Sunday, June 29, 2014

Russian Wrap-around Grip

Easily adjustable, and no holes that weaken the snath.

Instructions for making the traditional Russian one-grip snath (with wrap-around grip) were translated in this earlier post. Here's a recap:

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.

The drawings appearing above are linked images from the Russian site and originate 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)].
With some willow branches from my backyard and a few hand tools, I tried to make one of these Russian snaths, and a couple hours later I was mowing with it. The willow for the shaft had been cut about two years earlier, so it was quite dry and surprisingly stiff. The handle material was cut a few days prior and was kept soaking in a bucket of water until used. I did have some difficulty getting the handle piece to bend sufficiently without breaking. After a few failed attempts, I learned that the central groove in the cutout section needed to be larger than shown in the drawing (at least for the willow I was using), to result in a thinner outside wall that bends more easily. A hook knife was useful for accomplishing this.

Tools used: 
  • Bow saw -- for pruning the willow tree
  • Hand saw -- for cutting the branches to finished length, and for cutting the flat portion where the tang of the blade is clamped
  • Mora knives (3) -- straight, hooked (for the handle groove), and double-handled (like a drawknife)
  • Brace and bit -- for drilling an indent for the knob of the tang; could have used a knife instead
  • C-clamps (2) -- for clamping to a picnic table, instead of using a vise or shaving horse
  • (Rasps and sandpaper were not used for this snath.)

 Materials used:
  • Branches
  • Piece of string (from straw bale)
  • Piece of rubber (from bicycle inner tube scrap)
The selected branch had some curvature that was used as an offset to the right, which improves the balance (as described in this earlier post.) The piece of string was tied into a loop and then twisted to shorten it (resulting in a tighter grip when re-attached). The rubber was cut to size and used to prevent slipping between grip and shaft.

In use, I noticed a slight bit of play in the grip; it was not as rock solid as the drilled-and-glued grips on other snaths. I think this could be avoided by doing a better job of carving (to minimize the gaps between the grip and the shaft), and possibly by using a thicker branch for the grip (for more material to resist flexing). For the next one I make, I will try a larger branch for the grip, wider than the 30 mm shown in the drawing, which will be stronger and allow me to carve it down to customize the shape.


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:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Scythes and the City

Zürich, Switzerland

The city government of Zürich, Switzerland, has published a document titled 12 Golden Rules for the care, preservation, and enhancement of valuable natural areas in landscapes and residential areas (loosely translated here).  

Golden Rule Number One involves the use of scythes:
1.  Mow grasslands with scythes and sickle bar mowers (and not with string trimmers or "shredder" mowers).
This rule is intended to minimize the harm to insects and other small animals. The other rules are summarized below:
2.  Stagger the maintenance, leaving at least 10-20% uncut until the next time, and leave borders along hedges and shrubs.
3.  Increase diversity of species by renouncing the use of fertilizers, peat, and chemical pesticides.
4.  Create shelters (rockpiles, branches, etc.) for small animals.
5.  Create nesting boxes for birds and wild bees.
6.  Make sure that ponds and wetlands are amphibian-friendly.
7.  Use native plants.
8.  Restore meadows.
9.  Cut back shrubs and bushes only during the dormant season (autumn/winter).
10.  Grow old trees, and plant new ones.
11.  Green roofs, balconies, and walls.
12.  Forgo irrigation, and use site-adapted plants.

City employees mow a park in Zurich

Pioneer species on disturbed land in Zurich

For more information about city employees using scythes, see the earlier post titled "Municipal Scythes".


Satellite photo of central Zürich, NASA, 2002, public domain

City of Zürich, Civil Engineering and Waste Department, Urban Nature, Care Procedures: