Figure 1. Scythe blade nomenclature
All references in this text concerning direction (left/right) or the use of left or right hands assume the use
of right-handed scythes, which are far more common, and in most
countries, the only ones known.
References to the “top/topside” or the “underside” of the blade are in respect to the blade’s position while in use.
Measurements are indicated in the metric system, which a larger proportion of the world normally uses. Initially
we began using also Imperial equivalents of each measure, but it cluttered the text and felt awkward to do it accurately;
it will be especially so in Part 2 where we intend to discuss geometry of edges in terms of fractions of mm. Although
many citizens of the USA are unfamiliar with the metric system, they generally have computers and conversion
tables at their fingertips, and we trust that they will convert at least the numbers that matter to each of them.
• Mower: a person who uses the scythe. “Scyther” is another term with the same meaning, and one that has in recent
years been taken up by the English-speaking scythe users, possibly because nowadays the word “mower” automatically brings to
mind an image of a motorized lawnmower. To the draft animal enthusiasts “mower” means a non-motorized (“ground-driven”)
piece of farm equipment pulled by horses,
mules, donkeys, or oxen, whereas a modern conventional farmer knows the “mower”
as something he pulls behind a tractor in order to cut the hayfields.
To accurately keep up with the times can be a complicated matter, but in this case we
stick to the term that has been around since before any alternative for the scythe was
• Mowing: The act of cutting grass, small grains, and other herbaceous plants, with the scythe.
Also referred to as “scything” (by “scythers”).
• Scythe: the complete tool – a blade, snath and attachment hardware.
• Snath: the handle, traditionally made of wood. Versions made of steel, aluminum alloy,
or fiberglass are also available (most of them, in our view, of poor design).
• Grip(s): the part of snath attached to the main shaft, held in the hand(s) to facilitate
better control and more comfort.
• Ring: a steel band with specialty “set screws” or an auxiliary wedge; the most common
of the various means of attaching a blade to a snath.
• Point (of the blade): its outermost left portion, while in use.
• Beard (of the blade): the innermost (right hand) section of blade’s body. The beard also has a
point (‘point of the beard’) – which is the section of the edge closest to the tang.
• Belly (of the blade): the mid-portion of its underside
• Edge: the cutting side of a blade
• Apex: outermost portion of the edge, the point where the bevels from top and bottom intersect.
• Primary bevel: the area of the blade extending from the apex approximately 3 to 5mm into the
blade’s body, initially formed in a factory (to a widely differing level of refinement!).
• Secondary (or “micro”) bevel: the zone of the bevel closest to the apex and usually within
less than 1mm of it. The micro bevel is always steeper than the primary bevel, always more temporary, and there
is often one of these on each side of the edge.
• Burr: A thin residue of steel created during the process of sharpening but still partially
attached to the edge. It is usually bent away from the side to which a sharpening tool (grindstone, file, whetstone)
was applied last. Other sources sometimes refer to this as a “feather edge” or “wire edge”.
• Peening: cold shaping of a blade’s edge; performed either with a hammer and anvil, or
various specialty devices generally referred to as “peening jigs”.
• Strike: one hit with the peening hammer.
• Whetstone (or simply “stone”): natural or synthetic abrasive, used for the final step of sharpening.
• Honing / Whetting: Both refer to the re-conditioning of the edge at relatively frequent
intervals during work in the field. With reference to scythes specifically, the term “whetting” is more
traditional, but we use “honing” more often.
• Sharp / Keen: cuts with ease; an edge that is appropriately beveled and well honed.
• Stroke: A movement with the scythe during mowing. “Stroke” is sometimes also used
in reference to honing and peening; for example, a series of strokes with the
whetstone, or strokes of the hammer while peening.
• Advance / Forward Bite: the distance the blade (and the person) advances with each
completed set of (two) strokes – the cutting stroke and the return stroke.
• Swath: the variously wide, already-cut strip through the field resulting from the
progression of strokes.
• Windrow: the ‘row’ of cut material accumulating at the left side of the swath.
• (Knob’s) “seat”, or “hole” – is a place near the bottom of the snath where the tang’s
knob is anchored. We use both “seat” and “hole” – somewhat in the manner of
“honing” and/or “whetting”.
• The “Haft”, “Lay” and “Horizontal Balance” (of the blade) – these three crucial concepts
with regard to the fine-tuning of scythes will be discussed in the appropriate sections
• HRc is an acronym used to indicate blade’s hardness on the “c” scale of the Rockwell
hardness testing system.
Showing the snaths without grips in some diagrams is a deliberate attempt to NOT imply that
the grips must be positioned in a certain way or that two grips on the snath are necessary. In
principle, these guidelines apply to most, if not all, patterns of blades and styles of snaths.
Dogmatic adherence to the measurements/sizes (in millimeters, centimeters or grams)
provided here is not recommended; ALL of them are approximate guidelines, not rules.
Variations of edge maintenance, blade adjustment and the mowing movement itself that we
do not specifically advocate (and therefore are not presented in this manual) have
nevertheless produced satisfactory results for centuries. We encourage readers to compare
them ‘in the field’ with the suggestions contained herein; if significant improvements are
perceived, they can be presented in forthcoming Part 2 by their respective advocates and/or
the initial Part 1 corrected.
It was only during the final stage of working on this manuscript that we decided to tackle
additional aspects of two or three subtopics, initially intended to be addressed in Part 2. In
doing so, we were moved to address some discrepancies within the easily accessible
collection of written scythe information. Consequently, considerably more words were added
to this manuscript’s total – perhaps unwelcomed by some readers, though hopefully found to
be useful to others. To partially alleviate the possible “information overload”, a portion of the
pertinent material is included in the form of notes, which, for serious students, especially
those who wish to disseminate scythe information further afield, we consider somewhat
Below is a list of books on the subject published during the past four decades in either
English or German languages, plus a 15-page self printed booklet by B. Anderson. We refer
to them mainly in notes of three different chapters, and occasionally elsewhere throughout
In chronological order:
1. David Tresemer (USA) The Scythe Book. (1981) The first edition was also translated into
German and published in Germany in 1996 or 97. Its second edition, released in 2001,
includes a 70 page “addendum” by us, titled The Scythe Must Dance.
2. Bernhard Lehnert (Germany) Nature Experience; Mowing with the scythe (2000)
3. “ Peening; the Art of Scythe and Sickle Sharpening (2005)
4. “ Mowing Simply with the Scythe (2008)
5. Botan Anderson (USA) Peening an “Austrian” Scythe Blade with a Narrow Scythe Anvil
6. Steve Tomlin (UK) Learn to Scythe (2015)
7. Ian Miller (USA) The Scything Handbook (2016)
We regret to have concluded that none of the above was written by an expert in the old
fashioned sense of that term. In addition, the guidelines that follow were also not written by
experts. Rather, we are amateurs whose keen interest in the scythe and its potential
diversity of application had, 20 years ago, prompted us to take the learning beyond the
pages of books. And, perhaps it was a blessing that only one book on the subject existed at
the time, as it prompted Peter to spend a considerable amount of time in places where the
tool is made, as well as in a broad range of situations where it is used by old and
competent members of rural cultures whose existence was, not so very long ago,
unimaginable without the scythe.