A brief profile for those new to the subject:
From years of experience with this potentially extremely efficient tool, we can state that given
a good version of the scythe with a blade of at least 75 centimeters in length, a person of
less than average strength, but adequately competent in edge maintenance, can cut a
quarter of a hectare (about 1⁄2 an acre) in approximately 4 hours.
Please note that this very general estimate applies to a stand of non-woody vegetation that is
not overly trampled or laid down by storms, with a ground surface free of loose or embedded
rocks, large clumps of earth, and leftover stubs of woody plants previously cut by some other
hand tool (axe, machete) or a machine (brush cutter, rotary mower). The scythe can,
however, be effectively used in situations with any or all of these disadvantages; it will merely
be correspondingly slower.
We also want to emphasize that children – provided with adequate instructions and an
appropriate version of the tool – are physically capable of mowing well and often take great
satisfaction in it. With a custom-fit snath and a well-peened, light blade, mowing can be
significantly less strenuous than playing vigorous sports like soccer.
Keep in mind, however, that the difference in performance between a well-designed, well-
fitted and well-maintained scythe, and poor versions thereof, can amount to several times
the effort required to cut the equivalent area. A good scythe is not necessarily an expensive
one. Some of the options for maintaining it, or alternatives for making better-fitting and more
ergonomic snaths than can readily be bought, have not been broadly communicated. As a
consequence a significant amount of unrealized potential remains. 1
The information communicated in these pages comprises a mix of the old mowers’
knowledge interwoven with the results of empirical trials by Peter Vido and friends. It includes
elements of various traditions but abides by the strict dictates of none. Traditions, we feel,
can be a double-edged sword – with one edge keeping at bay the forces of development that would all too quickly erase regional identity (this being the worthy attribute of traditions) and
the other edge facing the culture which continues to wield it somewhat stubbornly and
awkwardly – thereby preventing useful (albeit careful) improvements that could actually help
in preserving it. And, to preserve “scythe culture” is obviously the intent of these guidelines.
(1) Paradoxically, budding mowers over much of the globe presently turn to the Internet hoping to obtain ‘all’ needed
information. If arrows were provided pointing only to the worthwhile sources, this approach could bear good fruit.
Alas, that is hardly the case.
A smaller portion of serious enthusiasts reach for books, only to find (but possibly not realize) that – on this subject –
ALL of them are incomplete (including this one). Direct access to one of the new generation of hands-on instructors is a
relative luxury of only a few novices; besides, most of the teachers still have a whole lot to learn…
It is also a fact that many blades, though they may be nearly “razor sharp” (to use a popular but silly cliché) when
purchased along with their “ergonomic” snaths, perform rather poorly, simply due to the lack of a harmonious fit or
suitability for certain applications. Consequently, a portion of even the best of them ends up being used very little or the
experience is discouraging. If, on the other hand, the relevant concepts were broadly understood, a serious ‘scythe
revolution’ could perhaps be already taking place…
Although considerable in-field evaluations of the outlined methods by experienced mowers
from geographically diverse regions give us confidence in their merit, we continue to learn
and – as expressed in the opening quote from Buckskin – do not wish the text below to be
perceived as any sort of “final word” on the topic.
Still, we hope that individuals with prior experience, and especially those considering
teaching others, will put to the test some of our unconventional ‘twists on tradition’. These
1. The suggested edge preparation prior to the initial peening of a new blade, as well as
afterwards – on all blades – especially if peening is performed by means of the
2. Use of the “sanding block” as an aid to freehand peening
3. The use of a loupe/magnifier to periodically examine the condition of the edge
4. Shoulder-powered (as well as both more ‘pulling’ and somewhat diagonal) strikes of
the peening hammer during freehand peening
5. While repairing damaged edges, filing off a considerably wider area to both sides of a
damage’s center than has been the norm in guidelines written to date
6. The mowing movement propelled by the ‘sideways shift’, that is, rhythmic rocking from
the right leg to the left and back, along with breathing deeply in synchrony with the
alternating strokes of the blade