Scythe Buyers' Guide
Scythe blades are still manufactured from 12 to 50 inches in length, in many distinct patterns, and still more models of each of these. The lengths from 24 to 32 inches are probably used most frequently worldwide. Yet to decide which is the most suitable single pattern, model and length for today's average mower is, I feel, an impossible task. The issue should, however, be given more consideration so the decision on the level of compromise can be made somewhat knowingly and collectively by dealers as well as the customers. The shortest and the longest blades represent the extremes from maneuverability to the potentially largest area of grass that can be cut with one movement.
For the sellers to limit options to only one blade is unfair. Whatever way it is justified, it will not best serve most mowers under all conditions. Further, it propagates ignorance, in that most customers will be unaware that many options exist. Conversely, any semi-serious mower who is offered several blade lengths and is content with only one depreciates the scythe's potential as well as his/her own. It is poor economy from the standpoint of time, even if one's comfort using a well-fitted and suitable tool is not taken into account.
In spite of my barefoot mowing, as I sit here searching for an analogy, shoes of all things come to mind. We all could get by with only one pair. In comfortable hiking boots we could go to work, church or a dance year round, climb snowy mountains, stroll tropical beaches or jog the city pavements. Why don't we? Personally, by the way, I would find living with only one pair of shoes easier or more acceptable than with but one scythe blade.)
Please realize, therefore, that in my effort to help you decide which is the one "ideal" blade, any way I write it down, I could argue with myself.
The grass blade lengths presently available in North America might be divided as follows:
20, 22, 24 inches -- trimming
This is not to say that one could not cut a 10-acre field with a 20" blade or trim a yard with one of 30".
A novice cutting in a confined area will find the short blade much easier to maneuver, and so be more accurate in getting close to tree trunks, fences etc. It will also be less overwhelming to learn to hone and peen.
The long blade's ability to cut off more at a stroke is encouraging and increases one's sense that it is worthwhile to spend the time in a field or large lawn with a simple hand tool. The virtue of longer blades is in allowing a deeper forward bite into the grass, regardless of the swath's width.
Those who consider cutting several acres of hayfields would find a true field-mowing length notably advantageous.
Having two lengths of blades at my disposal, instead of only one, I would find far more than twice as suitable. In space-constricted areas within a garden, yard, orchard or around obstacles, I make better time and do a neater job using a 22" blade than a longer one. It is difficult to explain on paper when, under the above conditions, I would choose a 24" to do the job a bit faster or a 20" for more accuracy and tidiness. I may at times take even a 26" and decide to trade off more maneuverability for the time element. With a little experience, the choices are not hard to make by a quick assessment of the site.
A 22" may be my favourite of the short ones, and highly recommended to those who would consider an addition later, but like to start small. (Use it also on the trimming-size snath!)
A good length to compliment this one would be 28" for the cutting of more open areas. Those who, like me, consider the scythe a serious grass-cutting tool may add a 30" model instead. Nice two-blade combinations are:
22" and 28"
If I had to part with all but two blades, I would keep a 22" and 34". "General purpose compromisers" may be satisfied with a 24" if they do predominantly trimming work or a 28" if most of their grass surface is relatively open.
David Tresemer's reference to "bush or brush" blades is limited to one sentence. The bona-fide bush blades and the technique required in their use are not well suited to the kind of "Tai-chi-like" mowing which I wish to help the readers experience. They were developed for the strong mowers of old who had a lot of work for such a tool. However, if you feel the need to acquire one, it does not need to be long; it is used with a much shorter movement, often directed at a single stem or a handful of them. A length of 20" is plenty and 18" or even 16" will suffice. In most cases the lesser weight will be appreciated.
There have also long existed two types of blades that span the difference in purpose between sturdy bush blades and light grass blades. These are the so-called "Forest Culture" and "Ditch" blades. I find much more frequent use for them than their heavier cousins. Moreover, there is little I encounter on this farm that a grass model with an appropriately shaped edge will not take care of if used with good judgement.
Related: What in the World is a Grass Blade?
Modified 17 Feb. 2009