The Austrian Scythe is the New Weed Whacker

Scott at the Huntington Gardens gave me a quick lesson on the Austrian Scythe, setting me l

oose to whack a stand of summer weeds. The scythe is to the weed whacker what the fixed gear bike is to the ten speed. Or, for you motor heads, it’s what a non-synchronized manual transmission is to an automatic. The scythe is all about technique, not technology and like riding fixed or “ten forward gears and a Georgia overdrive“, it’s the considered life, an exercise in attentiveness . . . and frustration.

There’s definitely a learning curve and after a few minutes of ineffectual flailing I traded the scythe for a hoe. Still, the act of swinging this tool is infused with symbolism. Someone hand me a black robe! With a little practice I’d be knocking down weeds and getting some exercise, never a bad thing in our sedentary modern world.

Like all journeys into the “manual” life there’s a fair amount of maintenance. The blade must be sharpened frequently and periodically “peened” (the term for using a hammer to smooth out nicks).

Scythes come in European and American styles. The European configuration is ergonomic and the American style is clunky and uncomfortable to use. There’s also several different blades for weeding and harvesting and, like a bicycle, it’s crucial that your scythe fit your height.

Scythe use is intellectual for me since years worth of mulching, a dry climate and a very small yard means that I don’t have any stands of weeds to knock down or wheat to harvest. But, if I had a large yard and grass to deal with, I’d dump the weed whacker in a heartbeat.

For more info see Scythe Supply’s Scythe faq

Drawing from www.thescytheshop.co.uk.

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9 Comments

  1. “The scythe is to the weed whacker what the fixed gear bike is to the ten speed.”

    So it has limited utility and for many owners is more a fashion accessory than a tool? Do farmhands palping scythes behave like the idiots in that fixie video — swinging their blades against the current like so many grass clipping salmon?

  2. I would say the scythe is to a weed whacker as the bicycle is to a motorcycle.

    I’ve used one of these while working at the Lyle Center. It is tiring, but boy does it cut. considering the weed is extremely unreliable costs tons to maintain (new wires and gas), the scythe is definitely the money saver.

  3. The weed whacker is a marvel, except that it is a pain to have to stop fairly often to rerun the filament.

    The sling blade is effective, except for the fact that the ones I get break so quickly.

    A machete is effective, but back breaking.

    I might try a scythe.

  4. Eric – I have a scythe from Scythe Supply that I’m just beginning to work with. I need to peen the blade and sharpen it and then I’ll be able to use it. To read the descriptions of mowing in the scythe book and to see mowing on one of the DVDs offered by Scythe Supply makes me think that it is much more than just the single speed bike. It is more like a canoe to a paddle wheeler – in scythe mowing, there is only the swish of the blade and falling grass, there are no fumes and the incredible balance of the whole thing is like a Tai Chi workout. I cannot wait to get my scythe up and running and begin to practice with it. I think it’s a wonderful – and practical – alternative.

    Good to meet you tonight – finally!

    david

  5. Tolstoy wrote beautifully on the joys of working with a Scythe in Anna Karenina. But I guess you’ll have to look it up for yourself.

  6. I got an old scythe today. I am out of practice and out of shape, but I would not bet on a weed whacker against me and my scythe. It is super exercise too.
    There is a little movie on youtube of a girl of about 11 years using a scythe and cutting a lot of grass.
    Are you guys sure a weed whacker can beat it?
    And no noise pollution either!
    I will find a ball peen hammer and then it will be cutting really sweetly. I have used scythes in Norway, Switzerland, Ireland and now Canada!
    In Norway, we used the scythe on one in 4 slopes.
    It is hard to even keep your feet there but add the scythe as a third leg and it was possible to cut weeds on the steepest slopes.
    Anyways, I had fun today, “mowing” my front lawn.
    Brian

  7. I grew up in the country in southwest Ohio. We lived on a farm and our house had about a 300 x100 feet yard. My Dad used only a scythe like this to keep our grass cut. He could get it done in less time than one could do it with a reel mower.He was a decendent of Rob Roy of Scotland so maybe that had something to do with it. This was in the 40′s and early 50′s. He was in his 50′s at that time and lived to be 93

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