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scythe vs. string trimmer  RSS feed

 
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Thanks Benjamin.

Is there a snath that would be easier and simpler for a beginner? Or a better scythe? I think part of the difficulty for me is that the shape of the snath creates so many variables. Maybe that's what you mean by overbuilt. The curves allow for so many options in what angle the blade crosses the ground. And there just does not seem to be a placement for the handles that balances everything in relation to everything else. It never feels like the blade is floating through its arc. There is angular load on my wrist to try to keep the blade moving parallel to the ground.

I don't mind buying another snath, or both a scythe and snath, but I don't have any idea what would be a good beginner's snath for light use, cutting grass, for a 64 year old woman in reasonably good condition. Even if I had one of everything, I still would not know where to start.

I ended up with this set because I went to the local hardware store, and had to pick something out of what they could order. No one there knew anything about it, and they still don't.

Thekla




For readily available American snaths, this one would be the best bet. It's nice and light and the uniform thickness makes it simple to adjust the nib positioning without having to resize the band of the nib irons. I use a couple of them regularly. That being said, if you're dead set on a wooden one, don't want to shave down your current one, and don't mind a little waiting, I could restore a vintage snath for you (either simple or painted, though I'm mostly focusing on the plain ones right now.)

As far as overbuilt I mean that the No.1 snath is very fat and "baseball bat"-like in the neck. It doesn't need to be anywhere near that thick for mowing grasses, and it makes the scythe heavier than it needs to be. Additionally, with a heavy-necked snath and fairly light blade it's going to want to tilt to the right, which is probably what's causing the angular load on your wrists. Finally, you don't have a photo showing the total scythe from a straight top-down view, but I'm willing to bet that if it's a relatively recent hardware store purchase then the collar is mounted crooked and so the curves are presented incorrectly. I'm in discussion with Seymour right now about it and so far it's an uphill battle, but for whatever reason sometime probably around the 90's or so the collars started getting put on about 30° crooked. All No.1 snaths before that had the curves correctly oriented, and the aluminum models are just fine as well, but the current No.1 is pretty much unusable because of that issue. A No.1 with the collar mounted correctly and the excess wood taken off makes a very fine snath, though. Here's a good vintage one I restored in the past:



When viewed square with the top of the collar, it should look like this:



Note: In the video on the No.8 snath item page I have the upper nib pointing straight down. That's not my usual arrangement but the blade I was using is tuned to leave a low stubble (I use it for lawn work) and I adjusted the nib position to lift the lay of the blade for the bumpy terrain.
 
gardener
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Pia,
I've just watched an interesting segment on setting up the scythe for individual users, posted by oh, something like "caring for God's acre". They train volunteers to use a scythe so they can mow the ancient church yards and graveyards of England.

They have straight snaths with holes so you can place the handles. Someone on this thread already said with scythe on the ground, the first handle should be at hip height and the second one a cubit (distance between point of elbow and tips of extended fingers) beyond. And they talked about the angle of the blade too.

I don't know what the more experienced people on this thread will say about that, but it was helpful to see and hear.

I just googled the obvious, and found nothing. I found it by watching scything videos, starting with video above "mary and the string trimmer".

I guess I can start trying to adjust my handles appropriately.

Thekla
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Pia Jensen wrote:isn't it something that ought be custom built according to the user's build? like fitting the suit or bicycle?



American snaths and many European-style ones are able to be adjusted to fit the measurements of the user. However, while the ideal is to match the scythe to the user it is also possible for the technique of the user to be adapted to the scythe. In a very extreme demonstration of this, I took a scythe I rigged up for my then 4-year-old son and did a little mowing with it.

 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi Benjamin,

Your post came up after I posted my comments to Pia. I am not attached to wooden, and think it's a bit much for me to modify my snath. You are right though, the thing is thick and heavy!

I wonder what you think of the straight snaths, and the holes drilled almost every inch so the handles can be moved. Was that something done by the people teaching scything to group after group of beginners? Would that be likely to break because of all the holes? Is there an advantage to the curves?

I'll read what you have said carefully and check that angle.

Thanks
Thekla
 
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:
I guess I can start trying to adjust my handles appropriately.

Thekla


yeppers, thank you for confirmation on conformation concept I will adapt via whatever conforms to this form etiquette...
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Hi Benjamin,

Your post came up after I posted my comments to Pia. I am not attached to wooden, and think it's a bit much for me to modify my snath. You are right though, the thing is thick and heavy!

I wonder what you think of the straight snaths, and the holes drilled almost every inch so the handles can be moved. Was that something done by the people teaching scything to group after group of beginners? Would that be likely to break because of all the holes? Is there an advantage to the curves?

I'll read what you have said carefully and check that angle.

Thanks
Thekla



First off, there are a few different kinds of straight snaths, but they can be generally grouped into either stemmed or single-grip snaths. Stemmed snaths can have either a stem coming upward for the right hand, or a stem descending for the left hand, with the other grip connected directly to the snath. Think of it as a game of connect-the-dots between the hands and the blade. Draw a straight line from any of the three dots to one of the other dots, and then connect the third dot to the line you just drew.

A straight single-grip snath (most commonly associated with the Slavic nations) has one grip for the right hand, and the other hand holds the top of the snath's shaft, almost like holding the top of a common broom. The two grip varieties allow the left hand to occupy a lower position.

With the so-called "Austrian" snaths, the snath describes a straight line from the blade to the left hand, with a stem raised to the grip of the right hand.

Some Nordic snaths have the straight line extended from the blade through the right hand, and a stem dropped for the grip of the left hand.

Scottish snaths draw a line from each hand to the blade, with a brace between them (making something of an inverted A-frame)

American snaths use their curvature to connect from the blade to the right hand, then from the right hand to the left, removing the need for a stem.

Technically the combination of a stemless design and grip that do not pass through the snath are both stronger design decisions. Russian straight single-gripped snaths with their distinctive grips made from a cut branch bent around the shaft and the American snath with its nibs both represent patterns that have both of these qualities, with the Russian snath having a high hold for the left hand and the American having a low one. Generally having the left hand lower allows for better distribution of strain over the whole body because the left arm can engage with the stroke more effectively, but the straight single grip snath is one of the easiest to self-manufacture. Snaths without a bend in the neck (known as the lift) will need blades with very high tang angles.
 
pollinator
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Thekla:
Observing the picture of your snath, It looks like it has a very high arch, good for a tall person but may be to high for you.
Fallowing is my fathers instruction for setting the handles: set the blade on the ground with the snath arch against the crease in your right groin. Have a marker in your hand as if it is the snath handle with the marking point coming out of the back of your hand. with a straight arm hanging down mark the front of the snath. The handle should be placed just below that mark pointing that direction parallel with the ground. If the loop on the handle will not fit at that level and especially if the arch goes up much higher the snath is to large for you.
If you can get a good fit on the right handle then proceed to the left handle. The right handle is for control but the left handle is for power. As a massage therapist I can tell you that power comes from the latissimus dorsi which is attached under the upper inside of your arm and goes across the ribs to the lumbar spine. You will want to set this handle to get the full range of motion with the most power and least stress. Hold your marker in the left hand as you did for the right hand. Swing the left arm straight, with the hand about the same level as the right handle, all the way to the right, then as the elbow bends swing the left arm all the way behind you on the left, then bring the elbow back to the center of the arc. mark the snath where your hand rests on the snath. The angle of the handle will vary with the individual from straight up to tilted forward or back dependin on how your wrist and elbow work.
If you can achieve a good balance and swing with that setting then you can proceed to adjusting the blade. My fathers rule was that the tip of the blade should be about one foot from your big toe on either foot when extended and the snath against the hips. Your snath has three holes for adjustment. It is in the center one now. If the tip is too far from the extended foot try it in the back hole. If it is too close to the foot put it in the front hole.

As described in earlier comments if the edge blade is tilted up or down in relationship the ground when you swing You may need a black smith to bend the tang. If you can find someone handy with a draw knife or spoke shave they could also reduce the weight of the snath. The weight of your blade and snath are designed to do the work for you all you have to do is balance it above the ground and pull it back with the right latissimus dorsi and forward with the left latissimus dorsi. Then you can chop and drop those bio-accumulators I see coming up in the picture.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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I think it unlikely (though, of course, possible) that a No.1 snath would be too large. Taking one vintage example I have and holding the collar tight to the floor, the degree of natural lift in the neck only places the peak of the central arch 13.5" above the floor. Even using a No.8 snath (which has very strong curves) the natural lift gives an arch height of 21". While everyone's proportions are a little different, scaling from my own proportions that means that the more strongly curved No.8 snath would only bring the edge of a blade with an unbent tang parallel with the ground if the wielder were a diminutive 3ft 3in tall. In such a case they would be so small as to be able to cut the snath in half and hold it like a single grip snath! Because one typically wants at least some degree of upward lay, they account for that in the bend of the snath's neck so that the final lay of the blade is still controllable by the user having the tang bent the appropriate amount. The reason for minimizing how much bending needs to be done to the tang is that it allows the tang to be better aligned with the vector of force in use. If the nibs need to be moved significantly from their factory settings then the nib bands can be hammered or spread to a smaller or larger diameter loop as needed, which isn't too difficult so long as you have a solid surface of some kind to use as a makeshift anvil.

As a general rule of thumb, the best balance, control, and ergonomics will be found with the left nib tilted upwards a little more than the right.

In terms of the hang of the blade (altered by the hole you set the tang in) you use that to alter how deep of a swath you take per stroke. Since you're dealing with a hand tool there's a limit to how much energy you can provide the stroke, and most of that energy is spent carrying the weight of the cut grass through the swath. In tall, dense growth that means you need to cut a smaller area per stroke, which can be done by tightening the radius of your stroke (cut closer to the feet) and/or reducing the depth of the swath, which is accomplished by closing the hang (move the tang a hole to the left.) In lighter growth you can take a larger area and so can open the hang (move the tang a hole to the right) and/or broaden your swath with greater extension of the arms and using a lateral shift from the legs.
 
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I set myself up with a package at Lehman's Hardware. The snath is adjustable and has been working for me pretty well so far. My technique still needs work but I haven't hurt myself yet, which is nice.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Personally if I was opting to purchase a continental European style scythe I'd got with a unit from One Scythe Revolution. My overall preference is for the American pattern, but I do appreciate the European variety. The Belgian-pattern blades that OSR just got in a little while ago are particularly stunning looking, as are the Spanish pattern ones.
 
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Not to sound combative, but doesn't a good electric string trimmer use a whole lot less energy than a scythe? I saw one of those videos where it was a side by side race between a person with a scythe and a person with a string trimmer and while the scythe clearly won, the man (who looked like he was in much better shape than me and probably knew what he was doing) with the scythe looked beat after doing his 15x15 area while the person with the string trimmer looked like they could go on all day. I am all for exercise normally but when you have a lot of chores you need to conserve your strength.

Additionally, I may have missed the post where it was discussed but don't most people only use string trimmers for areas that are hard to get with the lawn mower? I hate mine but for what I need it for (that last inch next to the house or between roots on my big ol' oak tree) it does get the job done. When it comes to flat open ground I use my lawn mower (one day I would like it to be electric as well) and feel as though I could mow faster than a person can use a scythe while using less energy.

I guess I am very confused because I feel like there is a sentence somewhere that I missed that says something along the lines of "for cutting grass without mowing it, scythe versus string trimmer". If I am in error (as I believe I may be) please let me know and I will amend my post because short of a mower I would 100% choose a scythe for clearing open grass such as in a demonstration.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Charles Kleff wrote:Not to sound combative, but doesn't a good electric string trimmer use a whole lot less energy than a scythe? I saw one of those videos where it was a side by side race between a person with a scythe and a person with a string trimmer and while the scythe clearly won, the man (who looked like he was in much better shape than me and probably knew what he was doing) with the scythe looked beat after doing his 15x15 area while the person with the string trimmer looked like they could go on all day. I am all for exercise normally but when you have a lot of chores you need to conserve your strength.

Additionally, I may have missed the post where it was discussed but don't most people only use string trimmers for areas that are hard to get with the lawn mower? I hate mine but for what I need it for (that last inch next to the house or between roots on my big ol' oak tree) it does get the job done. When it comes to flat open ground I use my lawn mower (one day I would like it to be electric as well) and feel as though I could mow faster than a person can use a scythe while using less energy.

I guess I am very confused because I feel like there is a sentence somewhere that I missed that says something along the lines of "for cutting grass without mowing it, scythe versus string trimmer". If I am in error (as I believe I may be) please let me know and I will amend my post because short of a mower I would 100% choose a scythe for clearing open grass such as in a demonstration.



String trimmers are great for cleaning up along the edges of welded wire fencing or rock walls, etc, but they kind of suck at really laying down a volume of open space. However, a lot of people use them for that because they don't realize that a scythe is a superior tool for the task. People who use scythes for lawncraft are generally doing so because they find lawnmowers unpleasant to use. Also, folks like myself like to think of our lawnspace as a garden plot for grass and like to feed the clippings to our livestock. Lawnmower clippings are dangerous to feed to livestock because the fine mulch not only molds quickly if not fed out immediately, but it also is too easily digested and can cause bloating or colic as a result. With a scythe most of the energy used is in merely carrying the cut vegetation into the windrow--the stroke itself uses scarcely any energy at all.

Demonstrations where the scythe is pitted against a machine are almost always improper because it is comparing performance in only one circumstance while the scythe is a broadly applicable tool able to perform a variety of tasks in a variety of situations and environments. The same can be said of some of the power tools.
 
Thomas Partridge
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I was not aware about that concerning feed length and livestock. I suspected it, but my wife told me that it didn't matter how long the strands were and that they had fed their horse mower cut hay all the time. I gave her experience weight because the horse is 35 years old and whatever they were doing to keep it alive seemed to be working. I had read that rabbits (and I am assuming other animals with similar digestive systems) needed long strands in their diet occasionally for proper digestion, but my mower's blade is cheap and dull so there are several long strands in each handful of fresh cut grass. I will discuss it with her further though and research it further as well.

I am in the boat where I currently have a lawn that I am converting into a pasture, but since I do not till I have to keep the grass relatively short so things like vetch and clover can get a strong enough foothold. I cannot wait for the day when the only time I mow what lawn is not pastured is to harvest feed for my livestock.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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With horses it really depends on the volume. When I mow the lawn I end up with great big piles of clippings. Wouldn't want to feed this much as mulch, I don't think.:



With rabbits they're definitely much more sensitive and full length is a necessity.
 
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Charles Kleff wrote:Additionally, I may have missed the post where it was discussed but don't most people only use string trimmers for areas that are hard to get with the lawn mower?



Maybe this isn't a common case, but I spent a LOT of hours with the second-largest string trimmer Stihl made at the time, and a set of those plastic blades that replace the strings, mowing head-high weeds on a half-mile of hillside. It was too steep to mow, and the owner wanted it cut every week or two...

If only I had known about scythes at the time! String trimmer was the wrong tool for the job.
 
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Leah Sattler wrote:I think my favorite part would be the quiet part. I despise intrusive noise. I think it was in one of tolstoys books where there were one or several bits about the quiet meditative work of mowing with a scythe. its seems it could be a peaceful repetitive, satisfying and healing sort of work. maybe I am just being a bit dramatic/romantic though



You're probably thinking of Anna Karenina. The estate owner spent a day with his professional farm hands mowing hay in one chapter of the book. I always wanted to have a go at scythe mowing that ever since (trying) to read that book. I gave up after getting about half way through the book. I kept falling asleep because of the plodding pace of the story line.
 
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I got my scythes from The Marugg Company in Tracy City, Tennessee. We lived close enough to go and pick them up at the factory there. They measured me and custom fitted them to my height and arm length. I had used an American style before and it was heavy and awkward to use, required stooping over to get the blade lined properly with the ground. But the Austrian style is comfortable and very easy to use. I use a sickle when I need to do close work, got it from Marugg too. They have changed hands now and I think it is online only now.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Bobby Clark Jr wrote:I got my scythes from The Marugg Company in Tracy City, Tennessee. We lived close enough to go and pick them up at the factory there. They measured me and custom fitted them to my height and arm length. I had used an American style before and it was heavy and awkward to use, required stooping over to get the blade lined properly with the ground. But the Austrian style is comfortable and very easy to use. I use a sickle when I need to do close work, got it from Marugg too. They have changed hands now and I think it is online only now.



The American scythe you were using was probably dull and not even remotely tuned right. This is what a properly sharp and well-adjusted one looks like in action. Factory tang angles are dead flat but are supposed to be adjusted to fit the user/snath/mowing environment combo. The blade should have an edge only 7-9° per side. Most wooden snaths made post-1920 were intended for fairly heavy work in unskilled hands since the largest buyers of them were railroads for maintaining their rights of way. Good slim grass snaths continued to be made, but in much lower numbers. Overly bulky wooden snaths can be shaved down to reduce their weight. I once put together a wooden-snathed American scythe with a 30" grass blade that had a total weight of 4lb 4oz, including the blade and all of the iron hardware.



For some reading material on how to get them correctly fitted and the right way to use them, give this a look.

The Marugg snaths have spindly little grips on them that should be replaced with something more ergonomic as soon as you're able. See the Schröckenfux Swiss snaths, Canadian snaths, and One Scythe Revolution snaths for good examples of ergonomic rear-facing grips.

A good scythe is a good scythe, regardless of regional style, including the American type. But no scythe works well when it's not properly set up and sharpened, and used with the correct technique.
 
Bobby Clark Jr
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Benjamin, you are right about my American not being set up right and not as sharp as it should have been. I have learned a lot more reading this thread than from any where else. I no longer have it or I would try tuning it like you have been telling on this thread. You are also right about the nibs on the Marugg snaths. They were not attached well and are flimsy to boot.
 
Bobby Clark Jr
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I did forget to mention that I had no clue what I was doing! This was before internet (yes, young ones, there was such a time!) so no videos and I had never seen a book about using a scythe, nor seen anybody using one, so I just picked it up and started swinging. Would be much better now.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Yes, unfortunately proper American scythe use was mostly passed on by oral tradition, and many even in the golden age of the scythe didn't use them right. It took me quite a lot of research and experimentation to piece the modern reconstruction of the correct methodology together. Fortunately my many years in the knife and tool industry prepped me well for it since I already had a thorough understanding of many of the fundamental principles of how edged tools cut and how form describes function. Even the most detailed of period instructional materials I was able to find would give only a few decent nuggets of wisdom apiece, so it had to be cobbled together from multiple sources. All that and I'm still learning new tricks every time I pick up the scythe.
 
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The only power tool that I know of that might be as fast as a good sharp scythe is a good sharp hedge trimmer. But the scythe leaves that nice neat windrow (you could make piles if you want) You can't do that with power tools, not even with a hedge trimmer.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Wit a proper grass blade the grass windrows just the same as with the regular scythe.  The advantage is the blade is always moving at the same speed whether you swing fast or slow. With tangled or heavy conditions then you can swing slow and get an even cut.  With light grass conditions I use a larger diameter blade and cut on the back swing and the grass tends to just stand there and them windrow on the forward swing.  Except for the ear and eye protection the operation is much the same swing and step. I did the heavy summer cutting with the power scythe but this fall I used the Austrian scythe on the dry grass and flax.
I have been swinging both types for over 60  years so I know to choose the tool for the job. Some times the heavy brush scythe will work best other times the hedge trimmer. I happen to have that many choices.
DSCN0383.JPG
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Wauna blade. teeth filed with round file on angle like chainsaw
 
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My personal experiences with a scythe was in the early 80s. While working for a Utility once a year a crew would be dispatched to clear a well field and other property's owned that was historicaly a 2 week detail all done with scythe/sickle. That same crew of 3 with weed wackers turned it in to a 1 week job. I did that detail for 10 plus years, every year I got Poisin Ivy???
 
pollinator
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Well... reading this thread has been very educational and informational... but I am thoroughly intimidated.  I had always thought a scythe was a simple tool... turns out its quite complicated!  Perhaps that's why I don't see any around here, even though we don't have any machines.  We use a "slasher" to cut grass and light brush, it is just a curved blade, sharpened on both sides, used in a swinging motion.  Its lightweight, but still tiresome and not very precise... and can be a bit dangerous in the wrong hands!  And it throws grass and debris everywhere.  (I have feared for my solar panel, because sometimes stuff hits the roof.)  We take it to the machine shop and have them sharpen it with a grinder once a month.  "Peening" sounds really hard and complicated!
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Maureen Atsali wrote:Well... reading this thread has been very educational and informational... but I am thoroughly intimidated.  I had always thought a scythe was a simple tool... turns out its quite complicated!  Perhaps that's why I don't see any around here, even though we don't have any machines.  We use a "slasher" to cut grass and light brush, it is just a curved blade, sharpened on both sides, used in a swinging motion.  Its lightweight, but still tiresome and not very precise... and can be a bit dangerous in the wrong hands!  And it throws grass and debris everywhere.  (I have feared for my solar panel, because sometimes stuff hits the roof.)  We take it to the machine shop and have them sharpen it with a grinder once a month.  "Peening" sounds really hard and complicated!



As with most things, they can be as complicated or simple as you like. Most of us who get started with scything just get REALLY into it, and seek out the very best performance we can possibly get from the tool, and that's where you start getting into the minutia of it. The simple rules are:

•Keep it sharp
•Keep it thin (7-9° per side, on average)
•Keep it on the ground
•Slice, don't chop
•Toe in, toe out
•Keep the heel down
•Set it up right, starting with guidelines then adjusting to find your preferences
•Be aware and "listen" to your tool; it will tell you how it wants to be used
 
master steward
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pollinator
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String trimmer gets the vote for me, but only because I have too. This is New England, home of the rock wall and as such you just cannot use a scythe to clean up around them.

My Grandfather said though that he would never hire a man that could not mow 3 acres per day with one, and a really good man with a scythe could do 5 acres. I have never forgot that, nor where this farm used to be. One year we were mowing silage for the dairy cows and it was blastedly hot and my Uncle lamented about getting the Air Conditioning in the tractor fixed. I laughed and said our forefathers would be rolling over in their graves. Here we were mowing hay with a 16 foot haybine at 11 miles and hour and knocking down 200 acres of hay per day, all while sitting and still gripping about the heat.

We have a company here that deals only with hand scythes. I guess the ladies husband was into it, then died and she took on the company. They do a lot of demonstrations and I tried it and finally got the knack of it after awhile. It was "all in the hips" was what i was told, and slowly what I learned.

Over the years I have found many laid along the stone wall. Rusted scythes are not to be used as they would be hard to get a keen edge on with all their rusted pits and whatnot.
 
pollinator
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I have tried a string trimmer. They have limited uses, and are not comparable to a scythe.

A long reach hedge trimmer, with an articulating head, is comprable to a scythe in many ways. I use mine for mowing everything from grass, to small trees and blackberry canes that a scythe couldn't begin to cut.

Mine is a top-of-the-line, cordless electric model, made by Stihl. I think a scythe could beat it, in a nice field of pure grass. I tend to always have trees and rocks in the way. The guard teeth bounce off of these obstacles,  with no harm to the machine, and everything under three quarters of an inch, is cut. Little trees, tough burdock, blackberry canes, thistles and grass.

I sometimes want to mulch this stuff in place. I start at the top and mow it every 6 inches or so, and everything ends up close to the ground, as a mulch. A scythe can't do this. It is the most useful chop and drop tool that I've ever seen, or heard about.

The battery lasts for longer than my arms are good for, and it charges up in an hour.

While it might be fun to compare a string trimmer to a scythe,  my hedge  cutter is a much more comprable tool. It does everything that a scythe can do, and much more.

I have also used a top of the line gas-powered model. Grossly inferior. I had to continually move away from the area I was working in, to escape the fumes. It also lacked fine control, which is needed when being used as a chop and drop tool.
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The Long Reach chainsaw and the handheld hedge cutter, use the same battery. Used deep fry oil is the lubricant.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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It amuses me when people talk about the scythe as if it's an all-or-nothing solution to vegetation management. It's an incredibly versatile tool that fits well in the arsenal alongside other tools and methods. It won't be a magic bullet for everyone's circumstances, but it's a lot more capable than most give it credit for.
 
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Benjamin Bouchard wrote:It amuses me when people talk about the scythe as if it's an all-or-nothing solution to vegetation management. It's an incredibly versatile tool that fits well in the arsenal alongside other tools and methods. It won't be a magic bullet for everyone's circumstances, but it's a lot more capable than most give it credit for.



I agree.  Both tools have their place.

I have a tree farm.  I have both a scythe (Lee Valley Tools -- European style snathe) and a weed eater.   I'm not precise enough with the scythe to get close to trees or pots. or fence posts.  And I have some narrow spaces that don't allow a reasonable swing.

And while I prefer the scythe, the kids that work for me prefer the noise machine.  In general:  If it only takes twice as long to do it without an engine, I'll do it that way.

As to sharp:

If you are going to hit things, don't try to keep a perfect edge on it.  My land is plagued by pocket gophers (on going battle)  and as a result is lumpy.  I've managed to bend the tip of my scythe up about a quarter inch.  It actually helps to skim over both lumps and rocks.

A quick edge can be put on with a dremel tool with a fine diamond grit stone.  Probably this will brand me as a heretic.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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I'd discourage the use of a dremel on Euro blades, personally, but it's your scythe! They're just so soft that a file would give almost as rapid of results while being more controllable and not taking off excessive amounts of metal. You may have an easier time trimming around trees and fence posts if you keep a finer edge on it. When properly sharp you should be able to cut grass cleanly even at low speed.
 
pollinator
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I would agree with Benjamin on this one  it does not take that long to sharpen a blade and the chance of doing something drastic with a dremmil is quite high on this soft metal ; I use both a strimmer and scythe and find I am accurate with both I use strimmer for short grass and a scythe for long
 
Sherwood Botsford
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I use both a scythe and a string trimmer. The scythe is quiet, reasonable efficient, and impresses the hell out of the teenagers who work on my farm.  However, it does need a certain amount of room to use, and takes a lot of practice to get the grass 2 inches from the fence post without getting the fence post.
 
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