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Scythe for beginners

 
Posts: 472
Location: Dawson Creek, BC, Canada
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I'm reading a thread about someone who bought a scythe, and got injured.

All work on "the farm" is exercise.  A new exercise takes time to adjust to.  Time is something like 6 weeks in general.

There are 2 kinds of scythes: American (USA) and Austrian (European).

The American Scythes are much heavier than the Austrian scythes.

If the only things you will be cutting are grasses, you can get by with a very thin blade.  If you "might" need to cut bigger things, get a thicker blade.  If you might be cutting seedling trees, get a bushcutter blade.

Cutting with a scythe is like dancing well with a partner; it will take time to learn.  Start with small areas and no pressure to get things done.  The object is to learn the rhythm.

Cutting on significant slopes is different from cutting on "level" ground.

How hard you work in cutting anything with a scythe, depends on how sharp the edge is.  If you think you are working too hard, it probably means your edge isn't sharp enough.

In a sense, scythes are like chisels.  You really want them to be "scary sharp".

Learning how to make a blade in good shape "scary sharp" will take practice.

A blade that is not in good shape, needs to "peened".  At some point all scythe blades need to be peened, to "expose" a new "edge" which "only" needs sharpeningl

---

There are competitions for using a scythe.  It is unlikely that any of us will get close to what they can cut.

---

I have an interest in  "hedge" (Osage-orange).  It was apparently not uncommon for a farmer on the Great Plains to  "prune" 750 feet of Osage-orange hedge in a day.  And I will guess that is an American scythe.

With my poor ability with an Austrian scythe now, I  don't know if I could deal with 750 feet of dandelion in a day.  Let alone 750 feet of the hardest wood native to North America.


---

If people could add links to good examples on using and sharpening scythes; that would be wonderful.

(Of course, maybe they have; and I missed it.)
 
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There's a video in this old thread about sharpening. I didn't watch it so can't say how good it is. Seems like a start anyway. Good luck.

https://permies.com/t/16949/scythes/sharp-scythe
 
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Gordon Haverland wrote:I'm reading a thread about someone who bought a scythe, and got injured.

All work on "the farm" is exercise.  A new exercise takes time to adjust to.  Time is something like 6 weeks in general.

There are 2 kinds of scythes: American (USA) and Austrian (European).

The American Scythes are much heavier than the Austrian scythes.

If the only things you will be cutting are grasses, you can get by with a very thin blade.  If you "might" need to cut bigger things, get a thicker blade.  If you might be cutting seedling trees, get a bushcutter blade.

Cutting with a scythe is like dancing well with a partner; it will take time to learn.  Start with small areas and no pressure to get things done.  The object is to learn the rhythm.

Cutting on significant slopes is different from cutting on "level" ground.

How hard you work in cutting anything with a scythe, depends on how sharp the edge is.  If you think you are working too hard, it probably means your edge isn't sharp enough.

In a sense, scythes are like chisels.  You really want them to be "scary sharp".

Learning how to make a blade in good shape "scary sharp" will take practice.

A blade that is not in good shape, needs to "peened".  At some point all scythe blades need to be peened, to "expose" a new "edge" which "only" needs sharpeningl

---

There are competitions for using a scythe.  It is unlikely that any of us will get close to what they can cut.

---

I have an interest in  "hedge" (Osage-orange).  It was apparently not uncommon for a farmer on the Great Plains to  "prune" 750 feet of Osage-orange hedge in a day.  And I will guess that is an American scythe.

With my poor ability with an Austrian scythe now, I  don't know if I could deal with 750 feet of dandelion in a day.  Let alone 750 feet of the hardest wood native to North America.


---

If people could add links to good examples on using and sharpening scythes; that would be wonderful.

(Of course, maybe they have; and I missed it.)



Peening is only done to continental European-style scythes, and should be avoided with American, English, or Nordic blades, as they are harder steel, and often of laminated construction, and peening can cause the edge either to crack (with "whole steel" blades) or cause the edge to be comprised of soft cladding iron (in the case of laminated blades.) Also, while the average weight for American scythes is higher than that for European ones, the lightest American scythes are a good deal lighter than the heaviest Euro ones, and it's actually of benefit to have a certain amount of mass in the tool--a light too is easier to start, but also easier for the vegetation to stop! Neither too heavy nor too light is the way to go, and context of use determines optimum weight. Due to historical context a lot of American snaths did end up being severely overbuilt, but that's fixable--just shave it down to proper dimensions, and resize the nib bands accordingly. Beveling American scythes typically only needs to be done 1-3 times a season, depending on how much you're cutting and how good you are at not damaging your edge.



 
Gordon Haverland
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Most of what I know about scythes (which is nowhere near enough) is specific to the Austrian style scythe that I bought (made in Vermont I believe).

The irons and steels used in agriculture, are seldom anywhere near the best they could be.  My basic university degree is metallurgical engineering (but even then, I had options in ceramics).  So, I nominally call it materials science and engineering because I also have a lot of wood, cement and organic chemistry added on top of things since.

I sort of grew up with farm equipment (not necessarily the farming), and I have done a little blacksmithing.  But I have never attempted to forge a blade.  I do understand why some steels are peened before sharpening.  I never studied the steels in American scythes.

Off the top of my head, I would think a hadfield steel (high in manganese, high work-hardening) might work for blades like scythes, but they would probably rust away fast to.  I haven't heard of any kind of scythe making use of a steel that had boron in it.

A Damascus steel would probably work wonderfully for a scythe, but the chemistry and labour of those steels is high.

But, thanks a lot for your comment.  It probably will help a lot of people.


The two biggest hazards I seem to be putting my blade to, are seedlings that are too thick, and ant hills.
 
Gordon Haverland
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If a person is a well trained athlete, and you go and do something different; it is easy to run into overuse injuries.  Which are not from overuse, but rather from doing something different from usual.

I played a lot of soccer (most people call it football) over the years.  I had a friend in the house renovation business, who had been putting a renovation on his house when there was time.  It was getting late in September, and he had still not said anything about putting shingles on the roof.  So, I took half a day off work to go to his place, and help him shingle the roof.  Something I had never done before.  Like everything, there is a learning curve.  We got the roof shingled.  And I had sore calves for 7-10 days.  Because I had never walked on a slope like that for a few hours.

Lots of people (typically older) suffer problems on the first snow or two.  Too many deaths.  I think a significant chunk of the deaths, could have been avoided by "warming up".  But most people, even if they are athletes will not warm up to shovel snow (or many other things).

You would like to do some kind of activity which is just bringing a sweat to your brow (if you are male, many females don't sweat and I have no good recipe for how to judge that).  The most efficient activity to get you that warm, is to use one or more of the 3 largest muscles in your body (quadriceps, hamstring, gluteus group - mostly maximus) for a short period of time.  Those muscles require so much oxygen and produce so much heat; that the entire body feels the affect.  Then you need to spend some time doing some exercise specific stretches.  You want to push the joint in question to the point where you notice it is being stretched, but no pain.  Try to hold for 20+ seconds.

If you have a wood lot on your farm, you may have fallen trees.  Attach a rope to a fallen log (not too big, this is a warm up), and drag it 50 feet or so.  Wait a while, and then drag it further.

The power to the scythe comes from your hips.  It comes from the big leg muscles.  It is transferred via the muscles which surround your belt line attaching your torso to the hips.  It should not be coming from your arms.  But your arms are actively involved in scything as they are exerting the fine muscle control to control the cut.

Most men are not good at the splits.  I could almost do the splits side to side, but never close front to back.  But using a scythe is a hip exercise, do the splits as best you can left front/right back, side to side, right front/left back.  Cross your legs and try to touch your toes; then put the other leg in front.  Among other things, this catches the IT band and some of gluteus minimus.  Bend down, put your palms on the ground.  Straighten your legs as much as you can, keeping your palms on the ground.

Find a "wall" to work from (could be a big tree).  We want to stretch our arm going to the back.  But, we want the leverage/force to end at the elbow, not at the wrist or hand.  So you try to keep your arm straight, but the "wall" is acting on your elbow, stretch to the back direction (I have never run across someone who needs to stretch the opposite direction).

Go out with the scythe, and make a few cuts of reduced angular range and force, at a place which is easy and doesn't require perfection.

Go pull your log a bit more, do some more stretching; and then look to start the real scythe work.  Start slow.  Study what you are doing.  Try to make these first cuts perfect.  And as you get warm to the task; then start to add the power to your work.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Gordon Haverland wrote:Most of what I know about scythes (which is nowhere near enough) is specific to the Austrian style scythe that I bought (made in Vermont I believe).

The irons and steels used in agriculture, are seldom anywhere near the best they could be.  My basic university degree is metallurgical engineering (but even then, I had options in ceramics).  So, I nominally call it materials science and engineering because I also have a lot of wood, cement and organic chemistry added on top of things since.

I sort of grew up with farm equipment (not necessarily the farming), and I have done a little blacksmithing.  But I have never attempted to forge a blade.  I do understand why some steels are peened before sharpening.  I never studied the steels in American scythes.

Off the top of my head, I would think a hadfield steel (high in manganese, high work-hardening) might work for blades like scythes, but they would probably rust away fast to.  I haven't heard of any kind of scythe making use of a steel that had boron in it.

A Damascus steel would probably work wonderfully for a scythe, but the chemistry and labour of those steels is high.

But, thanks a lot for your comment.  It probably will help a lot of people.


The two biggest hazards I seem to be putting my blade to, are seedlings that are too thick, and ant hills.



Damascus would have zero benefits, and American, English, and Nordic blades were traditionally made with laminated construction. The steels commonly used for scythes of any variety are typically 1080 or equivalent, but mostly vary in their heat treatment, with Euro-style tensioned blades typically being tempered all the way down to around 45 RC, while American blades are typically 52-58 RC, and some being up around 60 RC. Typically it's the laminated examples that have the highest hardness, but one does sometimes come across whole-steel blades that are run very hard. It's important to be aware that the hardness from work-hardening with soft Euro blades that are peened are only gaining additional resistance to plastic deformation at the expense of ductility, so while edge stability will be increased compared to an unpeened edge on the same blade, it will not increase the wear resistance of the steel. American, English, and Nordic blades derive their hardness from their heat treatment preserving a larger quantity of wear-resistant martensite in the steel, with less of it having been dissolved into softer pearlite during tempering. This is why these blades take and hold such a keen and stable edge and only require re-beveling work a few times a season.
 
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