As every mower soon learns keeping ones blade sharp is one of the key elements to success with a scythe. After four years of practice I can make a reasonable job of sharpening, but I am not yet satisfied that I have found the best combination of peening and whetting. The feeling that I could do a better and more efficient job of honing which has lead me to revisit techniques and equipment including buying one each of the stones Simon Fairlie sells to experiment with. As a sideline to this experimentation I have wondered about how mowers in the past managed to keep their blade sharp with a ‘strickle’ made from wood?
In the past a four-sided wooden strickle was commonly used to hone blades in the field. It was made of green oak or sometimes lime wood. Swine fat, soap or resin was smeared onto the strickle which was then coated with sand. Two opposite sides were sanded at a time so that there were two newly-sanded coarse sides to start on and two finer used ones to finish with.
The strickle was fixed to the top end of the snath when not in use. Being quite heavy and the snath longer to accommodate its fixing I think it must have also functioned as a counter balance to the typical heavy forged blade of the time – something I will try out sometime with my English ‘fensman’ scythe. The mower in the field would carry a supply of fat and sand in a sandhorn slung by a string over his shoulder. Sand could be poured from an opening in the narrow end and the fat was held in the wide end.
Not content to just read about it I have now made myself an oak and a limewood strickle using one of a pair of antique strickles (ebay!) as a pattern. I have got a good supply of local ‘egg timer’ fine sand, but I am unsure from the descriptions I have read how the grease/sand coating works. Does it work like a soft grinding paste, or is hard fat/tallow likely to be better? I will have to experiment, but if anyone has any theories or historical sources I would be interested to hear them.