A Modern Take on Traditional Scythes

These days more and more people are returning to the traditional ways of doing things, and there’s one very old-fashioned tool in particular that has made a big comeback in recent years: the scythe. The scythe was probably invented around 500 BC, but did not become popular in Europe until the late Middle Ages. It was first used for cutting hay, and later was also used for reaping grains, replacing the sickle, and allowing the farm worker to stand straight instead of stooping when reaping the harvest.

Why Scythe?

So why would anyone use such an old-fashioned tool when we have modern mowers and mechanical reapers? For small farms and large yards, scythes provide many benefits over engine-driven tools. Many people prefer them because they are quiet, don’t pollute the environment, and help conserve biodiversity. They’re more affordable as well, both for initial investment and because they don’t require fuel. They are also ideal for steep slopes, rocky or treed areas, and irregularly shaped fields where larger equipment cannot be used safely or effectively.

Learning to Scythe

Scythes can be used by nearly anyone. Using them effectively does not require strength or force, just proper technique and a sharp blade. Some scythe experts compare the mowing action to dancing, both in terms of motions used and the level of physical exertion. Although you can expect to be a little sore after your first scything session, it should not be too tiring. If you find yourself strenuously exerting yourself while scything, double-check the following:
  • Your scythe’s handle, called the snath, should be adjusted to your body size.
  • Your blade should be well sharpened. It should be honed every 10 minutes or so during use, and you should maintain the edge at the end of the workday as well.
  • Proper scything technique makes all the difference. Your blade should remain at ground level for the entire cutting motion, and the force of the cut will come from your hips and thighs – not your arms and shoulders. The movement of the blade should be more like the arcing motion of a stylus around a center point than like a golf- or axe- swing.
Good technique comes with practice. By the end of a season of scything, you will be comfortable with how your tool works and glad you learned the dance of the scythe!

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