Sunday, 8 September 2013

Peening: non longer a mystery!

Well, I did it: I went on a Scythe training course, and learned how to peen my blade.

For all those out there who have asked the question, and/or expressed trepidation about it, it's not that bad!

Having done the course, I would firmly and definitely recommend attending a course (even if you are quite competent with your scythe) to learn about blade maintenance and therefore peening: there is only so much you can learn from reading about it, and although you can get a much better idea from watching some of the many YooToob videos about it, there is no substitute for sitting on a bench with someone knowledgeable watching closely, and being encouraged to do it yourself.

I even made a bit of a bish on the bit I did - I hammered twice in the same place instead of moving the blade along, resulting in a "tab" of metal extending beyond the line of the blade. "No problem," said Clive, our very nice instructor "just tap it up with the hammer and peen over it again." Alternatively, I could have filed off the excess and gone back to peening.

This shows that you can't really ruin a blade - or should I say, if you accidentally spoil the blade, someone more experienced can tell you how to recover it. Clive even told us that he had one particular old blade which he used for teaching, which was so "badly" peened that the blade was wavy and corrugated - but it still cut grass just as well as a perfectly flat one!

We were working with a peening jig, a clever little device that comes as part of the kit if you buy from Simon Farlie at The Scythe Shop - Clive commented that freehand peening was quite a skill, and that as the peening jig was pretty much foolproof to use, he saw no reason against everyone using one.

So choose a kit that comes with a peening jig, is my advice.

What is peening, exactly?  "Peening is a cold working process in which the surface of the component is deliberately deformed, in the basic method, by hammering."

And what does "cold working process" mean, exactly?

It's not like forging which requires extreme heat and skill: it's done cold, so you can do it outdoors, in the field, in the shed, or on the kitchen table, and you only need the peening jig and a hammer..

It's a "working" process - you "work" or change the metal,  manually, from one state (thick) into another (thinner).

And you do it by hammering. In our case, the skill of the hammering is removed by using the peening jig, so although we still hit it with a hammer, we don't hit the blade directly, we hit the jig and that transfers the energy to the blade in a controlled manner, and in just the right place.

I won't write a great long description about how it's done: you can find dozens of accounts on the internet, and - as mentioned - you really need to be shown how to do it, then be able to have a go yourself under supervision. It took about ten minutes to see how it was done, have a go, make a mistake, fix the mistake, and become confident. I am now fully prepared to peen my own blades as and when they need it.

The good news from the course is many fold - firstly and best, my style/technique was nowhere near as bad as I thought it was, and came in for very little criticism at all. Clive suggested that raising my upper handle a notch would cure my habit of missing the grass at the very end (left) of my stroke, and it certainly helped: I then felt the swing was uncomfortable, and realised that my lower handle was too low, so I moved that up a notch as well. Logically this should not have made any difference to my mowing, as the relationship between the two handles remained the same, but in fact it felt better in use, as I felt I was "stooping" less.

The rule about "lower handle to be on the point of your hip" is a guideline, not a firm rule and although it makes a good starting place, it is worth trying slight variations until you find the combination that works.

Second revelation of the day - the missing piece in my puzzle was my lower handle thumb position: I had been holding the handles as though using a wheelbarrow, with my thumbs wrapping round to make a circle with my fingers. I tried putting my left-hand thumb on top of the handle instead, and this instantly made it much easier to keep the blade right down on the ground at the end of each stroke.


Thirdly, my honing technique is pretty good, and my blade, on arrival, was awarded "Oh! Er, that's pretty sharp!" from Clive. Which was good news, considering I hadn't sharpened it after the last time I'd used it. I think it's all that practice using a steel on kitchen knives: it's very much the same technique but instead of wiping the knife up and down the steel, you wipe the sharpening stone down the blade from alternate sides, at a similar sort of angle. Again, hard to describe in words, easy to demonstrate.

Final good point of the day, and I'm a bit shamefaced as I say this - the other course attendees were perfectly nice people! I had been putting off going on a course as I had assumed the others would be dippy hippy types: in fact, I wrote a post about it then didn't have the nerve to publish it. It started off like this:

"I'd love to go on a course to improve my style - frankly, my dears, I could do with some improving - but I just can't bear the thought of the other course attendees: they are all going to be hippies, aren't they?

Two thirds of them will be bra-less women in tie-dye, with ribboned hair and nose-rings (ugh) and the others will be blokes with pony-tails and/or those horrible felted dreadlock-things instead of proper hair.

If lunch is supplied, it will be calves' liver and wet polenta or something equally horrible - tofu, possibly,  or some sort of veggie-burger.

Conversation will be earnest - it was bad enough going on my three recent rubbish recycling trips, I can tell you....and I will no doubt lose patience with one or more of them and shout "No wonder you can't get a job, looking like that! For heaven's sake tidy yourself up!" like a middle-aged parent.  *sigh* "

Yes, you can see why I didn't take that one any further, can't you? Anyway, I was wrong, wrong, wrong: my group comprised three women and four men, all perfectly nice grown-ups, and no-one had a nose-ring, and everyone had proper hair.

By the end of the day we were all mowing away like mad things, and those who did not already have a scythe had firm decisions about which blade would be most appropriate for their intended use. Andy of the Earth Trust (where the course took place) was at least half-way considering converting the Earth Trust from strimmers to scythes,  which pleased Clive immensely!

And best of all, I finally had a firm opinion on the subject of Naming: the scythe is the name of the tool. If you use it to cut cereal, ie a stalk with grain at the top such as barley, wheat, rye etc then you are Reaping. If you cut grass, ie to make hay, then you are Mowing.

So there is no such noun as Scythers, thank heavens (horrible word). We are either Mowers or Reapers, depending on what we are cutting.

I still think that we need a funky modern name for "people who use scythes to mow/reap/chop weeds" as Mowing doesn't really give the right impression - if you say that you are a Mower (no, we're not getting onto the Merry Mower-Maid discussion again!) then people assume you push a petrol-driven thing around, which requires no skill at all. And most of us on the course would be doing "rough" cutting, of weeds, canal banks, reserves, etc, which is technically neither reaping nor mowing.

So come on, all you scythe enthusiasts out there, let's come up with a better name for what we do! 


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