Mowing with a bush scythe
The ground is already covered with a crunchy layer of snow, but that didn't stop the Scythe Supply crew from meeting on a recent brisk morning for an in-house bush mowing workshop. Rosy cheeked and puffy with warm layers, we set forth clearing ferns, alder saplings (3/4"-1" thick), wild rose, and meadow sweet (a.k.a. hard hack) from a staff member's orchard.
The going was Tough at first. Mowing brush requires a different technique than grass mowing, though bush mowing technique holds to the same principle of slicing on an arc instead of hacking like a golf swing. The big takeaways from our workshop were:
- Use a short upper stroke,
- Take the tops off the bushes first with a series of swipes to get them out of your way,
- Cut one sapling at a time,
- And cut with the grain, meaning you aren't looking to slice the tree from right to left. You want to slice on an upward diagonal (the upper stroke). This makes a cut that's going with the grain. And we've all been warned not to go against the grain.
One staff member had peened their bush blade too thin and found that the edge cracked off after less than 30 minutes of use. Another staff member had sharpened their bush blade to such perfection that the experience mowing with it was noticeably more enjoyable. Often we had to walk around a cluster of saplings to find the right entry point for our cuts, so it was important for us to keep our eyes open for our "neighbors." The 6-plus foot tall wild rose bushes proved too mighty for the bush scythes; the dead wood hidden within the stands of thorny 1" stalks stopped the stroke cold. We also found that while the golf swing can be effective in clearing a stand of brush it puts much strain on the tool and the body. The right slice, which will take practice for most of us to achieve, makes the work feel, well, less like work.
Mowing tough material with a bush scythe presents a different mowing experience, but with a little determination and the right stroke you can get the job done. Another helpful tip with a challenging project: friends elevate the experience from drudgery to pleasurable outing. Knowing that a cup of coffee (or tea… or pie!) and a warm fire is imminent can improve any mower's attitude.
We plan to revisit this orchard in the spring for further mowing, so stay tuned for an update when the seasons turn.
Happy holidays from all of us at Scythe Supply!