Scythe

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Parts of a scythe:
Toe
Chine
Beard
Heel
Tang
Ring
Snath or snaith
Grips Scythe.svg
Parts of a scythe:
  1. Toe
  2. Chine
  3. Beard
  4. Heel
  5. Tang
  6. Ring
  7. Snath or snaith
  8. Grips

A scythe is an agricultural hand tool for mowing grass or reaping crops. It has largely been replaced by horse-drawn and then tractor machinery, but is still used in some areas of Europe and Asia.

Contents

The word "scythe" derives from Old English siðe. [1] [ further explanation needed ] In Middle English and after it was usually spelt sithe or sythe. However, in the 15th century some writers began to use the sc- spelling as they thought (wrongly) the word was related to the Latin scindere (meaning "to cut"). [2] Nevertheless, the sithe spelling lingered and notably appears in Noah Webster's dictionaries. [3] [4]

A modern scythe of a pattern common in parts of Europe Scythe.jpg
A modern scythe of a pattern common in parts of Europe

A scythe consists of a shaft about 170 centimetres (67 in) long called a snaith, snath, snathe or sned, traditionally made of wood but now sometimes metal. Simple snaiths are straight with offset handles, others have an "S" curve or are steam bent in three dimensions to place the handles in an ergonomic configuration but close to shaft. The snaith has either one or two short handles at right angles to it, usually one near the upper end and always another roughly in the middle. The handles are usually adjustable to suit the user. A curved, steel blade between 60 to 90 centimetres (24 to 35 in) long is mounted at the lower end at 90°, or less, to the snaith. Scythes almost always have the blade projecting from the left side of the snaith when in use, with the edge towards the mower; left-handed scythes are made but cannot be used together with right-handed scythes as the left-handed mower would be mowing in the opposite direction and could not mow in a team.

Use

The occasional addition of a cradle aligns the seed heads and makes picking up and winnowing easier. CradlePatent.gif
The occasional addition of a cradle aligns the seed heads and makes picking up and winnowing easier.

The use of a scythe is traditionally called mowing, now often scything to distinguish it from machine mowing. The mower holds the top handle in the left hand and the central one in the right, with the arms straight, the blade parallel and very close to the ground and the uncut grass to the right. The body is then twisted to the right, the blade hooks the grass and is swung steadily to the left in a long arc ending in front of the mower and depositing the cut grass neatly to the left. The mower takes a small step forward and repeats the motion, proceeding with a steady rhythm, stopping at frequent intervals to hone the blade. The correct technique has a slicing action on the grass, cutting a narrow strip with each stroke, leaving a uniform stubble on the ground and forming a regular windrow on the left. [5]

The mower moves along the mowing-edge with the uncut grass to the right and the cut grass laid in a neat row to the left, on the previously mown land. Each strip of ground mown by a scythe is called a swathe (pronounced /swð/ : rhymes with "bathe") or swath ( /swɒθ/ : rhymes with "Goth"). Mowing may be done by a team of mowers, usually starting at the edges of a meadow then proceeding clockwise and finishing in the middle. Mowing grass is easier when it is damp, and so hay-making traditionally began at dawn and often stopped early, the heat of the day being spent raking and carting the hay cut on previous days or peening the blades.

Scythes are designed for different tasks. A long, thin blade 90 to 100 centimetres (35 to 39 in) is most efficient for mowing grass or wheat, while a shorter, more robust scythe 60 to 70 centimetres (24 to 28 in) is more appropriate for clearing weeds, cutting reed or sedge and can be used with the blade under water for clearing ditches and waterways. Skilled mowers using traditional long-bladed scythes honed very sharp were used to maintain short lawn grass until the invention of the lawnmower. Many cultures have used a variety of 'cradles' to catch cut different kinds of grain stems, keeping the seed heads aligned and laying them down in an orderly fashion to make them easier to sheaf and winnow.

Mowing with a scythe is a skilled task that takes time to fully learn. Long-bladed traditional scythes, typically around 90 centimetres (35 in) (such as in the example below) and suitable for mowing grass or wheat are harder to use at first, consequently, beginners usually start on shorter blades, say 70 centimetres (28 in) or less. Common beginner's errors include: setting up the snaith with the handles in the wrong locations to suit the body, setting the blade at the wrong turn-in and turn-up angles to suit the conditions, choosing a blade that is too long for the skill level, failing to start with a sharp edge and persevering with a dull one during use, chopping or hacking at the grass, trying to cut too wide a strip of grass at once and striking the ground with the blade. Traditionally, beginners relied on mentors to help them set up and maintain their scythe and to teach them to mow comfortably and efficiently.

The mowing action

Sharpening

The cutting edge of a tensioned scythe blade is traditionally maintained by occasional peening followed by frequent honing. Peening reforms the malleable edge, by hammering, to create the desired profile, to locally work-harden the metal, and to remove minor nicks and dents. For mowing fine grass the bevel angle may be peened extremely fine, while for coarser work a larger angle is created to give a more robust edge. Peening requires some skill and is done using a peening hammer and special anvils or by using a peening jig. Historically, a peening station was set up on the edge of the field during harvest but now more likely back in the workshop.

In the example below, a short scythe blade, being used to clear brambles, is being sharpened. Before going to the forest the blade is peened back in the workshop; this reforms the malleable steel to create an edge profile that can then be honed. Peening is done only occasionally; how often depends on the hardness of the steel and the nature of the work. The Austrian blade shown is being used to cut tough-stemmed brambles and it is being peened about every thirty hours of work. Nicks and cuts to the blade edge can usually be worked out of the blade by peening and a new edge profile formed for honing. A peening jig is being used here but blades can be free-peened using various designs of peening anvils. The peening jig shown has two interchangeable caps that set different angles; a coarse angle is set first about 3 mm back from the edge and the fine angle is then set on the edge, leaving an edge that lends itself to being easily honed. The blade is then honed using progressively finer honing stones and then taken to the field. In the field the blade is honed using a fine, ovoid whetstone (or rubber), fine-grained for grass, coarser for cereal crops. Honing is done the moment the mower senses that the edge has gone off; this may be every half hour or more depending on the conditions. The laminated honing stone shown here has two grades of stone and is carried into the field soaking in a water-filled holster on the belt. A burr is set up on the outside of the blade by stroking the blade on the inside, the burr is then taken off by gently stroking it on the outside. There are a great many opinions, regional traditions and variations on exactly how to do this; some eastern European countries even set up the burr on the inside. [6] [7]

Unlike continental European blades, typical American, English, and Nordic style blades are made of harder steel and are not usually peened for risk of cracking them. The harder blade holds an edge longer and requires less frequent honing in the field but after heavy use or damage the edge must be reshaped by grinding. Because of the greater wear resistance of the hard steel, and the reduced need for honing as a result, this usually only needs to be done 1–3 times a season. Many examples have a laminated construction with a hard, wear-resistant core providing the edge and softer sides providing strength. In American and English blades the edge steel is typically clad on either side with the tough iron, while some Nordic laminated blades have a layer of iron on the top only, with the edge steel comprising the bottom layer.

History

Neolithic rock engraving depicting scythes, Norway Neolithic rock engaving depicting scythes, Norway. Wellcome M0014997.jpg
Neolithic rock engraving depicting scythes , Norway

The scythe may have dated back as far as c.5000 BC, and seems to have been used since Cucuteni–Trypillia settlements, becoming wide spread with agricultural developments. Initially used mostly for mowing hay, it had replaced the sickle for reaping crops by the 16th century as the scythe was better ergonomically and consequently more efficient. In about 1800 the grain cradle , was sometimes added to the standard scythe when mowing grain; the cradle was an addition of light wooden fingers above the scythe blade which kept the grain stems aligned and the heads together to make the collection and threshing easier. In the developed world the scythe has largely been replaced by the motorised lawn mower and combine harvester. However, the scythe remained in common use for many years after the introduction of machines because a side-mounted finger-bar mower, whether horse or tractor drawn, could not mow in front of itself and scythes were still needed to open up a meadow by clearing the first swathe to give the mechanical mower room to start.

German peasant with scythe from 850 AD Wandalbert von Prum - Juli.jpg
German peasant with scythe from 850 AD
Early Medieval scythe blade from the Merovingian site Kerkhove-Kouter in Belgium (collection number: RAMS00393) Early Medieval Scythe.jpg
Early Medieval scythe blade from the Merovingian site Kerkhove-Kouter in Belgium (collection number: RAMS00393)

The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities of Sir William Smith argues that the scythe, known in Latin as the falx foenaria as opposed to the sickle, the falx messoria, was used by the ancient Romans. According to ancient Greek mythology, Gaia the Greek goddess and mother of the Titans gave a sickle made out of the strongest metal to her youngest son Kronos, who is also the youngest of the Titans and god of the harvest, to seek vengeance against her husband Ouranos for torturing their eldest sons. To illustrate this, Smith cites an image of Saturn holding a scythe, from an ancient Italian cameo. The Grim Reaper and the Greek Titan Cronus were often depicted carrying or wielding a scythe. According to Jack Herer and Flesh of The Gods (Emboden, W. A. Jr., Praeger Press, New York, 1974), the ancient Scythians grew hemp and harvested it with a hand reaper that we still call a scythe.

The Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet in Sheffield, England, is a museum of a scythe-making works that was in operation from the end of the 18th century until the 1930s. [8] This was part of the former scythe-making district of north Derbyshire, which extended into Eckington. [9] Other English scythe-making districts include that around Belbroughton. [10]

The German Renaissance scythe sword, the Greek and Roman harpe and the Egyptian khopesh were scythes or sickles modified as weapons or symbols of authority. An improvised conversion of the agricultural scythe to a war scythe by re-attaching the blade parallel to the snaith, similar to a bill has also been used throughout history as a weapon. See Scythes in art below for an example.

In national cultures

The scythe is still an indispensable tool for farmers in developing countries and in mountainous terrain.

In Romania, for example, in the highland landscape of the Transylvanian Apuseni mountains, [11] scything is a very important annual activity, taking about 2–3 weeks to complete for a regular house. As scything is a tiring physical activity and is relatively difficult to learn, farmers help each other by forming teams. After each day's harvest, the farmers often celebrate by having a small feast where they dance, drink and eat, while being careful to keep in shape for the next day's hard work. In other parts of the Balkans, such as in Serbian towns, scything competitions are held where the winner takes away a small silver scythe. [12] In small Serbian towns, scything is treasured as part of the local folklore, and the winners of friendly competitions are rewarded richly [13] with food and drink, which they share with their competitors.

Among Basques scythe-mowing competitions are still a popular traditional sport, called segalaritza (from Spanish verb segar: to mow). Each contender competes to cut a defined section of grown grass before his rival does the same.

There is an international scything competition held at Goricko [14] where people from Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Romania, or as far away as Asia appear to showcase their culturally unique method of reaping crops. [15] In 2009, a Japanese gentleman showcased a wooden reaping tool with a metal edge, which he used to show how rice was cut. He was impressed with the speed of the local reapers, but said such a large scythe would never work in Japan.

The Norwegian municipality of Hornindal has three scythe blades in its coat-of-arms.

Scythes are beginning a comeback in American suburbs, since they "don't use gas, don't get hot, don't make noise, do make for exercise, and do cut grass". [16]

In art

See also

Related Research Articles

Lawn mower A grass cutting device. Machine that uses one or more rotating blades to cut a lawn to an even height

A lawn mower is a machine utilizing one or more revolving blades to cut a grass surface to an even height. The height of the cut grass may be fixed by the design of the mower, but generally is adjustable by the operator, typically by a single master lever, or by a lever or nut and bolt on each of the machine's wheels. The blades may be powered by manual force, with wheels mechanically connected to the cutting blades so that when the mower is pushed forward, the blades spin, or the machine may have a battery-powered or plug-in electric motor. The most common self-contained power source for lawn mowers is a small internal combustion engine. Smaller mowers often lack any form of propulsion, requiring human power to move over a surface; "walk-behind" mowers are self-propelled, requiring a human only to walk behind and guide them. Larger lawn mowers are usually either self-propelled "walk-behind" types, or more often, are "ride-on" mowers, equipped so the operator can ride on the mower and control it. A robotic lawn mower is designed to operate either entirely on its own, or less commonly by an operator by remote control.

Reaper Harvesting machine

A reaper is a farm implement or person that reaps crops at harvest when they are ripe. Usually the crop involved is a cereal grass. The first documented reaping machines were Gallic reaper that was used in modern-day France during Roman times. The Gallic reaper involved a comb which collected the heads, with an operator knocking the grain into a box for later threshing.

Japanese kitchen knife

A Japanese kitchen knife is a type of a knife used for food preparation. These knives come in many different varieties and are often made using traditional Japanese blacksmithing techniques. They can be made from stainless steel, or hagane, which is the same kind of steel used to make Japanese swords. Most knives are referred to as hōchō or the variation -bōchō in compound words but can have other names including -kiri. There are four general categories used to distinguish the Japanese knife designs: handle, blade grind, steel, and construction.

Mower

A mower is a person or machine that cuts (mows) grass or other plants that grow on the ground. Usually mowing is distinguished from reaping, which uses similar implements, but is the traditional term for harvesting grain crops, e.g. with reapers and combines.

Sickle

A sickle, bagging hook or reaping-hook is a single-handed agricultural tool designed with variously curved blades and typically used for harvesting, or reaping, grain crops or cutting succulent forage chiefly for feeding livestock, either freshly cut or dried as hay. Falx was a synonym but was later used to mean any of a number of tools that had a curved blade that was sharp on the inside edge such as a scythe.

Card scraper Tool

A card scraper or cabinet scraper is a woodworking shaping and finishing tool. It is used to manually remove small amounts of material and excels in tricky grain areas where hand planes would cause tear out. Card scrapers are most suitable for working with hardwoods, and can be used instead of sandpaper. Scraping produces a cleaner surface than sanding; it does not clog the pores of the wood with dust, and does not leave a fuzz of torn fibers, as even the finest abrasives will do.

Swather

A swather, or windrower, is a farm implement that cuts hay or small grain crops and forms them into a windrow. "Swather" is predominantly the North American term for these machines. In Australia and other parts of the world, they are called "windrowers". They aid harvesting by speeding up the process of drying the crop down to a moisture content suitable for harvesting and storage.

Sharpening jig

A sharpening jig is often used when sharpening woodworking tools. Many of the tools used in woodworking have steel blades which are sharpened to a fine edge. A cutting edge is created on the blade at the point at which two surfaces of the blade meet. To create this cutting edge a bevel is formed on the blade, usually by grinding. This bevel is subsequently refined by honing until a satisfactorily sharp edge is created.

Billhook cutting tool

A billhook or bill hook is a versatile cutting tool used widely in agriculture and forestry for cutting woody material such as shrubs, small trees and branches and is distinct from the sickle. It is very common in Europe with an important variety of traditional local patterns. Elsewhere, it either developed locally such as in India or was introduced by European settlers such as in North and South America, South Africa and Oceania.

Sharpening stone Abrasive slab used to sharpen tools

Sharpening stones, water stones or whetstones are used to sharpen the edges of steel tools and implements through grinding and honing.

Sharpening

Sharpening is the process of creating or refining a sharp edge of appropriate shape on a tool or implement designed for cutting. Sharpening is done by grinding away material on the implement with an abrasive substance harder than the material of the implement, followed sometimes by processes to polish the sharp surface to increase smoothness and to correct small mechanical deformations without regrinding.

War scythe Type of pole weapon with a curved single-edged blade

A war scythe or military scythe is a form of pole weapon with a curving single-edged blade with the cutting edge on the concave side of the blade. Its blade bears some superficial resemblance to that of an agricultural scythe from which it likely evolved, but the war scythe is otherwise unrelated to agricultural tools and is a purpose-built infantry melee weapon. The blade of a war scythe has regularly proportioned flats, a thickness comparable to that of a spear or sword blade, and slightly curves along its edge as it tapers to its point. This is very different from farming scythes, which have very thin and irregularly curved blades, specialised for mowing grass and wheat only, unsuitable as blades for improvised spears or polearms.

Knife sharpening

Knife sharpening is the process of making a knife or similar tool sharp by grinding against a hard, rough surface, typically a stone, or a flexible surface with hard particles, such as sandpaper. Additionally, a leather razor strop, or strop, is often used to straighten and polish an edge.

A conditioner is a farm implement that crimps and crushes newly cut hay to promote faster and more even drying. Drying the hay efficiently is most important for first cutting of the hay crop, which consists of coarse stalks that take a longer period of time to draw out moisture than finer-textured hays, such as second and subsequent cuttings.

This glossary of woodworking lists a number of specialized terms and concepts used in woodworking, carpentry, and related disciplines.

Grain cradle

A grain cradle or cradle, is a modification to a standard scythe to keep the cut grain stems aligned. The cradle scythe has an additional arrangement of fingers attached to the snaith to catch the cut grain so that it can be cleanly laid down in a row with the grain heads aligned for collection and efficient threshing.

Swathe

A swathe or swath is the width of a scythe stroke or a mowing-machine blade, the path of this width made in mowing or the mown grass or grain lying on such a path. The mower with a scythe moves along the mowing-edge with the uncut grass to the right and the cut grass laid in a neat row to the left, on the previously mown land. The swathe width depends on the blade length, the nature of the crop and the mower but is usually about 1.5 metres wide. Mowing may be done by a team of mowers, usually starting at the edges of a meadow then proceeding clockwise leaving a series of staggered swathes and finishing in the middle.

Sheaf (agriculture) bundle of grain

A sheaf (/ʃiːf/) is a bunch of cereal-crop stems bound together after reaping, traditionally by sickle, later by scythe or, after its introduction in 1872, by mechanical reaper-binder

Peening

Peening is the process of working a metal's surface to improve its material properties, usually by mechanical means, such as hammer blows, by blasting with shot or blasts of light beams with laser peening. Peening is normally a cold work process, with laser peening being a notable exception. It tends to expand the surface of the cold metal, thereby inducing compressive stresses or relieving tensile stresses already present. Peening can also encourage strain hardening of the surface metal.

References

  1. "scythe". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. "Online Etymology Dictionary". etymonline.com.
  3. "Browse 1828 => Word SITHE :: Search the 1828 Noah Webster's Dictionary of the English Language". 1828.mshaffer.com. 2012-06-03. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  4. "Browse 1913 => Word SITHE :: Search the 1913 Noah Webster's Dictionary of the English Language". 1913.mshaffer.com. 2012-06-03. Archived from the original on 2012-12-03. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  5. "How to Use a Scythe – Modern Homesteading – Mother Earth News".
  6. "Peening and Sharpening – Scythe Cymru".
  7. Tomlin, Steve (31 May 2016). "Learning to peen a scythe".
  8. Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust Archived 2005-01-07 at the Wayback Machine . Simt.co.uk (2010-10-03). Retrieved on 2011-03-09.
  9. K. M. Battye, "Sickle-makers and other metalworkers in Eckington 1534–1750: a study of metal workers tools, raw materials and made goods, using probate wills and inventories". Tools and Trades 12 (2000), 26–38.
  10. P. W. King, "The north Worcestershire Scythe Industry" Historical Metallurgy 41(2), 124–147.
  11. Reif, Albert; Ruşdea, Evelyn; Păcurar, Florin; Rotar, Ioan; Brinkmann, Katja; Auch, Eckhard; Goia, Augustin; Bühler, Josef (2008). "A Traditional Cultural Landscape in Transformation". Mountain Research and Development. 28: 18. doi:10.1659/mrd.0806.
  12. Events in Serbia. Hay making on Rajac. Accommodation in Sumadija. Guaranted Tours. Visitserbia.org. Retrieved on 2011-03-09.
  13. Serbian Scything Competition on Mt. Plavinac photo | stock photos Profimedia #0071934552. Profimedia.rs (2010-06-13). Retrieved on 2011-03-09.
  14. Krajinski park Goričko. Park-goricko.org (2010-05-21). Retrieved on 2011-03-09.
  15. Blog Archives. The One Scythe Revolution (2010-02-28). Retrieved on 2011-03-09.
  16. Newman, Barry (June 29, 2012). "Who Needs a WeedWacker When You Can Use a Scythe? Grim Reaper Jokes Aside, Suburbanites Take Swing at Ancient Mower". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 July 2012.