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I'm terrible at scything!

 
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This is pretty much documenting my journey to learning how to scythe - or until the lawnmower is fixed.

The lawnmower gave up the ghost this winter, and while we STILL waiting for parts to arrive, I need to do some major grass and weed control.  (yes, I can borrow the neighbour's mower but where's the fun in that?).

I'm taking the opportunity to learn a new skill - scything.  I have a couple of Lee Vally scythes I got second hand.  One is new the other most definitely not new.  



It started as a goal to hack down anything that was knee height or higher so that the lawnmower could do the job.  But now I'm finding I'm enjoying it and want to do better.  I want to be good at this.  I have lots of more opportunity to practice.  

Today I did an hour of scything with the newer scythe.  It's amazing how much longer it keeps an edge than the old blade, so I'm wondering if that is what peening is for?  I guess I need some sort of peening set up.

An hour is about what I can do before my body starts to complain.  Not bad.  A bit on the cardio side for my liking, but I think it will become easier as my muscles develop.

There's a lot of problem with my technique.  I don't want to blame the tool... yet!  But the snathe is pretty hard to alter.  
  • Either the end of my stroke the tip goes up - most common
  • Or if I keep the tip down, the start of my stroke is up.
  • Or if I can somehow get both start and stop of the stroke to stay at the right level, the middle bit didn't cut.  It just bent.
  • I also seem to be having a problem with keeping the blade low enough to the ground.  Most of my cuts are at ankle height.  
  • There is a lot of grass laying over on its side.  This is the mid-height stuff, just about ankle height.


  • But with all these problems, I still managed to cut a big area around the pond and filled up the tractor 8 times with cut grass for the chickens to play with.  Celebrate a little victory.  

    Two things I want to look up before the next scything session
    1. my back feels hunched up, it seemed to get into a very rounded posture and I feel I could scythe longer if I could keep it upright.
    2. can I adjust the snathe on this somehow to make it match my height better?  
     
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    If the middle is failing to cut it is quite possibly trailing in the stroke. This can be counterintuitive but certain blade curvatures with certain presentations to the cut with certain pivot lengths can, in fact, cause some parts of the blade to move into the grass and cut it while other parts of the edge are being dragged backwards through the growth instead!

    Even with a snath that is too short for you, your back should remain straight. Rather than bending from your back, hinge at the hips and/or widen your stance and you can use even very short snaths effectively without back discomfort. That being said, it's possible to adjust your tang angle to make the blade lay lower. This may be best accomplished using either a mini induction heater (many mechanics have them) or an oxy-acetylene torch to heat and bend the tang to the appropriate angle, with the heat being applied to the region that runs in line with the blade before making a 90° turn (the shank.) Allow to air-cool (do NOT quench!) and use a wet rag during heating to prevent the cutting portion of the blade from overheating.

     
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    r ranson wrote:

  • Either the end of my stroke the tip goes up - most common
  • Or if I keep the tip down, the start of my stroke is up.


  • Your using your arms.  The upward trends are because that is the limit of your reach on either side of the stroke.   Your arms should just be ropes and hooks that attach your hips and legs to the snath.

    Get a mp3 player.  Load up some waltzes or polka music.  Something with that tempo.   I know it sounds silly but it works.  

    Keep in mind ..... your not working, your dancing or doing kata's

    r ranson wrote:

  • Or if I can somehow get both start and stop of the stroke to stay at the right level, the middle bit didn't cut.  It just bent.
  • I also seem to be having a problem with keeping the blade low enough to the ground.  Most of my cuts are at ankle height.  


  • Pick a spot where you can make a lot of strokes on virgin grass.  

    After you have corrected the natural tendency to use your arms to "hack" at the stuff to be cut ......  Make a test stroke.  Did the blade cut uniformly throughout the stroke?  No?  Adjust the "toe" of the blade, the angle of the tip of the blade relative to the snath in or out with shims and wedges.

    After each adjustment test another stroke on new grass.   Rinse and repeat until your satisfied.

    r ranson wrote:

  • There is a lot of grass laying over on its side.  This is the mid-height stuff, just about ankle height.


  • This happens to me all the time.  Change the angle of the cutting edge relative to the ground to be cut.  The deeper the angle the more aggressive the cut.

    Aggressive cutting angles will really wear on your blade as you are slicing more earth, rocks, roots, etc.  So this is a temporary adjustment to cut a particularly tough area only.

    r ranson wrote:
    Two things I want to look up before the next scything session

    1. my back feels hunched up, it seemed to get into a very rounded posture and I feel I could scythe longer if I could keep it upright.
    2. can I adjust the snathe on this somehow to make it match my height better?  



    I had a lot of problems with this myself.  I followed all of the internet available length, dimension, spacing advice.  Finally solved it by lengthening my snath by 8 inches and decreasing the distance between grips by 4".

    The snath dictates how you will feel after scything.  It's not a generic hatchet, pick, or shovel handle.  It has to fit you, and the terrain your working on.  Otherwise it will beat you to bruises.


    Hope this helps.

     
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    I'm not even going to come close to the two masterful replies that you've already had, but something that I've found very useful for my own technique and in teaching others is to learn the arc of your swing.

    When you swing, imagine the tip describing a portion (normally about 1/4 to 1/3) of a perfect circle. Next, imagine the trailing edge making that exact same arc. The impulse of beginners is to pull the cutting edge inward and create a hacking motion, but the arc you want is different and creates a fine slicing movement. The setup of the toe as Mark describes it is what provides the angle that actually does the cutting.

     
    Mark Cunningham
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    Phil Stevens wrote:two masterful replies



    I don't know about "masterful".  I still inventory my fingers and toe's after cutting.

    The two adjustments I talked about are better described here.

    the jolly scythers new zealand, SCYTHE SETUP PART 2 of 3

    01:20 angles of the blade




    Phil Stevens wrote:the arc you want is different and creates a fine slicing movement.



    Like this?  I notice how the belly of the blade does not leave the ground.  

    Scything lawn-length grass




    Good luck.
     
    Phil Stevens
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    I'm glad you reminded me of that video clip...Christoff was my original tutor. And I certainly get your caution around keeping digits intact, as I had a mishap once that nearly modified the ball of my right foot.
     
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         Howdy R. Ranson and everyone else,


                           I have a European scythe and like it quite a bit and as an aside, did you know that lazy, relaxed twisting exercises actually pumps spinal fluid back up into your brain and can put a smile on your face? It's interesting, at least I find it so.  I digress however and since no one mentioned it, your concerns are very probably caused by the tool first, as the length of your snath should be custom fit to your body. Mine is, and I can stand upright letting the scythe hang off my arms connected to my torso which I then twist to make the mowing stroke. Of course, there are other nuances, such as where you begin your cutting stroke, basically at 4 o'clock or perhaps more behind you if your shoulder is at three o'clock. Personally, I recommend The scythe book by Tresemer or any other equally informative book on Scything concomitant with the what has already been stated. That's all good stuff. I would like to add one last comment, most, if not perhaps all of the skills people are learning on this site in bygone days would have been taught to them by their grandparents and parents and they would have seen modeling of those well honed techniques and absorbed in a natural and organic way. Alas, this kind of cultural heritage and wisdom is pretty thin on the ground now and we are left to make as best an effort as possible discovering how to do it. This is a great good thing to do. Best of luck in your endeavors.


        Thomas
     
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    I'll trade you an ads.

     
    r ranson
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    well, the more I scythe, the worse I seem to get.  sigh.  (or should we make a pun and say 'scythe'?)

    Observation:
    1.  Damp grass is HUGELY easier to scythe than dry.  Even 10 am long grass on a warm day is too dry.  Wow.  
    2. from the scything resources I'm using, the aluminium snathe is 4 to 5 inches too short for my body.
    3. I'm going to need a peening set-up if I keep this up much more, as the blade isn't keeping the edge as long as it did at the start.
    4. the scythe goes through young brambles better than the line trimmer.

    Keeping the back of the blade on the ground is the hardest problem for me right now.  it wants to be about 3 inches above the ground.  Could it be the tool and not the user?

    But I don't want/cannot invest much money in this as we've invested in repairing the lawnmower (without much success).  

    Anyway, rain stop scything - which I hope means the grass will be wet after lunch and I can try some more.  
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