Using a Bush Scythe
Tips on Using a Bush Scythe
A bush scythe is a practical tool for cutting live, woody plants up to ¾” in diameter. The scythe is light, easily portable, comfortable to use and simple to maintain. There is no need to stoop to do the cutting as you would when using an axe, hatchet or loppers. You scythe from a standing position - think, “easier on my back.”
Use it to:
- Thin saplings and remove undergrowth in a woodlot
- Keep back small trees encroaching on field edges
- Clear brush, thick berry canes, invasive plants and thick weeds in fields, along stone walls, under fences
- Maintain woods roads and trails free from brush
- Mow and clear in steep or wet places where tractors or other machinery cannot safely go
Bush blades are built short, stocky and strong for the hard work of cutting woody plants. The lengths run from 16 to 20 inches. The weight of these blades, up to two pounds, provides momentum to help slice through woody plants. As added benefits, the scythe will not leave your body exhausted, or quivering from engine vibration like a power scythe or mower that assaults your ears with noise and fills your lungs with exhaust fumes.
Bush blades are meant for cutting woody plants. Bushes, brush, saplings, thick weeds or berry canes are all fair game. Bush blades cut grasses, too, but are too short and heavy to be as effective or efficient at it as a grass blade.
Bush blades are sturdily constructed to stand up to the strains of cutting wood. They weigh more than grass blades. The weight is strategically placed to strengthen the blade. The extra weight adds momentum to your stroke as the blade slices through the plant’s stem.
There is a great deal of information in The Scythe Book about mowing grasses and maintaining the edge of grass blades. Most of the book’s descriptions for maintaining the tool work for both grass or bush scythes. Because there is little about using a bush blade in the book, and to save you time so you are clearing brush instead of reading, we have written a few guidelines for using a bush scythe.
An important point to remember about using any scythe is the blade cuts with a slicing action. It is not used like an axe or a hatchet to deliver straight-on blows to the wood. The scythe works the same way as cutting bread, sliding the knife edge across the bread while moving the blade down through the loaf.
To slice stand comfortably balanced with your feet apart moving the blade parallel to the ground in an arc. Keep the blade on the ground, or as close as possible, as you swing from your hips and shoulders. Use the stored energy in your hips and thighs more than the strength of your upper body. You will tire less quickly and accomplish more work for the effort. Mowing technique will vary depending on ground conditions but mowing is more about the use of your lower body energy than the power of your upper body.
Most of the cutting is done from the middle of the blade’s edge to the beard (widest part of the blade closest to the snath). When cutting thick stuff do the slicing as close to the snath as possible where the blade is thickest and strongest. The blade will cut young softwoods up to ¾” in diameter, usually with a single stroke. With practice it is possible to cut thicker saplings. It will take several strokes of the scythe to do this and the work must be done close to the beard to limit stress on the snath. For large plants use an axe, billhook, loppers or small tree saw
The blade has come to you sharpened (if you have requested it) but it will eventually require resharpening. A few swipes with the whetstone when you feel the blade is not cutting well will bring the edge back in shape. You probably will only need to peen once a day in most cases. Frequency of peening depends on how hard the blade is used. A hard used or damaged blade requires more frequent peening. Repair damaged blades immediately.
Take the stone and holder along with you to sharpen the edge as needed as you mow. Carry the stone and holder on your belt so the stone is in easy reach for quickly honing the blade's edge. Fill the holder about ½ full of water so the stone is always wet and ready to use.
You may want to carry the peening jig, peening log and a 16 oz hammer with you to the work area. If the blade edge is damaged or becomes too dull to sharpen effectively with a stone then the peening jig is there to set things right.
Peen a bush blade as you would a grass blade using a peening jig, or hammer and small anvil. Do not peen the bush blade as thin as you would a grass blade. After peening, stone the edge of a bush blade at a higher angle than a grass blade. The higher angle gives the cutting edge greater strength.
The edge on a bush blade needs a higher cutting angle than a grass blade to handle the hard work of cutting woody plants (Fig 1). A single light pass with coarse synthetic stone works well to quickly set the edge bevel. Follow up with a Bregenzer whetstone to hone the edge smooth and sharp.
In The Scythe Book refer to paragraph one on page 147 and figure 9 on page 152 for more information about honing angle.
To hone a bush blade place the narrow curved face of the stone against the blade as shown in Fig 1 above. To get the correct angle set the stone on the cutting edge and the rib. Raise the back end of the stone 3/8”-1/2” above the rib leaving the other end of the stone on the cutting edge. Stroke the stone over the blade edge along the length of the stone using several overlapping strokes down the length of the blade from beard to toe. Maintain the desired angle at each stroke. To remove a burr or wire edge from the bottom turn the blade over with the cutting edge facing away from you. Hold the stone flat against the backside of the edge and pull the stone towards you against the blade’s edge to remove the burr. After peening use our Synthetic Coarse stone in a single, light pass to set the bevel then finish with the Bregenzer. The blade should be ready for mowing. Peening and the initial honing are best done with the blade removed from the snath. There is a bush blade sharpening video on our website at https://scythesupply.com/sharpening-a-bush-scythe.html
Some notes on safety
It is wise to wear eye and/or face protection (face shield) especially when scything tall, spindly saplings like poplar (aspen), maple or birch. These will whip at you when struck with the scythe and can cause painful welts and in worse cases break your skin or damage an eye.
Be very much aware of others around you that they are out of range of the blade. The blade will do as much damage to a leg or ankle as it will to the sapling you meant to cut. The mower is in little danger from the blade when the scythe is in use.
When finished mowing or when stopping for a break place the scythe out of the way. Don’t lay it on the ground where it may not be seen. Hang it high on a tree branch or set it so no one will accidentally walk into the blade or the snath.
Cut tall plants by thirds: Lop off the top third, then the middle third and finally close to the ground.
Carry the scythe carefully when moving from place to place. A canvas blade cover is inexpensive protection from the blade for yourself and companions when traveling to and from the mowing area. Use a blade cover anytime the scythe is not in use. It provides a contrasting color to help find the scythe quickly when it has been set down.
When honing the blade be careful of your hands, especially the one holding the stone, that you do not run the backs of your fingers against the sharp edge of the blade. It is wise to wear gloves when sharpening.
BE CAREFUL and USE COMMON SENSE.