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The Scything Handbook by Ian Miller

 
Tracy Wandling
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The Scything Handbook

Learn How to Cut Grass, Mow Meadows and Harvest Grain with a Scythe

by Ian Miller

"Imagine a town or suburb where nobody has a lawn mower. Walking along on a Saturday morning, from time to time you hear the sound of a whetstone being dragged across metal, a bit like a knife being sharpened, but duller, softer. Later in the day, you walk by again and see cut grass spread evenly across lawns and the occasional haycock, proudly displayed in the front garden, destined for pets and livestock, mulch for the garden or the compost pile."



Summary: from New Society Publishers

Dreading the weekly lawn mow? Need to whack the weeds in your orchard? Cringing at the drudgery and incessant blare of the mower? Imagine instead long sweeps of an elegant scythe cutting your grass and pesky weeds in blissful, meditative silence.

That is the power of the "scythe revolution" sweeping North America.

Written by a master of the scythe, professionally trained in Austria, and drawing deeply on research into original German texts, The Scything Handbook brings centuries-old scything techniques into the 21st century.

Detailed illustrations cover scythe assembly, perfecting the stroke, blade selection, honing, peening, and aftercare, as well as background on how scythes are forged. Also covered are the basics of making hay and mulch by hand, and how to grow and harvest gains at the home and homestead scale for self-sufficiency.

Scything promotes health, flexibility, mind-body connection, and a meditative contemplation of the natural world while producing beautiful lawns and luscious mulch for the modern gardener and homesteader. This is truly an heirloom tool to master.

Join the scythe revolution!



About the Author



Ian Miller followed a career in music with a degree in Agroecology from UC Santa Cruz. During a two year stint on a biodynamic farm in Austria he learned how to scythe and delved into historic scything texts in German. He has worked for Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa and is developing a 20 acre scythe-based homestead near Decorah, Iowa where he grows his own grain for bread making and makes hay by hand.

Available as an e-book or in print at:

New Society Publishers

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.ca

Visit our Scythes forum: Here!



 
R Ranson
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I give this book 9 out of 10 acorns.
It's a book I'll be referring to time and again, filled with practical information about scything, scythes, making hay and harvesting grain.

Yes, this is a book about scythes.  It's a book brimming over with useful information.  It's a book that is long overdue.  But before we get into that bit, let me tell you where this book sparkles.

Imagine making hay even when the sun don't shine. 

Miller gives us an alternative to modern haymaking methods.  His method creates hay with maximum nutrients, minimal work, and is NOT weather dependent!  

The current tractor method of making hay involves mowing, tedding (fluffing up so it dries easier), and windrowing the hay.  This can take several days and each time the hay is worked, a little bit of nutrition is lost.  "To avoid the drawbacks of drying hay on the ground, we need a convenient method for curing hay that does not require perfect weather and is neither prohibitively expensive nor requires more work. It should be cheap and accessible to anyone and ensure the production of high quality winter fodder by drying hay quickly and evenly, reducing the need to move the hay to minimize leaf shatter; it should shed rain and keep the intensity of fermentation to a minimum."  To this end, Miller shows us how to build and use hay racks.  Hay racks give us the opportunity to dry the hay, even in damp conditions, with minimal disturbance and loss of nutrition. 

I know hay racks are old tech, but the idea of using them in our current age is revolutionary. 

That's really what this book is all about, a revolution.  "Imagine [a] scythe wielding corps of enthusiastic, competent, strong mowers who can joyfully displace the  loud, lonesome and very expensive mowing machines used to batter roadside weeds and brush into chips and dust."  I love how this book enables us to take control of our pastures, hay fields, grain fields and even lawns without the use of noisy, fume-belching, machines. 

The scythe can cut hay where the tractor cannot.  What's more, it can cut lawn where the lawnmower has difficulty.  Miller provides us with detailed instruction on how to scythe around trees (like in an orchard) and on a slope, thus providing the opportunity to stack functions; to get multiple uses out of one bit of land.  The Scything Handbook provides us with a means to achieve optimal use of land, scythe, and human. 

This book shows us that the scythe is a  "perfectly legitimate and reasonable choice for homeowners, farmers and others who are looking to save money, reduce their use of fossil fuels, be less dependent on industrial products,  take better care of their land, increase their autonomy, get to know their bodies and land better, and stop using noisy, dirty machines."  An efficient tool that can be maintained at home.  Miller begins with an easy to understand explanation of the parts of the scythe, how it works, adjusting the snathe to your body, and builds to include honing and peening a blade.  Everything one needs to know to use and maintain a scythe. 

The chapter on the history and forging of a scythe blade is fascinating.  It provides enough information that a hobby blacksmith could make a blade.  I'm curious if the history of the snathe is as varied as the blades themselves.

The chapters of the book are as follows:

Chapter 1: How Scything Will Change Your Life
Chapter 2: The Scythe and How to Use It
Chapter 3: Getting the Best From Your Body
Chapter 4: Getting the Best From Your Scythe
Chapter 5: Blade Care: Honing to Perfection
Chapter 6: Blade Care: The Peening Process
Chapter 7: The Forging of a Scythe Blade
Chapter 8: Making Hay and Using Drying Racks
Chapter 9: Growing and Harvesting Small Grains

The pictures in this book are brilliant.  They compliment the text, and between words and images, I feel like I have a complete picture on how to use and maintain my scythe.  I can't wait for the snow to melt so I can get out there and try it out.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book immensely.  It was an engaging read with plenty of practical advice.  I'll be referring to this lots this year, as I hope to mow the lawn and pastures (as well as grain patch) with my scythe.


Of course with this kind of book, there's always potential for more.  I found a few areas that could be expanded on.

The forward by Kiko Denzer talks a lot about mowing blackberries with a scythe.  Miller does touch on this a bit, including advice on how to peen the blade for tough-to-cut plants and advises us to have, if possible, a separate blade for haymaking and one for coarse work.  However, I would like to have read more about the act of clearing brambles.  The forward suggests that the scythe is second only to goats for this task, yet even after reading this book, I can't figure out how I can mow my briar patch without a scratch. 

The book includes a great description of the peening anvil, however, the pictures just don't do it justice.  I would love a close-up image of just the anvil. 

It's tempting to ask for a bit more about the other styles of peening, but I don't think that would add to the book.  Miller specialises in Styrian-style, narrow anvil peening and he does this brilliantly. 

There is one thing that this book seriously lacks - and the reason for 9 acorns instead of 10.  He doesn't talk enough about straw.   I don't think people realise how important straw is to human history and how relevant it could be today.  Straw did more than you can imagine.  It was used to strain our beer, cloth, shod, house, create mats, bedding, weave baskets, compost, mulch, and well, it's a long list.  Miller misses a golden opportunity here.  With a scythe, straw can be cut long and gathered for crafting and building.  He does have a few words about thatch, for which I'm grateful, but could offer us so much more about straw and its uses.



Although this book focuses on the Austrian scythe (sometimes called a European or continental European scythe), it is a wealth of information that I imagine could be used for other styles as well. 

The intended audience is everyone from the suburbanite trying to reduce their carbon footprint mowing their lawn quietly, in an eco-friendly way, to the moderately large scale farmer who is interested in saving time and money. 

Ian encourages us to,
pick up your scythe and make hay from your lawn to trade with someone who has animals for milk. Use your scythe to harvest small grains in part of your garden and get chickens to turn the grain (and your kitchen scraps and bugs in your garden) into eggs and meat. Swap your lawn mower or maybe even your small tractor for a scythe and use the cuttings for sheet mulching that will allow you to grow more of your own food without importing fertility and increase your soil’s organic matter. Pick up your scythe and start composting for real; add meaning to your life; and spend more time outdoors. Get to know your mind, body and environment and join with other scythe owners to mow larger and larger areas and have more fun. Above all, have more fun.


I will be recommending this book to all my friends and fellow farmers. 

(all quotes are from The Scything Handbook by Ian Miller, unless otherwise stated)
 
R Ranson
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Permaculture Magazine North America has an article written by Ian about peening your scythe blade.



It also includes how one uses different blades for different jobs.

The coarser and woodier the plants that you want to mow, the shorter, sturdier and thicker the scythe blade and its cutting edge will need to be. Conversely, the softer, more succulent and shorter the material you want to mow(and the smoother the surface of the soil), the longer the blade can be and the sharper and thinner you can peen the edge.
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Hi Ian, I'm unashamedly showing up here simply to drop my name into the raffle for your book Enjoy being the resident Pemies Author.

Féidhlim
 
Hester Hessel
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This book looks awesome, and I am also unashamedly coming in for a shot to win one
 
Ian Miller
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Good luck on the raffle! I'm humbled and honored by the attention for the book here and for the thoughtful, thorough and fair review by R Ranson. Looking forward to diving into the forums here!
 
Hope Willis
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I am so excited to see a book about this! My better half is looking forward to using a scythe to harvest our grain and flax (once we finally get the field cleared!) Here's hoping you are so successful that you have to reprint more than once
 
Dustin Graves
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I can't wait to read this book. It sounds great.
 
Chris Fox
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I won a scythe back at Jack's event in November, I need to pick up this book and try it out. The maintenance guys at my apartment all came over and was asking what I was doing when I got it home. I was across the street in a field trying it out. Chris Prater did an hour on scythes and how to use them and set them up. I have the video, it just need to find it and edit it.

 
                
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Great book , it's good that this knowledge lives on - scythes are still being used in rural areas in Eastern Europe quite often
 
Debbie Ang
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Hello all.  I'm not a regular contributor to this site, but truly enjoy learning from everyone here.  I just purchased a scythe this past summer, and so far have had a very positive experience with it.  I'm the outlier in our neighborhood (some of our neighbors thought we had moved this summer because I let the grass get quite long!), but thankfully they are all good sports and tolerate my experiments in permaculture.  I'm looking forward to learning better scything technique with Ian's book.  Thank you, Ian, for sharing your knowledge!
 
Bruce Gardiner
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I'm new to Permies.com and I'm intrigued to see the scythe making a return to our collection of useful tools. I grew up in Scotland in the 50s and 60s and the scythe was still in regular use on the small farms in Border hill country. Of course they had tractors, mowers and threshers too, but I remember that a skilled person with a scythe could cut a prodigious amount hay. The key was getting your action right, so that you didn't tire quickly. I'm keen to try out the scythe on my 4 acres of grass in Trinity Co, California, where wildfires are such a risk. I'm now into my middle 60s and I'll be interested to see if I can still do it! Winning a copy of the book in the draw will help me on my way!
 
Carma Nykanen
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Many thanks to my toddler,  infant,  and nonverbal disabled child for my Christmas present  - fresh out of the package sythe!
I've been making an attempt to bring back into working order two old American sythes but I have not been successful.  I'm totally looking forward to putting blade to grass!
This book would be timely!
 
Kelly Ware
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I always feel called to a scythe. I am between farms and  the book will give the the courage through knowhow to sharpen the blades I have on to scythes I got at a second hand store, short and long blade. Thank you for your work. It coudll be a matter of life and death for our animals.
 
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