Thank you, Ms. Major

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A few weeks ago I received a nice email from a lady who lives in Vermont. Ms. Major (her name) wanted to find someone who would use her father’s one hundred year old American scythe. I accepted her generous gesture and assured her that I would put the blade back to work in a very productive and effective way.

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The story goes back almost 100 years when Ms Major’s father, Russel, returned from World War 1 and started working on a farm in Glenmore, Pennsylvania. He then purchased this scythe, and based on the perfect condition of the blade today, he must have known how to use and maintain it.

20151205_161425_resizedThe plan is to incorporate, this coming Spring, this particular blade (with its original snath) into my workshops to teach those interested in green gardening how to take care of their lawns and gardens without polluting more air and wakening up the neighbors with those noisy gasoline machines.

20151205_204308_resizedAt the same time it will be a good opportunity to show the difference between the American scythe and its cousin the European, which is still in use in many countries. However , the heavier American–which is better suited for taller and rougher grass–is now rarely in use. Americans blades are not being made anymore in this country. The previous photo illustrates both blades, the American (dark one on top).

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I can’t wait to have my first workshop this coming spring with a new generation of scythe enthusiasts and send a picture to Ms. Major of her father’s scythe, back to work after 80 years of rest.

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This was my last encounter in the woods, just when I thought no one was watching me.

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Stay sharp my friends…or else…

 

25 thoughts on “Thank you, Ms. Major

  1. hello,
    I was wondering if the original point of that scythe was much different from to what it is now?
    I have a new tip brazed on my scythe and was wondering if that would have been the practice a hundred years ago too.
    Great photos by the way.

    • Not at all standard to braze on new points! I’ve seen a number of brazed tangs to repair damage, but never a new point. In all cases it’s been to keep an abused blade in service. The toe on the American blade in this post is very close to its original form, with only minor wear. It’s a blade meant for fairly rough mowing, likely in uneven terrain on weedy or weed-interspersed growth. It’s a heavier blade of the grass blade class, bearing more in common with a weed blade but built to grass blade proportions. Blades of that sort were often favored by railroad crews for maintaining rights of way along the sides of the tracks because of their large sweep but robust build that could eat anything they came across without much fear.

      • fortytwoblades,
        Thank you for detailed explanation. Answering your question, no, the blade doesn’t have any markings.
        The snath with the loop bolt on it weights 6.8 pounds and the blade 1000 gr. and yes has little but some use. I never used an american scythe before but I will try this one for sure.

  2. Looks like that snath is likely a Brinser. They aren’t as commonly found compared to ones by Derby & Ball, Sta-Tite, or Seymour. I own one of identical make/model with a partial label. The blade is likely a David Wadsworth & Son, as they were the most common producers of blades with double beads, but others used that style as well. Any tang markings?

    That snath was, as far as I’m able to establish, a bush model, by the way. Most American snaths (with the exception of those produced for expert mowers–mostly older models) can stand to be shaved down significantly and the nib bands resized to fit the smaller diameter of the snath. I like my American snaths to weigh less than 2lb 12oz fully assembled, and most I keep well below 2lb 8oz.

  3. Ms major here, indeed, my grandfather who perhaps might have left this scythe to my father was a railroad man on the Deleware Lackawanna and Western railroad line through Scranton Pennsylvania. Lovely to have more information about this scythe. My father all this life was meticulous in the care of his tools which may account for the condition of the blade.

  4. It looks that Brinser was a very large operation.
    I went back to examine every inch of the snath to see if I could find any signs of labels or other marks but there is no signs at all.
    I do have another snath almost identical probably from the same manufacturer and without any marks at all.
    Thank you Fortytwoblades for sharing that information and your knowledge.

    Ms. Major, then if the blade and snath originally was from your grandfather, now is well over 100 years old!

    Alfonso

    • From what I’ve been able to gather they were at least “of a size” but weren’t as prolific as some of the other manufacturers out there, and were small beans compared to Derby & Ball. At one time there were as many as 14 different snath manufacturers in the USA, but most surviving information deals with the three giants of the industry: Seymour, Derby & Ball, and Sta-Tite (which was a later entrant, founded in 1921.) TrueTemper had some snaths produced under their name but I’m fairly certain that they were produced under contract by Derby & Ball, and Sears contracted snaths from Seymour under the Craftsman name. 🙂

  5. Dear Ms Major,
    The scythe in the photograph is an interesting tool and the history with it makes it more so.
    I was using a similar one recently but with an aluminum handle. It worked very effectively, it stayed sharp,
    It was nice to use, I covered a good bit of ground and got a good sense of power. I hit a rock full belt with the tip and it didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects.

    Dear Forty Two Blades,
    Thank you for your response.
    The scythe I use normally, has a riveted rib that stops about six inches from the toe. I hit rocks with such force that it would make an eight pound stone jump and the tip will bend. I can straighten the tip about three times before it breaks, losing me about half an inch.
    A good tapered toe makes the scythe go through heavy growth with ease, using a closed hafting angle.
    My latest attempt to rectify matters was to cut into shape a tooth from the blade of a finger bar reaper and get it brazed onto the end of the blade. Although I have cut about half an acre of rushes with the new tip and am pleased with the ease of slicing I haven’t hit any stones since and am still very much in the research stage. I apologise if I have put forward, what I will later consider to be a bad idea.

    Dear Alfonso,
    My photographs are not that pretty but I put them at http://scythephotographs.weebly.com/trial-and-error for your interest.

    • Looks like you have an English pattern “patent tang” blade complete with grass nail. Are you located in the UK? Those sort of blades were imported to the USA for use as lawn blades, mostly. I question why such force is required in your mowing? If properly sharp even mature goldenrod and burdock don’t hang up the blade much. To avoid striking stones so much I suggest running the spine of the blade through the upcoming swath of grass on the backstroke. It’ll rub against any hidden stones in the process to alert you of their presence before they introduce themselves by stubbing the toe of your blade. 🙂

      • Joe, Thanks for the photos. Indeed your blade looks English.
        Although I am experienced scyther, (I’m 52 and begun mowing at about eight or ten years old) and many intense harvests without machines in difficult terrain, I don’t have much experience with american scythes, however I have a few of them and as I said earlier I am determined to put this one to work.
        I can remember only one time that I bent the tip of my blade considerably by hitting a hidden stone. The european/continental/austrian style blades have the riveted rib all the way across the back until the tip. That is a tremendous reinforcement and very rarely the tip is dramatically bent or broken.
        When you come across a brush or a yearling branch you just give a sharp impact with the toe and some times you will be amaze what you can cut striking with the proper angle and direction. With the american blade you can double or triple the size of that particular brush or branch.But sharp impact does not necessarily mean force. All blades have to go through with easy.
        Fortytwoblades, nice video.
        with the previous back stroke, also at the same time you accommodate (by bending) in the forward direction the grass to be cut next.
        The back stroke if used properly is an very effective multi-purpose move:
        – acommodates the grass for next
        swath.
        – check for stones, wires, stumps, bottles etc..
        – cuts grass that resisted the previous pass.
        – cleans the bottom section you are about to cut so you can see clearly what you are doing.
        – eliminates grass that got stocked on the tang.

      • Very nice! I’m a big fan of traditional working knives, and those remind me very much of Opinels and similar. The grinds look nice and thin, and the curves look just right. 🙂

  6. Thanks for the advice on avoiding hitting stones. I am very interested in anything that is simple and effective.
    The technique I us is to apply force in starting the swing and letting the scythe go through the grass with it’s own momentum. If it comes up against a stone it will stop without doing any damage. It uses no extra energy per unit of cut grass. Unfortunately when I come to a piece of ground that I think is free of stones, I go to town and that is when trouble can occur. I’ll give your suggestions a try.

  7. A very interesting discussion. I also do not remember seeing a tip repaired by brazing but I have seen them filed back after breaking.

    Most of these riveted blades made in England by the likes of Tyzack (who originally patented them), Nash and Hutton to name but a few had a short separate section of mild steel/wrought iron forming the rib at the toe of the blade. Tyzacks claimed this to be their patent ‘unbreakable blade’ but sadly they are often distinguished by their missing tips. They seem to work reasonably well with the broken end reprofiled. Though I cannot really speak for this as I use the forged English style of blade not the riveted ones.

    I have a lot of examples of the riveted blades including new ex-stock examples but I tend to find them too straight and flat for field work with the single piece blade more brittle than the laminated forged ones. The lift and crescent curve of the forged English hay blades help to avoid smaller stones. For large stones – well that explains why we have so many stone walls around our fields! Another few hundred years of picking the stones out of the fields and you’ll get there 🙂

    Having said that the riveted blades are brittle the steel and temper does seem to vary enormously between manufacturers – so some will bend before they snap and can also be peened.

    If this blade was made in England and exported to the USA I would expect to see the manufacturers stamp on the blade or rib and/or some stamp on the tang as well. I cannot see from the photos any makers stamp but it appears to be of a shape and length — somewhere around 24inches? – which was a mid sized blade shorter than a hay blade and sometimes described as a ‘garden blade’ in the UK.

    I will try to remember to photograph a couple of tips of English riveted blades tomorrow,

    cheers

    Mark

    • I believe the very flat nature of the riveted blades is one of the reasons that they were sold in the USA for lawn use! I have a Staniforth “Severquick” riveted blade in the collection that actually has the spine tapered off and curled along the toe to create a reinforced, if slightly rounded, point. I have a few forged Waldron blades as well, one of which is new old stock and appears to be unusued, yet the tang has been lifted and set as if it had been readied for use and then never put into service. Would love to get my hands on more English blades, but they’re pretty uncommon here. Even more strangely, I was able to get my hands on two Austrian-made English pattern blades made by Redtenbacher…how they ended up in the USA is beyond me. Redtenbacher sold a fair number of blades in the USA, but the bulk of them were either fully Austrian-styled, Austrian styled in the blade with an American tang for use on our snaths, or full-blown American pattern.

  8. I’m looking for information on a scythe I just purchased. Upon cleaning it up it bears D. Wadsworth & Son Auburn, N.Y. U.S. but I cannot locate anything about it. Any Help would be appreciated.

    • Monetarily it depends entirely on the condition of both the snath and the blade, and the blade’s make/model. Scythes in as-found condition, though, are generally not worth much and are quite common. A restored scythe goes for around $180-ish or more, mostly because of the large amount of labor involved in getting it back into ready-to-mow condition. Almost universally, American scythes need the blade fully reground and honed, the tang angle adjusted for the snath/user/mowing environment, and the snath usually needs hardware tightened up, the shaft shaved down to true up any out-of-round spots and uneven taper, as well as to relieve weight, and the nibs positioned for the user, which usually involves re-sizing the bands. If you’re a handy fellow, it’s not at all impossible to do it all yourself–it’s just time consuming and you have to have at least a passable idea of what you’re trying to achieve.

  9. Mr. Scythe, I just came into possession of a scythe. I was trying to date it a bit but ultimately will be using it on my property. It has three stamps (maker’s marks), “Austria” , a stylized swan and “26”. On the face of the blade blackened/etched is Redtenbacher. I’ve lightly removed the surface rust and the edge only has minor blemishes. It looks to be an American style blade. Any additional information you can provide will be appreciated. Thanks for your time.

    • Hi James,
      Thank you for contacting. Unfortunately, there is no much I can tell you about your blade without an image. However, the most important thing about it is that you are planning to use it.
      That blade as most of the last “american style” blades were made in Austria.
      I am going to refer to you to this web: baryonyxknife.com
      Benjamin (fourtytwoblades) can give you more specific details about your blade than I do.
      I will be happy to see what he has to say.
      Good luck and thank you again

      Thescytheman

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