Mowing course in Austria

Time is flying; a week ago I held my first scythe mowing course of the year.

Back in 2009 I saw a beautiful orchard, full of daisies and other flowers on the front page of the “Schloß Puchberg’s” catalogue of workshops and talks. I called Mr. Achleitner, the organizer and asked him how the orchard is being mown and told him about my idea to do it with the scythe. Convinced of this idea he invited the “Sensenverein Austria” to do a scythe mowing courses there. We started with 15 people in 2009 and this year we had 28 participants with 3 scythe teachers. We were a bit worried that with all the people eager to mow we would run out of grass – which we did in the end 🙂

Each tutor went to his place and after the introduction I started with the health and safety rules and the names for the parts of the blade and snath. Since we don’t ask for the height of the participants in advance, it was a challenge to set them up with the right size of snath. Everybody got the same blade – a 75cm scythe designed for the Sensenverein. People were surprised how long we took to set everything up and work on the movement and you could see that some were getting a bit impatient because they were so eager to mow grass.

Finally we started mowing and with that they understood why we took all the time to prepare and practise without grass. It needed some reminders:  keep the blade on the ground, move towards the grass instead of leaning to it and the most important sentence “watch the person in front of you!”

After some time of mowing, correcting, stopping people because they mowed too close to each other, we stopped for sharpening. This bit of the teaching is for me the most challenging part – you can only explain and show them so much, to explain the angles, the stone has to be at and do it yourself ….. And people tended to do it too fast because they had seen old mowers doing it really fast. They were surprised how slow I sharpen but I don’t see any reason to hurry. I’d rather have a sharp edge than make it blunt because of rushing. The best teacher for sharpness is the blade itself. If you went over the cutting edge with the stone or didn’t do anything to it because of the wrong angle you will definitely find out that it is worse than before you stopped to whet your blade.

People were so happy with mowing that I almost had to force them to have a short break for some breakfast – I was happy about it since I hadn’t had time for it with the start at 7am. But to start that early was good because at 10:30 it was almost to hot to continue mowing. We ran out of grass but found a slope to mow, which people liked because this is what some of them have at home. Together we worked out how to mow it – start at the bottom and mow kind of downhill but still along the slope. You want to mow the grass downhill, so not to carry the weight of the grass uphill. This was the time when we used the wedges and I suggested to them that they don’t need to hold on to the handgrips the normal way. Instead they can switch to holding the snath at the stem or with the right hand on the “Verlängerung” (extension piece) instead of at the handgrip. I encouraged them to play with how it is most comfortable to hold the scythe and mow on a slope.

Finally I called an end to mowing – people had started to mow the lawn! So we dismounted the blades, washed and dryed them. I had prepared blades especially for peening. They had little cracks and bent over edges. I showed them how to repair it and how to get the blade ready for peening. For me a very important thing is to have a shiny blade for peening. If it has rust or dirt on it, this would have a negative effect on the jig and also on the edge of the blade. I showed them how to use the peening jig and the participants had some time to practise on it. But soon we were called for lunch and had to stop. For me a 5 hours course is too short to have enough time to explain and give enough time for practise while you watch and help.  But people went away happy to have had the chance to learn how to use such an efficient tool.

About Steve Tomlin

I am a greenwood worker and scythe tutor. I carve spoons, bowls and other products from locally sourced greenwood. During the summer I teach scything around the UK.
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