Saturday, July 17, 2010

Grain cradle design from Slovakia

These photos show the classic type of grain cradle used in Central Slovakia.


This simple design requires only a short length of chain, a suitable tree branch (or sapling), some cord, and a screw at the end of the one-grip snath.

The loop of chain is used to loosely attach the branch to the snath, as shown in this photo.

Moving the branch into position will then tighten the chain and hold the branch firmly against the snath.

When the branch is perpendicular, the chain is tight and the branch starts to bend.

The snath grip acts as a brace to hold the branch in place while the scythe is being used.

The cord is tied to the branch and looped around a screw at the end of the snath.

After making easy adjustments to the length of the cord and the position of the chain, the grain cradle is ready for use.

Peter Vido has this to say about grain harvesting and this cradle design:

"This rather quickly written piece on a very pertinent subject is meant as a provisional response to the growing interest in the grain harvesting scythe, often referred to as a “cradle scythe”. 

To begin with, I’d like to present some “facts” (call them opinions if you wish), which I intend to substantiate here at a later date.

  1. For harvesting relatively small (family bread supply- size, for instance) plots of grain, the sickle (rather than the scythe) may well be the tool of choice.
  1. For larger acreages of grain than you may feel like tackling with a sickle, the grain-harvesting outfit traditionally used in Central Slovakia is a relatively simple and efficient alternative.
The body of the cradle consists of a green (and thereby flexible) hardwood branch or thin sapling and a piece of string. (The wooden piece used in these pictures is a branch of a wild plum – hence all the knots.) The string is tied to the end of the branch as well as a small nail/screw/staple at the lower end of the snath. By lengthening or shortening the string, the branch is pulled into a position most suitable, depending on the height of the grain, to hold the cut stalks. The weight of this cradle is a fraction of the more complicated contraptions – and, most importantly – is easily owner-made!

  1. None of the snaths mounted with a cradle that I have seen in museums in several countries (as well as pictured in books) had the lower grip facing backwards (meaning toward the person operating them). This was the case even in regions where the general purpose (“grass”) scythes had their grips pointing backwards – the way the now popular version of Austrian/European snaths have them.
The logic of the upward (and at the same time slightly forward) pointing grips will be apparent to anyone who actually tries out the two options, side by side…
In any case, I think that the folks in the UK (using the Swiss made snath version sold by the Scythe Shop along with the cradle made by Steve Tomlin), as well as all those buying their “grain scythes” from Scythe Supply and Botan Anderson (mystic prairie) will end up working a lot harder for their bread than is necessary…"

(Source:  Photos and quoted text from Peter Vido, used with permission.)


  1. Thanks for highlighting such an interesting cradle design, it was great to see just how simple it could be. I had been dreaming up some kind of homemade contraption based on those elaborate cradle scythe drawings you see, but instead I whipped one of these together and it seems to work just fine for harvesting hulless oats. I really want to spread the word about it now!

  2. The simple Slovakian design above is fine for oats and barley - crops that were traditionally raked into piles and carted loose into the barn for threshing - but if you want to cut the crop so that it can be tied up into sheaves a 'finger' cradle works much better. It takes a little more planning and work to put one together, but it's worth it if you want to cut wheat efficiently and not leave a mess in the field. I made an aluminium version in half a day last year and it worked very well in the field. Purists will prefer wood, and the only challenge here is to get all of the 'fingers' to mimick the shape of the blade. The Slovakian model is great for someone with a single scythe who needs to switch quickly between scything grass and cereal. A well-made grain scythe with a secure cradle - adjusted for the height of the grain, and set so that the mower isn't crippled over while using it - is worth it's weight in gold for any plot larger than 1/10th of an acre (500 sq yard/400 sq m). Small plots are best cut with a serrated sickle.

  3. I haven't yet used this cradle, but Peter Vido did harvest some acres of wheat this past season and tried the Slovakian design. I'll ask him to provide an evaluation.

  4. This Slovakian cradle design was modified by Stephen Simpson to make it perform remarkably well for wheat, as shown in his video, which is the subject of a new post: