With a little reflection it’s probably no surprise that there have been very few detailed books available
on the topic of the scythe. I can go to my grandfather’s bookshelf and find books on tempering steel,
animal husbandry, grafting, and so on, most probably because these activities were booming as
printing presses made knowledge easily shareable. Not so with the scythe: with the Industrial
Revolution and increased mechanisation leading to the easy creation and distribution of print, tools
such as the scythe became outmoded by that very same mechanisation. Combined with the fact that
the scythe has been used for thousands of years by illiterate people who learnt by watching,
listening, and doing, the tool has probably never been a good candidate for a voluminous
instructional work. Perhaps it’s merely an artefact of postmodernism that the scythe is now enjoying
a comeback in the information age, although there’s reason to hope that the scythe ‘renaissance’ is
more deeply rooted in a genuine recognition that something has to change; I don’t think people are
buying scythes for hipster value.
In an obscure field it’s easy to become an expert, especially if there are few books already written on
that topic. Indeed, there have been some rather ‘interesting’ statements about scythes made in print
over recent years, even in works that are otherwise exceptionally useful.
This particular book has been written to add some depth and correction to the guidance currently
available. It’s not the easiest read available on the topic, but it tackles some critical areas where
others have had little to say, and it comes from the members of the Vido family, who have made
exceptional efforts to learn more about the tool on which they have come to rely. In typical Vido
family fashion, it’s offered free of charge.
Peter Vido rejects the scything ‘expert’ label because, like all experts, he recognises the ongoing
processes of trial and error and continuing education and discovery, as well as the fact that there are
other individuals on the planet who each know more about certain aspects of scythe-related topics
than he does. Between them, such individuals would hold a collective wealth of information, possibly
more than any one individual could reasonably hope to retain. He also acknowledges the ‘simple’ but
deep, intuitive knowledge that a great many mowers who have gone before – whose existences
genuinely depended on being able to use and maintain the tool – have attained over lifetimes of
becoming one with their scythes.
Nonetheless, Peter has tried to tap into that knowledge, and his efforts and successes have been
well-recognised. For nearly two decades he has travelled extensively – twenty-seven trips (and
counting) to Europe from his Canadian home – to learn more about the tool’s production and use. He
has discussed enhancements in production with most of the world’s handful of remaining blade
factories (including having made a home-away-from-home on the grounds of one of those factories),
he has consulted on new design development, inspired and co-organized transatlantic landmark
events in the scything movement and, along with his brother Alexander, daughter Ashley and wife
Faye, he continues (free of charge) to assist and liaise between fledgling scythe movements in
developing countries and scythe factories, to promote appropriate ‘technology’ in agriculture –
including making self-funded trips to Asia and Latin America to introduce the tool. Years ago, Peter, his son Kai,
and wife Faye, wrote the addendum to the only scything book available in English at the time and, with his family’s
help (despite them being otherwise off-grid homesteaders who take self-sufficiency to the point of lighting their
home with their own beeswax and tallow candles), wrestled with the interwebs to create the single most comprehensive source of
online information available on scythe matters, to fill the void he couldn’t bear to see.
Scythes do seem to attract certain kinds of people, including the kind who are interested in them in
the same way as someone might be interested in model trains. But Peter isn’t one of those people.
Rather, his 45 years’ of farming experience has helped him appreciate the importance of effective
tools, and the scythe quickly proved its worth. His subsequent dogged pursuit of information and
drive for improvement has already left a legacy: anyone who buys a scythe at a Western retail outlet
today is likely to have benefited from his expertise, whether they’ve ever heard of him or not, such
has been his influence on the tools and techniques related to the art of scything.
Of course, one of the problems of being the leading proponent in an obscure field is that you can’t
find a more well-recognised expert to write your foreword for you. So he asked me instead. I first
crossed paths with Peter when I sent him a link to a suitably self-deprecating website I’d built for our
fledgling local community scything group. Many long phone calls ensued. It was during one of those
calls that he first suggested starting a local retail scythe outlet here in Tasmania and, seven years
later, I’m nearly ready to forgive him. Over that time my appreciation of his encyclopedia-like
knowledge of this tool has only grown as I’ve learnt more about it myself, and I’ve personally posed
scythe-related questions that have attracted tumbleweeds on online forums of mowers, wholesalers,
retailers, and mowing instructors, but have, when posed to Peter, been answered more
comprehensively than could reasonably be expected.
In discussion, Peter calls a spade a spade, but he also calls a shovel a shovel, because a spade is a
different tool to a shovel, and Peter – unlike the person who coined that ridiculous expression –
knows the difference between a spade and a shovel, and he’ll let you know that there’s a difference,
what it is, why they’re made differently, what effects those differences have in use, and why you
therefore should stop calling a shovel a spade. He’ll also challenge you to correct him, and will
happily stand corrected in the face of good evidence (or so he keeps telling me). Indeed, he’ll even
correct himself without being challenged, as you’ll find in these pages, where he openly revises the
instructions he issued in past work.
Because that’s what experts do.
Marshall Roberts, April 2018.