Sunday, December 8, 2013

Russian variations

When it comes to scythes, the Russians evidently do some things differently (compared with the typical Western European ways).  Some of these Russian methods are presented below. Seeing different approaches to familiar problems can benefit one's understanding, creativity, and improvisation potentials.

The drawings appearing below are linked images from the Russian site and originated from a magazine article titled кoси, кoса by Н. Н. Рoдиoнoв, appearing in the journal Сделай Сам (Знание) 1992-02 [journal name translated as DIY (Knowledge)].

Here is a Russian scythe with a moveable grip. The advantages of such a grip include having a wide range of adjustments possible for different conditions or different users.

The grip is made from a freshly-cut branch that is bent around the snath and secured with a piece of twine.  Willow or wild cherry is suggested, with a diameter of 25-30 mm and a length of 350-400 mm.  The size of the cutout portion in the middle depends on the diameter of the snath, but is typically around 80 mm, with a depth that's less than half of the branch diameter. A groove is made within the cutout portion, removing the pith and the center of the branch to accommodate bending without breakage.  Grooves are carved around each end of the branch to hold the twine in place, once the handle is bent around the snath.  A thin piece of rubber (like a scrap from an inner tube) between the grip and the snath will make the connection more secure during use.

Although one-grip snaths seem to be the norm in Russia, this unusual style of two-grip snath was shown as an example from Lithuania: 

The blade attachment method (shown in the first drawing above) uses one or two non-adjustable rings in combination with a substantial wooden wedge. This type of wooden wedge is used with a snath having an acutely tapered end. The snath taper is evident in the drawing below which illustrates an alternative grip arrangement:

Having the snath end taper like this, instead of being squared off, will effectively make the blade perform like it has a steeper tang, which can be good for low tangs and/or tall folks. Here's a photo from Peter Vido that shows a blade attached to a tapered snath using a wedge and simple ring (with no set screws):

From A snath with a very acutely tapered end. For this arrangement the common set-screw type rings do not work well. However, the simple ring in the picture, held in place by a thick wedge, is a very common way of attaching a blade; many East European and other mowers prefer this method. It is in this manner that most Russian-made blades (the tangs of which are approximately 23-24 degrees) have been used on the straight one-grip snath in Slovakia by tall mowers. For this ring/wedge to hold better, the upper side of the snath’s end remains square, i.e. flat on top, instead of rounded as it would be in order to take the set-screw ring.

Another method of blade attachment is this clamp, which has a lever arm and a cam:

Peening the blade is done while on the snath or off, with anvils and hammers similar to those used throughout Europe:

The Russian-style peening jig, however, is different. Instead of having a hammered cap that fits over and around a central post, the Russian jig has a hammered post that fits within a round guide:

While the design of this jig is more complex, one apparent advantage is that without a fixed central post, the part of the blade being peened is not butted against anything during the deformation, and therefore would not be dulled by the hammering. This jig has two set screws, one to hold the bottom anvil piece in place, and the other to align the hammer post and keep the up and down movements within limits.

Along with a whetstone, some Russian mowers will carry a smooth, hard steel rod into the field with them to use like a butcher's steel (labeled 2, below).

The function of the steel is to realign the edge and recover some sharpness without having to wear down the edge with the stone. During normal use of the scythe, some of the microserrations in the edge become folded over, dulling the blade. Using the steel can reposition portions of the bent edge back into the original position, restoring the sharpness to a certain extent. Some of the regular honings in the field can be replaced by steeling the edge, effectively prolonging the life of the edge. Another Russian site suggests making this scythe sharpening steel from an old triangular taper file that has been smoothed to remove the file teeth.

Below is a Russian design for grain cradles, made from durable, dry wood, with 3-5 "teeth" (depending on the height of the grain):

1 = Teeth, fitting into 12x12 mm holes in Base

2 = Rawhide straps
3 = Base, 20x20 mm wood, length 350-600 mm
4 = Ring
5 = Twine

The wooden base is firmly attached to the snath with a steel bracket, with one end of the bracket attached to the base using two screws, and the other end of the bracket clamped between the snath ring(s) and the blade tang. The lowest tooth is slightly shorter than the blade, and each upper tooth is 50-70 mm shorter than the tooth below. The teeth are sanded smooth to avoid burrs. Dry rawhide straps are twisted to connect and separate the teeth. Wet rawhide straps are used to help firmly secure the teeth to the base, tightening as they dry. The ring is attached to the snath about 15 cm below the grip, and strong twine is stretched between the teeth and the ring, for additional stability and adjustment potential. All of the teeth should be arranged parallel to the cutting edge of the scythe blade. Fabric or netting can be added,if desired, using a U-shaped frame attached to the snath (not shown).


Article titled «Коси, коса...» by Н. Н. Родионов, from the journal Сделай Сам (Знание) 1992-02, pages 45-69
Reprint and images from the article provided by:
Original article appears at:

Wedge attachment photo from Snath and Blade Fitting page at

Painting (upper): Haymaking by Nikolay A. Sergeyev (1855-1919), dated 1887, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Painting (lower): From Mowing by Pyotr Konchalovsky (1876-1956), dated 1948, linked from

Saturday, December 7, 2013

How to NOT carry your scythe

(with rough translations)

One afternoon, Cosme was a little bit "lit up" when he left the tavern.

He took his scythe he had left at the door...

... and as he began walking, he liberated a captive pig.

While lighting his pipe, the scythe was stuck into a magnificent cheese.

The owner shouted to reclaim it.

Always cheerful, Cosme came to a wheat field...

... in which his scythe, being dragged, caused some real damage.

He put it on his shoulder and... cut in half a beautiful sheet put out to dry.

A neighbor, seeing Cosme arriving drunk, slammed the door...

Without enough time for her dog to get out to the street.

Cosme, unaware of this, cut the poor animal...

Then he destroyed a pear tree, and then a plum tree, etc., etc.

Passing under a window, he became entangled in a large canvas hanging from it...

... which gave Cosme an appearance that was truly macabre...

... at the sight of which, all fled in terror.

Cosme finally managed to get home and into bed, where his dreams shaped to be nothing less than "Mr. Time", responsible for cutting the threads of existence.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Municipal Scythes

Parks employees get scythe training in Vevey, Switzerland.
From the video "
La faux: Un outil réhabilité" by Ville D'images,

Prior to the widespread adoption of motorized brushcutters and string trimmers, scythes were commonly used for the maintenance of roadsides, parks, and other public spaces. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the use of scythes by parks departments and public works employees.

The well-developed nation of Switzerland is at the forefront of this movement "backwards", judging by the documentation available online. Among the Swiss cities that employ scythes are Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Luzern, and Vevey. 

The reasons given for re-adopting the low-tech scythes are not limited to the scythe's virtues as a non-polluting "green" solution.  Scythes also have performance-related advantages over the motorized alternatives, and these advantages are being recognized.

City workers in Zurich, led by Andreas Hochstrasser, are using scythes to help them maintain the green spaces within the city environment.  According to Hochstrasser, scythes have the following advantages over motorized trimmers and brushcutters:

  1. Scythes were found to be faster in trials.
  2. The relatively quiet scythes can be used at times when noisy equipment is not allowed.
  3. Scythes require a minimal safety distance, while brushcutters require a 15m radius.
  4. Despite precautions, the city was spending thousands of francs each year to compensate for property damage done by the brushcutters (typically damage to windows and cars); the scythes result in no damage.
  5. When scythes are used, dog droppings do not become airborne.
  6. Damage to tree trunks does not occur with scythes.
  7. Scythe-cut material can typically be removed easily with a pitchfork.  A leaf blower is typically used to clean up after the motorized cutters.

In Geneva, Jean-Gabriel Brunet is responsible for the maintenance of green spaces in the city, and thirty of his workers have attended training in the use of scythes.  Brunet and his crew added a few more advantages that scythes have over motorized trimmers:
  1. The scythe is more effective than a mower or trimmer in places difficult to access.
  2. On banks, a worker can cut 200m in one hour with a scythe, while cutting only 135m with a trimmer.
  3. With a trimmer, everything is chopped up: grass, seeds, insects.  With a scythe, the grass is long, the seeds can fall and germinate, and the insects are preserved.
  4. The grass cut with a scythe can be retrieved to use as hay for animals.
  5. The scythe is non-polluting.
  6. The 15m safety distance for a trimmer is reduced to only 1m for a scythe.
  7. Fatigue is less with a 1-2 kg scythe, compared with an 8-10 kg trimmer.
  8. With a scythe, you can work for hours, and then go dancing that night!

In Geneva, city workers get training in scythe maintenance.
Note the method of blade attachment. [Photo by Oliver Vogelsang]

The city of Lausanne has also reintroduced the scythe for maintaining its parks and green spaces. After 40 city gardeners were instructed in 2009, the city opened the training to the public, and a scythe course has been held every year since then. Besides the advantages of scythes already listed above, the city of Lausanne gives some more reasons why scythes are preferred over the motorized trimmers:
  1. No vibrations with a scythe.
  2. No breathing exhaust fumes with a scythe.
  3. Scythes consume only elbow grease.

Scythe usage is being promoted throughout Switzerland by the organization VSSG/USSP (Swiss Union of Parks and Recreation Services).  The VSSG/USSP offered a scythe course in Luzern for city employees who are "tired of the brushcutter". After the training, participants concluded that "mowing with a scythe is more than just tradition and nostalgia. It is a fast, environmentally friendly and healthy craft".

The VSSG/USSP also held scythe training in the city of Vevey.  The courses were offered to parks employees who wanted to learn how to use a scythe for cutting meadows and slopes, instead of using mechanical methods.  A video was made during the 2010 training in Vevey:

Looking beyond Switzerland, Peter Vido describes (at how scythes have been reintroduced at a town in Austria:

Until [1997], the traditional scythes were standard equipment in the pick-up trucks of all road maintenance crews in the township of Grieskirchen, Austria. They were used for cutting grass on steep and often irregular embankments, around electricity and telephone poles, trees, bushes and ornamental shrubs. Large open areas are mowed by means of specially designed trucks mounted with cutting and grass pick-up devices.

In 1997 the traditional scythes were replaced with a modern, though still hand-held version, referred to in German as "Motorsensen" (motor scythe). (This is not a mere string trimmer but a considerably more rugged alternative with actual steel blades powered by an engine.)

However, in due time maintenance personnel found several disadvantages of this new equipment: noise, vibrations, the need for protective gear, and actually lower efficiency than was the case with a conventional scythe! That realization inspired comparative tests in which typical task were performed with both tools. The results showed that the output of a man with the traditional scythe was about twice that of one using the "motorsense". Besides, he was more comfortable while working. Consequently, [around 2003] the equipment of the road maintenance trucks was changed back to conventional scythes.

At present only a single team uses a power scythe, due to a temporary lack of knowledge in use and care of a scythe blade. Some older maintenance people are part-time farmers with good skills in scythe use, but for younger people, training could be useful in order to keep up the use of scythes.

In the UK and USA, there is plenty of potential but no examples were found of similarly enlightened municipalities.  Using scythes to maintain parks and public spaces in these countries seems to be currently in the domain of volunteers, usually in laudable efforts to restore biodiversity. Perhaps it is up to us, as scythe users, to rise to the occasion and form volunteer "Scythe Squads" to demonstrate how scythes can be used to maintain parks, open spaces, and roadsides. 


"La faux: supérieure à la débroussailleuse portable", by Andreas Hochstrasser and Peter Stünzi, VSSG/USSP, 2006
"Les faucheurs sont de retour dans les parcs genevois", by Sophie Roselli, Tribune de Genève, 27.07.2012
"Le retour du fauchage à la faux dans les espaces verts lausannois"
"Cours de fauchage à la faux «Edition juin 2013»"
Vereinigung Schweizerischer Stadtgärtnereien und Gartenbauämter
Union Suisses des Services des Parcs et Promenades
"Mähen mit der Sense", VSSG/USSP, Peter Stünzi, Director, 2012
"Mähen mit der Sense, Kurs in Luzern, Kurzbericht", by Thomas Schmid
"La faux: Un outil réhabilité", video by Ville d'images,, 19.06.2010
Grieskirchen, Austria
"Biodiversity and the Scythe", by Peter Vido, ScytheConnection

UPDATE:  See subsequent post "Scythes and the City"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Virtual exhibition on the scythe

The "musées des techniques et cultures comtoises", based in France, has an online exhibition devoted to the scythe.  There are sections on the symbolism, usage, history, and manufacturing of scythes.  Each section has subsections including videos and quizzes. It's all in French.

One tidbit from the exhibition: The factory at Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne once produced up to 180 different models of scythe blades.

Link to virtual exhibit:

A 30-page booklet of related material can be read online, or downloaded as a free .pdf file. This booklet includes historical artwork and photographs, and a couple "CHANSONS ET POÈMES" from the 19th century.

Link to .pdf booklet:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Improved grain cradle design

In this excellent video by Stephen Simpson, the Slovakian cradle described in this earlier post gets some ingenious modifications to make it perform remarkably well for wheat.

The video is titled "Exploring Small Scale Grain Harvesting part 1" and can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The peening equipment of Heinz Stalder


From the village of Trubschachen in Switzerland comes this well-made peening equipment. The anvil (with its elaborate guides), the bench, and the hammer were all fabricated at Heinz Stalder's blacksmith shop, Schmiedetrubschachen GmbH.

Although Scythe Connected is non-commercial and doesn't contain advertisements, we still wanted to highlight these innovative designs.
Hats off to Heinz Stalder!

Photos from Schmiedetrubschachen GmbH site.