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Is scything safe for volunteers?  RSS feed

 
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I have a lot of volunteers coming through here, and they do a lot of weeding and farm work. Is it safe to hand over a scythe with a basic crash course...or is this something that I should not let volunteers work with?
 
master steward
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I wouldnt because for me a scythe needs to be measured up set up properly for the person and having many volunteers would make it too much work . I would go with sickles in this case . One size fits all
 
author
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My feeling is that if scythes are treated with respect (i.e. with the knowledge that you could seriously injure yourself or others) and you know how to handle one safely, a scythe need never injure you or others. This could theoretically be dealt with via a crash course. Accidents happen and there's no way to guarantee no one will ever be injured with this approach, of course. It seems to me that, in general, yes you could use this approach, but that you'll want to also consider the specific person you're dealing with.

You'll also want to consider that a less-experienced person is more likely to use the blade in a way that is not ideal for the blade/how it's been peened.
 
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I'd say it depends on how much time you have to give them a quick run-down on safety, basic fitting, and simple guidance in use. I spoke with a fellow in Canada once who maintained lift slopes at a ski resort in the summers with crews of young seasonal hires and they were mowed with scythes. He didn't have a ton of time to give individual instruction so he would give them all a quick group overview of safety and use then would turn them loose. He kept spare blades ground and honed (they were American pattern) ready to go so that damaged blades could be swapped out quickly and just get back to work. He'd then grind and hone all the blades at the end of the day so they'd be ready for the next day. It was pretty common practice back in the day for folks who could afford it to carry a few spare blades with them to the location they were mowing for similar reasons. The repairs could be done at lunch or when the day was done, but during the mowing hours they couldn't afford the delay caused by a damaged blade. I've seen various woven bark, wood, fabric, or leather cases for various global styles of blades that were for transporting them in such circumstances.
 
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Farm work isn't safe for volunteers, or farmers, for that matter.  So, on a relative scale, how dangerous is a scythe? As long as people are responsible and pay attention, scythes are pretty safe. Rule one, hands off the blade.  Rule two, know where everyone is and be sure they are clear of the scythe - not just in use, but in travel as well (putting it over your shoulder and walking off with it is probably the most dangerous time with a scythe), Rule 3, pay attention to where/what you are mowing; Rule 4 glide it along the ground, no hockey or golf swings; Rule 5, when you hone the blade, pay attention - this is the moment you are most likely to cut yourself

But, you would have to try pretty hard to hit yourself with the blade out there on the end of that handle.  You could do real damage to a person or animal that came into the path of the blade, so pay attention, keep your distance from other people, don't work in a field with animals and it should be ok.

I've come closer to cutting myself more times working with a corn knife doing detail grass cutting than working with my scythe. The only time I've so much as nicked myself with the scythe was honing it.  With the corn knife and holding the grass bundle in my other hand - the blade and the hand come near each other again and again.
 
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When I was young I had someone hand me and a couple of friends scythes and tell us "go cut that big patch of grass and weeds".   It was fun, We stayed well away from each other, but within easy talking distance.  After a while we figured out how to spare our backs, and we got the area mowed with no injuries. 

Things to keep in mind when you are giving your 5 minute safety demo:

1.  Keep the mowers well away from each other!  This is where really bad injuries will happen.  I would be afraid to have anyone swinging a scythe near my precious ankles, calves and achilles tendons, especially if they are tired or inexperienced and foolishly confident.  A couple of years ago I was mowing my hillside and accidently decapitated/ disemboweled a couple of baby cottontail rabbits in a clump of heavy grass, (traumatizing my kids, not doing a lot of good to any of the young rabbits that survived and ran off), so injuries to anything you are unaware is in the grass is possible and likely.

2.  Show them how really sharp the blade is.  If that doesn't teach respect, nothing will except, maybe, blood.

3.  Blade abuse will happen.  Warn them what not to do of course, but expect blade tips in the dirt, some too heavy brush to be chopped, and maybe (although I really hope not) a rock to be hit.  Look at your blades, your mowing area and your people and decide if you are willing to deal with it.
 
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