How To Sharpen And Peen A Scythe

Klaus sharpens his scythe blade with a whetstone. The stone is usually pocketed in a holder of plastic, metal or cowhorn that holds water and is clipped to the belt. Honing the blade too quickly, Klaus explained, can be dangerous to inex- perienced scythers. But Klaus has been doing this since he was a boy in his native Bavaria. His rhythm with the whetstone is fast, reminiscent of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” more popularly known as the Lone Ranger theme.

In just a few minutes, Klaus can cut all the grass he needs. Using a hay rake, he gathers the grass and loads it onto his wheelbarrow, anchoring the grass with his pitchfork. In the old days, farmers would keep haystacks together by piercing them with long wooden “needles,” thus the phrase “needle in a haystack.”

Klaus’ job isn’t done until he performs some routine maintenance of the blade by peening it, that is, shaping and beveling the edge by hammering. He places the forged-steel blade on a small anvil attached to a peening block he built himself. Then he hammers away as he glides the blade to his left. He said that singing an old Bavarian ditty in his head helps him keep a steady peening rhythm. His goal is to “drive the edge out,” to give the blade a new edge by smoothing out the nicks. He peens his blade about once a week, but how often this needs to be done depends on how much mowing is done.

“Having a sharp scythe is half the work,” he said.

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  • FortyTwoBlades

    It’s important to note that peening should only be performed on tensioned European style scythe blades. American, English, and Nordic pattern blades are much harder, and are beveled through grinding. There’s a number of very good reasons not to peen American blades, including risk of cracking and the fact that many are laminated, with a hard core of edge steel between soft iron supporting layers. Peening would make the edge the soft bottom layer instead of the hard central layer. So peen away on the softer Euro blades but keep the hammer away from the Americans! 🙂

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