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  4. Chapter 8. Identifying and Correcting the Causes of Common Mowing Problems

Chapter 8. Identifying and Correcting the Causes of Common Mowing Problems

First, a brief summary of some nearly universal tendencies exhibited by novices:

Prior to mowing:

1. a) Falsely assume that a newly purchased scythe is well-designed and well-matched (size-
wise) to them, plus well-suited (with regard to the length and/or weight of its blade) for the

work they intend to do with it.
b) Falsely assume the blade’s factory edge (as usually sold by retailers) is ready for serious
2. a) Fail to grasp the concept of sharpening in general, and/or with regard to scythes
b) Lack the hand coordination or patience necessary to put their theoretical grasp of
sharpening technique into practice.

While cutting:

1. Lift the blade into the air before engaging it in the grass, and lifting it each time between
individual strokes – often more than 30 cm. Negative consequences of this habit include:
Predisposition of an overly forceful mowing stroke
Increased likelihood of driving the point of the blade into the earth
Uneven stubble left behind
Often needlessly tiring
A note: Although it is customary in some cultures (whose mowers also maintain a narrower,
one-foot-ahead of the other, stance) to lift the blade that high between strokes, those who
grew up with that technique know that just before the blade engages in the cut it must be
properly re-aligned again. This takes additional skill that beginners need not cultivate.
2. Attempt a larger advance/“bite” forward into the grass than a scythe blade of a given
length is intended to cut. (Refer to Figure 42.) Especially in a thick stand the blade is likely to
get overwhelmed partway through, and the swath may end up unnecessarily narrow. This

encourages the use of excessive force, and thus increases the likelihood of damaging the
scythe. It is also a silly way of using one’s energy.
3. Fail to recognize:
a) The most favourable direction in which to approach the cutting of a given area.
In the proceeding chapter we’ve referred to this concept as “The Path of Least Resistance”;
to repeat, it is determined primarily by the lean of the stems, and secondarily, by given
topography, i.e. uphill/downhill, sideways slope, etc.
b) The differences in the relative difficulty of cutting different stands of vegetation.
Some of the more benign-looking areas can be most difficult to cut! These include a short,
dense lawn and a sparse stand containing primarily fine-stemmed grasses with high silica
content. Both of these are challenging even to the experienced, and certainly best cut
BEFORE sunrise.
4. Guide the blade (ever so slightly) above the ground surface throughout the stroke, while
believing that they have it “on the ground, as it is supposed to be.” Barring a rock-strewn
surface, the blade performs best when actually pressed slightly downward at the same time
as it is pushed forward. In certain situations – dry lawn grass being a prime example –
possibly 30 per cent of a mower’s expended energy should be going into this downward

Now some actual “troubleshooting”:

1. Blade gets “stuck” in grass (not earth) before the stroke is finished

Possible causes:
a. Attempting too much of a forward advance at a stroke
b. Hafting angle too open
c. Blade not sharp enough
d. Blade’s movement too slow or too gentle
e. Blade too light and/or too flexible for that particular stand of grass (especially if also not
sharp enough)
Probable remedies:

a. Refer to mowing technique (Figure 42)
b. If possible, move blade forward within the attachment ring.
c. Hone more often and/or better. If five-minute intervals do not suffice to keep the edge
keen, hone still more often – or it may be time to re-peen.
d. Increase blade speed to approximately 1–11⁄2 second per each forward (cutting) half of the
wide movement.
e. If a substantial portion of the area to be cut is heavy and/or dense, AND time to do so is
shorter in supply than the mower’s strength, then obtaining a heavier and/or stiffer blade (not
necessarily a “ditch” or “bush” model) may be in order. Alternatively, consider taking less of a
bite at each stroke. Yes, it may take more time to cover the same area, but may also be the
wisest approach…

2. Blade’s point digging into the ground

Possible Causes:
a. Cutting stroke begins with the blade lifted
b. Blade poorly adjusted with respect to its ‘horizontal balance’ (Chapter 5)
c. Blade’s belly not making enough surface contact
Probable remedies:
a. Start the actual cut with most of the blade’s body touching the ground.
b. Refer to adjustment of ‘horizontal balance’ (Chapter 5)
c. Apply downward pressure simultaneously with the forward (cutting) motion.
Please note: IF the blade’s belly is in constant and firm contact with the ground surface, its
point is unlikely to “nose-dive”, even when the blade is not well balanced horizontally.

3. Some stems bend over and remain uncut despite the fact that the edge actually passed over them:

Possible Causes:

a. Blade not sharp enough
b. Blade moving too slowly
c. Lack of firm surface contact
d. The stand is not approached from a favourable direction
Probable remedies:
a. Same as for 1c.
b. Same as for 1d.
c. Particularly in short grass, increase the downward pressure.
d. Re-read the section on “Path of Least Resistance” (Chapter 7) and consider the concepts,
attentively, as each new and challenging patch to be mown presents itself.

4. The stubble is uneven:

There are four variants of visually obvious unevenness. Identifying their causes is sometimes
complicated by the fact that, often enough, more than one of them is exhibited
a. The stubble is higher at the right side (the beginning) of the cut:
Cause: Blade is being lifted into the air at the end of the return stroke (which is not
fundamentally wrong it itself) but not lowered again soon enough before the slicing action
Remedy: Similar to 2a, that is, maintain horizontally even ground contact with the blade from
the moment it is engaged in the cut.
b. High stubble remains to the left end of cut:
Cause: Not completing the stroke, that is, lifting the blade off the ground surface too soon or
(unconsciously) not compensating for the naturally elevated points of many Alpine style
blade patterns. These require a gradual (though slight) ‘rotating’ of the wrist (leftward) so as
to gently press down the point of the blade as it moves along its path. Beginners, though they
may be using blades with more elevated points, often fail to employ this technique.
Remedy: Complete the movement by what may initially seem like an exaggerated rotation (at

the waist) to the left, and/or rotate the wrist forward in order to keep blade’s point low enough
during the last quarter or so of the cutting phase.
c. & d. are cases when the stubble shows obvious ‘steps’ (either the outside or inside rim of
the swath is higher than the central portion):
c. If the stubble is higher at the outside of the arc of the swath, the point of the blade is
traveling notably higher than the rest of the edge. As in 4 b), this is a natural side effect of the
Alpine blade patterns, sometimes easier to accept than to correct…
d. If the stubble is higher at the inside of the arc of the swath, the point is carried lower than
the beard/heel of the blade. Also, the honing of the last few centimeters of the beard is often
neglected in that it receives less overlap of the stone’s action, while at the same time the
beard is intended to cut the unsupported strip (bordering the already cut stubble). This can
be corrected by keeping the heel adequately low (i.e. pressed to the ground whenever terrain
surface allows) and/or paying more attention while honing the beard.

5: Blade is not cutting noticeably better after using the peening jig

Possible causes and remedies:
However poorly the peening itself is performed (short of ruining the tension and producing up
and down waves) some improvement in edge geometry and thereby also blade’s
performance is to be expected.
If the blade is not cutting noticeably easier following a peening (and subsequent honing!)
session, the cause may be the omitting of the edge-finishing step as an immediate follow-up
to jig peening or not doing it well. This may well be the number one reason for many
dissatisfied peening jig owners.
We are not referring to the typical honing of the blade after it was re-attached to the snath.
Instead, we mean the step of “removing the light reflection” (Chapter 4), which we consider to
be of paramount importance – especially for novices who usually press the edge against the
guiding pin harder than necessary. With repeated practice and growing competence, one is
more relaxed and the unavoidable dulling of the edge is less severe. Consequently, the step
between peening and final honing requires less effort, though it will always be worthwhile.

6: Disappointing results from peening

Several other easily identifiable oversights affect the results from both jig and freehand
methods of peening:

a) The base (and/or how the jig is mounted into it) is not firm enough. If the base does not
solidly support the jig (and/or the jig itself is loose within the hole made for it), the force of the
hammer will be partially dispersed as vibration of base (and/or the jig/anvil).
b) The hammer may be too light for that very blade’s condition (i.e. a bush blade with a thick
edge or a very neglected blade of any sort). In such cases a hammer with a head weighing
600 to 800 grams (roughly 1 1⁄4 to 1 3⁄4 pounds) is preferable to the 500 gram versions
commonly sold as peening hammers.
c) The strikes may not be vigorous enough.
Points a, b, and c are related. That is, a solid base will allow getting by with a lighter hammer,
and a heavier hammer requires less pounding in order to have the same effect.
d) Moving the blade along too quickly (often the habit of those who also tap very quickly but
apply the hammer too lightly).
In the case of freehand peening, strikes may not be well placed. The intent might be correct,
but the accuracy may be lacking, or the “peener” may not even have a precise idea of where
he or she intends to place each strike.
One last note: There are occasional flaws with the jig itself (either by poor design or as a
result of sloppy or imprecise workmanship) about which the user can only do so much. In
particular we are referring to the shape of the bottom ends of the caps. Certain individuals
are both attentive and capable enough to correct these potential issues, but most are not.
The possible corrections are not straightforward, but will be outlined in Part 2.

7: Disappointing results from honing

If the blade is whetted in a timely manner, a “once over” (one sequence of honing strokes on
both sides of the edge from beard to point) should notably increase the ease with which it
cuts. If one waits too long before honing, the subsequent honing may require more time,
extra pressure applied, and/or a coarser stone. What exactly is “too long” has been covered
at some length in Chapter 6. To briefly repeat what was suggested there, five minutes is a
good average period between honing spells. Making this habitual is likely to prevent some
frustration and/or unnecessary energy expenditure.
If a noticeable improvement does not follow after a honing session, however frequent, any of
the following may be happening:
a. Honing on too low an angle – so that the passing stone actually misses the very apex of
the edge. This is more likely to happen from the underside, and also while working with an

already somewhat rounded edge (if not consciously compensating for that fact).
b. Not applying enough pressure.
c. Moving the stone too slowly. Although excessive speed is not necessary, the speed of the
moving stone does have a bearing on its sharpening action.
c. Using a stone of too fine grit in relation to how hard it is pressed against the edge and/or
how rounded the edge is. In the latter case, it may be time to reshape the bevel, by peening,
or otherwise.


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