The Organic Oklahoman

July 5, 2007

Scythe Notes

Filed under: Tools, Weeds, Work — Josh @ 1:36 pm

Yesterday I used a scythe for the first time. I few weeks ago I ordered a ‘traditional Austrian scythe’ from Lee Valley Hardware. It only took a few minutes to put the thing together and touch up the edge. Aside from that it was ready to go straight out of the box. I think I’m going to take awhile to catch up with the thing.

It is sort of a high tech/low tech conglomeration of a welded tubular aluminum handle or ‘snath’ and a wicked looking forged steel blade. It reminds me of a big two handled golf club…with three feet of razor sharp steel attached to the end. What it means to me right now is that its pretty light weight. Say five pounds? In spite of the scythe’s low weight, I am really feeling it this morning. It was a good workout. See, I’ve got about ten acres which, in Oklahoma, means lots of grass. Plus, the soil is sort of a medium heavy clay so right now the mud is ankle deep where ever you go. As I slogged out to the spot I picked out to practice with the scythe it was fairly obvious that mud was going to be a factor. I slipped once and nearly impaled myself of the thing—not something I would recommend. But it got my heart rate up so I was ready to begin.

After some tentative swipes at the grass it was really easy to fall into a very natural rhythm that allowed me to cut a fairly wide path. The grass was thick and tall and I’m certain that my riding mower would have choked on it but there are no ejection ports on a scythe. The grass generally falls where it’s cut or moves to the side. I think I’ve got some technique issues to settle but man did I cut some grass. Well, and weeds too. OK, I took out some fairly sizable divots but in spite of that it continued to perform well.

One similarity I noticed is that it’s important to swing it so that the cut grass falls away from the uncut. Just like a regular mower, cut grass gets in your way. That may be pretty obvious to some but I had to learn it the hard way. Planning how to cut a big patch of grass is just as important when using a scythe as it is when you’re cutting with a gas mower.

By the end of the day I also used it in my garden to remove some tiresome grass that keeps popping up at the end of my rows and all through what was supposed to be a flower patch. Squash and beans, it will be worth noting, fall just as easily as grass to that blade. For a beginner, I was fairly proficient when I cleaned it and put it up. I was also pretty grateful to have run out of time. I was tired. No wonder those farm boys from a generation ago were in such good shape.

I did notice a few things about a scythe, having never used one. My grass cutting has always been done with a gas-powered lawn mower. The two were designed to perform the same task—grass cutting. In that they are the same. The differences, however, are worth noting for those who are interested—obvious environmental impact issues aside. While I woke up very sore this morning it was the good kind of work-a-day sore. That pleasant stiffness that you earn, a token of the previous days activities and a reminder that you should get out and do it again soon. While I ran out of gas several times during the day the scythe was always ready to go. A mower requires frequent, messy refueling and I always get that vibration generated soreness in my hands and shoulders which feels more link and injury than mere stiffness.

One major thing that I would note is that the performance of both the scythe and a regular mower rely on the sharpness of the blade. A scythe performs best when the blade is razor sharp. That’s why you have to carry a whetstone with you when you use it. This, I think, is one of the many benefits because I had to stop from time to time to catch my breath anyway. Might as well be doing something right? I mean other than standing there sweating and gasping for breath.

I have seen a few weight sets in the $100 price range, but none of them were this good in the area of cardio. All the other aerobic/cardio machines I have seen cost way more than the $95.00 I paid for the scythe kit. And none of them can cut the grass while they tone your…well, apparently everything. Ouch.

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