It seems like last weekend was the day that everyone in Europe started to mow. Christiane made the first cuts in her meadow in Austria, Beth Tilston was leading a gang of mowers on a tussocky field in SE England and I was teaching my first group of students on a Learn to Mow course in Cumbria.
The course was fully booked with 8 people including Martin who’d come up from Bristol specially to do the course with me and my friend Stefan who’s finally learned after being surrounded by scythes for the last few years.
As always we started out with setting up the scythes before going out to get cutting. Because of the weather the grass we had was all very short but that’s a great tool for learning. One of the most difficult things for beginners is to learn to keep the scythe blade on the ground but with only 4″ of grass you’re forced to do that or nothing gets cut!
After an introduction to the tai-chi mowing style and instruction on sharpening we had lunch then walked over the fields to Stefan’s place where he had the main scything for the day, a large lawn full of dandelions and a rougher patch in amongst fruit trees. This gave us a chance to try out the scythe in different situations and was useful for the folk who’d come to learn to mow in their own orchards.
You can see from the photos what a great job they did and, for me the nicest thing is to look at their posture. Everyone is upright and making use of their legs to do the work rather than their shoulders. This is success for me and hopefully those skills will stick when they continue mowing on their own.
It was so much fun that we kept going and finished the job which meant that, once we’d cleaned the scythes and I’d explained and demonstrated peening we were late finishing but everyone seemed happy and they all went home with a scythe kit to start the real job of learning.
I’ve two more courses planned in Cumbria this summer but the places are going fast. Alternatively I still have some dates available when I can come to you and teach your group on your own land. Email me if you’re interested in either of these.
I’ve had a cancellation on my Learn to Mow course on 19th May 2013 so there is now a space available for any of you who want to come and learn to use a scythe properly.
The venue is the beautiful smallholding Sprint Mill, Burneside just outside Kendal. We’ll spend the day setting up the scythe to fit your body and then get straight out to the field to learn and practise my gentle efficient mowing style. Lots of time and a small group means I am able to watch every person and offer individual guidance on developing your technique. I’ll also teach you to hone the blade safely in the field for a razor edge and show you how to peen and care for your scythe.
Scythes and all equipment are provided and scythe kits are available to buy on the day so you can take home your scythe already set up and sharp to continue your mowing.
I have taught over a hundred people the pleasures of mowing with a scythe including National Trust wardens, the garden team at Highgrove and John Craven for BBC tv’s Countryfile so you’re in the best hands to start your scythe adventure. Read about my previous courses: http://scytherspace.wordpress.com/category/courses/
Grab your hammers, it’s time for International Peening Day again! (cue fanfare)
Last year was great fun with group of us getting together in Cumbria to sharpen up our scythes and push-mowers while others took part across the UK, in Germany, Austria, the USA and more.
This year it will be on Sunday 7th April. I know a few of you think that I picked 1st April deliberately last year but in truth it was just conincidence that the first sunday fell on that date. It’s also an odd date for those of you who scythe in the southern hemisphere and are just coming to the end of your mowing season. Nevermind, that’s also a great time to peen, so your blades get put away sharp – just make sure you protect them from the rust.
For anyone who’s new to the scythe, peening is the process of hammering out the edge of the blade to make it thinner and give it the correct bevel angle as the first stage in sharpening. It’s the same part of the sharpening process as grinding a chisel except here the work is done with a hammer and anvil or a jig. This way, there’s no chance of burning the delicate edge and you aren’t grinding away steel, rather pulling it out from the body of the scythe blade.
This April I’ll be in Sweden so hopefully meeting up with some scythe experts over there. The real reason I’m there is to do with my woodworking, read about it on the Steve Tomlin Crafts blog.
Get together with friends, share tips and techniques or just use it as motivation to sort out your scythe blades and get in some practise. I look forward to seeing your photos from the day, happy peening!
My Learn to Scythe course in May is now full with places booking up on the June and September dates too. I’ve been getting steady interest since before Christmas and it’s a great indication that the interest in scything is picking up as people get away from powered garden machinery and use the scythe instead. It’s also encouraging that so many people recognise that mowing is a skill that’s worth investing time in to learn.
I have two more Learn to Scythe courses in Cumbria on 28 June and 7 Sept 2013.
During the day you’ll learn to set up the scythe so that it fits your body and mowing style, a little of the background to the Austrian scythe but, most importantly and quite unique among scythe courses, we’ll spend the majority of the day out in the meadow cutting. This means you get the most time to practise the cutting motion and I can watch you as you mow. Each student gets individual attention, making further adjustments to your set up and correcting your technique so you go home with a firm understanding of the ‘tai-chi’ style of relaxed and efficient mowing. We will sharpen together in the field using methods which make that process safe, easy to learn and successful as well as covering peening the blade using the jig. Although generally attended by beginners, this makes a brilliant scythe refresher course or for those with experience and looking to improve.
I also offer individual tuition and can be booked to teach a group on your own land, for more info on my Scythe courses, including specific workshops on peening visit the Scythe Courses page. To book or discuss your requirement, send me an email.
On my way up to teach a ‘Learn to Scythe’ weekend at Forres last summer I took the opportunity to visit two museums on the way and see if I could find out more about the Scottish scythe. In 2011 I’d been given a Scottish snath of the familiar Y shape and was interested to find out why it had developed and it’s use.
My first stop was the Scottish National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride. I’d made an appointment to visit and was shown the collection of harvesting tools in storage. Although it’s only a small collection they have some nice pieces including crown blades still with their original stickers though all from makers in England. Also on the rack were the first traditional English straight snath I’ve seen plus a couple of scythes with snaths of a kind I’d never seen before, neither the American ‘S’ or the Scottish Y” shape but something in between.
In the public part of the museum itself there is just one display case for the scythe which includes a couple of interesting photos including one of a Mr Aitchison from Dumfriesshire in 1966 with a hybrid straight snath. Captions to the photos indicated that the Y-shape dated back to the early 1800′s in the Aberdeen area, presumably with the straight snath being used before that.