Mowing With a Scythe

Mowing with a scythe is an ancient practice still used today by homesteaders. Learn about the differences between European and American scythes in this article.
By Elliot Fishbein
February/March 2002
Add to My MSN

Diagram of a mowing scythe.

Content Tools

Related Content

Where Can I Learn More About Using a Scythe for Cutting Weeds and Brush?

Here are some resources where you can learn more about how a scythe can be useful on your homestead.

Trimming the Yard with Oxen and Hand Scythes

Read about methods to utilize animal- and human- power for trimming the lawn and keeping back weeds,...

Homesteading Expert Lloyd Kahn Reviews His Favorite Tools From the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Green building guru Lloyd Kahn recounts his favorite new discoveries from the Puyallup, Wash., MOTHE...

Homestead Still Productive During The Drought

Mark fenced in a new chicken pasture in the hot sun, an experience that was made possible by his hom...

Learn about the ancient art of mowing with a scythe.

The scythe is simply the most efficient and graceful tool for mowing. It cuts heavy weeds and tall grass with ease, and with practice can be precise enough to cut and trim your lawn.  Mowing with a scythe will silently outcut your string trimmer and venture where a push or gas lawn mower becomes useless. The scythe does all this with little physical effort, noise or pollution.

There are two styles of scythes, the European and the American. The European scythe blade is made light, thin and strong without excess material. Its strength comes from the curves and tension of the skinlike structure. This design has been refined through the centuries to be efficient and minimal. The blade is fitted to a lightweight wooden handle called a snath. The grips are comfortably positioned, permitting an upright, stress-free stance, and the blade is adjusted to skim parallel to the ground. For maximum performance and enjoyment the snath should be customized to fit the user's body proportions.

To mow, the blade is drawn from right to left in an arc. Only the leading third of the blade enters the uncut grass. This shearing action slices the grass like scissors. Falling grass caught by the blade and snath is deposited in a tidy pile at the end of each stroke. A stroke takes about as much effort as paddling a canoe. The mower can set a pace that is sustainable. The European blade has a curved back that allows it to ride in close contact with the ground. The blade remains in contact with the ground during both the cutting and return stroke: There is no reason to lift it.

Sharpening a European scythe is a combination of hammering (called peening) and honing with a whetstone. The cutting edge is occasionally drawn out thin by using a hammer and a small anvil. In the field the blade is frequently and quickly honed with a water-soaked stone to maintain the sharp edge.

The American scythe is the type commonly found in tool sheds, antique shops and, unfortunately, in hardware stores. This scythe is harder to use and less efficient than the European style. This American pattern is mostly responsible for the scythe's reputation as a backbreaking, difficult tool.

The European scythe is an elegant combination of simplicity and competence. The rewards of using the tool are worth the effort in learning.

—Elliot Fishbein, Owner, Scythe Supply

Sources for European Scythes:

Scythe Supply

Johnny's Selected Seed Catalog

Lehman's Hardware and Appliances, Inc.

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply

Previous | 1 | 2 | Next

Post a comment below.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.