Farm Wars – Revenge of the Scythe

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Imagine, dear friends, a time long ago… a dark time, before the advent of lawn mowers, weed-whackers and leaf blowers. Oh yes, friends, a time when summer days were deathly quiet, with only the sounds of birds singing and the wind blowing through the tall grass… when there was nary a 24-hour fitness center and men had to resort to physical labor to get six-pack abs. A time, in fact, before actual six-packs! The scythe… the preferred tool of both Amish farmers and the Grim Reaper, is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Not just because it goes well with hipster beards and suspenders, but also, as I recently discovered, it works REALLY well for the someone with a large lot or acreage who wants to avoid using lots of noisy power tools. Ready to learn more about how to use a scythe?

My first experience with a scythe came after buying an “antique” (re:abused) scythe for ten bucks at a flea market. I brought it home and soaked the steel parts in naval jelly, while I drenched the dry wood handle thingy (which I now know is referred to as a “snath”) in linseed oil. I got the rust off, sharpened it as best I knew how, and took it out to the ditch to give it a go.

The results were, shall we say, less than spectacular. Being a lefty, the right-handed swing was a little unnatural for me. The blade seemed giant and unwieldy, but it did cut. And honestly, it cut broam, thistles and ragweed better than a slingblade, and didn’t get tangled like a string trimmer. This was definitely worth more investigation.

Mowing a banked ditch takes practice!  A shorter blade helps...
Mowing a banked ditch takes practice! A shorter blade helps…

I browsed scythe-geek websites for about a year, gleaning as much info as possible. It turns out that what I have is known as an “American” scythe, with the long, beefy steel blade and curved snath. They were originally made for cutting wheat and oats, but since the advent of mechanical harvesting, have been relegated to chopping weeds. I recently decided to bite the bullet and ponied up for a “European” scythe which seems to be favored by a lot of scythe-geeks these days. The snath is straight, with an extended pistol grip handle in the front and a thinner, shorter, razor-like blade. The company I ordered it from,, custom bores the handle holes based on your height and arm length, and the blades are available for both righties and lefties.

A European scythe kit, complete with custom snath.
A European scythe kit, complete with custom snath.

Why Use a Scythe?

I had several motivations that drew me to this classic tool. First, I have acreage, and it isn’t a “mow it to look like a golf course” acreage. No offense to folks who like to ride a mower all weekend, but it just ain’t my bag. Our acres are lightly wooded with dappled sun, and much of the outlying areas only get “mowed” once or twice a year. I have had four “weed cutters” over the years… the slingblade kind with the double serrated edges attached to a short handle with two bolts. They work great for a while, but the handles break at the bolt holes and the serrated blades are a pain to sharpen. I’ve used all manners of string trimmers and while they are great for manicuring, they are not ideal for taking down large areas of tall weeds or grass.

Lastly, I hate to work out, but I love to work. The European scythe lets you stand up straight and protect your back, while giving you a killer core workout. Why go to the gym? There is one in your yard!! There is technique involved, and once you master it (I’m just barely getting the hang of it), you can cut for extended periods of time, working a whole range of muscle groups. Along with splitting firewood and hauling compost to the garden, I should look like an Amish version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson any day now!

The longer, heavy duty American Blade.
The longer, heavy duty American Blade.
The European Blade is shorter and thinner.
The European Blade is shorter and thinner.

Another scythe site that I really love (and will be getting of my dollars next spring) is One Scythe Revolution. Owned and operated by Botan Anderson in Wisconsin, the site is not only a supply house, but a font of knowledge sprinkled with homespun philosophy and an almost mystical devotion to the search for scythe perfection. Because his technique is so much better than mine, I’m including a video of his here.

Sharpening a scythe is an art unto itself, and I hope to share more information on that topic come spring. A process called “peening” is used. Those of you with some knowledge of metal work will recognize the term in which the leading edge of the blade is actually hammered to a razor sharp edge, rather than ground. Look it up, it’s amazing to watch!

Now, obviously the scythe isn’t perfect for everyone. You may find that the neighbors will look at you strangely if you cut your suburban lawn with one, although less so than if you start grazing sheep out there! It can be done, however! Also, it would work great for taking down ornamental grasses or prairie plantings in the fall. If you have an acreage or a more rural home with a ditch to trim, stuff like that, it really is fun! If you follow in the footsteps of the gentleman below, we recommend you do so with work boots on! Happy scything!

Photo of author

About Rich

Rich Dana loves to build things, to tinker on things, and to grow things. After more than a decade as a historic building remodeler in Brooklyn, New York, he and his wife Ericka moved to their back-to-the-land dream home (and fixer-uper nightmare), an 1870s farmhouse on 15 acres in eastern Iowa that they call “Catnip Farm.” For the last 18 years, Rich has specialized in super-efficient historical renovations and solar PV installation. He is working to convert much of the farm into perennial food crops like nut trees and berries, and he helps Ericka out with her heirloom seed project. His latest passion is learning to sew.

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2 thoughts on “Farm Wars – Revenge of the Scythe”

  1. On a more serious note about easy and safe rust removal:

    Removing rust on tools Molasses is your friend even more so on antiques:

    “Removing rust using Molasses uses a process known as Chelating. Without a good, scientific explanation, the process can be described as “Reverse Oxidation”, wherein certain acids or chemicals in the molasses solution strip the oxygen from the Iron Oxide, leaving the iron behind. While I’m not absolutely positive about what exactly causes the rust to be removed, I am sure about one thing:

    It works.” C&P from website homercidal dot com/molasses/

  2. Like so many other yard tools (but primarily improperly stored and winterized OPE 😉

    I always have the hardest time getting them started (manual tools) after a long winter in the shed, its a chore to get them working at full power for very long after all the high carb foods from the holiday parties and celebrations and I’ve add extra insulation to my body and the belt fit quite smug. LOL

    This said tongue in check about a manually powered farm and garden tools, but the other is true if one use’s and leaves fuel with 5-15% ethanol in the tanks, as Ethanol attracts water and the water sinks to the bottom of your fuel tank and will gel up in the super tiny EPA/CARB compliant carburetor jets of small engines. PSA empty or let them run dry now before spring, or locate (google) a gas station that sells Ethanol free fuel its more expensive, but cheaper than replacing carbs or equipment.


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