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Clarification of Terms

From The Scythe Must Dance by Peter Vido, published in 2001 as an addendum to The Scythe Book by David Tresemer, 1981:

Somewhat reluctantly, and in as few instances as possible, I continue referring to the subject of this book as the “Austrian style scythe”. It is convenient to do so, because David Tresemer or someone before him established the term in North America and many readers at least partially know what is meant.

However, it is a misnomer which does not acknowledge the fact that this type of blade has also long been made in other European countries. In the respective languages the tool is merely referred to as a scythe (and this is my preferred term as well). Sometimes, if the country of origin is known and it is desirable to mention it, the blade is given the prefix of “Austrian”, “Russian”, “German”, etc. to emphasize its reputed quality relative to another.

Apart from Austrian made blades, others of the same “style” have been imported into North America for well over a century. Most were models not used in Austria at all, even if made there, and some were forged in Germany, France, Sweden, the former Yugoslavia, or perhaps elsewhere.

It would therefore be more accurate to call all of these collectively “the blade style of Continental Europe” as distinct from those made and used in the British Isles and North America. What differentiates them more significantly than their physical shape is the property of tension incorporated into the steel during the process of manufacture, which allows the former to be lighter in weight, yet still retain its shape in use. The British and American made blades were not tensioned and therefore, relative to the task for which each respective model was made, had to be heavier.

Yet I do not refer to the latter as “hard stamped”; in fact I do not use that term at all. Having held in my hands many samples of the “American Pattern”, I detected only one which was distinctly stamped. It was a brand new blade of old inventory I found in an Amish owned hardware store in Indiana with a label “True Temper, Made in USA”. How many European scythemakers ever stamped blades I do not yet know, though I think that it would have been very few. The best of them would not have dared to mar their reputation in this way. The chief technician in the Austrian factory which presently supplies most of the stock sold in America personally assured me that they had never stamped a blade of any kind. (Hay and straw knives, swords and, of course, sickles, have also long been forged there.)

Using “stamped” as a blanket term for all non-“European style” blades discredits the skill of all those British and American blacksmiths who did hand forge their creations. The hardness and “peenability” of these flat blades I discuss elsewhere in this text.

Sharpening, in technical terms, is a two-step process consisting of i) beveling and ii) honing. My attempt here is, therefore, to avoid the use of the verb “to sharpen” (the blade) whenever I am talking specifically about either “beveling” or “honing”.

Thus, for example, I will not write: “In the field, during mowing, the blade must be sharpened every five minutes.” Instead it would read: “…honed every five minutes”. Whetted would also be correct. Because honing, at least in my mind, is more indicative of the use of finer abrasives, which I advocate, I prefer this term and use it more frequently.

It may be pointed out that “honing” also bevels the edge, albeit to a lesser degree. This is true, and I will endeavour not only to explain that it is so, but also to emphasize that the creating of the often-unnoticed little bevels (more properly called “secondary bevels”) during honing is, for the most part, unintentional and undesirable, though in freehand practice unavoidable. Another term for beveling is shaping (the bevel of) the edge. The blades discussed here are best shaped (i.e. beveled) by the process referred to as “peening”.

Alternative terms by which most scythe users might describe this activity are hammering or thinning. Both are correct in that a hammer is used and the edge will inevitably become thinner. However, I prefer shaping because it alludes to the importance of a more exacting geometry. This will be discussed more thoroughly later in the text.

Below are groupings of terms with essentially the same meaning, which I use alternately because in some instances the slight variations portray better what I am trying to say.

Sharp, razor-sharp, well-honed, keen, cuts with ease.
Not sharp, blunt, dull, relatively useless, edge reflects light, lacks keenness.
Peening, hammering, thinning, beveling, shaping.
Finishing, whetting, honing
Whetstone, finishing stone, honing stone or simply stone.
(Hammer) blows, strikes, taps (because it indicates more gentle and careful use of the hammer).
“Serrations or sawteeth”, feather edge, wire edge, burr (all refer to a condition when minute particles of steel protrude over the edge before they are removed with very fine abrasives or break off in use).
Also, I often substitute “scything” with hand mowing, or just mowing. Please do not ask me to explain why. This book is about scythes. Whenever I indicate mowing with the tractor, horses, or by other means where a machine is used, I will make that clear.

In some instances one may need to pay attention to the difference between “v” and “w” in the words moving and mowing (though mostly the distinction will be irrelevant). When I move, as in “…across the slope, in the direction of the wind…”, I am moving while mowing. In these pages I seldom move without the scythe, or at least its blade, close to my hands…So whenever I write “this tool” or just “tool”, unless specified or used as a reference to tools in general, I mean the scythe.

Modified 3 Jun. 2006