Monday, October 24, 2011

"Living Lightly" with the Vido Family

The documentary "Living Lightly" was shown at various film festivals and is being broadcast on PBS television this season.

Full-length viewing (in 4 parts):

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Ten Minute Teaser:

Full-length viewing (smaller format):

Official website of the film "Living Lightly" by Robin Burke:

PBS show "Natural Heroes" Season Five episode summary:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reaping Rye, Wheat, Barley, Oats...

Here, stretched in ranks, the swelled swarths are found.
Sheaves heaped on sheaves here thicken up the ground. 
With sweeping stroke the mowers strew the lands— 
The gatherers follow and collect in bands; 
The rustic monarch of the field descries, 
With silent glee, the heaps around him rise." 
-- from Homer's "Iliad", A. Pope translation

All material quoted from:
The book of the farm: detailing the labors of the farmer, steward, plowman, hedger, cattle-man, shepherd, field-worker, and dairy maid, Volume 2,  by Henry Stephens, 1852,
Chapter 34 (page 373 onward)

In mowing, it is the duty of the mower to lay the cut corn [meaning "grain"] or swath at right angles to his own line of motion, and the straws parallel to each other...To maintain this essential requisite in corn [grain]-mowing, he should not swing his arms too far to the right in entering the sweep of his cut, for he will not be able to turn far enough round toward the left, and will necessarily lay the swath short of the right angle; nor should he bring his arms too far round to the left, as he will lay the swath beyond the right angle; and, in either case, the straws will lie in the swath partly above each other, and with uneven ends, to put which even in the sheaf is waste of time. He should proceed straight forward, with a steady motion of arms and limbs, bearing the greatest part of the weight of the body on the right leg, which is kept slightly in advance...The sweep of the scythe will measure about 7 feet in length, and 14 or 15 inches in breadth. 

The woman-gatherers follow by making a band from the swath, and laying as much of the swath in it as will make a suitable sheaf...The gatherer is required to be an active person, as she will have as much to do as she can overtake. The bandster follows her, and binds the sheaves in the manner already described, and any 2 of the 3 bandsters set the stooks  together, so that a stook is easily made up among them; and in setting them, while crossing the ridges, they should be placed on the same ridge, to give the people who remove them with the cart the least trouble. 

Last of all comes the raker, who clears the ground between the stooks with his large rake of all loose straws, and brings them to a bandster, who binds them together by themselves, and sets them in bundles beside the stooks. This is better than putting the rakings into the heart of a sheaf, where they will not thresh clean with the rest of the corn; and, moreover, as they may contain earth and small stones, and also inferior grain, from straws which may have fallen down before the mowing, it is better to thresh bundles of takings by themselves.

The figure [above] exhibits the 3 kinds of scythes in operation [along with the other workers doing the described tasks].

A scythesman will cut fully more than 1 imperial acre of wheat in a day. Many farmers affect to believe that the scythe is an unsuitable instrument for cutting wheat; but I can assure them, from experience, that it is as suitable as the sickle, and that mown sheaves may be made to look as well as reaped. No doubt mowing wheat is severe work, but so is reaping it. Of oats, 1 scythesman will mow fully 2 acres with ease. The oat crop is remarkably pleasant to handle in every way; its crisp straw is easily cut by the scythe, and being hard and free, and generally not too long, is easily bound in sheaf and set in stook. Nearly 2 acres may be mown of barley; but the gummy matter in the straw, which gives it a malty smell, causes the stone to be frequently used in mowing barley, and the straw being always free, the bands are apt to break when rashly handled in binding the sheaves.

One mode of setting up corn [grain] to dry quickly is in gaits, that is, the band of the sheaf is tied loosely round the straw, just under the corn, and the loose sheaf is made to stand upon the lower end of its straw being spread out in a circular form, and they are set upon every ridge. The wind whistles through the open sheaf, and even the rain passes through, and does not hang upon it. 

The expedient of gaiting, however, is only practiced in wet weather, and even then only should the crop, if allowed to stand, be endangered by a shaking wind. It is confined also to a particular kind of crop, namely, oats—wheat and barley never being gaited, because when wheat gets dry, after being cut in a wet state, it is apt to shake out in binding the gaits; and when barley is subjected to the rough usage of binding, after being won, the heads are apt to snap off altogether, and, besides, exposure in gaits would injure its color, and render it unfit for the maltster. Oats are protected by a thick husk, and the grain is not very apt to shake out in handling, excepting potato-oats, which are seldom gaited, the common kinds only being so treated. But, for my part, I would not hesitate to gait any sort of oats when wet with dew in the morning, or even when wetted with rain, rather than lose a few hours' work of reaping every morning, or at nightfall. 

Gaits, it is true, are very apt to be upset by a high wind; but after having got a set, it is surprising what a breeze they will withstand. After being blown down, however, they are not easily made to stand again, and then 3 at least are required to be set against each other; but whatever trouble the re-setting them should create, they should not be allowed to lie on the ground, and it will be found that a windy day dries them very quickly, and secures their winning.

Rye may be reaped or mown in the same manner as the other cereal crops. Its straw, being very tough, may be made into neat slim bands. It usually ripens a good deal earlier than the other grains; and its straw being clean and hard, does not require long exposure in the field, and on that account the stooks need not be hooded.

Beans in drills are reaped only with the sickle, by moving backward, taking the stalks under the left arm, and cutting every stalk through with the point of the sickle. When beans are sown by themselves straw ropes are required for bands; but when mixed with pease, the pea-straw answers the purpose. 

Beans are always the latest crop in being reaped, sometimes not for weeks after the others have been reaped and carried. In stooking, bean-sheaves are set up in pairs against one another, and the stook may consist of 4 or more sheaves, as is thought most expedient in the circumstances for the winning of the crop, the desire being to have them won as soon as possible, to get the land sown with wheat. 

Pease are also reaped with the point of the hook, gathered with the left hand, while moving backward, and laid in bundles, not bound in sheaves, until ready to be carried, and are never stooked at all.

-- Henry Stephens, 1852

Sheaves of Wheat in a Field,  Vincent Van Gogh, 1885


The book of the farm: detailing the labors of the farmer, steward, plowman, hedger, cattle-man, shepherd, field-worker, and dairy maid, Volume 2,  by Henry Stephens, 1852,
Chapter 34 (page 373 onward)

Sheaves of Wheat in a Field, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1885
Place of creation: Nunen / Nuenen, Netherlands

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The "Missouri Method" of Blade Attachment

Jeff Adams (from Ashland, Missouri) designed this method of blade attachment. He writes, "The wedge can be almost any angle to custom fit any tang angle to any height person. Haft angle is easily adjusted. So far it's working well for me (cutting lawn grass)."  Thanks, Jeff for sharing this with us.

A novel way to attach a scythe blade to a wedge, and the wedge to the snath, allowing modification of tang angle, haft angle and sideways tilt.
Designed by Jeffrey H. Adams, April 2011

Since people vary in size and mow under various terrains with diverse kinds of plants, the scythe must be custom fit to work well, and so must the blade. If not, the scythe may be all but useless. This design should work well for fitting the blade to the snath, and is very inexpensive.

The photos show an example with the following assumptions:

1) The snath is 1.25 inches wide at its bottom.
2) The blade's tang steepness is 10 degrees, but you desire a 27 degree angle.

Before reading further, it is helpful to look at the photos.

Get a block of wood 4.25 inches by 1.5 inches by 3.5  inches. (The required size will depend on angle of wedge desired and snath width.)  The 1.5 inches is the fat end of the wedge. The 3.5 inches will cover the width of the snath and provide space for the clamps bolts, described below. The 4.25 inches accommodate the tang and the pivot bolt described below. I used a piece of scrap softwood lumber.

Hollow out in the shape of the tang the bottom of the block just short of the thickness of the tang.
(That is, a rectangle about  3.5 inches long, 1.25 inches wide and an eighth inch deep). The tang will fit in the slot, with the tang's thickness rising a small amount just above the slot.

Drill a hole a little narrower than tang's knob, then with a chisel square it up to accommodate the tang’s knob.

Now cut the block to a 17 degree wedge, with the thick end having the tang’s knob hole. The thin end should have some thickness too -- say about 1/4 inch.

Clamp the wedge on the bottom of the snath and drill a hole about a half inch to the rear of the knob hole and thru the wedge and snath. Put a large washer on a bolt. I used a 1/4 inch diameter bolt. This bolt does three things:
(a) clamps the rear of the tang into the depression of the wedge
(b) is a pivot for rotation of the wedge to modify haft angle
(c) clamps the wedge to the snath.
(Instead of a washer I had on hand 2 small metal plates with bent ends that worked well. A large washer or a metal plate with a hole in it should also work.)

Toward the front of the wedge (about 1.25 to 1.75 inches from the front of wedge) and on both sides of the wedge drill holes to accommodate two bolts. The holes are drilled about a half inch from the sides of  the wedge. I used 1/4 inch diameter bolts. The distance between bolts corresponds to the distance between holes in the metal plate. The plates are 3 inches by 1/2 inch by 1/8 inch thick. Other sizes could also work.

These two bolts, in conjunction with an upper metal plate ( I used two upper metal plates) and a lower metal plate, will clamp the front portion of the tang to the wedge and will also clamp the front portion of the wedge to the snath.

Wedges that are 1.25 inches high (or whatever the snath's depth is) are placed between one (or both) bolt(s) and snath sides to lock in haft angle. Another way to lock and strengthen the haft angle is to make a 1.25 inch wide, 4.25 inch long  and about an eighth inch deep depression on the upper half of the wedge to accommodate the snath’s bottom. The angle of the depression will depend on the desired haft angle. This approach also helps lock the wedge onto the snath.

I also place a piece of leather along the lower portion of tang, i.e., between the tang and the large metal washer and between the tang and the bottom metal plate.

Instead of a single rear bolt, you can probably make another clamp for the rear part of the wedge in the same fashion that the clamp is made for the front portion of the wedge.


1)  Use washers and lock washers with the nuts and bolts.

2)  To reduce strain on bolts and wood, it helps to countersink holes to match the angles of bolt heads/nuts/plates to wood. Or use small wood wedge washers to match up the angles.

3)  At first I angled  the wedge slot that accommodates the tang and thus modified the haft angle. But then I realized the resulting haft angle was too acute. I was still able to pivot the wedge and fix the problem.

4)  This same basic approach will likely work if you want to reduce the tang angle. The fat end of the wedge will face to the front of the snath. The narrow part the wedge would have to be a little thicker to give some strength to the pivot area.

5)  I did not need to modify the sideways tilt. But here are some ways to do so:

5a)  The wedge can be modified on its top surface to change the angle it makes to the ground. That is, a wedge is cut out of it to modify its angle to the snath’s bottom.

5b)  The wedge can be modified on its bottom surface to change the angle the blade makes to the ground. That is, the slot to accommodate the tang is modified to be at an angle.

5c)  The snath’s bottom surface can be modified by cutting out a thin angled wedge shape. The Scythe Connection site discusses this approach here. The wedge is not modified.

6)  To increase strength of attachment use a hardwood wedge and/or increase the thickness of the bottom side of the wedge.

7)  Do not hammer in the small side wedge(s) (that help lock the haft angle) too severely, otherwise the main large wedge could be split.

8)  It is possible to avoid the use of one or both of the small side wedge(s) if the bolt holes for the forward "clamp" are judiciously chosen. That is, if they can be placed adjacent to the snath on each side.

-- Jeffrey H. Adams, April 2011