A Primer on the Selection, Use, & Maintenance of the American Scythe

Baryonyx Knife Co.

A Primer on the Selection, Use, & Maintenance

of the American Scythe

Last Updated March 31, 2024

The scythe is a powerful, versatile, and useful tool for the mowing and removal of unwanted grasses, weeds, and young woody growth. Quiet and pleasant to use, the scythe provides numerous advantages over mechanical mowers and string trimmers, and is able to be used in many locations where mechanical mowers can not. Unlike the chopped clippings of mechanical mowers, which can cause colic, the clippings generated by a scythe may be used as useful forage for horses, rabbits, and other livestock.

If you are reading this guide chances are you have just purchased, are about to purchase, or already own an American pattern scythe and are curious about how to get the most out of this versatile tool. In this document we will cover how to identify parts of the scythe, select the best model for your uses, adjust the scythe to your body, describe proper technique, and how to keep your scythe in good operating condition so that it provides you with years or even generations of faithful service.


To best understand the descriptions that follow in further sections it is important to become familiar with the parts of the tool. The following diagrams illustrate conventionally accepted nomenclature for the scythe and its components.




Snath: The “handle” of the scythe. Can be used to refer only to the shaft or to the entire assembly complete with hardware.

Nibs: The side-handles of the snath.  Distinct from “grips” in that they encircle the snath rather than being bolted or mortised into it.

Nib Iron: The threaded rod of the nib, onto which the recessed nut in the grip is tightened.

Nib Bands: The steel bands of the nibs.

Nib Blocks: The iron or aluminum ferrule through which the nib bands are drawn when tightened.

Hafting Collar: The collar at the end of the snath through which the loop bolt passes.

Heel Plate: A plate with a hole or series of holes to seat the end of the blade tang. Often integral to the hafting collar. Also sometimes called the web, though this can be confused with the web of the blade.

Swing Socket: An alternative form of heel plate that pivots for an increased range of hang adjustment.

Tang: The “tail” of the blade which is used for mounting it to the snath.

Knob: The bent end of the tang that seats in the mounting plate. Historically sometimes called the “claw”.

Shank: The portion of the tang in line with the blade.

Elbow: The bend, turn, or crook of the tang.

Heel: The base of the blade, including the tang.

Beard: The base of the blade as it projects, drops, or flares from the tang.

Toe: The tip of the blade.

Edge: The sharpened region spanning between the beard and the toe of the blade.

Spine: The back of the blade.

Chine: The raised lip of the spine.

Crest: A raised ridge on the backside of the blade that supports the toe after the termination of the rib. Not present on all blades.

Rib: The large stiffening channel that runs along the spine of the blade.

Bead: One or more smaller stiffening channels that runs alongside the rib. Not present on all blades.

Web: The span of thin steel between the rib and the edge. Conceptually akin to the web of a duck’s foot rather than a spider web.

Heel Set: The orientation angle of the tang with the blade. A square heel is the most common, presenting a 90 degree bend at the shank. A half set heel has a slightly more open angle and a full set an even more so. Half set and full set are alternatively referred to as half mulay and full mulay.

Web Set: The relative positioning of the height of the blade web vs. the height of the spine. Half set is most common followed by full set and quarter set.

Hang: The angle of the blade when mounted on the snath.

Lift: The “pitch” of the tang from the plane of the blade. Most American blades came historically without any lift to the tang with the end user adjusting it to their taste. Sometimes called the “cray” or “tack” of the blade.

(Inverted) Crown: A gradual upward bend or “smile” of the blade along its length. A blade with less crown will yield a more even stubble, but a blade with more crown will more readily follow undulating terrain and cut into dips and hollows.  If a blade bends downward or “frowns” (an “obverse crown”) this is the result of damage, and should be corrected before use.


~Fitting the Scythe to the Body~

The first important step to ensure success with the American scythe is to test-fit the snath to your body. Modern snaths produced by Seymour Manufacturing are sized to the average modern person, but some vintage snaths will be on the small side for the taller American of today. Fortunately, the first step of tuning your scythe is very simple and can be performed in the store from which you intend to make your purchase.

Adjusting the Nibs: First, check the nibs to make sure they rotate freely. The nut at the top of the nib typically runs on a left-directional thread, so rather than turning counter-clockwise to loosen and clockwise to tighten, as with a conventional thread, the nibs are loosened by turning them clockwise and tightened by turning them counter-clockwise. This is important to keep in mind, as you wish to avoid over-tightening the nibs, making them difficult to remove. Once the nibs have been loosened you may adjust them to their proper position for your height. Stand relaxed with your feet shoulder width apart and the scythe standing upright on its end next to you (blade end on the ground.) While standing thus, bring the upper nib to a level that fits snugly under the arm and tighten it gently in place. The lower nib is then set one cubit down from the upper nib–a measurement equal to the distance between the elbow and outstretched fingertips.

For tall persons (roughly 6ft and above) you can expect most American snaths to be too short for this method to work, but such snaths may still be fit to taller users with reasonably good results. You will want there to be roughly 4″ of shaft above the upper nib to support the heel of your palm. Set the upper nib at this maximum position, and then set the lower nib one cubit down from the upper. The upward lay of the blade will be compensated for later in the fitting process by adjusting the lift of the tang.

Once the proper distance has been set the scythe needs to be balanced by rotating the nibs into proper orientation. Re-assume a relaxed stance, holding the scythe loosely by its nibs with the blade wholly to your right as if beginning a stroke, and the blade resting on its spine. The natural balance of the blade on its spine will commonly be ⅓ the length of the blade from the heel and you will want the spine of the blade to rest on the ground somewhere between here and the midpoint of the blade. Adjust the rotation of the lower nib to a position somewhere between 8-10 o’clock and place the left hand so that it is capping the butt of the snath. When the lower nib is in the proper rotational position, the snath may be lifted from the ground by the nib without tipping left nor right. This balance may not always be possible with very long blades, but even in extreme cases the nose-heavy balance can be minimized. Once the horizontal balance is tuned, adjust the orientation of the upper nib to where you are most comfortably able to lift the blade off the ground by pushing down on the upper nib with the heel of your palm against the snath and allowing the lower nib to roll in your right hand as a pivot. You will likely find that rotating the upper nib between the 9-11 o’clock position is the most comfortable and advantageous, allowing the elbow and wrist to sit relaxed and close to the body.

This initial adjustment is all simply to get you in the ballpark for your particular scythe configuration, and you will likely find yourself making further adjustments while using the scythe for extended periods. Listen to the tool and it will tell you how it wants to be used. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your adjustments!

Selecting a Blade: The blade you choose is the next most important thing for you to consider after snath selection, and they generally come in variations on the following styles:


Grass blades: The most common variety. Typically long, thin, and light. The “run” of the blade (the tilt of the blade relative to the ground) tends to be either parallel to the ground or only slightly lifted. A blade of this style in medium length (around 30″) will usually be capable of handling everything from fine lush grasses to (with practice and prudence) heavier woody plants like goldenrod, burdock, and thistles, but they are more prone to damage than other varieties due to their light build and long blades, which can compound the leverage of a bad cut and damage either the blade or the snath. They are, however, both the most commonly available blade style as well as the most versatile. Experienced users will typically use grass blades for the majority of their tasks. The heel of the blade should be wider than the thickest stalks being cut, so “Dutch” (wide) heels are preferred if the local vegetation includes thick-stemmed plants.

Weed Blades: These blades are similar to grass blades, but are usually used with a slightly upward lay and have a slightly broader, more robust build. These blades are well suited to handling the weedy overgrowth mixed with occasional woody plants that commonly occurs in neglected areas. The slight upward run of the blade helps reduce strain on the snath when running into unexpected woody plants, avoids cutting into small hillocks, and helps cut diagonally across the grain of resistant stalks at the expense of not leaving as low or level of a cut. Their shorter length assists with navigating the blade and reduces the tendency to snag, and the broad web easily cuts the full diameter of thick-stemmed weeds like burdock and thistle.


Bush blades: These blades are shorter and heavier, with a much broader blade, and are intended for clearing young woody growth ranging from goldenrod, burdock, and thistles up through very young green saplings.  They are robust in the spine and are used with a steep upward run to allow the edge to cut with an upward shearing stroke along the grain of growth. These are generally best reserved for dedicated removal of woody material as they are more heavily built than a short grass blade.

Bramble blades: These blades are typically quite short and are used with the tang left flat. They are reserved for clearing woody-stemmed thickets and thorny bushes (such as raspberries.) They are not recommended for anyone not performing a similar task, as they are a purpose-built blade style that is not well-suited for general mowing duties. They are often narrow in the heel and with heavy curvature well suited to a backward stroke. The overall build is usually lighter than found on common bush blades, being somewhere between a grass blade and weed blade in thickness and width.

Trimming Blades: Ranging from about 12″ to 18″ in length and built like a grass blade, trimming blades are excellent for use in areas where a grass hook would otherwise be needed, such as confined spaces, and are good for trimming along foundations, cleaning up around stones or posts, the bases of trees, or other obstructions.

Hybrid tensioned blades: These are lightweight European-style blades manufactured with an American-style tapered tang, and are intended for use on American scythe snaths. The hybrid style is maintained like a conventional European blade but is curved in a way that is compatible with the American snath and strokes.

Mounting & Adjusting the Blade: Once a blade is selected, the attachment process will depend on the mounting hardware used by the snath but most, including all present Seymour models, make use of a loop bolt through which the tang is passed, and a series of holes for receiving the bent end (knob) of the tang. These are used for adjusting the hafting angle, or “hang”, of the blade, allowing you to make the angle more open or closed. A more closed angle is generally recommended as it minimizes strain on the blade and snath and cuts more aggressively though it narrows the swath of the cut. An open angle is used in fine grasses and clear ground, and is advantageous when clearing a large area as it maximizes the reach of the blade. This works best with blades that have a strong curve at the heel, as it does well to aggressively finish off any stray stalks that were not cut by the more gentle, stroke of an open-hung blade. The more open the hang, the greater the degree of pull that will be experienced through the cut–another reason why a closed hang is best in tough or dense growth.

The orientation of the tang with regards to the blade is known as the “set”, making the natural hang of the blade more open or closed. While most are “square set” one may find examples of “half set” or full-blown “open set” and these were intended for specially curved “mulay” and “Dutch-bend” snaths. Some loop bolts pass through the wood at the end of the snath and cannot be tightened beyond a certain point. In cases where clamping ability is insufficient to hold a thin-tanged blade, a  heavy patch of oiled leather or rubber (a cut piece of vinyl hose works well) may be inserted between the loop bolt of the collar and the blade tang to provide a more secure fit and prevent wear on the parts.

How the blade is angled in relation to the ground is known as the lay. The lay of the blade will depend on a few factors, including the height of the user, the curvature of the snath, and the angle of the tang. Of these factors, the angle of the tang (the “lift”) is the one most practical to adjust. This can be done by firmly locking the shank of the blade in a vise, heating the shank of the tang with a induction heater or oxy-acetylene torch, and using a bending fork to apply leverage. If a proper blacksmith’s style bending fork is unavailable, a rebar bending tool or large smooth-jaw automotive/monkey wrench may be used, or a suitably large and sturdy pipe slipped over the tang (though this does not control the bend as well as a wrench.)  If this is done, a wet towel should be wrapped around the blade to prevent overheating of the edge, as this would damage its heat treatment. While at red heat the tang may then be bent to the proper angle for its intended snath, user, and task. Be sure to allow the heated region to slowly air cool–do not quench it with water, as this would make the tang brittle and likely to snap in use. Exercise extreme caution in the performance of this task, as both the torch and heated tang present potential fire and burn risks if performed without proper safety precautions. If the blade is improperly clamped or the tang insufficiently heated you run the risk of cracking the web when attempting the bend. The below diagram shows one of several ways to securely clamp the blade in a  vise so that the web of the blade is not stressed during bending. If you have them, aluminum vise jaw pads can enable you to grip the blade by the rib up against the junction with the tang, which may provide the best leverage.


Clamping the Blade in a Vise for Adjusting the Tang

For  a more in-depth explanation of how to bend the tang, including video of the process, see this detailed overview.

When a scythe is properly adjusted (including the lift of the tang) the edge of a grass blade should lay with about a finger’s thickness from the ground. As the proper lift of the tang is slightly less for weed blades, this measurement should be slightly greater on a blade intended for weed use or in rough ground. Bush blades require little or no pitch at all due to their upward pulling stroke. Bear in mind when adjusting your angle that wider blades will typically require a stronger bend to achieve the same edge elevation as a narrower one.

~Use of the Scythe~

The various strokes of the American scythe can be isolated into three regions of the body: the legs, the torso, and the arms. These three zones of the body are used varyingly in different circumstances according to specific mowing conditions. During mowing the lower nib acts as a pivot point while the left hand provides the drawing action of the stroke. This is the reason why the threads on nibs are reverse-directional. As the most resistance would be experienced as the cut is executed (rather than on the return stroke) it prevents the nibs from being inadvertently loosened. Many well-used snaths develop a high polish on their nibs from this pivoting action, and it makes them a pleasure to use. You may hasten the process with a fine sanding and light oiling of the wood.

Grip: A common mistake many beginners make is thinking that the grips of the nibs are meant to be held in a simple “hammer fist” hold, which isn’t ergonomic and often leads to an overly tight grip. While such a grip may sometimes be used, at least one hand should generally be grasping the snath with the heel of the palm against the shaft, and the knuckles forming a diagonal line towards the grip, with the forefinger and thumb extended and the other fingers wrapped around, causing the hands to form a◿ and ◺ respectively, almost like holding the classic “10 and 2” positions on a steering wheel. The heel-braced spanning grip allows you to comfortably and stably hold the scythe to manipulate its movement in space, including shifting your grip by degrees to alter its presentation to the stroke. Experiment with your holds to find the combination that works best for you in any given circumstance!

A proper hold on an American scythe nib.

A proper hold on an American scythe nib.

Core Technique: The motion of the arms is most easily described as being somewhat similar to the operation of the oar on a rowboat with the oarlock being the lower nib. The approach to the cut is “opened” as the right foot steps forward and the majority of one’s weight placed over it. The arms open towards the target with the left arm traveling furthest, and the point is brought to bear on the start of the swath, with the heel of the blade very slightly raised as the blade “toes in”. Upon the full opening of the swing and nearly all weight being brought to bear on the right foot, the weight of the body is shifted left in an almost falling motion as the the left foot is extended forward and the cut closed with a pulling motion primarily actuated by the left hand. As the cut is executed the heel finishes low, completing the slight lateral rock or “scoop” to the cut. This compensates for the presentation of the blade by maintaining the the edge at a fairly constant height relative to the target. The appearance of the technique in action resembles a faltering shuffle due to the forward/back shift of balance. The rib of the blade rides the ground during the entire length of the stroke, giving a uniform, low cut and relieving the body of the weight of the scythe.

Grass stroke trio

The Motions of a Standard Stroke

A beginner may experience some mild muscle soreness initially due to the specialized muscle groups employed to use the scythe. This is to be expected and will quickly pass as those muscles grow accustomed to the task. Fatigue then becomes a minimal concern, as most of the work is done by the momentum generated by the shifting of balance and the pendulum action of scythe. When the motion of the body and the forces acting on the scythe are properly in balance the only force necessary beyond the natural action of gravity is the minimal effort required to keep the action in motion and to support the scythe itself. As the weight of the scythe rests on the ground during most strokes, the greatest energy expenditure usually stems from carrying the cut vegetation from the swath.

While the above provides a general overview of core technique, the mowing conditions and blade/snath configuration will call for adaptations of your technique for peak performance. The following examples illustrate how to adapt both the scythe and your technique to the mowing conditions at hand. While preferred nib settings are mentioned, they may be left in standard adjustment without negative effect.

Lawn Care: To best produce a close-cropped stubble closely resembling that of a mechanical mower, either a hybrid blade may be used or a grass blade with the tang strongly pitched to bring the lay of the blade parallel with the ground. A gentle downward pressure may be applied to the lower nib during the cut. Both the trunk of the body and the arms will provide the action, with the cut opening wide to about the 3 to 4 o’clock position and closing at the 9-8 o’clock position. Be mindful of how the toe of the blade enters the cut and keep the heel down. The tension created by the body and arms opening the cut will be released like a coil spring to close the cut, with the arm motion of the core technique being combined with a pronounced rotation of the torso. A fairly broad swath will be cut in this manner, and very close to the ground, but this method is best reserved for the smooth relatively unrestricted spaces and light thin grasses of lawns and will not fare well on bumpier ground or in tall growth.

Uneven Ground and/or Mixed Weedy Growth: The core technique will function well for much of the mowing, but resistant weedy patches or navigating depressions and hillocks can benefit from a short and shearing stroke with a lift at the end. Move the right hand across the body while rapidly drawing the left hand back and up. This will resemble a sharp sweeping motion, like flicking dust with a broom, and will provide a strong cut to a small and controlled space while either matching the slope of a hillock or interior of a depression, or cut diagonally across the grain of stemmy weeds. A grass blade or a weed blade may be employed depending on the mowing conditions of the site. A blade with a pronounced crown can be useful for getting into depressions.

Weed Stroke Trio

The Motions of a Weed-Cutting Stroke

Dense Woody-Stemmed Growth: For dense patches of green woody growth employ a bush blade and set your nibs 1 to 3 inches closer together than your standard cubit measure. A “ripping” stroke up and back is used, almost like pulling the ripcord of a two-stroke engine or pulling a plant from the ground by its roots. This stroke is used to cut diagonally across the stems of the growth. Be sure to still close your cut properly in spite of the short length of the stroke–you want the edge to glide through your target rather than pull or chop through it. A very closed hang is recommended, and the bulk of the force from the stroke should be delivered with the heel of the blade. You will wish to avoid percussive force or overly thick targets as this can result  in damage to the snath. A bush blade can make for very rapid and comfortable thicket clearing, but it makes a poor machete! If total eradication of these plants is desired you may follow up the clearing work by chopping the remaining root mass with a grub hoe or mattock. Since the freshly cut woody stems will be at a sharp angle, a second stroke at a lower presentation to pare the tops flat can be beneficial.


The Motions of a Bush-Cutting Stroke

These are just a few of the challenging mowing conditions that a user can potentially face, but by reading the land and “listening” to the tool you will quickly become proficient at adapting your technique.

~Sharpening & Maintenance~

In order to provide proper performance the blade must be kept as sharp and as thin in the edge as possible. The edge as it comes from the factory will require additional sharpening in order to be made ready to mow. While this was traditionally done using a relatively fine large-diameter water cooled grindstone, these are not commonly available to most individuals today. It is inadvisable to use a bench grinder for this work as the coarse wheels and high speed risk damaging or ruining the blade. A smooth-cut half round file or a coarse synthetic sharpening stone may be used instead. Belt sanders with sharpening-grade belts may be used for initial edge thinning if available, but extreme caution should be exercised as it is very easy to damage a blade if inexperienced. As a result power equipment should be avoided unless very familiar with its use. An excellent low-cost power grinding option is  our specially formulated grinding points, which are designed to minimize heat buildup and can be chucked up in a common electric hand drill.

Sharpen the edge at an angle of about 7-9° per side. Examine the edge periodically by holding the blade edge-up under a bright light. Any spots where light is able to reflect off of the edge are dull and require additional sharpening. Once all such spots are removed the edge may then be refined by honing with a fine stone, ceramic rod, or other fine sharpening tool like a diamond or fine-cut conventional butcher’s steel. Our preferred style of sharpener is a canoe-shaped scythe stone, as it is capable of maintaining a lower angle than the American pattern scythe stone, and we recommend a combination of our Bull Thistle and Arctic Fox models to be used in tandem. However, a canoe-shaped stone requires a rolling action of the wrist to hold a consistent angle, and the faster speed and greater ease of holding a consistent angle makes the American pattern better suited to beginners, as well as being the most suitable shape for maintaining grass hooks, billhooks, bush hooks, and other miscellaneous forward-curving agricultural cutting tools that have tighter curves than scythe blades. When finished the edge should cleanly slice copy paper. Be sure to remove any burr that may develop, as this creates an artificial flattening of the edge that will prevent it from cutting properly. If a burr must be present it should be hooked upward rather than downward.

The edge may be finished by stropping with  a wooden “whipping stick” to draw out any microscopic burr that remains, and may be used as the finest honing method in routine maintenance until the edge no longer responds as strongly as needed to the stick.

As a blade wears over time and becomes more narrow it may eventually become necessary to grind and sharpen the blade with the stone making contact against the underside of the rib and the top of the chine in order to maintain a sufficiently thin edge angle. This should be avoided as long as possible, however, to avoid excessive grinding causing the rib to be worn through. Most users will never use their blades to the point where contact grinding is required.


How a Blade Wears Through Grinding

Touch ups in the field are typically not required with great frequency unless the blade is run through dirt or strikes a stone, but if cutting performance noticeably decreases while mowing it is best to hone the edge with a whipping stick and a fine stone. When doing so one should stand the scythe on its small end and grasp the base of the blade firmly while making slow, and deliberate strokes on both sides of the blade. Work as slowly and carefully as necessary to produce a uniform and fine edge angle. When first starting off do not be tempted to mimic the rapid motions displayed by experienced scythe operators–until proficiency at a slow and deliberate pace is achieved speed will do nothing but produce a poor and rounded edge that takes many strokes to correct.

Keep all moving steel and iron components regularly oiled or waxed to prevent rusting and seizing.  After use wipe the blade down with a dry rag to remove excess moisture. Any light to moderate rust may be easily and gently removed by the use of steel wool. Oiling the blade is usually not especially necessary so long as it isn’t put away wet. Any light surface rust will typically wear off in a mowing session due to the combined action of the weak acids of plant juices and the scrub brush-like effect of the cut stalks against the steel.

Adjusting the nib bands: Nibs may need their bands adjusted for a number of reasons, including shrinkage or crushing of the snath from age or use or a tall individual needing to move the nibs higher up on the tapered snath than their typically anticipated adjustment range. To do this, remove the nib from the snath and remove the wooden grip and aluminum block, leaving only the band and attached threaded rod. The best method for adjusting the shape of the band uses an anvil, although a vise and some ingenuity can get the job done well. Stand the loop on a flat anvil surface so that the shoulder of the loop’s teardrop shape is presented vertically (the threaded rod portion will likely be angled at about 45 degrees when this is done properly) and use controlled blows from a cross-pein or ball-pein hammer against the shoulder of the loop to draw the relaxed form of the band into a more closed position. Repeat on the opposite shoulder.


Tightening A Nib Band

If the loop is knocked “out of round” you may tap it back into true round form either by sliding it onto the long tapered horn of a stake anvil, or if one is not available to you, you may insert the threaded rod into the hardy hole or pritchel hole of a conventional anvil or into a length of narrow pipe so that a direct blow may be placed on the center of the loop to compress it without damaging the threads of the rod. Once the desired interior diameter is reached, test the fit by reassembling the nib on the snath in its desired new location, and perform any other adjustments as necessary to eliminate visible gaps between the band and the snath. There should be a slight opening to the top of the teardrop shape of the band so that it has room to cinch tighter when drawn into the mouth of the nib block.


Using the Pritchel Hole to True a Nib Band


Using the Horn of a Stake Anvil to True a Nib Band

Storage & Transport: When not using your scythe, proper storage will keep it out of the way and safe until needed again. The simplest method, if possible to do so, is to simply hook the blade over a wooden rafter close to the wall in a garage or barn. The wood of the rafter will not damage the edge and the unit hangs ready to grab when needed.


Hanging a Scythe from a Rafter

By placing the scythe near a wall accidental bumps or knocks are prevented. If a rafter is not available a long stout nail may be substituted and the scythe hung by the shank of the blade’s tang. The beard of the blade and the end of the snath serve to create a notch that securely straddles the nail. If neither is possible or practical it is recommended to dismount the blade from the snath to keep it out of harm’s way. The snath may then be stood upright along a wall, in a corner, or on a long-handled tool rack and the blade oiled and stored in a safe location. A simple blade cover may be easily fashioned using cardboard and packing tape, which will protect the blade against accidental bumps and prevent the keen edge from causing accidental injury.

When taking a respite from active mowing, if possible, hang the scythe from a tree branch or stand the scythe on its small end against a stable object (such as a fencepost or sapling) so that the blade is uppermost and clearly visible. If no place is available where the scythe may be placed in this manner, keep it close to your person as possible with the edge in a safe and controllable position. A convenient and typically safe place to lay a scythe is with the blade tucked into the uncut grass where mowing was ceased, as others are unlikely to run into the unmown growth. When walking with the scythe it is preferred to carry it by the right hand nib with the snath nestled in the crook of the arm, blade end up, and with the toe of the blade facing directly forward. This provides visibility and control during foot travel to prevent accidental damage to the tool or injury to the self or others.


Safely Carrying A Scythe

If performing mowing service for others or attending scything events it may be necessary to travel with your scythe in a motor vehicle. In these instances it is recommended to dismount the blade from the snath and place it in a cardboard cover for safety. The snath may often then fit in the trunk of a car, but if not it may be easily transported in the cab of the vehicle. It is recommended to put together a small travel kit comprised of an adjustable wrench, oil, a dry clean rag, and a sharpening tool of your choice for edge restoration and maintenance.

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,

And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.

What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;

Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,

Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—

And that was why it whispered and did not speak.

It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,

Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:

Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak

To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,

Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers

(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.

The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.

My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

~Robert Frost

26 thoughts on “A Primer on the Selection, Use, & Maintenance of the American Scythe”

  1. I would like a scythe to be able to cut bushes and briars. Will your alunium one work and what blade would I need. Red

    1. As an experienced mower I’m able to use the aluminum snath for up to the occasional finger-thick green sapling and have taken down full blackberry bushes with a grass blade on a No.8 aluminum snath, but for dedicated bush and briar removal you’d want a wooden snath with the thickness tuned appropriately (neither too much wood nor too little) with a bush blade.

  2. Is there any USA firm or person still making traditional American pattern scythe snaithes? Particularly anyone making tailor-made scythes to fit the user’s height.

    I thnk that mine is in fact a 1970’s US made scythe, which I bought in a farm supplies in Wales ( UK) in the late 1970’s.

    It is abeautiful curvaceous piece of timber (hickory I suppose) but bears no maker’s mark or brand . It is far lovelier than the Europen “Austrian” scythe, in my opinion, although I reluctantly recognise that the latter is a far quicker grass cutter than the US or English pattern. Sad, but there you are!

    Lewis White – Surrey England

    1. Hello, Lewis! Thanks for writing! Seymour Midwest Tools still produces both steam-bent ash (the model No.1) and aluminum (models No.8 and No.9) snaths, and we’re currently in the process of developing our own steam bent ash and black cherry snaths to our specifications. Hickory was not typically used for snaths because it is extremely heavy wood, and is best used where you want the wood thin and flexible, like in striking tool handles, for shock absorption purposes.

      You do want some degree of strength with snaths, but the forces imparted on them are generally MUCH less than with something like a hammer or axe, and you want them good and stiff. Rigidity increases cubically with thickness, hence why tubular steel or aluminum snaths are so common to see–by virtue of being hollow, they are light; by virtue of being metal, they are strong; by virtue of being of sufficient diameter, they are stiff. So hickory at equal weight is quite thin, and becomes whippy and flexible. The finest snaths historically were produced of riven black cherry, but most snaths were white ash. Our first snath, dubbed the Longfellow, is an atypical single-nibbed snath intended for tall folks and/or to be shared amongst multiple users of different heights, as it easily scales to fit just about anyone. After that, we’ll be having traditional compound-curve American snaths made up using the same custom hardware we designed for the Longfellow, and will have them produced in standard, tall, and short sizes. We have concepts for a multi-part snath based on the classic American form that can perfectly scale, but it’s a long way off since it requires sourcing the manufacture of some particular hardware for which there’s nothing off-the-shelf we’ve yet found to be appropriate.

      I’d argue that the American pattern, when properly ground, honed, tuned, and wielded, can easily keep pace with the continental Euro sort. With a freshly ground blade I can take a 20″+ deep swath with a 30″ blade if I care to. It makes advancing a pain in the butt, though, so I usually take a shallower swath for comfort’s sake.

  3. I’m trying to identify a scythe blade that was given to me. It has N48 stamped on the tang and is approximately 32″ around the curve. Thanks, loved your article ! I will be making my own snath using naturally curved blueberry.

    1. Based on the sound of the stamp it’s probably a North Wayne Tool Co. blade. Glad you enjoyed the article! There’s a lot that I’d like to add, but it’s difficult to find the time in my busy schedule. 🙂

  4. I can’t thank you enough for all the resources you’ve made available. I recently acquired an older American style scythe (though made in Austria) at a secondhand sale. It was never properly set up and your instructions have helped me sharpen the blade, bend the tang, unseize and adjust the nibs and now I’m all set. Just spent the afternoon scything for the first time yesterday, and while my technique needs work, I wouldn’t have gotten there without the help of this site.

  5. Good evening. The two blades on my desk at the moment have markings that are rough but most likely are S&S Mfg. Co. Oakland Mi. and the second one is what appears to be IPPER on the top line and I think Implt Co. on the second line. I’ve just bought an antique handle on ebay to mount it up. Hope it all fits. Anyone here know the dates of these scythes as my google research has come up empty handed. Thanks

    1. The first one sounds like E & S Mfg. Co. of Oakland, ME — also known as Emerson & Stevens. The second one sounds like the name would have been “CLIPPER” as that was a term commonly used in model/series names for scythe blades, but your transcription of the rest of the marking doesn’t bear a strong enough resemblance to a known maker for me to tell you what it is. As far as date range goes, I would have to see the actual blades in question in order to make any meaningful sort of estimate, though the majority of the blades one comes across at market are usually from the 1940’s through 1950’s so on a raw numerical probability level it’s most likely to be from that period. Without further details I can’t say whether it is or it isn’t.

  6. I have an aluminum snatch with a brush cutting blade and I’m finding it impossible to keep the lower nib tight. No matter how hard I twist when I’m tightening, it still keeps coming loose, driving me crazy! I have a mile of grass, weeds and saplings to clear for a trail and I fear I’ll grind through the snatch before I’m done.

    1. Fully disassemble the nib and tighten the top of the teardrop shape of the loop with some pliers. If there’s not enough space for you to clamp it down, loosen the band and remove it from the snath, then use a cross-pein hammer to reshape the loop to a smaller diameter, and replace it. It should be a very snug fit even before tightening the grip in place.

  7. so how would one tighten a Loose hafting Collar on a worn shaft? I’m trying to restore an old American Railroad Scythe.

    1. Depends on the severity of the loosening! I often use a semi-flexible two-part epoxy like Gorilla Epoxy to built up the end and then rasp/sand it down to proper fit after it’s fully cured (doing so prematurely can cause it to peel off instead of abrading just the surface layer) but in more severe cases you might find it necessary to laminate on additional wood with a sturdy waterproof wood glue like Titebond III.

  8. The blade to my old scythe has a curve to it that your blades don’t seem to have. When laid on a bench with tang flat on the surface, and the tip also touching the surface, the blade arches up off the table to a maximum of 1.5 inches off the bench about a third of the distance from the tang (the blade itself is about 28″ long).
    So when in operating position, the base of the blade near the tang is angled up off the ground, while the tip of the blade is close to being flat to the ground. So the effect of the curve in the blade is to give the blade a twist.
    I’m thinking this curve might be something that a previous owner might have done erroneously in a misguided effort to tune the blade.
    The curve seems very smooth, so I’m not sure that my conclusion is correct. I am tempted to try to straighten the blade, but I’m not completely sure about my diagnosis.
    Have you ever seen a blade with a similar curve?
    I bought the scythe at a yard sale years ago in norther British Columbia, in case location gives any clues to its shape.

    1. Sounds like your blade is a laminated one and was twisted either by accident or as a deliberate (but improper) means of adjusting the blade’s lay. The lay adjustment should be in the shank of the tang rather than in the blade itself, and you want the blade to be free of twists, though it may curve slightly upwards depending on how undulating your terrain is.

  9. Do you have a list of Maine scythe makers you could post a link to? I picked up a really nice laminated blade. There’s a clear “B” in the stamp, most of it is worn off, but there’s enough to figure out “manufacturing co” and “Oakland”. * & B Manufacturing Co, bring anything to mind?

    1. The Davistown Museum has a list of Maine tool makers you might peruse. However you can also send us photographs of the blade in question and we’ll more readily be able to identify it. While there were a number of small Maine makers, the largest and most commonly found were the North Wayne Tool Co., Dunn Edged Tool, and Emerson & Stevens. However what you have may be a Hubbard & Blake.

  10. This is an entirely wonderful article. Long ago, I learned how to use a scythe from an old German gentlemen on the farm next to ours. He would go out the fields in the summer evenings and mow the grass between the fence posts. It’s a warm memory.
    Recently, I was thinking about how much I dislike using the trimmer, the price of gas and what alternatives I had to keep the place in shape. Well, I started doing some research on a tool I once knew about … and here I am. I expect to make a purchase soon.
    Thank you.

    1. No, but chiefly because we can easily tell that such a method would not be sufficiently strong for the task. The materials able to be used for 3D printing are nowhere near the mechanical requirements for the tool.

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