Clearing Land With a Scythe Weed Cutter

An old-fashioned scythe weed cutter will provide you with a low-tech, low-cost way to control high weeds and grass on your property.
By Tim Hensley
February/March 1996

Tim with sons Caleb (5), Asher (3) and Micah (2).

Content Tools

Related Content

Girl out of Water - Pilgrims

Clearing your land to ready it for farming can be quite a challenge!

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.

My Four Biggest Gardening Mistakes

Over the past year, I have made countless mistakes on my garden. In this post, I share four of my mo...

MOTHER’s Publishing Company Starts Garden on Front Lawn

Learn about how some members of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS team joined with others at their publishing co...

Try a scythe weed cutter, a low-tech hack to control high weeds and grass. 

Clearing Land With a Scythe Weed Cutter

When my Jari sickle mower broke down I went to the dealer for parts. "We're about out of Jari parts;" he told me, "but I can order them for you."

"All right," I said, "I'll check back in a week." Which I did, only to find out that the parts hadn't arrived. I called again the next week.

"Yeah, they're here;" he said. But when I got to the shop, only half of what I needed had come in.

It went on like this for several weeks, and finally — after having gotten all the parts, but then not having the right tools to make the repair — I began to feel the weight of the city weed ordinance upon my conscience. I decided to borrow a scythe.

Now, I had used a scythe before, eight hours at a time, cutting fescue and weeds in my grandfather's nursery. But somehow, after working with the scythe again on our acre, I began to realize certain qualities about this tool that had eluded me before, qualities that make it, I think, an indispensable tool for cutting grass and weeds on a small plot.

To begin with, a scythe is economical. The "snath," or handle, costs from $30 to $65, depending on the type: wooden, straight or aluminum. Blades are available in different lengths (short for briars and bushes, long for grasses); they run $30 to $50. A good whetstone (a necessity) costs $5. And a scythe hammer and anvil (optional) costs $45. That puts the entire package at $65 to $165. Certainly, this is not a small price for such a simple implement, but compared with a sickle mower at $1,500, or a low-end string trimmer at $150, it is manna from heaven.

A scythe is also made to last. It's guaranteed to start for the next fifty years (or as long as you do), has no expensive parts to replace and no complicated repairs. It is a durable, hardworking tool. Sickle mowers, on the other hand, often victims of their own violent motion, typically endure for 10 to 15 years. String trimmers, with their small, hard-worked motors, are usually exhausted at five. Add to this the expense of fuel and oil, and a scythe, which runs on whatever you had for breakfast, makes even more sense for smaller plots.

Second, a scythe is easy to use. It is a light, well-balanced tool, especially effective on steep or rough terrain. Years ago the rule was: One man could cut one acre a day. So if you need to get inside to see the game in two hours, you might want to grab your mower keys and the gas can. And I'm not saying, of course, that using a scythe is like eating ice cream; it is work, hard work. But because the scythe is not "running," you can rest the blade on the ground, even lean on the handle if you need to relax for a moment. It is infinitely accommodating to the limits of the human body.

Third, a scythe is a pleasure to use. For one thing, it requires a certain steadiness and measured swing. Getting the hang of scything is like learning to ride a bike. Sharpening, too, takes effort and consideration. The hammer and anvil method, in particular, differs from merely using a file, in that it "stretches" the blade into its proper form, thereby preserving the life of the tool.

A scythe is also quiet and clean. You don't think of this so much until you actually use it. But the contrast is like night and day. With a weed eater it's the unrelenting buzz of a two-cycle engine, flying debris, and the smudge and smell of exhaust fumes. With a scythe it's the pleasure of being aware of your surroundings while you work. You hear the crows in the big oaks and your children across the way. You can even wear your clothes the rest of the day.

Finally, scything is a pleasure because it conveys a sense of history. As John Vince, author of Old Farms (Schocken Books, 1986), writes, "There is something elemental about re-encountering the things you once used or saw your grandparents using. To take hold of a scythe is to take hold of the past. It is to relive and affirm the rhythms and honest toil of our forebears."

And in an age characterized by the constant intrusion of technology, scything is, for me, an affirmation of the wisdom of simplicity.

Mail-Order Tool Companies

Scythe Supply 

Cumberland General Store 

Lehman's Hardware and Appliances 

A.M. Leonard Inc. 

The Marugg Company 

Smith & Hawken 

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.