The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Scything and sickles

Time lapse scything

Did you ever wonder how long it takes to scythe a field? The photos above were taken on a 60-second delay as I cut ragweed growing up in one of our goat pastures. (Yes, our spoiled goats turn up their noses at ragweed.)

I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't put my scythe together in years prior to playing around up on the goat pasture Friday. Scything fills a similar niche to weedeating, and it's always much easier to ask Mark to weedeat than to scythe myself. But my favorite mechanically-minded husband was visiting his mom in Ohio this past week, so I opted to do it myself rather than wait.

On a related note, I've been wondering lately whether a better cutting tool for me wouldn't be a sickle. I often find myself wanting a handheld cutter that can easily be used to spot-weed dock coming up in the pasture or harvest clumps of comfrey for the goats. A bit of research suggests that the top contenders for that job are Japanese sickles (aka kamas) and European grass hooks. I'd love to hear it if you've had good or bad experiences with either!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I love my scythe! The blade is in between grass cutting and wacking down really tough brush. I find it doesn't seem to work too well on just plain grass but on weeds it chops them down faster than anything else. I used something that was advertised to be a "non-gas weedwacker" that was sold in the local hardware store. Didn't do a blessed thing, which is why I ended up with a scythe - that and the fact that the scythe will take down blackberry canes fast whereas anything else I used didn't do the job including a gas weedwacker. I did have something that was an old sickle but it turned out to be more for decoration even after I attempted to sharpen it. All that back bending did not do my back any favors either and so I abandoned it. I've also used a linoleum knife to cut out weeds down to the ground. It's very very sharp and can get into tight places other tools can't.
Comment by NaYan Sat Jun 13 08:41:53 2015
I love my scythe, too! I now have a few different sized blades which are suitable for many different jobs. I have a shorter, stouter "ditch" blade which works great for half inch diameters brambles and stalks. A mid-length blade for lighter, woody stems, trimming the lawn, and a much longer blade for cutting hay. If you have the "Austrian" style blade and snath like I do, it is crucial to learn how to peen and hone your blade's edge based on mowing conditions, for the best possible (and efficient) results. This takes LOTS of practice and some pretty specialized tools... but it is worth the overwhelming satisfaction of a close-cut, sweet mowing job while enjoying the benefits of a low-impact, whole body effort!! The effort is easy and peaceful and should not cause pain, exhaustion, or stress your animals out due to ridiculous noise. If you consider the "American" pattern blade and snath, they are heavier duty, but require a good hollow bevel produced by a wet grinder. Not everyone has one of these. There's no reason to not own a kama, either. Have you looked at billhooks? I, too, am looking at kamas for smaller clean up tasks around foundations and places where my scythe blade can quite catch an edge.
Comment by Monica Sat Jun 13 15:56:51 2015

I've got a sickle that I found in the trash on a bike ride 25 years ago, years before my first house.

I've used it to cut back tall weeds and small willows by the pond behind our house. I like that it is quiet and takes a little skill to use. I can be a little more careful in what I cut instead of just blasting everything with the weedeater. It works well on Canada Thistle and small black locusts as well.

Well sharpened, it is a joy to use.

Comment by Jim Sat Jun 13 22:36:31 2015

That sickle with the serrated edges will be hard to sharpen yourself. A non-serrated blade would be much easier in that respect.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Jun 14 06:02:18 2015

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