Woman Powered Mowing: Using a Scythe

My Grandmother calls me her “old fashioned granddaughter” what with my love for handspinning, felting, sewing, gardening, etc. She really hit the nail on the head as i can’t help but be attracted to old timey things and activities. But, i’m not a romantic type. I don’t lust after the ‘days of yore’ without refrigerators or cars or electric stoves. I do, however dislike the overuse of motorized tools when woman powered tools can do the job just as well or better. The birdsong surrounding our quiet country farm is often accompanied by the drone of the neighbors truck, weed eater, tractor, firearms and chainsaws and they chuckle when they see me along the fence line with my scythe or scalping my future garden space by hand. But you know what? When i mow, i can STILL HEAR THE BIRDS.

Let me introduce you to the ‘old timey’ and still massively functional scythe:

First and foremost, let me thank Scythe Supply in Perry, Maine for my custom made scythe. Built to my measurements, my scythe is the perfect size for me. Unlike that old, rusty ‘grim reaper’ scythe you might find on Craigslist or in your great uncle’s barn, my scythe is made of the highest quality materials but genuinely wonderful folks who care about your enjoyment of your scythe. I spent about 30 minutes on the phone with the owner yesterday asking him a few questions and clarifying some problems i was having my technique. That’s what i call customer service!

Using a scythe doesn’t necessarily come naturally at first. One may be tempted to ‘chop’ at the grass, raising the scythe up and hacking at the ground. Bad! Scything should be a sweeping motion, following the arc of the blade, creating up to 180 degrees of a circle around yourself. You can stretch out to widen the circle, or sweep less for a smaller path.

The key i’ve found to successful scything is to NOT bite off more than you can chew. You’re not stepping forward, exactly but rather shuffling baby steps forward with each pass. Your arc is much wider than you’d ever get with a mower or weed eater, but you grab only an inch or two forward as you go. You can tell you’re doing it right when you hear that lovely cutting sound and see piles of hay being discarded to your left.

Another key is to mow TALL grass. Fine, dry or short grass are all more challenging than broad, damp and tall grass. My pasture is full of bent grass which is nearly impossible to mow with the scythe. The orchardgrass and fescue i was cutting in that video are just right – just after some rain, tall, and broad.

The other, and perhaps most important thing to learn is how to sharpen your blade correctly. I use a ditch blade as i frequently encounter large weeds and baby scotch broom/blackberries. I’m tempted to pick up a grass blade as well, but the ditch blade works well for me for now.

The videos by this chap on YouTube are the most excellent and proper videos on how to scythe on the ‘net. After watching his ‘how to hone a scythe blade’ video yesterday i realized that for the past year i’ve been sharpening my blade incorrectly! No wonder i was having problems getting a clean cut! Sharpen your blade correctly and often. Depending on the type of grass you’re cutting, you may be stopping to sharpen every 20 feet or so. I stop to sharpen when i notice more little blades sticking up behind me than i’d like, or when the sound of the cutting doesn’t sound quite as fresh. You’ll learn to sense the change. Those first few cuts after honing are extremely satisfying!

I also have a ‘bush blade’ more suited for clearing thick weeds. The technique for mowing with this blade on thicker brush is a bit different than mowing grass – and much more work than the gentle sweeping motion of grass mowing. Satisfying to cut so many nasty weeds in one fell swoop, though!

I’m still a newbie scyther, but i’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about this beautiful, quiet, and surprisingly efficient tool. I encourage you to watch Botan’s video’s and to visit ScytheSupply.com when doing your research. Becoming familiar with using a scythe means you can cut a stand of weeds in the middle of your pasture without leaving tire tracks, can clear your fence line without the use of fuel or risk of catching grass on fire and can enjoy the sound of birds and discovery of mushrooms while getting your chores done.  Best of all: humans don’t need oil changes or fuel filters!

Have you ever used a scythe? How was your experience?

Thanks, also to EatMoreKale.com for the sweet shirt that i’m wearing in the video -You might have heard about their battle with Chick-fil-A over the slogan they coined way before the restaurant ever did… i love supporting a small business/artist, and my shirt is really comfy! Check them out.

6 Comments

Filed under About, Farming, The Homestead, Tools

6 Responses to Woman Powered Mowing: Using a Scythe

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  2. Laura

    I so enjoy your blog and always look forward to your posts! Love the idea of using a scythe. Thank you for the info. And thank you for the work you put into this. Love seeing the progress of your farm.

  3. Hi, I found you at the Homestead Barn Hop. Love the video of you mowing with the scythe. I’ve tried it, and it’s not easy! Good for you. Have a great week!
    Toni recently posted…Lamb’s Quarters, Wild and Free

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  5. Becky

    Bought a low-end scythe, perhaps a mistake… but for the price of a high-end scythe I could buy a new gas field trimmer, which is what I’m trying to avoid. Sharpened and sharpened the blade, tried it on my pasture of tall grass turning yellow. All it did was bend the grass. Good thing I didn’t buy a high-end tool! Scything is for young people with good knees and strong backs.

    • Hi Becky….
      So these are my thoughts:
      Yes, price matters. My scythe was made to fit MY body. The functioning of a scythe depends heavily on the angle being right, which depends on the size of the scythe to the size of the user.
      Second: not for young people at all. The motion of scything is perfect for all bodies. Once you learn the correct movements, scything is very little work. It’s more like a dance with some stretching and movement. No torking on knees. It is a rotation at the hips. Back is also not impacted: posture is straight.
      The type of grass also matters. Morning dew or damp/green grass mows much more easily than narrow dry drass. Long grass is easier to mow than short grass.
      Sharpening is also an art. If you were bending the grass you were most likely hitting it at the wrong angle. This could be due to 1. incorrect sized scythe to user 2. incorrect motion by user 3. short/dry grass.
      Scything does take some practice, and starting with a good tool helps.

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