Better Safe Than Sorry

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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).

IMGP2018However 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

scythe safety5.jpgAt 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

20150725_100928Mowing 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.

Sharpening/Honing

 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.

Peening

 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:

peening safety.jpg 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.

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peening safety3.jpgIt 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.

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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)

Walking

scythe safety6Personally 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.

scythe safety7Ideally 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.

IMGP1911.JPGIf 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.

IMGP1910.JPGOne last recommendation, especially for beginners, is to wear a good, flexible (not bulky) pair of gloves.

SCYTHE AND CATS

Stay sharp my friends

 

 

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….

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).

Golf course - rock and high grass

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.

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

 

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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,

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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.

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

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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!