Benjamin Bouchard

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since May 23, 2012
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Recent posts by Benjamin Bouchard

There's a big difference between needing grinding and needing routine honing. Touching up even a damaged edge that was recently ground to proper shape is much less work than grinding a vintage blade for the first time in goodness knows how many decades. It's a lot more metal to hog off. Generally the learning process is easiest if you start with a ready-to-mow kit from a specialty retailer so you have an idea of what you're shooting for, and it gets easier from there.

Something like an Italian "Scansano" pattern slasher on the end of a pole with a single nib, ridden on the ground like a scythe or a "Sardegna" pattern used with an underhand stroke like a bush hook would probably do the job well enough. It's just the stubble it'd leave would be higher and less even than using a scythe.
1 week ago

Mike Homest wrote:

Matt Browne wrote:I was in the market for a Scythe until I realized outfits cost $300.
Usually it’s 100 for blade, 100 for snath, 50 for peening jig, and 50 for shipping. (I’m in California.) I’ve gotten quotes from all the popular vendors listed here. I was shocked a hand tool was this pricey!
I have a 1/2 acre hilly plot with weeds that have gone to seed for at least two seasons.
Can anyone recommend a solution for 100 bucks or less that will be permaculture friendly (not muck up the soil or spew gas)?
I would love to use a Scythe but it’s too much.
Thank you

I see blades (vintage) starting from 10 US$ on ebay, complete Scythe starting at 60 US$?

See my above post. Vintage units, even when found in new-old-stock condition, need a decent amount of work to get them ready to mow. At a minimum, the blade needs to be ground and honed and the tang angle heated and bent to the proper angle for the given user. The nib (side handle) bands may need to be resized to fit snug at their appropriate positions for the user's dimensions. This is all pretty easy for someone who knows what they're doing already and has a clear idea of their end goal, but can be a real challenge for someone who doesn't even know what "sharp" means for a scythe just yet.
1 week ago
It's worth noting that while, indeed, it's possible to find excellent deals on an old scythe at yard sales, it will almost certainly be of the American type (that's fine--I prefer them, personally, though I own numerous varieties from across the globe) which have different "care and feeding" requirements than the Euro sort, and it can be difficult to consistently get a good quality candidate for restoration if you don't already know what to look for. The restoration process itself typically takes me at least 8 hours of continuous, active labor to bring a vintage find up to ready-to-mow condition, and that's with knowing what I'm doing and having some specialized equipment handy that speeds up the process. It's well worth the effort, but an option best undertaken by those who are already at least moderately savvy with restoration work and very basic wood- and metal-working skills, with at least a spoke shave, rasps, a sturdy vise, an anvil surface of some kind (for working out kinks in the blade, if present), and a suitable cool-cutting grinding tool like a specially-formulated grinding point or a wet grinder.
1 week ago
Depending on the growth you're dealing with, and in what kind of environment/volume, some options to consider are bush hooks, slashers, corn hooks, or long, thin machetes. There are also so-called brush cutters and "weed whips", though I really hate to recommend them unless the skill of the user is quite low--they work, and they're cheap, but they're exhausting to use for extended periods because of their inefficient cutting mechanic.

Scythes are an investment, not just in money, but in the time to learn how to use them most effectively. Once you know what you're doing with one (and it has about the same learning curve as using a straight razor) they're an incredibly powerful and versatile tool that's more than worth the effort.
1 week ago

Brian Rodgers wrote:
Thanks for the tips. I'm really curious where the ranch scythe went. I'll rummage thoroughly  through our old log barn next time I'm down the hill. I'm curious what sharpening a scythe to the extent of which you write looks like. Do you create a special workstation for sharpening? I still have what my father called a sickle stone which I used on all sorts of sharpening jobs. It is no longer flat nor does it have  parallel surfaces top and bottom, though. I recently replaced it with a new whetstone of  1000/6000 grit for sharpening plane and chisel blades.
Is sharpening frequency for a scythe similar that of a chainsaw where it gets sharpened every time we use it?
Thank you for all this information sir.

Sharpening takes place in two stages: beveling, and honing. Beveling is done differently depending on if you're dealing with an American or European scythe, while honing is nearly identical between the two. American scythes are beveled by grinding, which is only typically done 1-3 times per season, barring accidental damage, while Euro scythes are beveled by peening, which is done every ~8 hours of use. American blades do not need to be honed so frequently as Euro blades due to their more wear-resistant steel, and can usually mow 3-5 times as long before needing an in-the-field touchup.

The best tool for grinding an American scythe is a large-diameter water-cooled wet grinder, and this is a video I made showing that process. Honing is covered from 8:00 onward.

However, you can also use a resin-bonded A3 grinding point in a drill or die grinder to do the job. You won't find these at your local hardware store--the typical grinding points there are formulated to be slow-wearing, which means they generate more frictional heat in use than ones that more readily shed grit to expose fresh cutting surface. Resin bonded grinding points made for grinding thin sections of hardened steel without overheating them do exist, but they're used in industry rather than the commercial retail market. I was able to source some (though I'm waiting on a refill shipment at the moment) and while they don't produce quite as nice of a geometry as a wet grinder does, they're much less expensive and do a good enough job for most folks.

3 months ago

Judith Browning wrote:

Benjamin Bouchard wrote:It's possible your edge isn't keen enough.  

Thank you...
That is very likely.  I paid a bit extra to have the blade come sharpened and I had assumed peened also?.  I've been honing occasionally and thought it was enough but I'm certainly not getting a nice easy cut fast or slow.  

There is no rush to cut these areas since nothing is growing now so I'll spend some time following your advice for checking the edge.

Sharpening the blade was what I knew would be the biggest challenge for me using a scythe.  

I've heard from (and seen video of) a number of folks who paid for that service and while technique was often still an issue, it was clear that the edge wasn't even close to being properly fine. Scythes literally have the same kind of edge angle as straight razors, and keeping it similarly keen is critical to the ease of mowing. Even a little dulling greatly influences performance.
3 months ago

Brian Rodgers wrote:Good morning Judith
Thank you for sharing this inspirational story about your new scythe. We had an antique scythe here many years ago, I don't know where it went. That's probably okay as it wasn't customized to fit anyone here anyway.
I'm eagerly reading and mowing vicariously through your stories.

Odds are good it was probably an American scythe, in which case it would have been adjustable. You'd have to get the tang angle adjusted by someone with a torch or induction heater for your height, but the nib (side grip) positions slide to fit. Adjustable European snaths are a fairly recent invention, overall, though some did exist as of roughly the 70's, I believe.
3 months ago
It's possible your edge isn't keen enough. It should be kept thin and sharp enough that even pretty slow strokes will cut the grass, and it should be so across the full length of the blade, including the very tip. Often as supplied from the factory the toe of the blade is a little on the thick side. If you have a medium or fine cut file I'd try laying it as close to flat on the blade as possible without the file reaching so far as to be stopped by the raised lip of the spine, then tilting it up just a little (about 15°) and making a single stroke down the length. Look at where the scratches of the file are. If they're confined to the shoulder of the edge and not reaching the edge itself, the edge angle is greater than 15°, and so even if it's sharp, it's too thick to penetrate the grass with ease. If it reaches the edge, but examining the apex of the edge under bright light (edge up, facing you) reveals any shiny reflective spots, the edge is just totally dull there and needs to be sharpened until those reflective spots look like they just vanish into nothingness. A crisp, clean apex is what you're looking for.
3 months ago
It can help to make a little wooden wedge to stick between the outside edge of the tang and the ring wall. It'll keep the blade from creeping backwards like that.

I do have some rings in development that are made for 1-1/4" diameter-ended snaths that have the set screw on the top with a captive bearing plate that work like the loop bolt on an American snath and lock the blade completely in place. Many Nordic snaths use similar rings.  
3 months ago
When you tighten one screw it can often relieve pressure on the other, so make sure you've checked that both are snug before getting back to mowing. If the blade keeps slipping it's probably because the blade is getting snagged on things and being yanked out of position. Try to make sure you're taking a swath only a few inches deep and it'll relieve strain from the blade. Definitely keep the wrench with you!

Indeed, setting things up as a beginner can be a challenge, and this is one of the reasons why adjustable snaths are usually preferable to fixed-position ones like the Scythe Supply units. If you're "lancing" the ground then you're probably tilting the toe of the blade down. Try to keep the heel of the blade down, instead.
3 months ago