Friday, August 3, 2007

Scythe of Relief

(Ok, so not Monday or Tuesday. So much to do! Moving--whether from one room to another, or just incorporating a new housemate's things into the kitchen, always takes longer than one expects.)

The new Austrian scythe and snath (handle) finally came--better than Christmas! Not just unwrapping the gleaming new blade from its spiral wrapping of crispy striped brown paper, but today the unwrapping of the garden from its burden of weeds. Some clumps of foxtail grass are over 7' tall--taller than I can reach with my fingertips stretched over my head!

The idea was to put the new blade on the new snath, and move the brush blade over to the old wooden snath since I've never liked the aluminum snath that the brush blade is on, and it's also bent and doesn't fit me well. But the new snath is quite rough, and I decided not to mount a blade on it until I've had time to lovingly sand it smooth and coat it well in linseed oil. I'm looking forward to the new snath because I had this one made to fit my body measurements. It's several inches shorter than the old "standard" snath. But the patina of long use on the older snath is especially lovely, and when the upper nib (handle) kept working loose, I contrived an elegant reinforcement of leather, brass screws, and wire.

I tried the brush blade on the old snath, but found I couldn't use it as well. I'm used to compensating for the out-of-adjustment blade and the too-tall, misshapen snath and the lower nib that won't stay in place.

So I put the new blade on the old handle (I don't think this is a case of new wine in old skins), at least temporarily until I get the new handle finished. It cuts wonderfully, like a dream! Even goose grass, one of the toughest grasses on the farm, cuts like butter. This evening I cut and cut and cut, just for the joy of cutting the lush grass with the keen blade.

This razor-sharp new blade shows me how I've gradually come to accept a less and less keen edge on the old grass blade. And of course the tool responded by cutting grass less and less well. Over the years (I think nearly 10) that I've had it, I've not kept up the frequent honing that is recommended. And I peen (hammer out) the bevel far too infrequently, and not very expertly despite having a special tool for this purpose that's suppose to make it idiot-proof. Having the new blade to compare to shows me why I'd gradually become just the slightest bit disillusioned with the scythe. It wasn't the tool's fault, but my own long-term minor neglect and incompetence.

Last week a friend came to help out in the garden, and brought her string trimmer. I've never gotten comfortable using one, though I have one another friend donated to the farm. It was a good opportunity to observe the tool in action on the farm, doing particular tasks I had thought might be better suited for the string trimmer than the scythe. If so, then I would try to befriend the string trimmer in earnest. In fact, it turns out the scythe is significantly faster than the at clearing a line for the portable electric fence. And it's delightfully quiet...nice to listen to the birds or carry on a conversation while I'm working.

Today, I figured I'd use the power mower for the portions of the lane that have been kept regularly mowed (but were in dire need of a trim), and reserve the scythe for the taller edges and rarely-mowed spots. In fact, I ended up doing most the mowing with the scythe. It seemed less effort than pushing the non-self-propelled mower in the tall, thick grass. So the scythe came out on top again.

This kit came with a different artificial stone than the one that came with my original scythe kit. This one has the tradition tapered ends of the real stone one I've been using. But the artificial one is a bit courser than the old stone, and will help to get the dull brush blade back to a nicer edge.

A scythe kit cost just under $100, from a family business in Tennessee ( The scythe never needs gas (though a little oil is good now &then to preserve the wood and prevent rust). And it is wonderful meditation and gentle whole-body exercise.

A truly sustainable and sustaining tool, in all respects.

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