Scything FAQ

Why should I use a scythe as opposed to a weed-eater or brushcutter?

A scythe is quiet, uses no fuel, has no moving parts to break down, doesn't have to be pull-started and will last a lifetime if properly used and cared for.
Also it is faster... YES... It is faster. (Anyone who says otherwise has just challenged me to a race.) It is so easy to assume that something motorised must be faster than something not, but a moderately experienced scyther can mow a swathe up to 2m wide with each swing. A sharp scythe blade can be passed through grass at speed but the hand-held tool with a motorised blade can only move as fast as the spinning blade/cord can cut the grass.
The scythe leaves the mown grass in a neat row (windrow) on the left-hand side of the scyther and not chopped up and scattered everywhere, and in some cases mixed with short pieces of plastic cord.
And, most importantly; mowing with a scythe is kinetic meditation. Good for your body and mind. If you are mowing correctly, with the scythe adjusted correctly, the exercise is beneficial, not strenuous, on your body. There is no need for earmuffs so you can hear the birds sing.
The only benefit I have found that the weedeater/brushcutter has over the scythe is that it can mow between two closely spaced objects where the scythe cannot get a swing, and let's hope that one of those objects isn't one of your precious seedling trees or it will get ring-barked.

Do need to be fit to mow with a scythe?

No not at all... Well you do if you intend to mow an acre before breakfast. Otherwise If you are mowing properly it is an easy and relaxing exercise and if you do a little every day it will keep you fit.

How hard is it to learn to mow with a scythe?

It's like riding a bike. It takes a bit to get you there, but once you are there it's there forever and you wonder why you ever found it difficult. Below you will see written instruction.

Can you give me tips on scything?

Here is a the standard method I use to get learners mowing with the scythe for the first time.

First practise the correct stance without the holding the scythe:

Stand with your feet approximately 90 cm (3ft) apart, feet parallel to each other and face forward. Bend your knees slightly keeping your back straight and relaxed.

Sway to the right, breathing in, twisting your torso and swinging your arms around so that most of your weight is on your right foot and you are leaning slightly to the right. At the same time rise up on to the ball of your left foot. Your left leg is less bent than the right at this stage.

Now rock on to your left foot breathing out as you go. Swing the arms and torso back around. Slightly straighten the right leg and rise up on the the ball of that foot.

Now get a rocking swing happening from side to side keeping your back straight. Your head, hips and feet should be in a straight line looking at you from the side.

Now as your swing to the left and rise on to the ball of the right foot, move that foot forward 1 cm. No more. Then as you swing back to the right catch-up 1 cm with the left foot as it rises on to the ball.

This will be your progress through the grass when you have scythe in hand. One cm at a time. Just a shuffle. When you get to mowing with the scythe, the blade will stay the same distance from you toes the whole time. Therefore this 1 cm shuffle will be the size of the cut into new grass with each swing. The bigger the step the bigger the cut. Keep it at this size for now. When you become more practised at scything, and when mowing conditions allow, this step will get bigger without you noticing. For now keep it small. It is a common learner's mistake to try to cut too much grass with each swing.

Now that you swinging correctly whilst shuffling across the ground it is time to take up the scythe; But it is not time to mow grass yet.

Find a flat area of very short grass. A freshly mown lawn is best. You're not trying to cut grass at this stage, just practising your swing.

With the blade on and the snath adjusted correctly [See Separate] hold the scythe grips with the upper grip in your left hand and the lower in your right. Thumbs are pointing away from you. Hold the grips lightly. You don't need to grip them hard.

Start with the blade on your right in the 3 o'clock position. and resting on the ground. Swing the blade around using the same motion and positions as above. The blade must remain flat on the ground during both the back and forward swing. Never lift it off the ground. The blade should follow the exact same path on the backswing as it did on the forward swing, touching the ground all the way.
The blade should be travelling in a perfect arc from a maximum 3 o'clock position around to the 9 o'clock position. You can make this arc smaller if you wish when you get to actual mowing but it must be equal distant either side of the straight ahead (12 o'clock) position; eg; 2 o'clock to 10 o'clock. There will be times when you will have to use short strokes due to mowing conditions. For now, because you are not actually cutting grass, stick to the 3 to 9 o'clock swing.
Be mindful of a position on the blade about a third of its length in from the tip. Try to feel this through the grips. Floating on the ground.
When you feel you have the swing of it you can graduate to long grass. Start a distance back from the grass when you are learning and start swinging, shuffling forward into the standing grass. Don't start with the blade in the long grass or you will be trying to cut too much with the first swing.

Remember; Just a tiny 1 cm shuffle with the feet to begin with. As you get more experienced these steps will get bigger without you noticing it when conditions allow. Also make the arc smaller if it suits.

Importance of the perfect arc:
If the blade is travelling in a perfect arc it is 'slicing' the grass, not 'chopping' it. Chopping breaks blades, uses more effort and is inefficient. I always ask my students to imagine the difference between cutting carrots and tomatoes in the kitchen...The grass is a tomato..Not a carrot..The edge must encounter the blade of grass travelling across it not against it. The blade is designed and positioned on the snath to do this when it follows a perfect arc. If you keep this principle in mind later when you are out there mowing you will be able to mow quite stalky vegetation with delicate blades without damaging them.

Common learners mistakes:
-Trying to mow too much with each swing and the blade misses grass or just stops: Take smaller steps.
-Lifting the blade on the back swing: If the blade is in the air at the end of the back swing it must come back down like an aeroplane landing when it comes back into the forward swing. It may dig into the ground on landing and could break the blade. At best it will leave an uneven cut with longer stubble on the right side of the swathe than the left.

Follow these guidelines and graduate yourself through the more difficult mowing situations, ie; short green grass on flat ground then more fibrous vegetation on undulating ground. Eventually you'll be clearing ditches and under fences and eyeing up that rocky slope covered in blackberry.

And if you have any more queries I am just an email away...

Happy Mowing...

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