The first stage of sharpening a scythe is to peen the blade, drawing out the edge to thin it and give the right bevel angle. When you start out, the peening jig designed and made by Schroeckenfux along with Peter Vido is a good way to go; it’s quick to learn, relatively foolproof (but not without some care and attention) and will give consistent results. As your mowing progresses though you’ll start to see the limitations of the jig and want to learn to peen your scythe freehand with hammer and anvil. This will enable you to achieve a finer edge, different bevels for different vegetation and more control over the whole process.
I talked in an earlier post about setting up your peening station so now I thought I’d mention a piece of the kit that is often overlooked – the hammer.
With the jig, the hammer isn’t contacting with the blade so any hammer will do. In freehand peening, the anvil and hammer are two parts of the same tool; equally important and useless on their own. The face of each should be kept clean, polished and free from dents otherwise these marks will be imprinted along your scythe edge with each blow. If you’re at a scythe festival and looking for a hammer, you’ll struggle to find someone who’ll lend you their’s. Too many of us have seen them ruined by denting the face by using it for hammering nails or on the cap of a jig.
When I started out peening, I cleaned up and handled an old carpenters hammer which served me well but wasn’t quite heavy enough. About a year ago I was visiting Gerhard Wagner in Austria and he explained that the hammer should be heavy enough to do the work simply from the force of letting it fall rather than actively ‘hitting’ the blade and suggested using hammer with a head weight of around 600g. There were a few other factors I wanted and, after a lot of searching I finally bought my new peening hammer earlier this year.
Made by Britool and sold as a riveting hammer, it has a nicely designed head with a rectangular cross-section at the flat face. It also has a cross-peen face and weighs in at 650g so ideal for peening. When it arrived I used some wet and dry paper to soften the sharp bevels at the edges of the flat face and shortened the handle so it’s now just 160mm long. To maintain accuracy and consistency in your peening it helps to tuck the elbow of your hammer hand into your side, restricting it’s movement. A longer handle prevents you doing this as it catches on your thigh and since you’re only using the hammer’s own weight, the extra leverage of a long handle isn’t necessary.
The faces of this hammer are nicely domed and I’m enjoying using it, both with the flat face and with the cross-peen face on a flat anvil.