Mowing With a Scythe: Proper Equipment and Technique

Mowing with a scythe, though requiring greater skill than using a fuel-driven mower, can be done over varied and rocky terrain.

  • With the proper tool and correct scything technique, one can mow an acre or two of grass in a few hours.
    Photo by Fotolia/xalanx
  • “The Resilient Farm and Homestead” by Ben Falk details leading-edge strategies for regenerating soil, water systems and human health through the design and operations of the homestead and farm.
    Cover courtesy Chelsea Green Publishing

The Resilient Farm and Homestead (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013) is a comprehensive how-to manual that will help the reader select, design, develop, and manage land for self-reliance and regenerative agriculture, and presents a thriving model for productive, durable homesteads and farms in cold climates and beyond. In this excerpt, taken from Chapter 4, author and permaculture expert Ben Falk introduces the art of mowing with a scythe.

Mowing With a Scythe

Of all the hand-powered land development and maintenance tools I have used, the scythe is probably the most effective in terms of amount of work yielded per amount and quality of time spent performing the work. Splitting wood with a good ax and pruning small trees probably come in at a tight second and third place, respectively, in this hypothetical, but useful, contest. When I say “scythe” I am not referring to the hardware-store-variety heavy-handled tool—the American scythe—or a laborious chopping-at-vegetation activity. I am referring to the Austrian scythe—a slender instrument that when wielded in the correct sweeping motion results in an enjoyable, devastatingly effective means of mowing light brush and grass.

I have been using an Austrian scythe for about seven years, starting with the tool available from Scythe Supply in Maine, later adding a higher quality scythe from Scythe Works out of New Brunswick and British Columbia, Canada. These tools, except the blade, can also be made without enormous difficulty if you have good woodworking skills, but the process does require steam bending of the snath (shaft).

With a proper scythe, good technique, and a little conditioning, one can mow an acre or two of grass in a handful of hours or so. If the land is brushy, double that estimate. While a fuel-driven machine can certainly mow more land, it cannot do so well over highly varied and rocky terrain, and doing so is less beneficial for the body and mind than the Zen-like practice of scything. A scythe also costs a fraction of the cost of a mechanical mower and will outlast it a hundred times over if maintained well. It can also be completely maintained in-house with a few basic tools. The scythe, however, requires far greater skill than the mowing machine. Such is the general pattern with hand tools compared to power tools; the elegant, often slower, but long-term healthier solution requires more experience and skill than the easier, short-term, faster approach.

Proper scything equipment consists of a snath (shaft), handles, blade, and hardware attaching the blade to the snath. The handles should be fitted custom to the user; as with all fine tools and finely performed craft, the fit between user and tool is crucial. Sharpening equipment is equally essential, as the scythe only cuts well with a nearly razor-sharp blade. Lack of blade sharpness is certainly the most common error among new mowers, since sharpening a blade is actually quite difficult.

Any athletic person with good coordination can learn the scything motion well within a season of mowing, but getting a blade very sharp is something that often will take a number of seasons. I am still learning to get a decent edge a handful of years into scything, and I had a bit of varied blade-sharpening experience before beginning to scythe. The blade on a scythe is sharpened every five to ten minutes, depending on the hardness of what is being mowed, using a curved narrow whetstone that is carried submerged in water on a belt-mounted holder. While this sounds excessive, it’s actually the most efficient way to work, since sharpening only takes ten to thirty seconds, and a honed blade slices through the material with far less strain on user and tool.

5/4/2016 1:34:36 PM

I have 3 European type scythes, all with different blade types and lengths suited for particular purposes. I consider myself an experienced hand mower.I am a farrier as well as a blacksmith, in good health and physical condition. I use my scythes daily, in season, but your claim of being able to mow an acre or two in a few hours, certainly doesn't apply to me or anyone else I know. Your claim struck me so, I had to google it. Read what they have to say about how much one can mow in an hour / day / season.



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