Thursday 24 May 2012

The "Austrian" Scythe

I finished cutting the bracken in the hill park this morning using a scythe, because petrol strimmers stink, they are noisy, they spray your legs with wet grass, stones and if you are very unlucky dog shit. A scythe on the others hand zips along, it sings through the bracken stems and lays them in neat windrows. I have even seen a scythe beat a strimmer in a mowing competition.

 My grass mowing scythe is the Lamborghini of scythes,its beautifully constructed, light and fast.The alternative, the "English" scythe is cumbersome, heavy and dull. Its blade, which needs constant sharpening, is ground steel riveted to a mild steel backbone and  the snath is heavy ash. The Austrian blade on the other hand is hammered out of a single piece of steel into an edge which when sharp will cut tissue paper.

The scythe on the left with the aluminum snath and shorter heavier blade is the one I use for bracken, nettles and brambles. The long narrow blade on the wooden snath is the racing version for mowing hay. Both can be sharpened to a razor edge.

After a morning's use and honing the cutting edge becomes rounded and convex so has to be re-shaped to a concave profile on the peening anvil or jig. Free hand peening is highly skilled  and can ruin a blade if not done well so I use a jig set in a block of wood. The jig consists of two steel cylinders that sit on a steel peg, the cutting edge is passed under the cylinder as it is hammered. This happens twice with cylinders of differing profile and the blade is returned to its concave cross section.

I prefer to sit on a low stool to do this , holding the blade with my left hand and hammering with my right while balancing the blade tips on my knees. Once the peeing is done the blade is honed with a coarse stone then a fine stone before being fitted to the snath and honed again while on the snath.

 More later on adjusting the snath to your height and build, setting the blade and mowing.

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