Notes on Mowing a Lawn

Many people mow their lawn with a scythe. We do a bit of it with the grounds at Scythe Supply to demonstrate that mowing a lawn with a scythe is doable. It is a good way to learn the stroke and rhythm of using a scythe. It requires a very sharp blade and you need to stone the blade often to keep a keen edge. For best effect peen and hone the blade before mowing. Peening takes about 10 minutes and the stoning break to refresh the edge while mowing takes 10-15 seconds. Stone every couple of minutes or so to keep the edge sharp. You may need to peen again after 2 or 3 hours of mowing.

Over the longer term you will find that after several peenings the blade will take and hold a stoned edge longer than when the blade is new. The peening instructions in the addendum of The Scythe Book are very good. Scythe Supply has available an instructional DVD on peening and sharpening.

Besides a sharp edge, mowing when the grass is wet (in the early morning dew or after a light rain) helps a great deal. It is not necessary for the grass to be wet but it does improve the cutting. The moisture adds weight to the short grass helping it stand up as the scythe slices through it. The moisture lubricates the blade and softens the grass so it is easier to cut. No rain or dew? If nature is being stingy run a water sprinkler for a short time before mowing.

Short grass can be difficult to mow. It hasn't the weight and inertia of taller grass. Once the blade has hit the grass a couple of times the grass seems to turn to rubber, bending over and springing back up after the blade has passed. The forward end of the blade especially has to be sharp and kept that way to stand a good chance at cutting short grass during the first stroke.

Other items of importance are setting the blade at a closed hafting angle, keeping the belly of the blade on the ground as you mow, moving the blade in an arc.

Tips on mowing lawns with a scythe:

  • A long blade (over 28”) is not necessary. Short blades work well and may be easier to use. It takes longer to mow the lawn but short blades don’t have the extra weight and resistance of longer blades. Long blades are not as easy to finesse or control as short blades. That means with a short blade you are less likely to clip those pretty flowers when you meant to get only the weedy things.
  • The longer blade will mow more grass at each stroke than a shorter blade.
  • Don’t expect the finished lawn to look as neat as if it were done with a rotary mower, especially the first few go-arounds. At first the finished lawn will have its high spots, holidays and divots. Don’t worry. Give yourself time to develop the skill of close cropping a lawn.
  • Expect scything a lawn to take longer than with a power mower.
  • Your neighbors will appreciate your quiet, motorless mower.You won’t be the annoying alarm clock jarring them out of bed before breakfast. You can mow before dawn, after dark by moonlight, anytime you like without the disturbing noise of an engine.
  • A scythe will mow wet and/or thick grass that would bog down and stall a power rotary or hand reel mower. Use the scythe to clear an overgrown lawn before using a power or hand reel mower.
  • A scythe will clip right up close to foundations, steps, fences, stone walls, plantings, garden beds and many other obstructions that a mechanical mower can’t get close to.
  • Keep the heel down and the toe up. Ride the belly of the blade on the ground, keep the blade sharp, move it in an arc. Slice with the blade, do not hack; you are not teeing off in a golf game.
  • Light, gentle strokes are most effective. Mowing is a shearing action. It’s more like slicing a tomato than splitting wood.
  • With the belly of the blade on the ground the blade’s edge should be off the ground about ¼ to ½ an inch. You can adjust this height with a wedge placed between the tang and the snath.


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