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
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.
But 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.)
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).