Monday, August 9, 2010

Brubaker scythe blade (Made in USA)

This was sent by Jack Brubaker, who forged his own scythe blade

and uses it with a homemade wildwood snath:

Today I found some time to attempt forging a blade from a one inch round of W1 tool steel. That is a simple carbon steel with 1% carbon. I know it is too much carbon, but I had it on hand. I used the largest of my hammers the 300 pound copy of a Beche. It happened to have a flat die on the bottom and a very round drawing die on top so I decided to give that combination a try. The top die is round with no real flat on the bottom so it was messy forging the zainen, but it was done with a little patience. I was just forging off the round stock rather than starting by cutting a blank so I didn't know how much steel I used. Once I had the stock roughed out and began spreading the blade it became clear that the top die was too round to form a sharp and crisp transition between the back and the thin body of the blade. I hammered the transition so that the edge of the back was the right thickness and the metal then thinned quickly toward the thin blade. This left the back more of a triangle then a rectangle but it did allow me to pull out the remaining metal into a fairly thin blade. I of course had some trouble with the blade forming the wrong curve (backwards at one point) but it all worked out in the end. To bend up the back I used a V block on the anvil and hand hammered the base of the triangular back down into the V with the cross pein of the hammer. This is a messy way to get it done as it left a lot of rough hammer marks. I envision a tool I can make that would do a much better job, but that will await more time to play. The first photo is of the blade at this point. As you see the round top die and the bashing with a hand hammer left a rough and uneven back. 

I then cut off the excess steel and refined the shape of the blade with more hammering. At this point it really began to look like a scythe blade and I got eager to try it out so rather than risk hardening and tempering now without a proper tank for the oil (I have a large stainless tank of oil for hardening hammer dies but it is round and not long enough) I elected to just hammer the blade cold as it was at that state. I thinned the edge on the anvil and hand hammered with the edge of a round flat faced hammer to get the effect of the dotting hammer and tension the blade. The blade stiffened up nicely and when pressed point against the floor it has a nice spring and curves with some grace. It is too stiff I think as a result of being a bit heavy. But not bad for a first try. I put it in a snath sharpened it some and it actually cuts grass. I doubt that it will hold an edge as well as a properly hardened blade but I am encouraged to try more of this! There was no way for me to form the tongue that reinforces the blade to tang area since my top die was too wide to form the narrow forged groove between the back and the tongue. I will have to make a better top die. The blade is 25.25 inches long(over all) and 3 inches wide at the beard. 

I have used my first home forged blade quite a bit along side a new blade from Rossleithen. It is lighter than an "American" blade but noticeably heavier that the Austrian blade (don't have any way of weighing them yet). There are things I look forward to doing better in the future, but I find it to be serviceable and it seems comparable in edge holding. I hope to be able to look back on this blade as my crude first attempt but first I need to wait until fall when I foresee having the time to work on blades in a more focused manner. I am inspired by an old blade I brought back from Austria (thanks to Walter Blumauer) that was made for the Middle-East market and is really thin and light but has a good tension and springy feel. I had the chance to try the first sample of a blade that Gerhard Walter designed and had the Rossleithen factory produce that is aimed at modern mowers. That blade is an interesting variation on standard European blades, mows very well, and has features I'd like to try out here in Indiana. 
So, there is much to do.

(Source:  Text and photos by Jack Brubaker, used with permission.)


  1. Is there any chance you could provide me with a fuller description of how you went about making the scythe blade itself? I have been scouring old books and the internet to no avail for information and instruction on this aspect of blacksmithing.
    I am interested in the details of this as I have no machinery, such as a foot hammer, to pursue this project. It is my hope that with more details I might be able to reproduce the same effects with simple hand tools.

  2. Jack Brubaker addresses Carl's question in the November 16th post titled "Forge your own scythe blade".

  3. I am an amature blacksmith, have made a number of knives and small swords along with various garden tools. I recently acquired several old scythe blades that I am reconditioning with research on many wonderful scythe sites. Was wondering if it is possible (safe) to readjust the tang angle on these old blades by heating the tang locally and twisting it. I am assuming that the tang area is basically a spring temper, but wonder if it is possibly harder than that. Perhaps the tang angle can just be increased without heat? Any clues would be helpful.

    1. I recall Peter Vido telling me that back when villages and towns had local blacksmiths, people would routinely take their new scythe blades there to have the tangs heated and adjusted to the desired angles. I might be wrong, but I think he said that the part to be bent should first be heated to cherry red, then allowed to cool naturally (in the air) after bending. Perhaps Peter will elaborate when he has a chance to comment.

  4. I have been mowing my suburban lawn now for about a year with an Austrian blade I purchased. It's very nice. I do want to try to make my own blade but do not know what kind of steel they use in these Austrian blades. Its obviously something that is hardened and tempered, but it is soft enough to hammer without cracking and hard enough to hold the edge. Is there any way to find out what the steel is? Any clues at all?