I bought a scythe recently, and although I hardly knew a thing about scythes or how to use them before I bought it, it has quickly become one of my favorite tools on the farm. It’s a European style scythe, which means it has a straight snath, or handle, instead of a curved one. The information sheet that came with it, from ScytheSupply.com explains that “the American scythe is the type commonly found in tool sheds, antique shops, and hardware stores. This scythe is harder to use and less efficient that the European style. This American pattern is mostly responsible for the scythe’s reputation as a backbreaking, hard to use tool.” On the flipside they describe he European style scythe as “the most efficient and graceful tool for mowing. It cuts heavy weeds and tall grass with ease…”
It was a lucky score for me; I got it and all its accessories for $25 from someone on our local permaculture resource group email list. It was even custom built for someone my height.
And it came at just the right time. We’re fast approaching our fire safety and prevention deadline here to “cut it short, keep it short” (by June 15th!) and the grass in our field was looking pretty tall. Sure, I could have gone out there with the string trimmer like I did last year, with my eye protection and ear protection on, and made a bunch of noise and burned a bunch of fossil fuels, and whacked it all down, but I wanted to do it differently (I know, crazy!).
So I brought my scythe home and got to work.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Scythes are simple- the first evening I was out working, the neighbor was weedwhacking. Then his weedwhacker died and he spent the next hour or so trying to get it started again while I kept right on walking through my field, swinging my scythe, grateful for the simplicity and lack of complex, breakable parts
- Scythes are sexy- And using them makes you feel like a badass. Plus it’s a full body workout. You are twisting side-to-side, engaging your core muscles, as well as using your arms and shoulders. Actually, it’s easier than you might think it would be. Especially if you’re doing it right you get into a nice relaxed rhythm and feel like you could go for hours. But it definitely counts as farming cross-training!
- Scythes are satisfying- I mean, it’s satisfying to look back at something you’ve freshly mown down with a gas-powered tool too, but this takes it to a whole new level
Ok, sweet, silly, scythe alliterations aside, real lessons from a Scythe Student:
- It’s best to scythe early in the morning, or late in the evening when the air is cool, and the grass is standing perky and tall- so far I’ve spent a total of four or five hours out in the field, in short sessions of an hour or two in the morning or evening and I’ve got almost the entire pasture mowed down. I think that’s pretty close to how long I spent last year with the string trimmer, in one long hot sweaty afternoon
- Different types of grass make different sounds when cut- you’d never notice that using a string trimmer
- Scything is meditative- I get lost in the rhythm of swinging that blade back and forth. Plus I love being out in the field early in the morning when everything is cool and quiet
- You have to hone the blade- my scythe came with a nifty metal holster that slips onto your belt and holds a bit of water and the whetstone. Every 10 or 15 minutes (or “once-round the hayfield” as my instruction book says) I stop and hone the blade by drawing the whetstone along it to align the metal particles, making the blade cut smoother, and giving me a chance to stop and breathe (and maybe blow a snot rocket or two- scything doesn’t eliminate allergies!)
- You can listen to music while you scythe- old school tool meets new school technology! I’ve been really enjoying poppin in the IPOD while I work, again something I could never do with the string trimmer. And I think it helps me get into a good rhythm
- It’s easier to cut fresh, healthy grass- in the future I will mow our field a little earlier in the season, before patches of it start to get dry and brown. Dry grass tends to just bend over under the blade, whereas springy-fresh green grass stands tall and you can slice cleanly through it
- You can cut up close to fences with a scythe much easier than with a string trimmer
- Scything is an art- just check out youtube scythe competitions… Wow do people get in to this!
- A scythe requires proper care and maintenance, and I still have a lot to learn!
Luckily, my scythe came with a copy of The Scythe Book: Mowing Hay, Cutting Weeds, and Harvesting Grains with Hand Tools, by David Tresemer. Plus there’s always youtube (amazing how often I find myself watching online videos to answer my homesteading how-to questions!). So I’ve got my reading and research cut out for me. But in the meantime our field is mowed down in time for the “cut it short” deadline, and I have a new tool in my toolbelt (literally) so I’m happy.