An Afternoon of Hay


The task of harvesting hay—you love it, you hate it… or both.


When I was a teenager, I had more reasons to hate it since the whole process was done human powered except some final heavy transportation done by animal traction. Today, it is probably not a pleasure but a whole lot easier. Also, I am not a teenager with other things on my mind.


However, one thing is true and that is that whether you like it or not, once you learn how to do it, it is basically a simple task. And it can, at the same, be as complicated as you like. Back in the day, most of the lessons and “training” was done hands on, knowledge transferred from one generation to the next. Today (particularly in large operations) modern technology helps you advance more quickly. But the knowledge transfer is the other way around—GPS on cows, computerized tractors and feeders, computerized milking, hay baling, etc. Most of the time, the transfer is opposite: from the young to the old, including with tools.

But it is very pleasant to see that there are still corners in the world where, for one reason or the other—maybe because they don’t like change, or because they don’t want to loose the traditions, or because they can not afford new machinery or because the terrain or conditions do not allow—people are still harvesting hay the old fashioned way and it is perfectly OK, as it always has been. Luckily, a combination of both practices, traditional and new are compatible.


A few weeks ago, I helped my sister and her husband harvest several small fields of hay—the norm in northern Spain—and had the pleasure of participating in a peening and scything contest.

In the next few days, I will continue with this post with other specifics.

Holy cow, happy cow!!!YMAIL_ATTACH_1411269120776_IMG_20140829_065627
She was supervising us working for her…
Then she said “catch me if you can”

Scythe in the City

Scything in the City


When talking about movies, we have all heard the expression “suspension of reality” and, quite frankly, that is often true. Scything in the city has a little bit of that too. Since scything is unusual activity off the farm, most people just will not make the connection. Others will not see the need or think that there are easier and more modern methods of taking care of the lawn or grass. More than one passerby will make a funny expression, thinking that you are going backwards or are nuts. Probably you will get a warning from the police if they see you waving a large blade around, even if your intentions are the most natural and healthy.


However, if you have the proper scythe, snath and ability, the result will speak for itself. And once you have a properly trimmed hedge, people will think you were not that wrong and will see you as “normal” again.


No one in the city has acres of land. But all you need is a small (even tiny) little garden or a simple hedge dividing your property from your neighbor’s to put the scythe to good use.


Almost every plant, hedge or bush that we see in gardens can be easily shaped and trimmed with a scythe. Negotiating between trees, bushes, steps and plant boxes can be very relaxing and enjoyable.


Although we might think that a blade has to be very sharp at all times when in use, ironically in this situation, it does not need to be very thin to avoid bending the bevel or cracking. We should always cut those saplings and twigs in the direction they grow, that way their own resistance (from the roots) will avoid bending and flexibility at the moment of impact of the blade.


You will be amazed to see how much you can do in a small yard with a scythe just as you are with a field of golden hay.




And to finish with a quick bite how about this:…

rat cheese

From the menu, I choose the Rat Cheese….


Photo Potpourri

monumento al segador en el parque natural Bardenas Reales. Navarra

Not everything that cut is a scythe, sometimes it can be a cat’s claws…

cat and axes

Not every one needs a sharp blade either to drill hard material. Here is a good example of this healthy oak.


Take a closer look. I think this woodpecker missed the target the first time…


Not every stone is good for sharpening or honing…


Now I am leaving you with a few photos of previous scythe related festivals in North Spain.
Peenning under umbrellas…

Competition consists of the best mowing, then in case of tie, the prize goes to whomever finished soonest.

DSCN0644Not a minute to lose…

and as you can see, pretty news girls like scything.


Carrying a bale of hay (before it rains)


Something is missing here…

axes andscythes

I found her drinking a beer …because my cat doesn’t always drink beer but when she does, she prefers Devil’s Backbone 😉

Wilma and beer

The Gathering

IMG_0231 Well, finally after a few weeks of absence trying to catch up on accumulated tasks left behind due to my trip north to New Brunswick, Canada, where I spent a few intense days of what I like to call the North American Scythers Summit (NASS, not to be confused with the space agency), I would like to say, first, thanks to the Vido family for hosting graciously, openly and generously a group of scythe enthusiasts from around the world with different points of view, needs, and backgrounds. All, however, shared a common interest: promote and use the scythe in the 21st century. IMG_0192 I never saw before so many kinds of blades, from different makers, countries, styles to fit different needs of cutting etc… I never saw so many handle grips from natural twisted branches (or probably roots) and for sure, It is not easy to find some one (not only in the scythe world) with such a wide knowledge willing to share it with others. Peter does. IMG_0219 And we had a happy bonus: the friendliest baby goat to accompany all activities. IMG_0238IMG_0229IMG_0234 My long experience with the scythes was always based on work, except for the times that I participated in mowing competitions (that was even harder work). But this time, it was primarily ( but not limited to) about learning how to make snaths out of raw wood or branches of trees, regardless of variety. IMG_0220It was gratifying to see that all other participants were young people with the idea of promoting the use of the scythe in their future.

Previous photos were taken by Ashley Vido ( scythe and axe expert) and Jesse. Jesee is a young scythe enthusiast, promoter and as you can see a great photographer too.

Now slowly going back to reality, I leave you with the photo of this turtle that I took in George Washington and Jefferson National Forest Park last weekend.IMG_20140727_131322 He or she was crossing the road and I moved him or her before his or her life was cut short. Please do the same…

Clean-Cut vs. Shredded Broken Grass

Golf course

As I was sitting on a low chair (close to the ground) a few days ago, contemplating what, from a distance, looked like a well-manicured lawn, gazing at the horizon, I swept the whole field with my eyes until, at my feet, I realized that the gorgeous, perfect and admirable green that was so pleasing to the eye, was no such thing. Once I looked at the grass between my shoes and “zoomed” into the small area close to me, I observed that the end of every stem looked like a white, dry shaving brush (almost like the roots at the other end of the stem). The butchery was done by the poorly maintained blades of the engine-powered machine that was used to mow that lawn. I couldn’t resist the temptation to kneel down and pull a handful of the grass and witness the devastating (almost painful to look at) effect that those machines can produce on grass.IMG_20140523_123726

This is a typical example of where one image worth a thousand words… Every piece of grass is damaged (or seriously injured)

IMG_20140523_124002 (1)

I am not a horticulturist nor a soil management expert. However it doesn’t require either degree to see what the direct negative side-effect will be on regrowing that grass. The broken, crudely decapitated ends present unnecessary and additional surfaces for the sun to burn and damage, creating weak parts in the stem and leaving, at that exact end point, a section with multiples dead dry ends.

Even a poorly peened/sharpened/honed scythe will do a much better, effective, quick, clean and gentle job. Here is a good example:IMG_20140526_090452

And a closer look:
If you have a large area to mow, you probably require an engine-powered machine. But there is no excuse to not sharpen the blades. Painless decapitation is best for everyone involved.


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).