Benjamin Bouchard

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since May 23, 2012
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Recent posts by Benjamin Bouchard

It's in rough enough shape that there's not much point in refinishing it if you plan on using it for display--that erases much of its history. Regarding mounting it to a wall,  hanging it on a hook by the shank (the portion of the tang that's inline with the blade before it makes the 90° turn) with a peg under the edge near the tip would probably be the easiest way to mount it. I would suggest deliberately blunting it with a few strokes of a file or sharpening stone if hanging it anywhere where people could bump it.
2 weeks ago

Elizabeth Litke wrote:Hey there everyone! I found an old scythe at a pawn shop yesterday and snatched it up. I was wondering if anyone here would be able to guestimate how old it might be. It seems to be in pretty rough shape so I don't want to take it apart just yet, but if I need to take the blade off let me know and I'll see what I can do.
Thank you in advance! I'm looking forward to learning more about my find.





The blade is a SWECO American pattern bush blade with a plain web, made in Sweden. I'm unsure of who the actual manufacturer of those blades is, however, as that was just a brand name used by whoever was ordering them from Sweden. The snath appears to be a Sta-Tite Supreme No.105

Sta-Tite was founded in 1921 so it is certainly no older than that.

If I had to hazard a guess, both the blade and snath were likely made in the late 1940's through mid-1950's.
2 weeks ago
It's been years since I wrote the original version, and now "A Primer on the Selection, Use, and Maintenance of the American Scythe" has finally received a much-needed update. While the changes are minor, more are planned, and most principally the text has been edited to better reflect my current thoughts on best practices, and have added some better specifics and details, as well as a diagram the proper ergonomic hold on the nibs in use. I hope to soon have updated versions of some of the diagrams, as well, and once the document is polished to my liking I intend on beginning work separate documents detailing advanced technical tuning and antique restoration.
3 weeks ago
Manual reel mowers were actually originally intended as grooming tools to be used after mowing with a scythe! While it's very possible to get a "lawn-perfect stubble" with a scythe, it requires much more skill and often a blade tuned just for that use to achieve one reliably, and so reel mowers allowed common folk to do a "hack job" knocking down the tall grass with the scythe and then go over it with the reel mower to trim the uneven stubble to a uniform length. This is why they perform so poorly on taller grass--they were only ever meant to handle stubble left by the scythe, and were especially used for spaces where people would be engaging in activities of some kind, such as lawn games, English style gardens, and so on.
3 weeks ago

Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Thanks Benjamin. Good info! So the rings are just a compression fit to hold the blade and the snath together?

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They would have originally have been held in with an iron wedge, but they often fell out. The rings do have a slight taper to them such that they shouldn't slip off the end of the snath once the wedge is driven home. The wedge itself would have had a little lip on it for tapping back out if you needed to dismount the blade.
4 months ago

Douglas Alpenstock wrote:I am torn -- dive into that antique steel, tear it up and rework it into a new scythe.

And yet, just as valid, display it as a marvelous historical artifact, with all the binding methods intact.

Dunno. Sitting on the fence while there is scythe work that needs doing .



Doesn't appear to be anything of major historical significance. There's no binding--that's a double-ringed bush snath made somewhere around 1940-150. Fairly common hardware. Better to put it back to work, if there's work to be done with it.
4 months ago

Ben Brownlow wrote:Benjamin,
Thanks for the feedback, particularly on American / English style blades, which I admittedly have far less experience with. Looks like I know who to talk to for more context on them. Let me know if there's any sources on them that you recommend. I'll likely incorporate some of your feedback eventually, when harvest season eases up here.



Sorry for the late reply--I was away from home for a few days. Regarding resources on them, I'm probably the most prominent one, especially when it comes to the historical research side of things. There are lots of good snippets of info on Google Books in old agricultural gazettes and the like, and some catalogs available either on my blog or on Archive.org but it's important to take historical documents in context, as many of them will have bad advice, incorrect info, use words in ways not common today, and so on and so forth. A combination of field work and study has led to the conclusions I've drawn, though I'm not infallible by any means, myself! Study and research have an interesting way of making you contradict your past self quite regularly as you find new information or make new discoveries regarding documentation, technique, or best management practices. And I mostly mow for vegetation management purposes rather than for things like hay generation (though I've done some) or grain, so I have to rely on others' word when it comes to some methods or practices.
4 months ago

Ben Brownlow wrote:Hey y'all,
I couple months back I wrote a document introducing folks to some of the basics of using a scythe: applications, use, history and lore, and a bit of encouragement. My goal was to make the basics feel more accessible to beginners, and prompt potential mowers to consider if this is the right tool for them. I just thought I'd share it here as a way to get it out there... my hope is that it becomes easy for folks to find. While I love a lot of the information, like Peter Vido's Big Book of the Scythe, I do find it a bit intimidating/esoteric for people just starting, so my goal with this guide was to be a bit more... democratic in how we welcome folks to the world of traditional skills. Take a look and let me know what you think! Revitalizing the Scythe



I do love to see new educational works being put out into the world, and I especially appreciate your section on specific applications in which you have found the scythe helpful. The essay shines strongest when you are leaning into that aspect of the tool and I do commend your efforts in trying to break things down simply for beginners.

I do have a few notes that I dearly hope you'll consider as kindly and well-intentioned editorial advice:

•"The scythe" is used broadly in the opening paragraphs and the tool is described as being a "single beveled edge" and "The scythe’s upkeep requires just a small hammer and anvil" -- I would protest that the style of scythe a layperson is most likely to encounter in North America is the American style of the tool, which is double-beveled and can be badly damaged by attempting to peen them due to often being laminated construction and of higher hardness and thickness than tensioned continental European style blades. I would suggest specifying the style to avoid confusion. As an American scythe specialist I often get people who have found American scythes at antique stores locally and then relied on online instruction intended for the European scythe as guidance and have had to clear up the distinction for them. I have even had to repair the damage to blades that they attempted to care for by following material intended for the European version of the tool, and it is an unfortunate and avoidable situation if the distinction is simply made in works as to which version of the tool they pertain.

•You go on to say "perhaps a file or stone." -- I would argue that no good mower is likely to consider a honing tool optional. While there are people who exist who are capable of producing an edge good enough to mow by peening alone, it is more of a demonstration of skill in the art rather than a practical approach for regular mowing, and that edge will still need honing in the field, and often.

•Your statement regarding English steel being softer and the blades requiring less forging is incorrect. The steel used in Sheffield was of famously high quality and was of roughly equal hardness in the annealed state as any steel being made in or imported into Austria. It was forge-welded to iron cladding for toughness and heat treated to produce a highly hardened edge. Grinding was done extensively in Austria on scythe blades as well, not merely in England, because of the finish grinding being done on the blades to give them a bright surface and correct dimensions. The grinding of the bevels was the least intensive part of grinding English scythe blades, and it is only the difference in the beveling of the blades where there is an appreciable difference in this regard. This is objectively misinformation and I urge you to alter it. The problem of silicosis was because the grinding of all steel and iron articles at the time took place without any form of personal protective equipment, and was as much an issue in Austria as anywhere else. Nordic scythes also use laminated construction and hard steel, though their form is different.

•Regarding your note on left-handed blades, I would argue that while the scythe is an asymmetrical tool, it is not a "handed" one and uses both sides of the body in roughly equal measure, and that left-handed blades were made recently due to the perceived (rather than actual) need for them by potential customers, to which the scythe makers obliged in an effort to keep their doors open and their operations continuous. Folks who have had the opportunity to try both orientations of the tool have found that after only a few minutes to adjust themselves to the mirrored movement they had no trouble in using a scythe the other way 'round.

•You say American and English scythes are "very heavy, tiring, and challenging for the beginner, and they can be a challenge for novice blade sharpeners to deal with. They are typically stamped out of softer steel and may require a grindstone for sharpening" and while they average heavier than Austrian units and *can* be found in excessively heavy builds, the extra weight is not necessarily a bad thing, as it provides a flywheel-like effect in heavier mowing that lessens strain on the body during the stroke, a dynamic I'll not bother to go into more detail here for the sake of brevity. Better would be to simply state that you prefer to use the Austrian style of scythe and that it is the one in which you are most experienced rather than speaking poorly of an entire family of regional scythes that are no less effective when used properly and maintained correctly.

American blades are not stamped, but fully forged. The only stamped American blades I have ever come across were by the Bartlett All-Steel Scythe Company or another smaller firm that was using their patent under license for a very brief period. All others, including some economy blades of riveted-together construction were still forged. European style blades are generally about 45 on the Rockwell C hardness scale (HRC), which is about as soft as a common hardware store axe (not very hard) while American scythe blades average 55-60 HRC, with some laminated blades having been hardened to the point where they will skate a file. I do advise that people avoid starting off with a vintage American scythe simply because even with skilled and experienced labor and specialized tools, getting one tuned up and back to mowing readiness takes about 8 hours of continuous labor for a bare-bones restoration, and it is better to purchase a well-tuned unit to start so that the buyer has a mental benchmark of what they're shooting for.

•A minor error, but in describing whetstones you state "That said, the ovular shape of scythe-specific whetstones is key to their effective use." I believe "ovoid" or "oblong" would be more appropriate words, as whetstones are not the shape of an ovum.

•Hardness vs. softness in whetstones chiefly affects the cutting speed of the stone, but not the finish produced, and is a different performance factor than the relative grit of the stone.

•Narrow hammers are not meant to be used with narrow anvils, and getting your blows to land true is exceptionally difficult, leading to misalignments, which is why it produces the rippled effect you mention. Better to advise that people not even approach that method. Broad anvils are used with narrow hammers and narrow anvils used with broad hammers. A broad hammer is generally used with a broad anvil only when performing some repair work.

•Work-hardening of a blade is not a "compressing of the drawn out molecules" but rather a disruption of the steel's crystal lattice. The more it is disrupted the less it wants to flow and the glassier it becomes. Past a certain point it loses its ductility completely, and this is when cracks occur. The hardness gained by work hardening is different from that caused by heat treating, and only improves resistance to plastic deformation (the metal being pushed around) and does not improve its resistance to abrasive wear.

All in all, you did an excellent job covering a lot of specific techniques and strategies for commonly encountered mowing situations. I would just suggest easing back on or revising the "historical" portion and maybe rearrange the structure of the document to make it a little easier for folks to jump into the how-to of "here's the tool and its parts, here are the basic strokes, here's how you maintain it" and then go into the circumstances of use. All told, a very good start that a little editing will tighten up, and easily better than about 80% of the guides and articles I see out and about on the internet.


4 months ago

Sean Eriksen wrote:Hey all, I found this old scythe blade in central Washington state. Wondering if anyone knows what kind of blade it is, and if I can salvage it to attach to a new handle? What methods should I use if possible?  Thanks.



Looks like a somewhat worn American pattern grass blade on the remains of a double-ring bush snath. Despite the toe being very badly stubbed and the rust being possibly deep enough to cause pitting in the edge in places, it has a lot of useful life left in it. It may be laminated, so be sure to keep the edge in the center of the blade's web. The tang angle has probably not been set, and you'll need to inspect it for bends or twists, as well. If putting it back to work I wouldn't do more than taking a wire wheel to the blade to get the worst of the rust off, as mowing will take off the rest. A water-cooled slow speed grinder should ideally be used, but barring that a correctly-formulated grinding point will get the job done. Blades in as-found condition always take considerable regrinding, but once rebeveled properly, subsequent grinding is a matter of minutes and only needs to be done a few times a season, barring accidental severe damage.
4 months ago
Peening jigs will shape your bevel, but also mash the edge apex against the center post. To assist first time peening I suggest filing the edge to a thin edge to start. Since you are peening at all I presume you are using a European style blade, in which case file the top side only, at an angle of about 14-18°, then peen. After peening, hone with a coarse stone to start, since the edge apex will have been flattened against the post of the jig.
5 months ago