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Jambo Reece
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Hi everyone

Just recently got into scything but I do live in the city. I had this idea that it would be useful in and around my allotment and back garden.
There are some practical hurdles to overcome. Most people like myself don't have swathes of hay to scythe. Scything my lawn may well work, but I also have alleyway edges, allotment pathways and very uneven patches of tough grass. I tried my 55cm grass blade at different blade angles but it really doesn't work on the alleyway verges. see photos.
I wonder if a better scyther could fair better than me? I think they may struggle. The verges are curved and stoney and narrow. So in some instances I think the scythe may not be the best option.
I tried my push mower but that was no good.

Do you know of any manual tools suitable for the job? I could use a sickle, but I think it would take a long time
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Dale Hodgins
gardener
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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My cordless hedge cutters handle jobs like this with ease.

Here it is, being used as a sickle bar mower. I use it hand held, for cutting under chain link fencing and for any work that would prove difficult for a lawnmower or a string trimmer.
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Blake Wheeler
Posts: 166
Location: Kentucky 6b
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Gotta hand it to ya Dale, that's borderline genius!

Jambo, being new to scything myself, I have no real valuable advice to give. My first foray failed miserably, so I caved and got the tractor and bushhog to handle the job. Gonna try again after I try my hand at blade peening.

As for manual tools to do the job a sickle was my first thought, but yeah it would probably take some time to say the least. They make "weed whips" if you want to try one of those. Personally they don't appeal to me much.

Any reason you want a manual tool as opposed to a string trimmer? I bought a ryobi cordless electric (the 40v model) and love it. Quieter than a gas model, no fuel mixing, plenty of power to tackle anything not woody, and battery life allows me to get most of my 1-acre property (there's probably more edge to trim than the average lawn) on one charge.
 
Jambo Reece
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Well I'm not gonna lie, I'm a purist. I really believe in manual tools as the future of sustainability. My premise is always to reduce consumption of energy and simplify, so I don't need to generate the energy in the first place. Using my own energy keeps me fit, it is meditative, and even though I'm a man of many trades, I believe that more complex machinery means more chances to go wrong. I'm not against simple mechanisms per se, e.g. hand drills etc, but anything more than that and you run the risk of breakdowns.

Having said that, I have heard the newer battery powered garden machinery is finally starting to cut the mustard.

But before petrol engines, there must have been a way that people efficiently chopped away at verges and other things. I was thinking If I had a half width push mower it would do the job but I doubt it would exist.

Still waiting to see if there some forgotten device that would work

Cheers
 
john mogey
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Location: oregon nw of eugene
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I'd be inclined to use a hand sickle along the fences and your scythe down the center, if for no other reason than to get your scything skills improved. I personally love the pace and quiet of hand tools.
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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I cleared a solid patch of Himalaya berries that was 8 feet tall, from this site. The homeowners had lost their view of the small lake. All material was cut into 6 inch chunks and dropped as a mulch. A scythe could never accomplish this. The terrain is uneven and rocky. It took 4 hours to do about 1000 sq ft. Mulching saved a huge amount of clean up time.
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R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Jambo Reece wrote:

But before petrol engines, there must have been a way that people efficiently chopped away at verges and other things.


Servants and slaves.

Lawns are a modern invention of the wealthy that permeated down due to "keeping up with the Jones's" consumerism mentality.

I and trying to get low growing herbs and ground covers growing so I don't have to mow or especially trim. I hate mowing, but I need to keep something of a firebreak and collect what I mow as compost greens so it at least has some usefulness.
 
Blake Wheeler
Posts: 166
Location: Kentucky 6b
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Jambo Reece wrote:Well I'm not gonna lie, I'm a purist. I really believe in manual tools as the future of sustainability. My premise is always to reduce consumption of energy and simplify, so I don't need to generate the energy in the first place. Using my own energy keeps me fit, it is meditative, and even though I'm a man of many trades, I believe that more complex machinery means more chances to go wrong. I'm not against simple mechanisms per se, e.g. hand drills etc, but anything more than that and you run the risk of breakdowns.

Having said that, I have heard the newer battery powered garden machinery is finally starting to cut the mustard.

But before petrol engines, there must have been a way that people efficiently chopped away at verges and other things. I was thinking If I had a half width push mower it would do the job but I doubt it would exist.

Still waiting to see if there some forgotten device that would work

Cheers


At my core, I share the same beliefs. It's what lead me to a scythe in the first place, that and a love of bladed tools. I long for a push reel mower, but I'd need to spend a bunch of time getting the yard level, time I don't currently have. I also enjoy the exercise, and it helps me feel more connected with the land. Manual tools will also always works as long as my body does. I wholely grasp the beautiful simplicity of them.

Having said that, I also know I have to pick my battles. I can do it all by hand, but time passes, growing seasons fly by, and there's never enough daylight. If I can get something done in 1/4 of the time with a cup of gasoline or a battery, it's worth considering.

Like mentioned though a lot of the old time solutions depending on hired labor, servants, slaves, children, or community. Being a single guy I have access to none of those lol. Time I save trimming, or mowing at all, can be put into something that nets me a return on my labor.

Perhaps look into planting the area with something you don't need to mow. I'm planning to plant creeping thyme is several similar areas I have. It's low growing, handles itself once established, turns to a blanket of flowers during summer, and even has a nice smell to boot. Not to mention grass bores me lol. Instead of focusing on maintenance maybe you could put your energy into changing the area to something maintenance free?
 
Jackson Vasey
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If I were you I'd use a regular old hedge clipper. I know it means bending down and walking along, but I do that and it works nicely. In my opinion it's a lot better than trying to swing a blade around, since instead you're just cutting stuff down with big scissors. In more open areas I just swing a machete around, but I like edging with hedge clippers. I have an electric string trimmer that plugs in, so I don't like using it if I don't have to...
 
Nicole Alderman
pollinator
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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duck forest garden hugelkultur
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R Scott wrote:
Jambo Reece wrote:

But before petrol engines, there must have been a way that people efficiently chopped away at verges and other things.


Servants and slaves.

Lawns are a modern invention of the wealthy that permeated down due to "keeping up with the Jones's" consumerism mentality.


Sheep were also used to maintain lawns. Looking back at history, it appears lawns first came about due to the grazing of sheep. It wasn't until the 17th century that the wealthy started using human labor to maintain them (https://www.google.com/search?client=opera&q=origination+lawns+sheeps&sourceid=opera&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-.

Fun history facts, it looks like the presidents had sheep to maintain their lawns--even at the White House (http://www.american-lawns.com/history/history_lawn.html)!



Having said that, sheep probably aren't a very useful option for the maintaining of your alleyway grass. I'd use a sickle or pair of large grass shears on the part near the fence, and replace with low-growing groundcovers as time and money allow. A scythe should work find on the middle, or one of those reel lawnmower. Hmm, maybe a reel mower would work for your edges, too. I found this beauty made by Fiskers (http://www.amazon.com/Fiskars-Staysharp-Reel-Mower-18-Inch/dp/B0045VL1OO). It looks like it goes right up to the edge and cuts nicely.



If it weren't nearly $200, I'd totally get one to edge around my fence! For now, I guess I just get to drool...
 
Jambo Reece
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Finally bought myself a scythette as seen in the photo.  Not entirely sure how you're supposed to use them.  They come with a 30 degree bevel on them, so unless you can grab patches of grass and hack at them like you would with a grass hook, not sure how they would cut grass.  I added the handle you see onm the left, and ground down the bevel to less than 5 degrees, then peened and honed it.  It cut much better, but still not as good as a scythe and would blunt rather quickly.  It does feel a bit like there is not enough weight behind it, but in terms of maneoverability around my allotment pathways, it's just about as big as you'd want to go.  You can't swing much more than this.  It's 1100m long, with a 300mm blade.

The only really strange thing about it, and grass hooks share the same problem because they use the same removable blade, is that the bevel is on the underside.  Every sickle and scythe I've ever seen has the bevel on top.  I guess it can still cut, but you can't really see what you're doing to be able to change the angle.  Anyone know why it's underneath?
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Ben Zumeta
Posts: 178
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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dog duck hugelkultur
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I haven't used a scythe and think it may be best for hay cutting, but I prefer a D-ring (what we called it on trail crews) for mixed brush cutting or around edges. I am not sure if I posted the image correctly below, but it's the tool on the right. Basically a golf club length handle with a D. Shaped like this D--- but at an angle so you can use it parallel to the ground (for mowing) or turn the handle 180deg and use it perpendicular to the ground (for edging). You can take out a lot, and feel like a barbarous golfer at the same time. It'll also help with your ability turn on the low fastball as you get yolked forearms and obliques.

 
Jambo Reece
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Hi Ben,  sounds interesting.  But the picture didn't attach.  Are there any images online?  I've tried to search for "D-ring brush cutter", but can't find anything.

 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 178
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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dog duck hugelkultur
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Yeah, D-ring seems to be an esoteric trail crew term. Not to endorse any brand in particular, but I found a picture under "JacksonĀ® Weed Cutter; Serrated Deluxe"
 
Casie Becker
garden master
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Jambo Reece wrote:Finally bought myself a scythette as seen in the photo.  Not entirely sure how you're supposed to use them.  They come with a 30 degree bevel on them, so unless you can grab patches of grass and hack at them like you would with a grass hook, not sure how they would cut grass.  I added the handle you see onm the left, and ground down the bevel to less than 5 degrees, then peened and honed it.  It cut much better, but still not as good as a scythe and would blunt rather quickly.  It does feel a bit like there is not enough weight behind it, but in terms of maneoverability around my allotment pathways, it's just about as big as you'd want to go.  You can't swing much more than this.  It's 1100m long, with a 300mm blade.

The only really strange thing about it, and grass hooks share the same problem because they use the same removable blade, is that the bevel is on the underside.  Every sickle and scythe I've ever seen has the bevel on top.  I guess it can still cut, but you can't really see what you're doing to be able to change the angle.  Anyone know why it's underneath?


I'm speaking as someone here who doesn't have experience with scythes, but regularly uses straight edges to cut open boxes and bags. Can you hold your scythette facing the opposite direction, so the cutting motion will involve starting the cut with your right arm pulling back across your body rather than pushing forward to end across your body? This direction of motion with knives and box cutters gives you a lot of leverage and control without bringing the cutting edge close to your body. I think it would require you holding the green handle with your left hand the sideways black handle with your right. If grass hooks and your scythette are designed for this motion, then maybe the bevel isn't on the bottom.
 
Jambo Reece
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Hi Casie.  Interesting.  I'll give it a go.  But I think primarily there's a problem with the setup somehow.  I certainly can't get a normal arc of swing like on a normal scythe, wich is what you need to cut with it. 

I just want to quickly say that I know this topic may seem trivial to most people, but for me, the whole purpose of researching things like this is to encourage sustainability in urban areas, where I believe, we do way more damage to the environment than people in the country.  Such a throw away, energy intensive lifestyle here in London.  And loads of people have allotments with tiny pathways, or like in the poto at the top, alleyway verges.  THese are the sorts of grass areas that we deal with in the city.  Not big swathes of land.  And as a result, people continuously buy cheap electric strimmers that they throw away within a couple of years because they're broken, or they can't be bothered to figure out how to work them.  On allotments, you rarely have mains power available, so we end up with 2 stroke petrol engines on mowers, strimmers, rotovators etc, and they are notoriously difficult to maintain, especially when most people who use them haven't got a clue about engines, and keep flooding them, or don't clean them etc etc.  If I can prove real simple way of doing grass areas like this (we have a lot of grass in England), then I think it could work for a lot of people.

There are numerous hand held weed whacker tools, which can cut down tall grass and plants.  The real problem is cutting the short tough, tufty grass when it's about 6 inches, to get it down to say 2 inches so I can mow it with my pus mower.   So I'll give what you said a go, and I'd like to try that weed whacker Ben suggested.  Never seen one before.  I wonder how effective it will be on short grass.  Unfortunately I think that's where a scythe comes into play.  Maybe I am just barking up the wrong tree here, but I'll keep exploring for now.

Not sure I'll be able to get one of those weed whackers though cos they seem to be an American thing. 
 
Mike Turner
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Location: Upstate SC
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Mechanical means for cutting lawns were developed in the 1800's. Lawn games and sports such as croquet and cricket were becoming popular and a mechanical mower didn't leave behind droppings to slip on and track into the house on your shoes that sheep did.
 
Roy Clarke
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Jambo, good to hear you're interested in using a scythe. The picture of your drive shows grass at a length I wouldn't be worried about. The grass is easier to cut if it is a bit higher in your situation, especially along the edges. You can find lots of videos on youtube of people using scythes against fences and walls. Some are worth watching, some are really sad cases that are no help at all. The grass will be easier to cut early (very early) in the morning when it is still wet. Always pick wet over dry, the grass cuts easier, and the water lubricates the blade, and the sugars from the grass don't stick to the blade.

If you can find some ground where there is a large area that needs cutting, and do it with a group, you can learn a lot faster. I have been using a scythe for years and there's still things I didn't know existed. The frequent, yep, get out doing it every week at least if you can, practice will help, and you will pick up loads in the first few years.

The other thing is how sharp is your blade? This is obviousy key and I dress the edge every 1/2 minute in some areas, especially when it's dry. I also use a steel rather than a stone. It has three advantages, it doesn't need water, it doesn't remove so much metal from the blade, it doesn't break when you drop it. The blade will dull noticably after the first three cuts, so in tricky places it needs lots of attention for an easy life.

I'd agree, it's definitely not trivial, but it is doable.

Which part of London are you in? I'm about 50miles north, but there should be places you can go and cut if you are so inclined. The local wildlife trusts would be pleased with the help, though you had better have a ditch blade as some places are ROUGH!!!
 
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