Need some convincing about why scythes are a worthwhile investment?

Confession time

[Please also refer to this post for important comments about the content below!]

As a scythe retailer I do sometimes feel the pressure of expectations. People call you “expert”, “super qualified”, and a range of other superlatives. We’re sometimes misquoted or misrepresented (I saw a newspaper article this week referring to our “home made” snaths. “Well”, said Tony, “they are home made, just not in our home.”) which can add to the discomfort.

And it’s reasonable enough for people to want us to be experts; people want someone they can go to for advice.

Well, today I have some advice, of the Berenstain Bears’ “let this be a lesson to you” variety: yet another chance to learn from my mistakes. So, here goes…

Hmmm... no snath protector.

The blade has pivoted inside the ring. With the ring preventing the shoulder of the tang moving any further, that point has effectively become a fulcrum, and the long blade has therefore exerted leverage on the short tang. That leverage is applied directly to the side of the knob hole by the knob. That point is pretty much the weakest possible point of the snath, since the width of the timber there between the hole and the edge of the snath is effectively around one third of the total width of the snath.

I broke my snath today. I’ve never broken a blade in my life, but today I broke a snath, for the first – and hopefully last – time.

In many ways it would be easier for me to just shut up, get another snath out of the pile, and pretend this never happened, but that won’t help anyone.

It had been one of those days, already. I’d spent hours coding in the morning on a job that I was well and truly “over” by that stage, and then I’d decided to tackle a cleanup of my office space. And then, on request from my better half, I headed out to clean up the messier parts of our “mongrel lawn” around the farm cottage. I had lots of other stuff to do and mowing at 4pm wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. I chose my 75cm blade – despite knowing that with its particular lay it wasn’t the ideal for the undulating terrain – just because I knew it had been peened more recently so would take less work to get it/keep it sharp. And I didn’t really tighten the ring too much – after all, I foolishly thought, while being overgrown, it was still only lawn. And with every swing I felt awkward because I had the grips set up for open mowing and they were too high for the around-your-feet kind of work I was doing. But despite the little voice in my head telling me I’d have a much nicer time of it – and the blade would lay better – if I adjusted the grips, I knew that’d mean going to find the wrench, which, being in the middle of an office clean-up, probably wouldn’t be easy. I even resisted finding my stone holder, and ran my ceramic stone under a tap when I was nearby, and used it dry when I wasn’t, taking the risk of clogging the stone.

So I really wasn’t in a good frame of mind.

But, despite these shortcuts, the real killer was that I wasn’t using a snath saver. When we got our latest batch of snaths, they didn’t come with snath savers, so I’ve been making them myself. I remembered Peter Vido commenting that they’re not really essential items (when you consider that they’ve only been used relatively recently), and while I was fiddling around making the things I was inclined to agree with him. But I thought I’d test it and see what happens, and all the mowing I’ve done over the last four weeks or so has been sans snath saver on my trusty old snath.

What I learnt today is that I completely misunderstood the function of a snath saver. What I was expecting to see was that, over time, the knob hole in the snath would gradually become bigger and bigger. But what actually happened was that, as the point of my blade dug into a hillock and the snath kept travelling and pivoted in the not-so-tight ring, the leverage of the blade worked the knob as a lever against the edge of the knob hole and split the snath at that point. I was working underneath a fuchsia bush and actually assumed I’d damaged the blade. When I pulled it out from under the bush I was really shocked to see the snath split. I hadn’t been mowing with much force at all, but I could see instantly what had happened just by the way it had split. I felt a bit like a stupid version of Sherlock Holmes, piecing together my own crime and how the situation had unfolded, based on the evidence in front of me.

It seems that a snath saver doesn’t just stop the knob wearing away the timber; it prevents the timber bearing the load of the knob where the knob would otherwise act to open the grain lengthways and, effectively ‘wrapping’ the snath in a steel plate, it also has a clamping effect to prevent the grain opening as well. Dead obvious, really, but it only became so to me when I saw the damage.


Intensive Care Unit

As it happened, the grain on the snath is so straight that a repair was easy. I just took the ring and blade off, and levered open the split to fill it with glue (Titebond III is the stuff to go for), and it’s now in the shed with a bunch of trigger clamps on it. I’ll be putting a snath saver on it in the morning and finishing my lawn clean-up.

My snath has had a reasonably hard life, it must be said. Tony recently commented on the way the end of it has squashed up (compared to his, which has had more work than mine). I think this is mainly due to the fact that I’ve been indiscriminate about how I wedge the blades. If I get a hankering to try adjusting an angle, I’ll snap a twig and insert that between tang and snath and screw down on that – which creates a single pressure point rather than evenly distributing the pressure, which distorts the timber a bit. I’ve also never oiled the end of the snath beyond its first treatment, so it has started to become weathered with the grain loosening at the end.

So, all in all, a bit of a perfect storm, which has shown me that when you cut corners, things will eventually catch up with you and bite you in the bum. And it’s shown me that while snath savers aren’t essential, they really are useful, and especially for compensating for people who are tying to cut corners. Several months ago, in much rougher mowing, I had the unnerving experience of the knob of a tang ‘popping’ out of the snath saver all together – despite the ring being quite tight in that instance. I realise now that if that had happened without a snath saver in place, it almost certainly would’ve split the snath.

Happy mowing.



Back at ’em… glued up and snath saver fitted up. I got the lawn finished (with a nice, tight ring, the grips dropped a couple of holes, a more appropriate blade, and a stone holder full of water…)