Scythes gone, but not forgotten


The scythe is rarely seen in action, but is still present in many forgotten corners of barns, sheds or outbuildings is the scythe.

Many years have pasted since I have used this important tool to cut tall growth of vegetation.

This tool may have been the first cutting device invented by mankind to cut his corn. The scythe is recorded in Roman histories. Old English records even mention this tool, and it remained virtually unchanged well into the 1900s and was one of a farmers’ important harvesting and growth clearing implements.

In the hay fields of yesteryear, the scythe was supreme until mechanical mowers replaced it around 1850. It wasn’t entirely replaced due to the fact that the fields still had to be opened up by its use for machines.

It was still used for the odd corner or section of the field, perhaps too wet under foot for horses or machines to enter. At these sections, a prudent farmer would cut those extra few yards by using the scythe.

Country folk can still remember someone or even themselves swinging the scythe with perfect rhythm and hear the swish of it passing through the air and attacking a wild patch of weeds or brush.

One predetermined action required was balance with the rhythm. To properly use this tool patience and steady, but slow, progress was required.

The scythe was a sizable improvement over the sickle. A good scytheman could cut about an acre of corn, wheat, oats, rye or hay a day, where as a sickle even in the hands of an able worker could only cut about a quarter of an acre per day.

The older scythe had a straight handle proving a bit awkward at the beginning and end of the swing. A smooth curve was added in more recent times to create a better balance.

Other names have been given to the handle and the scythe since its beginning. Handles in Old England were referred to as a “snead” or “snaith”, and the scythe as a “lea” or Ieigh”.

Sharpening any cutting edge requires some knowledge of the metal, the angle of the blades sharpened edge, and care.

Before sandstone sharpening stones or manufactured types were available, the scytheman improvised for his own sharpening device.

Among the first such implements was the wooden “straik”, “ripe” or “strikle”, the first means strock in Old British language.

The straik was a flat stick with pitted surface about an inch or so wide smeared with mutton fat and sand worked into the mass.

In the field the scytheman carried a small horn similar to a powder horn called a strickle horn and a small drawstring bag filled with sand.

The keeness of the blade required depended on the crop, soft sand for hay, sand with more amounts of quartz for corn, even small pebbles for shrub and coarse growth weeds.

Sickles were made in several half round blade sizes and shapes.

The reaper of very early Europe and England employed a rounded blade sickle with a cutting edge perhaps close to 2 feet long.

A deft cut was made and fell in an even row for gathering prior to binding by hand. Women utilized a smaller sickle, therefore cutting less per day than the men.


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