The Accidental Smallholder Forum

Smallholding => Equipment => Topic started by: chrismahon on April 07, 2019, 10:43:43 am

Title: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on April 07, 2019, 10:43:43 am
Finally bought an Austrian Scythe (Fux) last year in France from Emmanuel Oblin, a gentleman recommended by Simon Fairlie. Whilst it did come with some good and simple instructions with useful photographs,I was grateful to Simon for supplying his very detailed booklet in English.


Selection of the 'snath' or handle (manche) was done simply by reference to my height- they come in three lengths. The blade (lame) recommended was 60cm general purpose blade, the shorter 50cm blade is for hacking undergrowth and the longer 80cm for grass. Sharpening the blade caused a lot of confusion, which is why I am writing this, although it may be obvious to some. In the end I bought a natural Pyrenees stone (La Royale) which turned out to be a good buy.


The snath was sealed with Danish oil (can't buy that here) as recommended, but not the handle grips. The paint was taken off the edge of the blade with stripper and the whole thing assembled to instructions. This worked out well first time as, after experimenting, I ended up back where I was.


A lot is written about hammering the blade to sharpen it and realistically that needs a special tool set. But it became apparent that a super sharp blade like that would be great for grass, but when out cutting hay in our fields it would be wrecked immediately by anthills. There seems to be three grades of edge, the coarse one for undergrowth is a greater angle produced with coarse stones only (100-200). I sharpened mine using a coarse wetstone followed by a fine dressing with the Royale, which I would say is about 400 grit or finer. It does produce a fantastic edge on anything that needs to be sharp- shaping axe, sickle.


One thing I did learn quickly was that a whetstone needs to soak in water and stay soaked, otherwise it blocks up- which is what happened to me and was unblocked by leaving it soaking until the steel rusted out. I do need a proper stone carrier.


The scything technique is pretty simple if you don't overstretch yourself and try to replicate the YouTube videos! I found a 2 metre cut was really my limit. Hay can only be cut when damp with water acting as a lubricant, so before the dew has burned off. After that the stem juice sticks to the blade and the blade just drags the hay down, rather than cutting through it.


Great exercise it was last year and lovely to be out at first light for an hour or so. So peaceful. 4000m2 cut last year and laid over weed patches with great effect as the areas are ready for reseeding now. I did have a donation of an English 4 tyne pitchfork, which was essential and for which I am very grateful as our two tyne was useless for gathering up. Now looking forward to this years hay, which we cut very late to help the wildlife.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: macgro7 on April 07, 2019, 11:41:24 am
Great! I use my scythe mainly to cut nettles and docks and not for the hay, but it is an amazing art. My safer and pleasant than strimmer (much cheaper as well tbh)
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: PK on April 07, 2019, 12:46:00 pm
That’s really interesting, especially cutting the grass while it is still damp. How long did it take you to scythe 4000sq m (which I think is about 1 acre)? How do you store the hay once it’s gathered?
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on April 07, 2019, 01:48:14 pm
Cutting is quite slow (for me) as the depth forward is only a toes length and can be less if the hay is dense. We also have some thorny bushes to work round and anthills to avoid. I was touching up the blade every 10-15 minutes, or immediately after cutting through an anthill. I managed 60 -100m2 per hour, which in this climate is per day. The hay was left in the neat rows automatically formed (because it drops off the blade at the end of the swing) to dry for a day or so and then moved onto weed patches and left. We have no livestock at the moment, it's just  a great way to kill our weed patches. So we don't store it yet, but I intend to make a hand bailer and store it in a mezzanine level (another two build projects) in the barn.


I found the biggest danger is in the sharpening. The instructions say and show the stone grasped in the hand and moved up to the blade to then sharpen on the downstroke. Tried that and gave up for fear of serious injury. I now grip the stone with my fingers, rest the base in my palm and sharpen with diagonal overlapping strokes downwards and back up well away from the edge- slow but safe.


Very important to remove the back burr carefully, to avoid creating a back bevel. The difference in blade sharpness for a few careful stokes of the stone is staggering.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: Rupert the bear on April 07, 2019, 07:07:32 pm
Maybe investing in a chainmail or kevlar glove is an idea , not cheap but available, whereas the stock of spare fingers is very low
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: hammerandtongs88 on April 11, 2019, 08:41:27 am
You may find that hammering sharp would help with edge retention, it realigns the grain in the steel in the direction of the bevel, although never forget that "hardness" translates to brittle if you go to far!
The tooling isn't that special for hammering sharp, its basically a tall fullering post, you'd want to use a rounded edge cross peen or maybe a ball peen       
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: clanger on April 11, 2019, 03:52:33 pm
First off - confession - I know nothing about sharpening a scythe.  However, I do know a bit about furniture making.

To avoid putting a back bevel on a chisel when removing the burr I use a strip of hard leather glued to a block of wood.

Could you have something say  2" x 1" piece of 3/4" ply with an old belt glued on popped in your pocket to do the same?

Just a thought - Chris
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on April 14, 2019, 07:13:17 am
The strip of hard leather might be worth a try Clanger, but it's a 60cm blade and that may be a long job. The blade peening pushes the steel out towards the edge giving a very thin cutting section- extremely sharp for grass, but hit something like a stone and it would be wrecked. Perhaps if the exchange rate improves I'll buy the special punch and die set and try it as I don't think I'm accurate enough to use the anvil and hammer.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: GribinIsaf on April 14, 2019, 08:41:39 am
I use a scythe like this to cut a three-quarter acre meadow every year plus for general maintenance round the site.  After a bit of experience I find it efficient and pleasant to do,  I sharpen the blade about every ten minutes while working - the process takes about 30 seconds.  Peening (the hammering) is needed, for me, a couple of times a season and is easiest to do having been shown by someone.  I would not be without my scythe and really look forward to using it.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: Justin on April 15, 2019, 11:27:07 am
This has been a great incentive to get my scythe out and start using it again this year. Perfect for our small wildflower meadow.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on August 17, 2019, 08:47:47 am
Well the dews have returned and scything has started again. Two things have changed which have improved things for me and are worth mentioning. Firstly the blade sharpening now consists of cutting the approximately 10 degree main bevel back with a 100 grit whetstone and then putting an edge on with the 400 grit whetstone at about twice the angle, so 20 degrees, aiming for an edge between 0.5 and 1.0mm width. Any wider and the bevel is re-cut to get me back to a 0.5mm edge.This has given me a longer lasting and faster sharpening edged blade, so now I sharpen far less frequently and in a fraction of the time. Secondly, I now leave the stones in water permanently and this has removed any previous issues with clogging. Worth adding that this edge won't cut grass blades, just hay stems, which is exactly what I want.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: GribinIsaf on August 17, 2019, 09:04:46 am
and... did you peen the blade at the start of the season?
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on August 18, 2019, 07:01:45 am
No I didn't Gribinisaf, just cut the main bevel back with the coarse stone and got the 0.5mm edge as described. Apparently it can also be achieved with a rubber backed sanding disk- if you are careful (as the rubber flexes to match the slight curve on the blade) because it removes metal very quickly. No need to peen the blade and with removing such a tiny amount off the bevel the blade will certainly outlast me. The blade is €45, the peening tools €60. I'm now considering a 50cm ditch blade for the really thick stuff, which means I won't be overloading the handle (snath), because they can break with being so lightweight.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: GribinIsaf on August 18, 2019, 09:09:32 am
Thanks for that chrismahon.  I have a ditch blade as well as the main one and it can be useful.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: Womble on August 18, 2019, 09:19:32 am
VERY GOOD CHRIS. I MAY HAVE TO GET ONE MYSELF.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: GribinIsaf on August 18, 2019, 09:24:03 am
Further to peening Chris - still not cheap but less than 60 Euros here:

https://scythecymru.co.uk/product/peening-jig/ (https://scythecymru.co.uk/product/peening-jig/)

- but I guess carriage to France may make it nearly that cost!
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on August 18, 2019, 10:48:51 am
Thanks for that link- the video is particularly helpful. With the current exchange rate it would work out cheaper I think, but postage from the UK to France can be problematic, to the extent that some suppliers won't ship here.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: Penninehillbilly on August 18, 2019, 12:14:18 pm
I have an old style scythe, often tempted for an Austrian, just the price is a bit daunting.
Confused as to your description of whetstones Chris, any chance of photos ?
I seem to remember a stone crumbling when it got wet, I now use a cigar shaped stone, probably only a cheapy thing from years ago, quite coarse and I never wet it.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: macgro7 on August 18, 2019, 12:43:10 pm
postage from the UK to France can be problematic, to the extent that some suppliers won't ship here.
Why????
I send parcels to France every day!!!
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on August 18, 2019, 01:10:50 pm
They are both the same size P, about ½" thick and 8" long in a lozenge shape, the 4 straight thin sides are used for the sharpening. One is from a charity shop in England and the other is French, still made in the Pyrenees near here (last manufacturer left in France).They are natural stones which last about 4X as long as Carborundum equivalent. The water acts as a lubricant and stops the microscopic pores in the stone from clogging up, which then means it doesn't sharpen. I don't know if you can use Carborundum stones with water? I also have a cigar stone which is incredibly coarse and has never been used by me- don't know what they were for?


The coarser the stone the rougher the edge, so 100 grit will be OK for rough stuff with a short blade and grass needs a very fine edge so a 400 grit stone. So really my 400 for hay is unnecessarily fine (and I was told when I bought it that 200 would be OK), but I do use it for other blades that need it.


You will often see Ebay or Amazon ads with 'doesn't ship to France' . I suspect the problem may be the Post Offices' arrangement with La Poste?
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: GribinIsaf on August 18, 2019, 08:01:55 pm
Scythe Cymru have France on their drop down list of postage destinations - not cheap though

Penninehillbilly - you can see pictures of the sort of sharpening stones Chris is talking about (I think) here:

https://scythecymru.co.uk/sharpening-stones-and-stone-holders/ (https://scythecymru.co.uk/sharpening-stones-and-stone-holders/)
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: macgro7 on August 18, 2019, 08:30:41 pm

You will often see Ebay or Amazon ads with 'doesn't ship to France' . I suspect the problem may be the Post Offices' arrangement with La Poste?
I would think those sellers probably don't send abroad at all
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on August 19, 2019, 06:56:32 am
My stones are the shape of the Rozutec on the link. The sharpening edges need to be straight I think, to get a consistent angle along the edge- I can imagine the curved stones being difficult to use because you would need to twist your wrist as well as draw down straight. The strokes are overlapping diagonal and initially, because the blade is curved, the contact of the stone isn't full, just on the edges. Sure as time goes on the stone will wear to the same curve as the blade.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: Penninehillbilly on August 19, 2019, 10:31:43 am
Thanks Chris and 'Grib',
May look at Austrian scythes again, the old one is too heavy for me, not used it for years ?
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on August 19, 2019, 11:34:05 am
If I remember correctly Penninehillbilly, the Austrian Scythe is about half the weight of an English one, so that's the way to go if weight is an issue. To be honest the issue I had was the abdominal work needed when the blade starts to drag at the end of the cut. That somewhat put me off the idea in the first week as it was painful, but now I don't notice it at all. Still hard work though.


Problem here is shortly after sunrise the dew burns off and cutting stops as the blade sticks with sap. I'm going to try and extend the cutting time each morning by washing the blade every few metres or so with a sponge and water. This may also work when there is no dew at all which, at the moment, means I cut with an extended hedge trimmer- works really well but it's heavy.
Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: SallyintNorth on August 19, 2019, 01:23:28 pm
the issue I had was the abdominal work needed when the blade starts to drag at the end of the cut. That somewhat put me off the idea in the first week as it was painful, but now I don't notice it at all. Still hard work though.


The trick is to buy a blade the right length for your frame and fitness!  I've just bought my first Austrian scythe, and have opted for a 55cm ditching blade.  If I get into it and want to, I could progress to a 60cm or 65cm at a later date, and a grass blade if I find I want to actually mow. At present I am wanting to manage docks, thistles, and rushes, and the shorter ditching blade is better for that.  But there would be no shame in having a short blade for grass, if that's what suits your frame and fitness.

The chap who gave us some tuition when we went to collect the scythe did emphasise that cutting when the grass (or plants) is moist was far easier than later in the day.  And that one should mow only for as long as one's level of fitness allowed, so only for half an hour or so at first, building up with practise.  Of course I enthusiastically scythed on for over an hour the following afternoon (when scything is hard work in the dry heat) and did pay for it a bit the next day!  lol

Title: Re: My experience of using an Austrian Scythe
Post by: chrismahon on August 25, 2019, 11:40:55 am
No dew at all this morning and the hay is dry right to the ground, it's Sunday so it's our policy not to create machinery noises- I thought I'd give the sponge and water wash a try. It was a complete success! Extended the scything period to 2 ½ hours, which was the point at which the sun came out- it gets too hot to work very quickly afterwards. I also thought the dry hay cut easier than wet, which contradicts what I have read.