Scythes are like newborn babies, they come without instructions or warnings.
Perhaps I waited to long to dedicate a few lines and recommendations about safety while handling the blade. Safety is a concern when attaching the blade to the snath, mowing, sharpening, peening and even walking.
The name “blade” is already by itself kind of scary, the “scythe blade” even more (for its looks and for its most commonly known user, the Grim Reaper and his harvest of skulls).
However for those of us who look at it with different eyes and intentions, it shouldn’t be creepy. But at the same time, we should keep in mind a few do’s and don’ts while handling the tool.
Here are a few situations where our hands or our friends are at risk if we don’t pay close attention.
Attaching the Blade
At this moment the top end of the snath should rest on the ground. Firmly grab the blade by the rib or spine with one hand. With the other, screw/unscrew from the back of the bevel as seen in the illustration.
Mowing does not normally represent danger to the mower since the blade is attached at the far end of the snath and the circulating motion does not allow it to come close. However, it can be very dangerous to others around us, other mowers, dogs or even over-friendly livestock such as lambs, goats, kittens, chickens. No one should be closer than 12 to 15 feet from the blade in motion.
This is a dangerous moment since it requires our hand to be near the bevel and alternate fast movements at both sides of the blade.
When we are getting ready to sharpen the blade, the experienced scyther will brace the end of the snath almost vertically on the ground, bringing the blade to chest level, but away from the body. With a hand full of grass, we remove the grass and possibly dirt sticking to both sides of the blade from the back, near the tang, to the tip. This is not recommended to beginners, but is necessary. Otherwise the stone will ride on sticky grass at some sections and will not do its job, which is to thin and sharpen the bevel by removing material (metal) from both sides.
Once we have cleaned the blade with the grass, we pinch the bevel between the thumb and index finger then slightly and very carefully pass along the bevel to check the edge. This is very important as we can feel for imperfections in the blade—a dent, bend or crack—that needs immediate attention with the stone. Again, this is not recommended to beginners since is a dangerous move.
The most common mistake while sharpening or honing is trying to reduce the amount of strokes by prolonging or advancing too much. In other words, trying to sharpen the blade with very few strokes. By doing this, the hand goes forward a long section of the bevel, instead of in short, quick, downward strokes. A straight stroke on a crescent curve leaves the fingers vulnerable where hand and curve meet, and does not succeed in sharpening the blade.
During peening we have to be careful not only with our hands but also with our legs since the blade rests on both sides of the anvil on both legs. Wearing shorts is not recommended during peening. If you must, throw a blanket or old jacket over the legs.
Peening is safest at the middle of the blade when it rests on three points:
two legs and one anvil. It is at the beginning and at the end of the peening when the risk is higher because the blade is entirely at one side of the anvil, resting only on one leg and it requires stronger grip.
It is also during peening when most accidents happen because we are concentrated on the spot we need to hit next with our hammer and we don’t see our surroundings.
Again children playing around us, puppies, and other animals coming to us at this moment are at big risk. (Photo with the white goat by Ashley Vido)
Personally I find it very safe to walk with the snath on top of my right shoulder either with the blade pointing to the sky (in a big open area) or pointing to the ground if it is a trail with low-hanging tree branches. People walking with you should be parallel to you. If the trail or road doesn’t allow for that, then they should go either ahead of you or at least 12 feet behind.
Ideally the blade should be covered by a sheath or wrapped in an old cloth.
When not in motion, the blade should be hanging from a tree up to the tang and well above the ground.
If there are no trees or other structures (like a fence), the blade should be rested tilted against the wall, blade tip down and leaning at the tang. If we are in a flat field without trees or sheds, as a last option, we should put it on the ground with the cutting edge (bevel) facing the ground.
One last recommendation, especially for beginners, is to wear a good, flexible (not bulky) pair of gloves.
Stay sharp my friends