Thursday, July 14, 2011

Taking Maximilian the Scythe for a walk, part I

Maximilian, as regular readers know, is my scythe. A wonderful tool. So I thought I would provide an introduction to the tool. First some anatomy. A scythe consists of a blade and a handle. The handle is called a snath. I assure you I did not coin this term, it comes, according to Webster's, from Old English Snaed, and who knows where before that. The snath may be straight (European pattern) or curved (Anglo-American pattern). I love the European pattern. The snath must be sized to the individual user. In order to be of any use, the scythe must be razor-sharp.

You can buy some very cheap scythes, even in today's motorized age. My favorite place to browse is Scythe Supply. It is not cheap but neither is it exorbitant. They sell Austrian blades. In Austria (and also various other countries in Central Europe) they still make decent (forged, not stamped) blades. I ordered a brush blade -- there are also grass blades, lighter and skinnier. But what I have is brush. So now that you have an overview, let us sharpen Maximilian.
The first task is to get the blade off the snath. Easy. Undo the square-allen-type screws with the handy key that is part of your outfit. Slide the collar, or ring, down.
And the blade is off the scythe. Now comes the interesting part. An Austrian scythe is sharpened unlike any other cutting tool. First it is peened, then it is honed.

The object of peening is to move metal from the thicker part of the blade over to the edge. There are two ways to do this. One is freehand with a cross-peen hammer. The other, the one I use, is with a peening jig.

The jig consists of (1) a log. You supply this. (2) an anvil. This is the big metal object at the top of the picture. (3) two caps. They are at the bottom of the pic, sitting in holes I drilled there ad hoc. You will also need a garden-variety hammer.
In the pocture you see said garden-variety hammer. I have put the cap with one groove on it, number one, on top of the anvil. My legs are holding the log up. Now, insert the blade between anvil and cap. Strike with hammer. Warning! The blade must be held just so. You know the blade is just so because when you hit it, it goes "ping!" If it goes "clunk!" -- you held it wrong. Adjust angle of blade and try again. Move the blade three or so mm. Repeat. Work down the length of the blade. Put on the other cap and repeat. Like so:
Here is the blade, already on cap number two, being peened. I work thick end to thin, right to left in the picture. Doesn't matter which way you go. But look at the lovely edge emerging to the right of the picture.

This edge may look sharp. But it isn't. Not enough. We need to hone it. At this point I haul out my diamond hone from Lee Valley (it lives in a pocket of my Carharrt's) and give ithe blade a dozen or so strokes. Then I put it back on the handle, and ... but that's a post for another day.

Meanwhile, for more scythe lore, I recommend the Scytherspace blog. Fascinating place.

And a scythe uses no gas, makes no noise, is wonderful exercise, and very Zen.

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