Scythe Buyers' Guide
Between 1994 and the time of this writing, I have approached every North American scythe importer, including most of the dealers of the "European pattern" blades and accessories, offering to help. (This was free service; I paid for the hours on the phone and spent time writing many pages of letters.) Some took me for a rare fanatic and treated me accordingly; some seemed to listen politely, yet continued carrying on as before. Still others wanted suggestions (or so they said), but did not follow them or changed their level of service comparatively little. Unanimously they were of the opinion that:
1) Customers would be confused by too many options.
Perhaps I am a naive optimist, partial to the scythe, who believes this tool deserves to be treated on par with those articles where the above-average quality - in terms of service as well as that of the item sold - is in demand and therefore provided.
The biggest "un-success" to date I consider to be my experience with the Canadian company which, within the last 20 years, has come to represent exemplary tool quality and service in the realm of woodworking and gardening. Although I did manage to talk them into adding the scythe to their offerings, I now wish I had not even tried. When their next catalog arrived I was shocked at the selection: one blade, one too-short aluminum snath, a plastic stone holder and one synthetic whetstone. This may be expected of an impersonal chain store, but not (by me, at least) from a company that offers to the world of woodworkers approximately 250 different chisels and gouges and a vast array of means to sharpen them.
You see, I had in several previous letters urged them to sell shorter blades than 28", and suggested that the dependable Mennonite woodworkers in Ontario could make snaths of Canadian wood and of a better design than any commercially available. I volunteered to write - free of charge - a short instructional booklet to be included with each complete scythe sale; they did not take me up on the offer and only later did it dawn on me as to why not...
I would have stated clearly - as I did to the company - that these blades will perform poorly if the edge is not periodically "peened". Exasperated, though not yet ready to give up, I called the president on the phone. He told me that at most four people in this whole country use the scythe seriously, and besides, one could not teach the average person today how to cold-shape the edge of a tool; even with the aid of a "jig", (the function of which I had previously described to him in detail by means of diagrams in my lengthy letters.) That really floored me. This man's low regard for his fellow Canadians was one thing; the other is that he cannot claim ignorance on the issue of sharpening. As one of the contemporary "keen-edge" gurus, he wrote an excellent book on the subject. Luckily he did not discuss the scythe; I wonder how he would have explained or justified the use of the whetstone his company sells to sharpen it. Their supplier of scythes and accessories offers five natural and five synthetic stones. They opted for the very cheapest and coarsest of the latter group.
For now I have run out of the energy required to break through established attitudes and business patterns. Instead, I am focusing on an alternative approach - the planting of seeds at ground level with the vision of establishing a cooperative network in America and in Europe. It will consist of those who, instead of just selling the scythe, would like to learn how to use it well and, by means of workshops, pass the skill on to others. A book is no substitute for a good teacher with the tool in hand, but it is a start. Tresemer's The Scythe Book is very inspiring (without being threatening) and fulfills a certain important role. Our "addendum" may ruffle a few feathers but also offers a more complete instructional text.
I am presently expanding it further, perhaps beyond the level a "casual mower" will appreciate (it will also include chapters on freehand peening and snathmaking). In addition, an instructional video is in progress to fill the gap between now and the "time of many teachers". Those willing to help with this extended project can contact us by writing to:
Modified 18 Mar. 2007