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…

 

The New Generation of Scythers

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We all know that nature is very wise and just by a quick observation at the animal world, (including human species) and the vegetable one too, we see how cleverly some species went from near extinction to a number that comfortably assures their continuation on this planet, (At least for a few more years at this pace). Some of them transform or “reinvent” themselves in a different shape, color, behavior or other astute tricks that help them to adapt to a hostile or different environment.

Believe it or not, something similar is happening to the scythe world.IMGP2109

Although one living organism is declared extinct when the last one of a particular species dies, the scythe blades do exit probably in the some number than 80 years ago, some of them rusting in old barns, hanging for decades from rotten fences and some lucky ones very well taking care of, shiningly decorating living rooms! With no one to use them, so to be more precise what was almost disappearing was the act of mowing in some parts of the world.IMGP1996

Suddenly something happened that is awakening the interest for the use of the scythe again. Perhaps all that talking about the famous or infamous global warming by not only environmental experts, politicians too and even the Pope! And without a doubt the TV series Poldark is contributing to this new interest for scythes. Personally I have not seeing that particular chapter, I heard and read the opinion of some good mowers and they are not happy about how Mr. Midan Turner swings the blade. Some of those experienced mowers describe his motion as the one more appropriate to play golf than to swing a scythe. If what I said before is true, then scythe revival have to thank environmental experts, politicians, the movie industry and of course the Pope!IMGP2169

When I said new generation of scythers, I don’t really meant teenagers, in my few last workshops held here in Washington DC and in Ohio there were people from all ages, backgrounds, gender and professions,some do currently have land or garden to mow, others not yet but as a young girl told me a couple weeks ago once she will have a garden or larger piece of land she will take care of it old fashion way and that’s why she wants to learn now.IMGP2069

It doesn’t matter what you do or where you are, always watch your back, someone (most probably with sharp nails) may be quietly looking and will jump on your back.IMGP1919

Stay sharp my friends….

Scything in an Urban Labyrinth

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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.

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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

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 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?

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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Yes, cows also have twins.

Yes You Can Peen a Sickle

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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.

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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).

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

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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.

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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.

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Stay sharp my friends.

Ringing in the New Year

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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.

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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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

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