Sharpening/honing the Scythe

4 scythes -- slightly cut

A scythe comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, weights, (and colors). Some of them even with fancy stickers firmly affixed to the blade giving you the impression that it just won an award in a competition. (Even before ever touching the ground) But when scything, what really matters is how easy the blade cuts the grass, period. At the end of the day that is its mission. It doesn’t matter how well the snath fits you, how well the rest of the ergonomics match, or if the assemblage of the blade and snath is properly fit. Even if all of that is perfect, if the blade doesn’t cut as it is supposed to cut, is like a soldier going to war with a bb gun.blade 4 (look how little contact this well balance blade makes to the ground, that translate to little resistance and easy slide)

Here is when the sharpening/honing kicks in Alfonso Harpers Ferry fence
scythe and chicken - blade 6
Since a scythe blade is curved in three different ways, blade up -- No 10we sharpen it different than we do the majority of axes or kitchen knifes that are angled 50/50 (if we put the edge of a knife in front of our eyes facing us and will magnify that view), in a perfect world the angle of the ax or knife edge should be a perfect V, we will see equal amount of material on both sides of the edge.
two blades However, the concept of sharpening is the same, on all cutting tools, the thinner the edge the less resistance any kind of blade has to get into any material and we achieve that “thinner-ness” by reducing the angle of the edge by closing the V at the top. And we obtain that new shape by removing equal amount of material from both sides of the blade (with a stone in this case) that is sharpening. The farder back we go removing material, the smaller the angle and the sharper the blade will be, but also will get dull sooner and the cycle begin again. This is relatively easy on most axes or knifes however, when sharpening a scythe blade we have to keep in mind that on top of the three clearly visible curves there is another factor making it even a bit more complicated and that is the extra irregular additional angle of the edge.

sharp4 (1)The way I obtain better result when sharpening my blade with the oval whetstone is alternating strokes at both sides of the blade. Beginning at the beard and working my way out to the toe. The wider part of the stone makes the first contact with the blade dragging it until the point (of the stone). Beginning the first stroke from the inside part a little more angled and applying a little more pressure than the second stroke which the only function is little more than straighten the burr created by the first stroke. This action is repeated in the same order all the way until the toe.

The elongate diamond shaped stone of approximately 9 inches long and 1” or so wide at the middle is perfectly design to give final tune to the curved bevel of the blade.

“I don’t always eat chocolate rabbits, but when I do…..I prefer start with the head…”

Unfortunate Encounters as You Mow (Part two)

mole hills and stick
Another quite frequent and irritating encounter that occurs when you mow are those little piles of dirt rising from the ground not far from each other. Their size varies from a few inches tall and wide to about a foot in diameter. I am talking about molehills.

Moles are small mammals that live underground. Their diet is basically worms and they travel through an intricate network of channels that they dig, similar to our underground metro system in some cities. The metro has entrances, tunnels and stations. The moles’ system has entrances (or exits) tunnels and chambers (equivalent to our stations), and those hills are the deposits of extra dirt that they push up from those tunnelsmole entrance

When the grass is short, those piles are relatively easy to spot, especially in the areas or fields where the infestation is severe. They really slow down the mowing progress and process since we have to negotiate around them to avoid any contact between blade and dirt. But when the grass is tall and dense, you don’t see them until the blade has already gone through the whole pile. At this point, the bevel became dull and doesn’t cut well at all. Usually the whole length of the edge is affected. The good news is that since those piles are made of loose dirt (no stones in them), the damage to the edge should not be serious. Molehill encounters generally don’t produce cracks, dents or burrs on the edge, nor do they bend the bevel, which would require a hammer and anvil to fix. A good honing with a coarse stone will do the trick to make it sharp again.

The exact same thing happens when we have ant mounds in the field, which also are made of dirt, sand and other solid fine materials.

We also have to keep in mind that under and near trees we should expect broken brunches that can be quite a hindrance too.

Other non-pleasant and frequent encounters are skeletons of snakes and other animals, (which I like to investigate).

To end on a positive note, I should say that there are pleasant encounters too: birds, nests, eggs, rabbits and, maybe in our last swath we can find some wild and tasty strawberries.

IMG_20140409_063754Once we experience all that—the good, the bad and the ugly—we can say that the scythe is also a discovery tool!

Stone Holders

stone holders -- all four

When talking, reading or watching scythe-related topics, very little attention is given to one of the pieces of equipment that is always part of the process of mowing. While not the most essential, this item—like an individual soldier during war—plays an important role. This time I am referring to the stone holder.

A stone holder hangs from your belt, a handy container to hold a sharpening stone while you are out in the field. It can be simple, plain and still practical (that’s all we need from it—to hold the stone and some water). It also can add some graciousness to the whole set-up of mowing with a scythe, including to the mower.

They come in different shapes and are made from a variety of materials. The most stone holder - ajax
traditional are made out of cow horns and wood, but also can be metal, plastic or rubber. I’ve even seen and used several plastic dish-soap bottles: you just cut off the top and there you go. These cost nothing, weigh little, are waterproof, take less than a minute to make, last an eternity… and one always has replacements under the sink.

On the other hand, a stone holder can be very elaborate, expressive and personal. It is common to see carved wooden holders that give you, right away, a quite accurate idea of the personality of the mower. In other words, those who care about their appearances will not be comfortable using plastic bottles strapped to their hip. Practical mowers who might be in a rush, yes.

Wooden holders must be frequently checked for cracks that might leak water and then lose half of their purpose (only hold the stone but not the water) sometimes the wood due to a natural process of drying splits.
IMG_20140331_192016But to me, the most important detail about the stone holders is something that many people don’t think about: the angle at which the opening of the top of the holder is cut. Why? Because when it is cut in an angle where the highest point of the holder is closest to the body, as in this illustration, it is easier to put the stone in and pull it out for use. At the same time, the water won’t splash as much toward the body since the lower part is facing away from you, so the water will splash away from you too.

When you are mowing, the stone holder ideally has enough water to cover half of the stone (the part that will actually be sharpening the blade). This is to prevent the tiny particles of metal that were pulled and dragged away from the blade in the sharpening process from sticking to and filling the microscopic pores in the stone, which destroys the abrasive qualities of the stone. (This is the subject of a longer discussion on stones.)cachapa

Of course, holders have a downside. When you are not mowing and are just walking home or to the field, the constant rhythmic clanking of the loose stone hitting the walls of the holder can be quite annoying. The easy solution is to pull a few straws of grass from the ground and stick them next to the stone into the holder to cushion it.

Take a look at this illustration and compare. (A picture is worth a thousand words!)

In this example, the wooden one will never splash you, the horn, yes, as it angles toward the mower.

In my home region, a local museum is hosting a temporarily exhibit of stone holders through the ages from across Europe and regions in Spain.

When I went to use it for the first time last week after a long winter look who was in it (well the real ones escaped).