The Scythe: A Quick Start Manual
Oh, we know how excited you are to begin mowing with your new scythe. We've been there, too. But, please take a few minutes and review this “Quick Start” information. It will save you some frustration and possible damage to your scythe. Jumping into mowing, swinging it hard like you're trying to drive a home run over the left field fence will only tire you out and likely break the snath, dent, bend or break the blade.
Take a look at that blade. See how thin it is? It's literally paper thin at the cutting edge and not much thicker running up to the rib. Notice the curves: crosswise, lengthwise and along the edge. The curves plus the tension forged into the steel give this slender blade its remarkable strength and resiliency. But for all these attributes mistreatment and an incorrect mowing technique can result in damage and heartbreak.
You have spent good money, and we have put in a fair amount of time making sure this scythe is made from sound material, is in good shape, sharp (if you requested it) and sized to fit you. It is worth the time to review the following and perhaps spend some time with the Scythe Book before taking that first swing. The chapter on “Mowing Technique” is worth a look. If you don't do anything but study the drawings you'll learn what is NOT a proper stroke (swinging it like a golf club; the hacking stroke). Other diagrams show the correct way to swing the blade twisting at your waist, keeping the blade ON the Ground, swinging it in an Arc so the blade Slices instead of chops. Try the excellent exercises to develop proper body movement. (They're really kind of fun). Also, there is helpful information in the assembly instructions and the “Tips and Tricks” literature we included with your scythe. Please take the time to go over them.
There is an art to mowing with a scythe. Many others have developed the skill and so will you, but it does take time, patience and practice. The scythe, and the grass, will teach you. Over years of enjoyment and mowing you will continue to learn.
Scything is a gentle art. It does not require great strength, even when cutting thick saplings with a brush blade. Power from thigh and buttock muscles help carry the blade through the thickest grass. Arms and shoulders are used mainly to guide the blade not power it. The blade moves easily through the grass as it cuts with a slice like using a knife to cut new bread or a tomato by drawing the blade through. The stress of cutting is shared along the length of the blade. Each bit of the edge doing its part.
At the beginning of the stroke engage only the first third of the blade in the grass. Trying to cut with the full length of the blade will only clog it with uncut grass quickly stopping your motion. About half way through the arc the full length of the blade will be cutting.
Gently rotate your body at the waist drawing the blade along with you so it moves in an arc from the side, across in front of your body & coming to rest on the opposite side from where you started. The motion describes an arc from one side to the other. All the time the bottom of the blade remains on the ground (barring rocks or other obstacles that you will have to avoid). The blade is curved so its belly rides on the ground presenting the cutting edge at just the right angle to the grass. You don't have to hold the weight of the scythe as you mow. Let the earth do that for you. The return stroke is just the reverse, still keeping the blade riding on the ground.
Practice the motion in a cleared space then begin mowing grass by taking small bites, moving the blade in a short arc in front of you. As you get the knack reach for a longer, wider arc. It is possible to cut 180 degrees (+) and a 6 or 8 foot wide swath. But start easy, you'll get there eventually.
If you are not mowing large fields but are trimming with the scythe then short strokes are the ideal especially when you are mowing around posts, trees, rocks, fences, foundations, steps, flowers, shrubs. Still swing the blade in an arc. It will be a short arc, but still an arc, which is the key to the slicing stroke.
When you feel the blade lose it keenness stop and strop it a few times with your stone.
Here are the secrets to mowing with a scythe.
- Keep it SHARP.
- Keep it ON the Ground.
- Keep it Moving in an ARC.
- Keep it GENTLE.
The Long Stroke
At the start of the stroke, the blade can be brought back behind you to almost a 5 o'clock position. For reference you are facing 12 noon on a clock face.The point of the blade will be facing forward. Think of this initial position as cocking and loading a spring mechanism. Place most of your weight on your right foot*. Keep your hands away from your body.
During the stroke pivot at your waist while both arms move in unison across your body. Your left arm will naturally lever the snath as the right hand acts as a fulcrum point. The blade will follow a circular path. The stroke progresses with just enough velocity to sever the grass. It is unnecessary to whip the blade around. Do Go Gentle into that good grass. Try to feel the blade cutting.
Adjust the power used to carry the blade through the grass. Better to start out too lightly and increase the force than to begin too energetically and risk damage. Remember, the power comes from your thighs and buttock muscles. Use your upper body primarily to guide the scythe.
Watch the blade. Be sure it stays on the ground at the beginning and end of the stroke as well as the middle.
At the end of the stroke your left hand will finish behind you as it levers the snath around and most of your weight will be transferred to your left foot. The blade will be pointed to the rear. The torsion and rotation of your upper body will provide the extra power to finish the stroke. Shuffle forward as you lightly return the blade for the next stroke.
Finish the stroke sufficiently to your left to avoid walking in the windrow that's forming. With enough follow-thru** the windrow will be deposited on top of the cut grass and not be drawn back into the uncut grass.
Practice in a clear space. Exaggerate the whole routine a little until the dynamics become clear. Eventually the motion will become fluid, graceful and nearly effortless.
It is perfectly legal to take less of an arc in the swing. There are circumstances when such a vigorous 180° cut is unnecessary (when trimming, in tight quarters or maybe you just don't want to).
- Adjust the hafting angle of the blade (see Tips & Tricks).
- Keep the blade sharp, hone frequently.
- Face squarely into your direction of travel
- At the beginning of the stroke engage only the first third of the blade in the uncut grass.
- Keep the blade in light contact with the ground and moving in an arc.
* These instructions are written with right hand mowers in mind. Please reverse them if you are mowing with a left handed scythe.
** At the end of the stroke try bringing your left hand around to touch or nearly touch your left buttock. This will place the cut grass in the windrow behind you. Keep the blade on the ground on the return stroke and the cut grass will be left behind.
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