web analytics

I learned a thing!


We went to the country show on Saturday and it was awesome (the weather cooperated and everything) and I bought a scythe and a sickle! w00t!

Now some of my handier readers may know how this thing is done, but I did not. Using either a scythe or sickle in the field, the blades need to be resharpened every five or ten minutes. An unsharp scythe is a misery. This is done with a lozenge-shaped stone kept on your belt in a holster half full of water.

This looks completely badass. Mine are in the mail.

But after a day’s mowing, or less if you’re mowing something hard, the blades need peening (which is sadly not as rude as it sounds). What you do is hammer a couple of millimeters of metal at the edge until it is super thin. Not only does this mash out knicks and dings, but it makes the blade thin enough to take a good edge from a smooth stone.

This is done with a one-pound hammer on a peening anvil, which is not a bigass anvil like they drop on people’s heads in cartoons, but a little shiny thing. Eh, have a YouTube.

The dude on the left in the painting is using a portable peening anvil they used to take out in the fields and stick in the ground. You can still get those. (Painting by Léon Augustin Lhermitte).

If you’re a casual mower, you can get away with filing the edge to shape. That’s what I’ll do. I don’t honestly see myself peening in the near future and, trust me, I’m going to be the most casual of casual mowers.

You’d think you’d hammer the blade away to nothing in no time, but there are plenty of very old scythes and sickles to be had. Though if I were serious, I’d buy a modern one.

If you wonder why bother, do a YouTube search of “scythe vs strimmer” — spoiler: scythe always wins.


Comment from tonyc
Time: May 30, 2016, 10:14 pm

Scythes always win in a five minute competition. Which I guess is fine if you are a subsistence farmer and try to live off the proceeds from a small lot, or if you are a hobbyist. Admittedly, I do quite a few things the old fashioned way just for fun.

Let’s see them compete on something that takes half an hour or more to mow.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: May 30, 2016, 10:27 pm

“Scythe vs. trimmer” is moot for me:
In “Uncle Al vs. yard man” I won! (-:

Loser does the lawn, and yard man does a good job, better than I’d do it. He uses a commercial riding mower that goes really fast!

Comment from Bob B
Time: May 30, 2016, 11:38 pm

After years of stoning my gardening sickles, I got the idea to use use a chef’s steel on them instead. It’s much faster. About every fifth sharpening I use the stone. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a diamond embedded steel and drop the stone entirely.

Comment from QuasiModo
Time: May 31, 2016, 12:12 am

I guess you’re all preparing for the Apocalypse, when there’ll be no more fuel for the mowers and whipper-snippers?

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: May 31, 2016, 12:20 am

As a kid of 12 or 13, I got to try a a scythe and a sickle, once, at my grandfather’s farm. I was surprised at how well and easily they cut after you sorted out the technique. My grandfather did sharpen them on a rock that day but I’d thought it was just a matter of expediency for the moment – I had no idea that this had anything to do with the real way of sharpening them. This is fascinating for me.

By the way, that is a fabulous painting….

Comment from Mr. Dave
Time: May 31, 2016, 11:36 am

No scythe experience but plenty on the sickle. I have a new/old broad axe and adze that I’m working with to get the right techniques going. Just made a bois d’arc maul that pleases me. I must join a cartoon so I can bust some critter on the head with it.

Comment from Ric Fan
Time: May 31, 2016, 5:18 pm

Be careful walking around with that thing. In Dance to the Music of Time, the guy sees a person wearing a cloak & carrying a scythe, cross the road. Fearing it was death, he crashes his car and dies.

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: May 31, 2016, 7:34 pm

Husband has more experience than he’d like—swinging a yoyo, and the machete. I don’t know why it’s called a yoyo—it’s a double-sided blade on a long handle. Maybe it’s a regionalism.

Comment from Nina
Time: May 31, 2016, 9:07 pm

I’ve never used either, although in my neighborhood they would make great defensive weapons. 😁

It must take forever to get anything finished if you have to sharpen your blade every five or ten minutes, though!

Comment from David Gillies
Time: May 31, 2016, 9:12 pm

Yoyo: sling blade or kaiser blade, perhaps?

The addled green pastoralists have a sort of sick fetishised nostalgia for this lifestyle, which would last about 30 minutes into their first day living it. That guy sharpening his scythe is actually 26.

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: May 31, 2016, 9:29 pm

@David Gillies—Thank you. Yes, it appears that a yoyo and a sling blade are the same thing.

I would watch my father sharpen the garden hoes and shovels, then I presumed that I could do the same—so I did. He never chided me so I guess I didn’t ruin the edge (too much). I can’t stand to hear a knife blade being sharpened though—it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. But it doesn’t bother me if I do it myself. Needless to say, Husband taught me early in our marriage how to sharpen my kitchen knives.

Comment from Ric Fan
Time: June 1, 2016, 2:17 pm

When I was a kid, there was a guy in a pushcart that would come down the street that would sharpen knives.

Comment from OldFert
Time: June 2, 2016, 2:23 am

Ric Fan: We had the same thing in our subdivision in south Jersey back in the late ’50s and early ’60s. He was a really old guy (I was around 10 or 12 or so) so I guess he was probably in his middle 40s, early 50s. That was really old to me). Sharpened scissors and I’m guessing knives as well.

Deborah HH: When I was in the army I bought a couple extra ammo pouches. One was for cigarettes (would hold a whole carton of king size), the other was for tools, one of which was a file. It amazed me how many of the kids didn’t realize that sharpening an entrenching tool, shovel, or axe would really help. Never was really good at it, but at least my section’s stuff had some sharpness to the edges. I never did get the hang of sharpening knives, though.

I think it was supposed to be Abraham Lincoln that said if given six hours to fell a tree, he’d spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Comment from Bob M
Time: June 2, 2016, 11:38 am

You forgot to mention 2 types of handles available. The European straight handle which requires specific lengths of the main shaft and grip handle, and the curved American type. Both work well but the blade angle is different.

I have an area with obnoxious vines that grow incredibly fast, grape, bittersweet, poison ivy and even more. I found the European handle with a Fox ditch blade the best tool to use to clear the vines. It can be wielded at any angle and has great reach. It turned an hours job into minutes. (the ditch blade is great for taking out small saplings at ground level as well).

Write a comment

(as if I cared)

(yeah. I'm going to write)

(oooo! you have a website?)

Beware: more than one link in a comment is apt to earn you a trip to the spam filter, where you will remain -- cold, frightened and alone -- until I remember to clean the trap. But, hey, without Akismet, we'd be up to our asses in...well, ass porn, mostly.

<< carry me back to ol' virginny