Monday, April 6, 2009

Scythe In The City

Few lawn chores are pleasurable to me.  I hate a lawn for all the right reasons. Mostly, they are a waste of space, and a pain to maintain. In town, however, there are some things that MUST be done. 

I let the grass go too far before mowing this spring, and it got out of scale with what my beloved 60 year old reel mower could handle. So I let it go a little bit more and broke out the scythe for the first time this year.
The scythe is an amazing tool, really. Depending how tall you are, you can cut a swath about 8 feet wide if you're in good grass. You start far behind yourself on the right, swing wide and around...
... and end up on the other side with a nice, neat windrow of mown grass as you proceed. With each swing of the blade, a small step is taken forward and a semi-circle of fresh grass is mown and pushed to the side. The effort in using the scythe is comparable to that used in paddling a canoe. It's just not that big a deal. I calculated that about 600 square inches of grass is cut with every swing of the blade.
When it's all mowed, you take a wooden rake and collect the windrows together. Then a pitchfork is used to load it onto whatever conveyance device you are using. A garden cart is ideal for fresh cut grass. These traditional style rakes have about a 28" width and a 6 foot long handle. The tines are 4" long and you can move a LOT of cut grass with one pull of the rake. 
The grass piles up quickly. You can rake 2 windrows together, then start rolling up grass into big piles until it gets hard to move with the rake. A pitchfork is then used to load the cart with the piles of cut grass. In the case of this batch of grass, I used it to smother some overgrown and undesirable privet. 

I have a friend in the scythe business that you should look up to get a lot more information on the tool.

My friend, Botan Anderson in Wisconsin, sells the finest scythes and accessories available. Take a look at his website at Mystic Prairie. Make sure you tour his site and see his amazing farm. Oh, and his ducks are wonderful, so don't miss the slideshow! Botan is doing the right thing and is an inspiration to me.

Another great article I'd like to direct you to is this one written by my friend Harvey Ussery. Here he lists the most important tools for the homestead, the scythe, the cart, and the broadfork.  "Completing the Tool Kit" takes care of the rest of the stuff you really need. 

Spring is about to happen to you wherever you are in the northern hemisphere, so get busy and get ready to grow something. Find a new way to love an old tool.



  1. Hi Gulland .. nice post! I daresay the quality hand tools you mentioned, and their use, probably represented an apex of efficient energy use not seen since the Great Fossil Fuel Misadventure gained traction. Most everything we've done since then has been with the aid of power or energy we didn't harvest locally.

    Despite the crazy denial out there, low-energy living is exactly where we're headed. That being said, there's no reason why we can't live happily and comfortably. Mmmm .. just think how pleasingly quiet the world will be without motors & engines :)

  2. Thanks Nudge,

    When we were in Wisconsin, the population density of our township was 17 people/square mile. We just moved into town on a temporary basis to begin our property search and woke up to spring lawn mowing BIG TIME! Living in town is noisy! You can see several houses in the background on a couple of those photos.

    Lawn mowing is another one of those things that became easy with gasoline engines. I gave up my gas weed eater when it died 3 years ago and replaced it with the scythe. I can never go back, and I'm looking forward to the peace and quiet when folks turn off their lawn appliances as well. It's coming, one way or another.

    As for efficiency, I swear the scythe is faster than a string trimmer, and the taller the grass, the better the scythe works compared to the string trimmer.

    The scythe is going to continue to rise in popularity as people discover it and learn it's use. The company that made my scythe blade has been operating in Austria since 1540. That's the kind of business that you can count on in a crisis.


  3. My father used to use one of them occasionally. It came with the old disused farm we bought. It was the kind that had the warped wooden handle shaped into a funky twist, with the wooden handles attached by metal straps round the back.

    The thing about the silence and the lack of motor sounds may not be much appreciated these days. Many years ago I was with a group that took a week-plus canoe trip across part of the Adirondack state park. We went places where there were no roads and no vehicles. All we saw & heard was wildlife plus the occasional other travelers. Ten days later, when we emerged at the destination, it was startling to be able to hear vehicles coming from so far away. If you live in “civilization” these days your ears are bombarded by all sorts of noises you've grown accustomed to. They're still noises however. Turn off all the vehicles and the powered stuff, and life gets blessedly quiet.

    Agreed: it's coming, one way or the other. Either we'll run out of fuel, or cheap fuel, or money .. take you pick.

  4. Hi Nudge,

    The difference in the American style scythe you knew in your youth and the Austrian scythe, put in automotive design perspective, would be like throwing a Suburban in the mountain curves trying to keep up with a Bavarian sports car. Unfortunately, when people think of the scythe, their image is of the one they saw screwed to the wall in a Cracker Barrel.

    I miss the quiet and the dark of the countryside, and we'll get back to it soon, I hope. I'm looking forward to the days when everything is not open 24 hours and travel is planned far more carefully. I think convenience stores were the beginning of the end in a way. We forgot how to plan a day or a weeks worth of needs because all of a sudden, we could just jump in the car and run over to the store.

    The old days are coming back, and we might as well accept, in fact, embrace that fact.

    I am.


  5. Heh!I have a sycthe that is well over 125 years old and in great shape. One has got to wonder how many acres of hay it had cut over it's lifetime? Suppose the sweat of the men that used it is still locked into the wood?

    There's a job Nudge for your prisoners! Especially here in the last grassland of Michigan and prisons nearby! I can definitely envision this in the future, if the prison system is to survive here....

    Excellent Gulland! I'll think of you the next time I gaze at it on the wall inside the barn!

    Thanks, yooper

  6. Hi Yooper,

    I love the old tools like that. You can feel a pulse in them sometimes. I have an anvil that was in an industrial shop for almost 100 years. They closed the blacksmith shop, and I ended up with the anvil. There have been thousands of tons of hot metal forged by hundreds of smiths on that anvil, and I swear sometimes it gets creepy in the shop with those spirits coming back to visit.

    Here's a youtube video of a group of mowers. You can see where a community (or prison gang) can get a lot of work done in a hurry. We just have to learn to do those things again.


  7. Here's another video link of Botan mowing.


  8. Hey Gulland! Heh! I can't agree more about those spitits! ha! Especially on land that you're family has been working for 150 years... Sometimes,it's almost if I'm being guided (if I let them). Very eerie.

    Oh, being on dial-up out here it's near impossilble for me to any video. Ha! Almost like Eddie Arnold on "Green Acres", I'm lucky not to have to shimmy up a pole to make a call!

    Happy Easter!

  9. I absolutely loved this post. I live in the city (trying to get out) where lawn mowing is a MUST among the neighbors. There can be open drug dealing in the street and everyone looks the other way, but, let your grass get more than maybe six inches high and the neighbors call the city to write you a ticket.

    Anyway, I own both a push mower and a string trimmer and haven't fired either of them up for most of this summer. I'm trying to scrape the money together to purchase a scythe right now and hope to be up and running with it by next "lawn season". for the time being, I have been cutting the whole property (about a third acre) with a little hand scythe. I do this by devoting about two h ours to the lawn a few times a week. This makes for some interesting conversations with neighbors (and my son-in-law) who works for a large landscaping company here in town).

    I usually tell people that I have felt for some time now that cutting grass is simply an inappropriate use of fosil fuel. Eventually I couldn't hold this opinion without doing something about it.

    Thanks for your nod to the beauty of doing things with muscle power.

    By the way, I've been working on the idea that the limits of what our bodies can accomplish with a good tool used well might make a good ethical guideline for how far we should extend our reach into the world around us so that our power doesn't exceed our care.