Wednesday, 17 July 2013

"Why did you get a scythe in the first place?"

...someone asked me.

The story starts several years ago, when I bought a chainsaw in order to help with chopping down trees on the canal - I am a member of my local canal restoration group, and we were going through a phase of constantly having to be chopping down trees.

I did the training course, got the certificate, bought a suitable machine and all the (expensive) protective clothing: used it for a while, then there was one day when I'd forgotten to take it, and was handed an ancient bow-saw.

I guess you can imagine the look on my face.

However, being a hard-working and dedicated volunteer as I am, I bravely took hold of the bowsaw, applied it to the tree in question, expecting to be there for the rest of the day, and to my surprise it was quick, simple, and not actually that much hard work.

Compared to the faff of preparing my chainsaw, togging up safely, getting a banksman to stand guard, using the thing, sweating buckets inside the safety clothing, then cleaning and sharpening it afterwards... well, the bowsaw seemed to be so very simple, safe, and quiet. Also I could stop for a rest whenever I wanted to, and I didn't need anyone on hand for Health & Safety reasons.  And frankly, a chainsaw is a scary piece of equipment, you always, ALWAYS have to be so aware of the many dangers. With a bowsaw, you just have to avoid falling over onto it, and even that does not always break the skin. ("Ask me how I know that..." yes, I've cut myself on the teeth of a bowsaw in transit once or twice (never while using one), it blimmin' hurts, but not as much as falling onto a chainsaw would do.)

So I learned a valuable lesson all those years ago, that we are rather quick to reach for the power tools these days, when sometimes there are perfectly adequate hand tools that do the same job: maybe a little slower, but without the danger, and - important when working on the canal - very nearly silently. Sometimes it is good not to attract attention.

Then, coincidence being what it is, the canal group brought in new H&S rules which would have meant I had to re-qualify, and at that time I changed my business insurance (for gardening) and the chainsaw was no longer covered, so I would not be using it at work any more.

It therefore got put away  ("For sale: one chainsaw, not used for many years") and ever since,  I have used a bowsaw. My clients are constantly amazed at how "big" a tree I can tackle with just a bowsaw,  and how fast it is: and I have come to accept that anything too big for my bowsaw is big enough to warrant a tree surgeon anyway.

This has saved me a fortune in petrol over the years, not to mentioning reducing my eco-footprint to, well, very little indeed when you consider an annual bowsaw blade replacement (about £1.50) against the expense of running a chainsaw, insurance included.

And I have to admit, there is a certain satisfaction in using just your own muscle power to get these jobs done.

So when I was introduced to the scythe, it was a similar feeling - it's silent (nearly),  I can go at my own pace, I can do it at any time of day - an unsung virtue, incidentally, which I should have included in the earlier post comparing scythe V strimmer - as it's not noisy enough to frighten the neighbours: it doesn't use any petrol, and is in fact very nearly cost-free to use.

I don't want you to think that I am one of those "the end is nigh" doom merchants, buying up stocks of tinned food against the end of the world, but it's nice to know that if there are power cuts or petrol shortages, I can still chop down trees to feed the fire, and keep the weeds under control!


  1. I've got a couple of scythes in the shed. Could you write about sharpening please? I'd love to have a go, hate the noise of strimmers. I'm already a bowsaw fan!

  2. Hi Alyson *waves* (oops, should have put scythe down first, sorry)

    There are three levels of sharpening - peening (hammering), sharpening (using a coarse sharpening stone) and honing (done every 15mins or so while working).

    If your scythes have been in the shed for a while, they probably need sharpening - it's not difficult, it's a similar motion and angle to using a steel on a carving knife. Once you get out there in the grass, you will need to hone them, but there's no point honing before you have them sharp again.

    If you type into google the words how to sharpen a scythe, you get a lot of info and - better - a lot of videos on the subject! Just bear in mind that you first need to sharpen it, before you hone it. So start with sharpening videos.

    Hope this helps - let me know when you start using it!

    I will be writing lots more on scythes as I get time - its what you might call a busy time of year for me - and I'm sure that sharpening will come up, but it's one of those things where you really need to see it done, rather than reading about it, hence the suggestion to look at videos. I never thought I'd say this, but yay for YooToob!

    PS I was out at 7am with my scythe this morning - and no-one noticed!

    1. I decided to do some cutting of long grass down the edges of my drive with a billhook - great exercise! I know how to keep that sharp, so I guess it's similar for the scythe. Off to watch some videos!


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