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Getting Started With Scythes

Updated on October 29, 2008
Photo by LHOON
Photo by LHOON

I love my scythes.

Now, I should probably do a partial disclaimer here: I'm in no way an expert on scythes or their use, and suspect my mowing and sharpening techniques would probably horrify true experts. However, I am a self-taught user and amateur enthusiast who's been using scythes since I was in my mid-teens.

My parents bought two scythes around the time my father and I started a tallgrass prairie restoration project on our land. The first year we had some serious problems with weeds in parts of the prairie and my parents were understandably reluctant to shell out a couple grand on a gas-powered brush cutter heavy duty enough to deal with the problem. Instead, they shelled out a couple hundred on some scythes from Lehman's.

I taught myself to use and sharpen them and was able to control the main weed issues within the year. Lately, I've used scythes to work on my own property, which was allowed to become overgrown by the previous owners, and have made good progress there as well.

We now have one brush scythe and one grass scythe. The brush scythe cuts stems and briars up to 1/2" thick, though I sometimes abuse it and have used it to take out ragweed taller than my head, with stems probably over an inch in diameter - this is harder work than scything is supposed to be, and probably bad for the blade, but the scythe can and will do it.

Reasons to Love Scythes

  • They're quiet! Oh, this is a huge thing with me. Growing up in the country, with neighbors few and far between, I missed out on the sound of lawn mowers going constantly on weekends, and now that I live in a more suburban environment, the sound drives me quietly bonkers on Saturdays and Sundays. It's so wonderful to be out there with just the sound of the swishing blade and falling stems around me. I can hear the birds.
  • They're low maintenance. Also important, because I'm a lazy bum at heart, and hopelessly unmechanical. The blades should be sharpened occasionally by a professional and frequently with a whetstone in order to maintain good working order, but otherwise, they're almost entirely maintenance free. You just take them down off the wall and you're good to go.
  • They don't stink. Not only are gas powered mowers noisy, they also stink. Ugh. Scythes let you enjoy the delicious smell of fresh cut grass without the taint of fumes.
  • They're environmentally sound. No noise, no smell, and no pollution! It's a win-win-win situation.
  • They're good exercise. When it's done properly, scything is actually quite easy work, but it's still work, and it does very nice things for your arms in particular.
  • They're relaxing. I'm hopeless at meditation. The more still I try to be, the more my mind refuses to shut up. The rhythmic, repetitive motion of scything is perfect for me, however. I very quickly reach a sort of Zen condition and am usually amazed by how fast the work goes.

This video shows the easy swing of a well-sharpened, well-wielded scythe:

A Good Scythe At Work

Reasons Not To Love Scythes

  • They can be dangerous. Kids especially need to be taught that a real scythe is NOT to be used as a prop for a Grim Reaper costume, and both kids and pets need to be taught to stay clear of the swing. Although it's unlikely a scythe (properly used) would have enough force to cut off a little leg, it could cause a pretty nasty cut, and the sharp end, wielded clumsily or in anger, would be more than capable of taking out an eye or worse.
  • Scything is a learned skill. Unlike a lawn mower, where you basically just start it up and walk along behind it, scythes do take a certain amount of skill to wield well. It's not hard to hack your way through a patch of weeds, but if you want to use the scythe to mow grass, you'll need to practice a bit before you can expect to get the kind of clean, even cut you'd get with a mechanical mower.
  • Scything is slow(er). Actually, when you get into the swing of things, it's remarkably fast, but still not as fast as a mechanical mower. If you want to get something over with quickly, a scythe is generally not your best bet.

Learning More

If you're interested in scything, I highly recommend you check out The Scythe Connection, a very thorough and informative website by one of the authors of "The Scythe Book," or The Zen and Sport of Scything.

We have also been very pleased with Lehman's scythes, and I would recommend them to anyone interested. I prefer their European-style wooden snath (handle) to the American style, but it is probably worth experimenting to see which is more comfortable for you if you expect to become a serious user.


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