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Tightening handles on an old snath  RSS feed

 
Micah Weeks
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I'm helping my wifes great aunt cut some long grasses and cattails over very uneven ground.  I found a curved snath American scythe and its handles ae extraordinarily loose.  The handles are similar to those shown in the picture.

Q1: How do those handles tighten?

The blade is pretty rusty but i good condition.  The neiber has a stone wheel,i have a metalfile and wet stone.  I could pick up some royal jelly or somthing to remove the rust.

Q2: How best to tune it up? 

Thanks in advance
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Handles
 
Bernard Welm
Posts: 80
Location: Minnesota
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The handles tighten by turning them. They have a nut embeddd in the handle. BUT they turn COUNTER CLOCKWISE to tighten instead of clockwise. If they are old and seized you may need to get new ones. I did find one place online that sells them for around $15 each (I think. It has been a while)

To sharpen the blade I have used wet stones and files the biggest thing to remember is to keep it sharp (and sharpen often) when cutting grass. I actually just left most of the rust on it unless it was really bad. 
 
Glenn Herbert
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Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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If the rust is thick and crusty enough to add friction to the cutting motion, you want to sand/grind it down, but as Bernard says, surface rust is not an issue. Where it is exposed it will wear off, and you will get a black and bright pattern with regular use.

The blade needs to be very sharp to cut best, and if you carry a whetstone in your pocket, every time you pause for a rest, you can give it a few licks and keep it sharp. That way, you're not lazy, you're maintaining your tools
 
Bernard Welm
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Location: Minnesota
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Here are some Scythe related links that I had saved that can give you a hand on how to get the scythe ready for use and to use it. Note these links are from a year or so ago when I was hunting for parts/prices and were the best ones I had found but I have not ordered any of these parts. I was able to find some Nibs at a hardware store in Amish country so I ended up going that route.

http://lib.store.yahoo.net/lib/yhst-129988217023674/ScytheGuide1.pdf - Great ebook on how to use and configure an American scythe
Nibs (handles) - http://www.baryonyxknife.com/partspieces.html (note the name of the handles is nibs - one of the key notes to learn when you are trying to find parts) This site has a lot of scythe parts so is an interesting one to peruse as you start improving your scythe.
New blades - http://www.baryonyxknife.com/blades.html
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Note that the Baryonyx Knife site also has an instruction manual for the American Scythe.  It's a good source for most anything related to American scythes. Benjamin Bouchard, who runs the place, is an authority on American scythes. Also check out the Scything Improver's Forum on faceBook.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Tuning up old scythes is a bit of a process, and depends entirely on the condition of the piece in question. As far as nibs go, it's important to understand how they function. The nib iron, which consists of a threaded rod and looped band, encircles the snath. A nib block (typically made of iron or aluminum, though early examples are brass) slides over the rod, at the top of the teardrop-like shape of the band. The grip, with its recessed nut, then goes atop that and is twisted to draw the top of the teardrop shape of the band through the mouth of the block, creating a cinching action. It's possible to have a nib tightly seated on the shaft of the snath and still be incorrectly fitted, because if there isn't space left between the bands at the top of the loop for the band to constrict then you're only getting clamping pressure from the nib block, and that gouges up the wood (or aluminum) more than it needs to be and is generally a less satisfactory hold than one that combines pressure of the block with cinching from the band. The band should be sized so that it fits just slightly snug on the shaft at the desired point, with a gap at the top of the loop where the ends of the band meet.

As far as rust goes, at least take a drill-mounted wire wheel to the blade to knock off loose rust before attempting to sharpen it. Unless the blade is of a make/model known to be whole steel, treat it as if it is laminated. When looking straight into the web of the blade (the thin, flat span between the edge and bead/rib) the edge should be sitting smack dab in the middle of the web's thickness to ensure that the edge is comprised of the hard edge steel rather than the softer cladding iron above and below it. If pitting is present it must not go halfway or more through the web or else you'll get interruptions in your edge when you grind into the pits. Inspect the blade for cracks, twists, and bends. A gradual upward "smile" to the blade is normal, but a downward "frown" or any twists are not and need to be corrected before use. 

All wood should be inspected for cracks, splits, rot, wormholes, etc., and the fit of the collar should be examined. If loose, it may need to be shimmed. An easy way of securely doing this when the gap is small is to slather a layer of epoxy on the wood and then sand it down to fit after it cures. Minor cracks are often repairable, and hairline cracks in the end grain of the wood can be held together with a corrugated fastener. Depending on the age and quality of the snath, it may not be of true round cross section, and this should be corrected if possible. The cross section should be round, not oval, to allow for the nibs to be rotated to the position that best minimizes strain on the wrists, and if the shaft is oval then you won't be able to do this adjustment easily or on-the-fly when out mowing. Rasps are your friend when it comes to this work.

As far as sharpening goes, the blade will first need to be beveled, which is best done on a water cooled grinding wheel, but in softer blades a file works as a stand-in. I just found a source for mounted grinding points that are formulated specifically for use on hardened, heat-sensitive steel and initial experiments just today showed extremely good results using them in a standard electric drill. If further testing confirms my initial impressions I'll be stocking them soon and they'll be $12 apiece.
 
David Gould
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Location: united kingdom south wales on a hillside
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Dad was a farm labourer in the early 1950's , each autumn he'd have to scythe out the grass on the ditch banks  so it could be used for drying and be used to thatch the sheaves that made up theh corn stacks /ricks ns and in May /June he'd be out mowing the grass fields with a gang of other mowers using their scythes to cut the first hay crop .

I've sen him used use a strip cut off some copper water pipe * some times a thin strip if zinc sheet about 1/2 2 wide to make a packing strip , puttong it between the metal loop of the handle & the shaft . ( After annealing the copper it by  getting it red hot & dropping it in a bucket of cold water )

If the handle itself was a bit far gone he'd use a copper penny , drill a hole in the middle to fit the bolt . Then file the washer down so is sat in the handle under the tightening up nut he had a box spanner to tighten the nut , I don't ever recall the mowermen ever turning the handles to tighten the grips as it wouldn't be long before they came loose again . 
If you look carefully you ought to see an indent in that metal ferrule that goes over the handle at the bottom part next to th shaft , it's this indent pushing on the split  bolt that stops the handle turning .

  Failing that if the shaft was just a bit too worn at the handle mounting area ,  as a short term quick fix he'd use the new plastic wood stuff to buid up the area  after using a rasp to clean up any mess , then he cut a tin can to make a sleeve , strip and tie it in place with twisted soft iron wire , by next morning he'd put the handle on and removee the wire . It was time to order a new shaft .

Making a new shaft is not difficult  all you'll need is a spoke shave & a piece of willow branch thats reasonably straight and three inches or so wide at the widest end .
Put the willow with the bark still on submerged  in at least a foot of running water water for three weeks or more .
Then take it out , de bark it & then use knocked in 1 & 1/2 " dia pegs in drilled holes .  Use wedges and ropes ( Some as Spanish hoists to really get some tension on things ) to bend the willow to the required shape whilst it's on a thick plank or a fallen tree trunk. 
Leave it to dry a few weeks  , undo it and then use the spoke shave to get it nice and curvy and smooth.  Unless of course you like the idea of the original grass scythes , which just hat a seven foot long tapering handle also made of willow & spoke shaved down  the get a lighter weight & a pleasing almost perfectly shape .
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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English scythes, though similar to American ones, are a little different, and many nibs (often called tholes in the UK) were still wedged in place long after twist-to-tighten nibs had migrated over from the USA.

Tightening the fit of the nib bands is pretty trivial, but I commonly see snaths with fence staples driven in over the bands to either side of the grip or nails and screws wedged under the bands to take up space, and it greatly damages the snath while also preventing the position from being adjusted on the fly when out in the field.



Given that I do these all the time, I use both my conventional London-pattern work anvil for tightening the band along with a well-radiused cross pein hammer, and hold it into the corner between the cutting table and face, then true up the round on the blowhorn stake. I can get one reshaped in about two minutes to a precise size with the top of the loop properly open. In the video I take more frequent, gentler blows to minimize distortion of the shape, as someone with less access to such anvils would want to do.
 
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