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How to Mow With a Scythe

Rachel worked as a farm manager for three years in Pennsylvania and now has her own farmstead in Minnesota.

Learn how to use a scythe to cut grass, as well as additional scythe facts.

Learn how to use a scythe to cut grass, as well as additional scythe facts.

What Is a Scythe?

At the risk of appearing a little strange, I want to share with you my love of mowing with a scythe.

First thing's first: A scythe is a tool with a long, curved blade attached to a straight or curved handle. It's used to mow grass or grain crops or cut down brush.

I didn't understand what a scythe was until a couple of years ago when my man taught me how to mow with one. We were cutting down a small catch crop of buckwheat, sown to improve the soil in a young piece of ground.

We didn't have a sickle and didn't care much about the buckwheat, so we wouldn't have bothered with one anyway. We mowed the buckwheat down with scythes. And I'll tell you what — it was a lot of work, but I had so much fun and got such a great workout.

Before the 19th century, almost all hay needed for agriculture was made using scythes. This was generally accomplished during the 18th century in America with hired labor, the compensation for which often included strong drink (I would imagine that cider was a popular form of payment). A skilled mower could mow more than an acre of hay in one day.

I can tell you from personal experience that would be a lot of mowing.

Mowing with a scythe is hard work, and the skill is a bit tricky to master. I'm still improving, and I'm certainly not anywhere near as good at it as some people are. In fact, there are scythe-mowing competitions that are held even today, mainly in Europe. (On a side note, anyone interested in starting a scythe-mowing league in the U.S. should contact me.)

To be honest, I'm not suggesting that people sell or otherwise rid themselves of their lawnmowers and weedwhackers and buy scythes to replace them with. But there's something pretty cool about mowing with a scythe, and for someone who might be interested in getting back to basics, or communing with nature, or living a more simple and healthy life, I think there's a place for a scythe.

So what's the use in attempting to master what is basically a useless skill? Hopefully, I can help answer that question.

Me standing with my scythe.

Me standing with my scythe.

Cutting Grass With a Scythe

Scythe-mowing is most easily learned by doing. But here's the basic steps involved in the process:

  1. Grasp your trusty scythe and face the patch of grass that you intend to mow.
  2. Bend your knees and keep your back straight.
  3. Extend your arms, placing the scythe's blade on the ground. The blade will naturally curve slightly upwards. The back of the blade will be flat on the ground.
  4. Keep your feet planted firmly. Imagine a half-circle or crescent in the grass in front of you. You want to fluidly draw the scythe's blade along the line of that semi-circle.
  5. Now, twist your torso so that the scythe blade moves to your right and slightly behind you. Imagine now that you are pulling back on a rubber band that attaches your right elbow to the front of your left hip.
  6. Cut that "rubber band" in a fluid motion, sweep the scythe before you, along the ground, and into the edge of the grass that you are mowing. The blade should cut the grass down low. If it doesn't, you either went too far into the grass, or your blade isn't sharp enough.
  7. Continue in this fashion, taking baby half-steps forward to make progress.
  8. It's difficult to explain in writing, but I hope I've given you a clue. The video that I've included, from One Scythe Revolution, is pretty good if you're really interested in learning to mow.
  9. Mowing down weeds with a scythe or brush-cutting is what the pictures of me in this article depict. When you're not making hay or manicuring your lawn, you can use a scythe in a lot less stringent fashion. Personally, I love mowing weeds and brush best.

How to Mow With a Scythe

Mowing crappy, tall, ugly weeds along my driveway.

Mowing crappy, tall, ugly weeds along my driveway.

Benefits of Mowing With a Scythe

If you mow grass with a scythe, you save on fuel and don't have to use noisy gas or electric-powered equipment. Do I cut all of my grass with a scythe? No! But hills, slopes, and uneven areas are good candidates for scythe-mowing. I'm a little backward on this point because the most accessible areas to mow with a scythe are actually the flat ones.

Again, I'm not suggesting that you start mowing all of your grass with a scythe - however, it would be pretty awesome if you did.

Thick, tall, and/or woody weeds use too much line from my Stihl brushcutter, so I use my scythe instead. In this case, I get to save fuel and give my equipment a break.

As far as exercise goes, I think mowing with a scythe is only rivaled by chopping firewood or splitting fence rails. (Maybe swimming or running is just as good, but I don't have time for either!)

When you mow with a scythe, you're using all the muscles in your arms and chest, legs, and abdominal muscles. You should mainly be using your abdominal muscles, as you will be twisting from your torso and using your abs to pull the scythe around in a semi-circle.

Some Interesting Scythe Facts

The handle on a scythe is called a snath, or snathe. The blade is called a blade (very interesting indeed!), and the hardware used to attach the blade to the snath is called a tang. If you have a good scythe, it should have nibs, which are the little hand-grip knobs on the snath.

There are two types of snaths: Straight and curved. I prefer the curved version, but I've used a scythe with a straight snath and did just fine with it. The real key is using a scythe that fits your stature.

Scythe Supply is, in my opinion, the best source for purchasing scythes and scythe supplies. They have a feature that allows you to make sure you order a scythe that will fit you.

The technology of the grass scythe hasn't changed much in 400 years. For a good scythe, we're still hammering out the same blade we've been making for all that time.

Sharpening Your Scythe

It would be best if you kept your scythe sharp. To accomplish this, you need a stone. I use a coarse, rectangular stone. There are curvier, more cylindrical stones available as well. When I "sharp up my scythe," I dip the stone in water and run it along the edge of the blade.

Basically, like most sharpening processes, the idea is to remove just enough metal to create a sharp edge. I'm not much into accessories that I have to haul around, so I keep it simple when sharpening my scythe. If you use your scythe often enough, you will eventually need it hammered out or peened.

The Cradle Scythe

When harvesting grain with a scythe, you need to attach a cradle to catch it. The cradle is a set of teeth or tines that hang out behind the blade. The stems of the grain will fall neatly into the tines, and you can dump them on the ground with the grain-heads side by side. Otherwise, you'd just have a pile of cut grain to pick up. In America, the cradle scythe pretty much replaced the sickle for harvesting (or reaping) in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The cradle scythe was one of the last hand-powered tools used widely in agriculture and was eventually replaced by machines.

Reaping vs. Mowing

Speaking of reaping — reaping is the act of harvesting; mowing means cutting grass or some other tall green growing thing.

Just about everyone is familiar with the popular image of the Grim Reaper. He's a black-cloaked, faceless, scary guy holding a scythe. The interesting and humorous thing about this image is that the Grim Reaper, who claims to intend to do some "reaping of souls," really should be holding a sickle, a small hand-held tool with a small, curved blade used for reaping. This is a tool that you only need one hand to manage and is much smaller than a scythe. And if he's not going to use a sickle, he needs to attach a cradle to his scythe if he wants to reap!

If the Grim Reaper wants to keep using the scythe that he's toting around, he needs to change his name to the Grim Mower — that's what his selected tool is really for!

Pick Up Your Own Scythe

I hope you've learned something from this article about an old-school tool that isn't commonly featured in 21st-century life. I hope that I might even have inspired you to buy a scythe and try one out for yourself.

"The was never a sound beside the wood but one, And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground..." - Robert Frost

For me, learning to mow the old-fashioned way has, at various times, been a great source of exercise and fresh air. It's also opened up a different way to cut grass and weeds in places that are inconvenient for a mower. Finally, it's helped me cut down thick stuff like thistle and woody brush, and it's been a great outlet for stress and frustration.

There's nothing quite like swinging around a tool that's as long as you are tall, with a three-foot-long curved blade on it; that sort of experience tends to make you feel like you can tackle any problem.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I go about purchasing a quality scythe on a budget?

Answer: Scythe Supply is excellent quality, and I think fairly reasonable at about $200 for a scythe outfit (blade, snath, stone, book, etc.) that will last probably your whole life. But I know that's still a lot of money. I would recommend checking out thrift stores in rural communities, especially if you have access to Amish or Mennonite communities. You can often at least find a decent blade; then you can buy a snath that fits you and attaches to the blade.


iyasus on May 14, 2018:

greetings! I am about to embark on a soccer field construction project on my property I have read that cutting grass with a scythe closely mimics the way bovines graze and preserves the health of the grass Would you have any ideas about cutting grass with scythes on a field as large as a soccer field? thank yoi

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on March 05, 2016:

Wow thank you for sharing those memories of your father :) That sounds like it was a wonderful time.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on March 05, 2016:

Thank you! And it's just called "mowing" - kind of funny, huh?

Charito Maranan-Montecillo from Manila, Philippines on August 06, 2015:

Hi, Rachel! I didn't realize how handy a scythe can be until I read this hub. I admit that my only knowledge of a scythe is that of the Grim Reaper!

Thanks for proving that primitive tools can still be useful today.

Congrats on HOTD!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 05, 2015:

Congratulations on HOTD!

Very interesting. I've used a small sickle before, but never tried my hand with a scythe, and at my age and decreased physical condition, I doubt I will, either. ;-)

If I were younger, though, you bet your farm boots I'd try it out!

Voted up +++

mikeydcarroll67 on August 05, 2015:

Very interesting!

Doug Ocean from Ohio USA on August 05, 2015:

Saw Swiss mountain-dwellers rocking scythes where their goats didn't mow for them. Was very impressed, and also saw an older gentleman with a scythe pawn a youngster on a commercial riding mower (professional, triple blade, 10k model) in a mowing race on flat ground. Have shook my head so many times watching overweight people sit on mowers fumbling with all the complex gadgetry...

Mazlan A from Malaysia on August 05, 2015:

This is hard and very tiring for me and I don't think I can do it at my age, but it will be a great workout. Well done on this well written article and congrats on this deserving HOTD.

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on August 05, 2015:

Original topic. The next time I'm at Menards, I'll look to see if they have a scythe. If not, I will setle for a sickle.

Eugene Brennan from Ireland on August 05, 2015:

Congrats on HOTD! and no, I don't think its strange sharing it with us, it's actually really cool! I've only seen a scythe a few times and never got to use one. Tools such as this are a pleasure to work with. I can only imagine its a bit like planing timber and watching the shavings roll off and seeing your work take shape!

Voted up and shared!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 05, 2015:

Hi Rachel. Well doesn't this look like fun, and great exercise also. I could use one of these in my backyard where the woods starts to creep into the yard. Great job and congratulations on HOTD.

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on August 05, 2015:

Congratulations for HOTD.

My father was very good at using a scythe, he used to cut all the hay with one them pick the dry grass up and make it into a very high stack, cover it and feed it to the cows in the winter.

Thanks for bringing back the memories, I can still see him doing it in my mind, that was seventy years ago.

Chris Telden from Pacific Northwest, U.S.A. on August 05, 2015:

I agree, scything is fun, a good workout, great for those odd places, and satisfying. We use a hybrid weed/grass scythe for our mowing, and I have a troublesome back.

For those readers with back trouble - if you keep good posture (for example, keep the back straight and don't twist the waist in the turns) AND if your snath is the right length for your body - it can be back-friendly. Also, when mowing on a hill, we mow uphill instead of downhill or sideways - it's more comfortable.

We've found the biggest thing that makes or breaks whether scything is fun is whether it's sharp or not. Hone frequently and lightly during a mowing session, whenever the cutting seems to be getting laborious, and peen whenever you find you're having to hone too often.

Honing is an art that's well worth learning from an experienced blade-sharpener.

The second biggest thing is the snath being the wrong length. Err on the side of too long rather than too short.

Oh, and keep kids far away! They forget what a wide swath you can cut, and it's too easy to get into a rhythm and not see them.

Heidi Vincent from GRENADA on August 05, 2015:

Congratulations on winning Hub of the Day, farmer Rachel!

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on August 05, 2015:

When I was a kid, every summer I lived with my grandparents in the Minnesota north woods. They had a scythe and a sickle. I used the sickle often to cut wild clover to feed the rabbits that they raised for food. I used the scythe a few times, but it was too big for me to handle skillfully or for long. I think my grandfather used it for keeping the path clear to their garbage dump.

For urban farmers, if a scythe isn't needed often, perhaps it is a tool that could be shared among a group of neighbors.

As usual, I enjoyed your latest joy of farming hub.

jgshorebird on August 05, 2015:

I sit my cold drink in its holder, on my Riding Mower, crank it up, lower the blade to the number three position, engage the blades, step on the accelerator and try not to hit the fences when I'm going too fast. Good article. Vote up.

RTalloni on August 05, 2015:

That any type of gardening is the best exercise is not a new concept to me, but scything (is that a word?) takes it to a whole new level! Congrats on your Hub of the Day for this info on effectively using a neat tool.

BarbaraCasey on August 05, 2015:

This is certainly on the "must-have" list of tools for off-grid living. Terrific hub, very informative. Congrats on HOTD.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on August 05, 2015:

Congrats on your HOTD. My back is hurting just thinking about using a scythe. I'm an old farm gal, but we never used one of these. I looks very heavy!

I can see how it would come in handy for tall, heavy growth.

Voted UP, etc.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on August 05, 2015:

Rachel, congrats on HOTD! This looks harder than it looks! Voted up for useful and interesting for farmers!

Rose Cemanes Dimaranan from Manila, Philippines on August 05, 2015:

This is the first time I saw this kind of farming tool. I would surely love to use it in my garden. Thanks for sharing this interesting piece.

Bob Bamberg on March 13, 2015:

We own a condo, Rachel, so don't have to mow the lawn. But if we did, you can bet your boots that I'd...get a ride around lawn mower :) I did yard work for 30 years (and hated it), which is why we got a condo. I'm a real outdoorsman and love long as my tent has indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, cable TV and an Internet connection. A bonus would be if it's near an Olive Garden. Interesting hub, though. Voted up, useful and interesting.

ideadesigns on September 11, 2014:

I didn't know that's what this tool could be used for, I really thought it was a "death" weapon from the reaper! Very cool to be using it to cut tall grass. I say a good cardio workout too.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on September 10, 2012:

Bravewarrior - I have to admit, I am a little extreme in my efforts to reclaim "lost knowledge", haha. But seriously, swing a scythe around for a few minutes and you'll see how much fun it can be. And you won't cut yourself! The handle is too long for you to possibly cut yourself if you're holding it right. However, your neighbors, pets, loved ones, friends, and any other spectators might be in trouble...

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 06, 2012:

Wow, you really have gone back to the basics. Good for you! I'd be afraid I'd cut myself. I think I'll just stick to my mower and clippers!

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on September 06, 2012:

Thanks for the comment, Bill! You're not the first man my father's age to tell me just that ;). Glad to hear there's another mower out there besides the handful of people I know of. I had a feeling you might already be familiar with the scythe, considering your lifestyle and your desire to break it all down to a simple, basic (but awesome!) life. Take care.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on September 06, 2012:

wetnosedogs - I think a scythe would work really well for what you're describing! If you decide to get one, let me know how it goes if you get a chance.

Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on September 06, 2012:

Radcliff - Yup, a very relaxing process! That guy in the video is pretty good, too - I'm sure he's much more efficient than I am. Thanks for commenting!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 06, 2012:

You are thirty-five years too young for me, but man, I wish I had someone like you to meet when I was in my twenties.

Yes, I have used one of these quite a bit, and I love it. Great exercise, easy on the environment....I am all for anything that takes us back to basics.

Great job Rachel; great seeing pictures of you in action.

wetnosedogs from Alabama on September 06, 2012:

Thoroughly enjoyed this. I have a reel mower cause I can't start the gas mowers. My back yard is weedy from what the mower can't get cause the weeds are so tough. The scythe looks like the answer, including that slight slope that drives me nuts in the front yard. I can get more of it with the reel mower, but there is just still some I don't get and have a clipper to use. I didn't realize people still used scythes. Some things never die. yay!

Liz Davis from Hudson, FL on September 05, 2012:

This looks like a great way to calm your mind and get some exercise at the same time. Just watching that guy cut those weeds was relaxing!