakers talked about how our weather patterns would be altered with climate change. In central and southern NSW, our rain will fall predominantly in summer rather than evenly spaced throughout the year. Thus making hay will become more difficult. As loose hay doesn’t have to be as dry as baled hay, I think making hay by hand could be a definite advantage for the small acreage farmer.
Can I buy a Left-Handed Scythe?
Previously, our answer to this would have been “No”. Left-handed scythes are very rare, and there is a practical reason for this. Everyone used to mow in teams with all the blades moving in unison in the same direction. No right-handed team in their right minds would want a left-handed mower mowing with them. It would be the ideal recipe for chopped off legs! I am left-handed and mow right handed, but then my father taught me to play cricket right handed too. Left-handed people are supposed to be more ambidextrous than right-handed people, probably because it’s a right-handed world out there, and we’ve had to learn to be. However, as we’ve had a number of queries from left-handed people who are truly not ambidextrous, we now have a left-handed scythe with a 65 cm blade in our product range.
(At this stage ScythesNZ will only supply left handed scythes to order. This means you may have to wait a month or two for your blade to arrive. If I get and influx of orders I will import a supply of these.)
How do I take care of my scythe?
Apart from keeping it sharp, the most important thing to remember with your scythe is that the blade is made of steel that has about 0.7% to 0.8% carbon. This carbon content has been carefully selected over the centuries to make the blade hard enough to scythe, but soft enough to peen. The disadvantage is that the blade will rust if it is not dried after every use. Also the snath, being made of wood, needs to be oiled regularly. We use linseed oil. Try not to use boiled linseed oil as apparently it has sulphur in it that will attack the metal. We have two rags, a dry and an oily one hanging up where we put the scythe away so we can quickly rub the scythe down after use. It goes without saying that leaving the scythe outside in the grass doesn’t do it any good at all!