Scything in an Urban Labyrinth


The curved multipurpose tool we keep talking about, the one that once was the fundamental apparatus used to harvest hay in many nations (and in some still) to feed livestock to provide food for people, slowly is making its way from rusting in old barns to appearing in the modern urban garden.

With that transition, the simplicity of swinging the scythe from side to side, in open fields with wide swaths, creating long straight windrows and shearing tall grass in a rhythmic, organized way has transformed to complicated contortions and fine movements due to the narrow paths common to urban community gardens. What we have here is more of a labyrinth, and clearing in it requires a totally different technique.

In tight spaces, I find myself cutting the grass in both directions, using a sawing motion, or what could be called a backstroke. I use quite often this technique. I find that the backstroke is very useful to cut tufts or patches of grass that gets missed in the first pass. Honestly I don’t know why this works. I suspect that is because during honing, the forward motion of the stone produces micro serrations pointing forward, but less resistance in the reverse.


The good news is that even with a little complication, the job can be done. And it is very pleasant to walk back through the labyrinth (if you don’t get lost) and see clean paths where the grass is no longer climbing into the peppers or tomatoes.

I was using a 26-inch blade. For a field, that is small-medium. For a tight garden space, a 24-inch blade would have been more nimble.

Some of the gardeners stopped their weeding to ask questions about the “sickle.” But while they were slightly confused about the two blades, they didn’t hesitate to ask if I could clear around their box. For whatever complication, the scythe was still quicker than pulling grass by hand.

IMG_20150606_200530 After drying all that grass it lit that beautiful fire …

to warm this bird

IMG_20150616_162817Stay warm my friends…

Sharpening Stones


 A lot has been written about sharpening stones and their classifications depending on quality, mostly based on the grit count. As with everything, the more deeply you go into a subject, the more complicated it gets—even though at the beginning, it looks quite simple and straightforward.Stones in a daisy

For those who would like to know more details about sharpening stones, I recommend this article. For those of you who want a shortcut to the basic differences among sharpening stones, it is fairly simple and requires the sense of sight and touch.

There are two ways to quickly verify qualities of a particular sharpening stone: close visual observation of the grit, and the “touch,” that is, how it feels when you rub your fingers across the stone. Together, they will tell us if it is coarse, medium or fine.stones - 3

The coarse ones are rough, their composition is based on larger particles that will eat the bevel of the scythe blade more quickly, and, as a result, we will have to peen the blade more frequently since the previously peened bevel will be worn away sooner. These stones also will wear out fast, especially on those areas of initial contact with the blade. While the stone is pulling an edge from the blade, the blade also does its own damage to the stone—wearing the large particles away, despite their hardness.

The medium coarse, usually 300–500 grit, is in my opinion the one-size-fits-all stone, and usually by applying more or less pressure against the blade, the medium stones can substitute either the coarse or the fine ones.

The fine ones are also very easy to recognize. We almost don’t see the single particles that form them, so smooth is their surface. Upon examination, they feel almost like a polished ceramic surface. This fine ones last far longer since they are very compact and hard.

Ideally we should pass these stones along the blade in order, coarse, medium then fine. But no one does it. The coarse does the harder job of removing material from the bevel, the medium smoothes it off and this fine one will give it a nice clean finish to the bevel—resulting in a quick, easy and clean cut.Stones on their side (1)

Some stones are extracted from a quarry and shaped. These are natural stones. The others are manipulated into their final form. Personally I like the natural ones, even if their look can give the impression that they are poorly made or even unfinished. If you live in the country, chances are that you might pass through a place where you can get natural sharpening stones by the side of the road. If not of the best quality, they will at least be good enough to sharpen most of your tools.

If you take a closer look at the bunny photo, above, you will see coarse, medium and fine stones. Can you see the difference?

Before the Easter Bunny got into my house…IMG_20150407_212907

And after…ATT_1428456758299_IMG_20150407_213130 (1)

Stay sharp, my friends.

Preparing and Protecting the Snath

IMG-20150120-WA0013The snath requires as much care as the blade, though it is much less discussed. Instead of sharpening, repairing and adjusting the angle of the tang,  a mower must also be able to maintain and fix a damaged snath–and even better, avoid the damage. Imagine the area where you are going to mow is far from the barn or house and, because of the bad condition of the snath or because of lack of attention and maintenance, it breaks at the beginning of the journey.Not the best way to start the day!

The previous photo illustrates perfectly what happens when you don’t dedicate the time and attention necessary to something as simple as making a proper-sized hole in the snath to insert the nipple of the tang and affixing the blade to the snath.

In that photo, it is clear that no drill or chisel was used to make that hole. I am sure it was made using a regular pocketknife: The hole is not big enough and probably was not measured at all. The nipple doesn’t quite fit and was forced in by either hammering or over-tightening the ring… or most probably both. The result is that the snath cracked.

Luckily enough the crack did not reached the end of the snath and that is why it could be totally repaired (by enlarging the hole first with a drill and then with a chisel) and put back to work again.

It is quite simple, to make a hole with the proper dimensions, however there are a few small details to keep in mind.IMGP1034

First put the tang on top of the snath and mark where the hole is going to be. Most tangs are between 3 and 4 inches long and that should be the distance between the end of the snath and the hole.

Take a ¼ inch drill bit. You can mark it with a piece of tape at ½ inch from the tip of the bit to make sure you are not going to go deeper than that (since most nipples are about ½ inch long).IMG_20150202_193010

Sometimes you can even add a new hole, to better hold the blade. For that, just drill two holes next to each other, ½ inch deep, and then use a chisel to square, joining the two holes into one clean cut. That’s all it takes.


After that, it is very important to attach a metal snath saver or protector.

IMG_20150130_205032 (1)

Once the snath saver was in place, and as a double safety measure, I put one screw on each side to prevent the crack from growing further. And finally (it is not done yet) will be filling the crack with a wood glue.

Also the other part of the snath that needs regular monitoring is the grip. Just to make sure they are still tight. If not, take action to make sure they don’t get more loose.IMG_20150203_192841


Yes, cows also have twins.

Yes You Can Peen a Sickle

sickle 2

Well, the truth is that the same way not all dogs are trainable, not all sickles are “peenable” either. In general, the sickles with wider and thinner blades that somehow resemble a little bit the shape of a scythe, like the one in the previous picture, can and should be peened the same way a scythe blade can be peened.

The sickle is one of the most ancient tools, It has and is still being used by every culture. That explains the wide variety of types and styles of them.


Made for harvesting, it precedes even the scythe. While the sickle has a very short handle that forces the “harvester” to work in a squatting position, the scythe appeared later as an innovation with a longer handle, allowing the person to work on an upright position (and less tiring).

Golf course - rock and high grass

We saw on earlier posts that the scythe blade is curved in three ways:


crescent, then around the middle of the blade, it rests on its belly, curved on both along the transversal and along the elongate (length of the blade). But sickles are usually flat, the only curve they have is the crescent and sometimes a little tiny bit elevated at the point. The one in the following illustration, marked with a swan (logo) is made in Austria, weights 280 gr. and is very well adapted to its purpose, which is harvesting. It has one section peened, just under the logo, the rest still not, so you can see the difference.


Obviously, in addition to the peening, we also file the bevel, and hone it with our regular sharpening whet stones. However, since we work in a squatting position, we are very close to obstacles, wires and stones that we might encounter and, therefore, we can see and avoid them. The result is that very rarely do we have considerable damage to our blade and that allows us not to have to hone or sharpen it as frequently as we do a scythe.


Stay sharp my friends.

Ringing in the New Year

Sessions front

While winter resists to move on quickly, and the grass in the fields, gardens and other green areas is dormant, what a better way to kill time (until spring comes) than to open up an antique mantel clock, disassemble it, investigate it and hopefully put it back together again. Before I continue I should say than I am not a horologist and certainly no expert in clock repairing, but I like discovering why a clock is not working. You would be surprised how many times simply looking at the movement (the moving parts and pieces inside) helps you identify what the problem is. And that is already a lot.


It is true that scythes and mantle clocks have nothing in common. However keeping good timing helps even when mowing!


This Sessions mantle clock was my first one. It was filthy inside and outside, and I observed that the movement—except for the missing pendulum—was complete. There was no sign of a big problem. So I got a pendulum. It ran for a few minutes and stopped. But all it needed was a small adjustment, and a lot of patience, Finally it is running with the precision expected from a clock.

Case and face

Here is an ongoing bigger project. I have the case, the face and a few other parts. Now I just need to find the remaining missing parts and put it together in the next few weeks (or months)

Gilbert face open

This nice Gilbert also needed a few minor adjustments and now keeps the time very well, but it chimes the way it wants and as many times it wants. and other times it chimes and don’t stop until it runs out of wind.


So I will disassemble it and try my best to put it back into working order.


If you have pets, sometimes is a good idea to close the toilet lid!

Happy Holidays


Since these days there is little to mow, and the blades are all clean, sharpened and in good shape, I went to spend a little time in the woods. In order to keep my hands busy, I brought home a few nice pieces of branches that I cut from a dry, fallen old oak tree.

What I needed from those little branches was a 10-inch fork. The project this time was to make a slingshot to take care of a few unwanted creatures encroaching in the neighborhood.


It is relatively easy, inexpensive and you don’t need much to complete the project. Imagination? Not even that, because it is self-explanatory. All you need are some rubber bands that you buy over the internet or maybe an inner tube from a bike’s tire, and a piece of leather to hold the stone back as you stretch the rubber bands and, last but not least, a pocket full of rocks! Once the project was complete, I tried a few shots to warm up, testing both the artifact and the person (the last time I used one was at least 40 years ago). It worked perfectly, and I now rush to finish these lines so I can go to my post and wait for those not needed creatures to show up.


This is a closer look at how I inserted the rubber bands into the arms of the fork.


And finally after all that work the whole thing paid. I caught the bad guy, I saved the skin and hung it on the wall.

Happy Holidays. Feliz Navidad and Stay sharp my friends..

Winter Tasks and Projects


There is little rest even during winter for scythes, except on rainy and snowy days. This is the best time to check if the blades require more attention than the regular peening and cleaning. This is when we take care of more serious repairs. It is wise to disassemble the blade from the snath if we are not going to use it for a few days, especially those humid days, because we all know that humidity swells wood. If the blade still attached,

IMG_20141128_143643the ring will not allow to expand naturally the part of the snath that is covered (by the ring itself) as a result, it will become tight and weaken the wood at that point. This is obviously something to consider all year round, every time the snath gets wet.

Winter is a good time to grab an axe and a brush axe

IMG_20141128_120720and trim trees, clearing and eliminating all those saplings and new trees growing around stones and fences. And of course, at the same time we always look for those branches that might become a potential handle for axes, hay rakes, forks, etc.

Because during winter most trees do not have leaves, it is easy to spot what we have to cut and where. Also the whole process is easier since, without the leaves, brunches are much lighter. Meanwhile growth is almost stopped during winter, and the wood gets tighter and harder. As a result, the wood we cut at this time shrinks less that what we cut in late spring or summer.

Speaking of winter projects, here is one of mine: attach some handles on these totally different brush axes.

ATT_1417201158412_IMG_20141128_121909 The big one is called a kaiser or sling blade (yes, like the movie), and is double-sided, with a sharp bevel on both sides and weighing about 750 grams. You can easily cut, with one stroke, branches the size of an arm. It is a terrific tool.

The little one weighing 430 grams, has a hook that, (no is not for scratching your back) when you are cutting brush, allows you to hold back the tangled branches that sometimes fall toward you and position them at the right distance for the next stroke.

Untill the next project, lets take the shirt off, relax and watch soccer…

ATT_1417193144595_IMG-20141126-WA0000Stay sharp my friends…

Old School Tools


Every time I go to a hardware store, I like to visit the section displaying the latest version of toolboxes. Full of beautifully organized wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers, etc., they make me think that there must be an engineering brain behind those designs just to make all the pieces fit so perfectly. Of course every tool has a specific purpose, and in the hands of a handy person or a true professional, it is amazing what some tools can do. But this phenomenon of having available to most of us such a variety of specific and advanced tools didn’t exist that long ago, and people had to build and make things they needed, including other tools. And of course they needed tools to repair even scythe blades!


In my village most of the old houses have outside a rain catcher, made out of either limestone or some kind of sand stone. They are about 30 inches high, 30 inches across, the walls are about three inches thick at the top and they weight about 500 pounds. These stone vessels served a secondary purpose: a “tool” that people used to fix the bevels of damaged blades and hoes, and to sharpen axes, sickles and kitchen knifes.


Many of them present very visible grooves from years of use, where one put the blade, then ran it back and forth in the notch. The motion is the same as if you were cutting a piece of wood with a hand saw.


Needless to say, not all types of blade or edge damage were fixed that way. Serious cracks, for example, needed careful filing, and treatment with hammer and anvil. But damages such as burr, bended bevel, small cracks or chips can perfectly be fixed with a rain catcher!!!


a large bee, working along pointy and sharp edges

Just a Few Photos

Here are a few related and unrelated photos that you might enjoy:

I had the pleasure to attend to Southern Ohio Forge and Anvil (SOFA) annual event where I made a nice little horse shoe. For more information about this unique event visit their website.


I highly recommend this event to whomever wants to purchase some tools related to the profession


or whomever wants to see great professionals in action.


After forging we trained to march the chicken brigade.

The next two photos shows the sequence of life….



And after.

Disgusting or delicious….


All That Glitters Is Not Gold (In this case, is not green)



The same joy, good feeling and confidence that an appropriately dressed couple experiences when they walk into a party, a proud scyther feels when he walks (properly equipped) into a tender-looking, green grass field, just to mow. But a surprise can lurk around the corner for anyone. That good-looking couple suddenly realizes that they cannot dance to the music playing. That deception is similar to the one experienced by the well-equipped scyther who finds himself with a lovely field that he cannot mow as gracefully as he thought he could. Why? Well, this time because he found that a few inches under the green grass there are a few more inches of a stubble,


a muggy mass of old grass that has not been properly cut and raked in the previous season or was used as a pasture with not enough animals to eat all the grass.


The best, well-peened, sharpened and honed blade, in the hands of a good experienced mower, will not be sufficient to leave a nicely manicured area. It is also frustrating because you can only advance with a fight. And forget about the nice, clean windrow.


The area to be mowed with a scythe needs to be as clean as possible and, contrary to what I explained in previous posts—unfortunate encounters as you mow part one and two—in those situations, we do not have control of the obstacles that we find hidden. However this situation can be controlled just by raking well all the cut grass, and we will see the benefits next time we will mow.



When you are mowing around a pond, you never know who is watching you or what their intentions are…