On Sunday I ran a peening and sharpening workshop for members of the NW mowing group at Haybridge Nature Reserve in response to a request from one of the members and my own observations at our recents meetings. It’s also a good way to finish off the mowing season and put the scythe away sharp and ready for next spring.
Peening is the process of reshaping the bevel of the scythe blade by hammering out the edge to thin it and create the desired bevel. This is the first stage of sharpening, akin to grinding a chisel but with the advantage of not wearing away the blade. It’s a skilled process requiring good technique and practise to avoid poor results or even damage to the blade. When the time for peening the blade comes around some weeks after a beginners mowing course, a refresher day is useful to remind you of the methods. It’s also a comfort to have someone guide you through your first few peening sessions as it is easy to develop bad techniques and the act of “hitting my treasured blade with a hammer” can be a bit daunting.
The day started with a discussion of the benefits of peening, assessing the scythe’s edge and gauging when peening would be necessary. We then looked at cleaning the blade and setting up a peening station and the two methods: the peening jig and freehand peening with a hammer and anvil; the jig being a simpler method but having more limitations than the skilled freehand technique.
Everyone was soon set up with their own station looking out over the reserve to the glorious autumn colours of woodland opposite. Then the noise begins; 8 people all hammering metal, each working to a consistent rhythm but nicely out of time with each other so that the overall effect is some kind of experimental techno dance track. I worked my way round the group making minor adjustments to angles and technique, answering questions and observing progress. Once peening was complete I took the group through the process of using a progression of whetstones to sharpen the newly formed edge. I had noticed that this was being neglected leading to a steady deterioration in people’s mowing efficiency and the belief that their peening attempts were only making things worse. By the end of the day the most common comment was “My scythe is sharper now than it’s ever been since I bought it.” and everyone went home with more confidence to continue the process of practicing and learning.
Thanks to Keith and Helen at Haybridge for providing such a picturesque venue and those who attended.