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On the necessity of snath savers

Some months back I wrote a confession post about how I split my snath. The experience was a revelation for me because I realised I’d misunderstood the main function of a snath saver, and so I wrote it from that perspective.

Peter Vido has picked up on the fact that this was, of course, an over-emphasis; the real issue here was not that I wasn’t using a snath saver, but rather than I didn’t have the rig set up properly. This information formed the “prologue” of my post, but he’s right – it would be easy to read my post and assume that using a snath saver was the take-home message I was promoting. It certainly shouldn’t be: keep your ring tight and your tools at hand is the real message from my experience.

I’ve included Peter’s response below since, as usual, it contains a range of interesting and useful information.

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“…the real killer was that I wasn’t using a snath saver.”
Well, mate, to me the above statement seems an equivalent to telling new car drivers that the real cause of accidents is not wearing the seat belt — whereas the actual cause of mishaps on the road is the lack of driving skill AND the paying of attention.

The ‘real killer’, in your case, was that (in spite of knowing better [guilty as charged – I seem to do more damage to my gear around the house than I do if I’m going for a few hours’ mowing at someone else’s place, because in the latter case I take the time to prepare exhaustively, while around the house I’m more laissez-faire and my gear pays for it. I think it’s a combination of a false sense of security, security-induced laxness, and actually inviting trouble to enable learning from the repair]) you:

a) did not check (and possibly re-tighten) the screws on the ring before you went out with that scythe, and
b) did not take the ring wrench along.

Regarding a): After seeing numerous splintered snath ends and /or mangled rings, I have harped about this issue for more than a decade. So, I’m stumped…

Regarding b): The reason to carry the wrench while mowing is not only to be able to re-tighten the ring, if needed. For those prone to experiment with the hafting angle setting (and not simply take the ‘expert’-stated recipe as the bible) a wrench in the field is a ‘must’. Say you find yourself in a particularly tangled and/or trampled patch, and working the blade through it requires much energy, I’d suggest that you stop, drop the point of the blade an inch or more, and try out that setting. Just doing this may, in certain situations, be an eye-opener [agreed – even doubling the ‘recommended’ hafting angle has improved overall peformance in some cases]. Conversely, where the vegetation is young, easy to cut and/or sparse, breaking the suggested ‘rule’ and opening the hafting angle beyond the suggested norm, may allow you to cut considerably more in a the same period of time it would take by having the hafting angle set “perfect”, according to the book.

Of course, one can’t indulge in this sort of learning if the ring wrench was left back home… For this reason, I’ve tried to drill it into our kids’ (and everyone else’s) minds to always take a wrench along.

As can be expected, neither our children, my wife nor my favored scythe seller always listen… 🙂

Consequently, what you focused on in your post missed the mark. And although — after that mind-imprinting statement (“the real killer was that I wasn’t using a snath saver”) you follow with a weak excuse of ‘Peter Vido claiming that snath savers are not really essential items’ — the end effect is that you may still leave your readers with a strong impression that they best not venture out to the field without a ‘snath-saver’ in place, rather than a wrench in the pocket…

Well, that Vido character wasn’t bluffing. To re-substantiate his point:

1. Though various versions of ‘snath savers’ have long existed, they were only supplied as a standard piece of attaching hardware styles which did not feature a ring. (Instead, one or two bolts inserted through the snath and the blade’s tang function as the ‘ring clamp’) Such methods of blade attaching is still popular in Switzerland, for instance — where the ring such as you talk about (and sell) are nearly non-existent. It is the same with large percentage of the curved metal snaths sold around the globe. In Switzerland it is a matter of tradition; in the latter case it is simply economy (a bolt is cheaper to mass-produce than a scythe ring, and so the cost of blade attachment equals the price of one simple bolt!).

2. In many countries (or regions thereof) commercial snath savers were unknown and/or are still non-existent. Some individuals have made up their own versions, usually as a later addition to help out in case of prolonged wear, or an accident. Those versions consist mostly of pieces of scrap sheet metal (such as a top of a sardine can, etc.)

3. Until a few seasons after I first started to ‘stir up dust’ at Schroeckenfux, the concept of ring/snath-saver combination was ‘unknown’ so to speak; there were no snath-savers (such as you now know them) manufactured in Austria. They were selling their wooden locally-made snaths just as it has been done for centuries — unprotected from abuse. I suggested that these simple little sheet metal plates become a standard with the new snath design we were working on together by 2005, because by then I had already learned that many of this generation’s new scythe users fail to check the tightness of the ring before heading to the field (important especially with a new snath — the wood of which has not yet compressed under the pressure of the ring) and, in addition, do not notice if/when the blade has moved backward — increasing the hafting angle and thereby also the stress on the (wooden) snath’s tang knob area.

4. The overall usefulness of ‘snath savers’ notwithstanding, historical use of scythes has proven beyond any doubt (at least in my mind) that they are NOT essential. Besides, I know by firsthand experience with dozens of snaths (home-made out of both weaker species of wood AND of lesser heft than the commercial models) that this is so. Prior to 2006 or so I had never put a snath saver on a snath, and afterwards mostly just on units that were being sold, or those extremely small in diameter.

Below are a couple of specific examples of our family’s snaths that have been seen, and occasionally used by various friends from far away places. I profile these two out of many others because both of them (along with their respective blades) were instrumental, so to speak, in convincing a couple of visiting Schroeckenfux ‘company men’ that blades with their points not very elevated (but also somewhat more curved) can, in certain circumstances, outperform the typical Austrian model standard.
The ‘certain circumstances’, in this case, was the “1st North American Scythe Symposium” hosted on our farm in 2006, along with a particularly dense and tall stand of grass. I noticed that these two Austrian friends were having some difficulty cutting it with that shocking green version of “Original Rassierschnitt”, in 70 cm (which by that time was being promoted and sold by most internet-based scythe vendors of the time). Intending to give my friends and co-thinkers in scythe design a meaningful dig, I brought out these two seemingly flimsy scythes (see photos below) — one the favorite of Faye, and the other one of Ashley (at that time) for them to try in that very stand. They were both surprised and impressed. Then, to make my point about some long-discussed design features, we took off the blades and went to lay them on our kitchen table. I think this was a turning point in proceeding to actually seriously speculate about a ‘renaissance blade model’ I had been talking about for a few years. What now is called the 2010 Model/aka the “Profi” blade was the eventual outcome of those speculations — although (as with the “Swiss” snath) a compromise in some respects.

But back to the snaths and snath-savers (which neither of these snaths had at the time of that dense stand cutting experience). The snath #1 actually happens to be the very first one I ever made with a heavier top than bottom (back in 1998 or so). It was a quick experiment with a new concept that crossed my mind, and I just used some ‘good for nothing’ (as folks around here would say) piece of alder already partially decayed in a few places, but mostly ‘OK’ and very light overall. The grips I put in it would not pass my present quality test, shape-wise. I outfitted it with another blade first, but when later I put a lighter (390gr.) 75 cm blade on it, it behaved very nicely and Faye soon fell in love with it. Since then she’s cut more acres with it than any other outfit (she used it in fact at 5:00 this morning) and I’d wage a bet that the average of today’s eco-oriented mowers would likely be busy for a good number of years to match the combined grass-cutting output to date of that snath-saver-less snath, one made of an ‘unfit-for-the-job’ piece of wood…)

The snath #2 was made (out of a branch of yellow birch) shortly before the above mentioned event, outfitted with a light 85 cm blade of old production and in classical Hungarian pattern; it quickly became Ashley’s favored unit. In a few days she learned to mow with it blindfolded while also doing the ‘flip’ after each stroke while leaving behind a really even stubble. She was 13 then, and used it as her primary field mowing unit until about 2010. She took it to Denmark in 2008, and used it for practically all work during that week (other than for the competition). Still more people tried it out then — and nobody broke it! It has lately not been used much because Ashley finally outgrew it and moved onto other blade/snath combinations. But as you can see from the photo (taken for purpose of this ‘rant’) it is still without a snath-saver and intact to this day.

Now, my friend, consider its dimensions in relation to those of your Mennonite-made ash specimen — the one that splintered because, allegedly, it was missing a ‘snath-saver’…
Of course, until awareness becomes a more common ingredient in our collective tool chest, the dinky little steel plates can be ‘worth their weight in gold’. Along with the standard (read: overly strong/heavy) snaths bottom end’s dimensions, they do function as a sort of ‘awareness-poor welfare check’. Interim, to leave you and/or your readers with a hint:

IF your mowing experience and/or further learning matters, you may be better off leaving your pants in the office and bring the (snath ring) wrench along to the field instead…

Commentary to the photos:

Photo #1 (taken sometimes between now and the above mentioned event — when the ‘wildwood’ snath still didn’t have a ‘snath-saver’)
Here you see that flimsy alder snath’s bottom end alongside of the one the internet scythe crowd now calls the “Swiss” snath. Note the lengthwise ‘check’ in the wood starting at the hole and stretching for a few centimeters up the shaft. This is not the same as work strain-induced crack, but rather by wood drying too quickly. (These often happen, to me, because I’m not too fussy about having the material properly seasoned before I turn it into a snath. And, especially for personal purposes, they don’t concern me much; they go (depth-wise) just to the middle of the shaft, and then stop. Yeah, there is indeed some weakening of the snath when that happens, but not enough to cause problems to those who use the scythe with a commonsense feel…)
That very check may have been there from the first season on, about 17 years ago and was not the reason for the fact that (as seen in Photo 2, beside the Menonite-made snath for comparison) this snath does now have a ‘snath-saver’. I put it on couple of seasons ago only because eventually the hole had very gradually become wider than the blade’s knob — something I usually try to prevent (and the way to prevent it is keeping the screws of the ring always snug) but hey, in 17 years of use stuff happens…

The third photo is of the Scytheconnection-designed “Canadian” snath beside that branch of birch-turned-to-snath — the knob hole of which has also widened over the years. But because Ashley has resisted any more metal on her snaths than necessary, that unit has remained snath-saver-less to date, yet unbroken…
The relative sizes of the respective snaths are as follows:
The “Swiss” snath is 30 mm and the “Canadian” 32 mm wide. The weak alder stick (hardly on par with aspen or willow) is 32 mm wide and the (stronger, but not quite matching ash) birch snath is 30 mm wide. (The latter tapers, in the up-and-down dimensions from 23 mm at the knob’s hole to 19 mm at its very end.)

I rest my case.

With best regards,
Peter