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Italian-made scythe blades

A brief evaluation using the products of
Schrockenfux, Austria for comparison

Please note:
This document requires further “add-ons” (mostly in a form of a few notes, clarifying some of the concepts already addressed). We’ve sent it, as is, to several knowledgeable acquaintances for a review and possible corrections. All of those who responded basically agreed with the analysis presented. Thus I feel that it may now be offered to a broader audience.
No doubt, there will be some objections, because — as one friend observed it is sure to “shake a few leaves off the tree”. But challenging established notions (especially ones with perceived flaws) may be a worthwhile exercise, and one possibly ‘good for all’ in the long run.


This past summer (2011) a rather prominent person from within the Austrian scythe industry asked me over the phone: “Peter, what exactly is it about the Falci blades that makes you say they are better than ours?”
Well, this question has been posed by others — partially due to my statements in that regard — and some written explanation is long overdue. Covering it with my phone conversation’s “Geschprachspartner” was relatively easy. To clarify the differences and their merit in written form — especially to an audience only so versed in the subject — is another matter…

Some aspects of what we loosely refer to as ‘quality’ can only be determined by a thorough metallurgical examination in a specialty lab. Others are readily revealed during the sort of empirical tests to which wholesale buyers of the past had often subjected blades (prior to purchase of a large lot), or many old farmers continue to do.
There are also visually discernible features that manifest simply good engineering which even a layperson could appreciate once the two examples were laid in front of them. I will present them here to point out some differences between the blades of contemporary Austrian and Italian production.

The most obvious of the features is that the Italian blades have — in relation to the respective model’s weight — a decidedly stronger neck. Their tang, and the knob, plus the whole back (in English often referred to as “rib”), is also more gracefully shaped. In some of the photos you can readily see how the Italian (as well as theold Austrian) tangs taper from the neck towards the knob. The knobs are pyramid-shaped and smaller overall.
Italians also have a rather distinguished way of forming the “stone point” (with which blade models destined for rocky terrain are sometimes equipped).
I will discuss the merit of these features further below.

As the first set of examples of the neck differences I chose the following:

a) the Austrian industry’s reference pattern #201 — because it is by far the most typical blade used in Austria now and in the past. (It was once made by every Austrian scythe enterprise, and presently is sold — often dressed in different colours/labels, sometimes with slight variations of the tang angles — by most mail order ventures, internationally.) The green specimen in the photos is 70 cm long and weighs 470g.
b) one of the contemporary Italian-made ‘Eastern’ models — because, at 65cm and 370g, it is about as light as any factory can still make a functional scythe blade today; in fact, most could not.

 

At the thinnest area of the neck the green blade is 3mm, and the other 4mm thick. (If anything, it ought to be the other way around — because the Italian blade, being only slightly over three quarters of the overall weight of the other, could justifiably get by with the thinner neck. Nevertheless, in bygone days 3mm necks were uncommon, even on the lightest of blades.) Beside the difference in thickness there is also an obviousdifference in width; just under the transition into the blade’s body the Austrian’s tang measures 27 mm, the Italian 30 mm. At the most extreme curvature the width is 25 mm and 29 mm respectively.

As a reference to the traditional ways, the group below contains an addition — a Greek model (at the bottom), made in Austria during the fifties. At 60cm and 330g this is a true featherweight blade, with the main bodybarely 0,6 mm thick — a feature that even Falci could no longer reproduce.They can, however, match the dimension of the neck, as well as the manner of its transition into the body, because with regard to these features the old Austrian and the contemporary Italian blades are very much alike. Both necks (of the “Diamant”, Italian-made and the old Greek, Austrian-made) are 4mm thick, and the neck-blade transition of both is principally stronger than you see on the green blade, or, for that matter, others of contemporary Austrian production.

 


 

The three blades below are all 75cm long.
At the top is what, during the last 10 years, has been my wife’s favoured grass-cutting friend. We refer to it as the “revolution blade”; (it was made in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution). Its weight is 390g and the neck 5.5 mm thick. Made in Austria.
The middle blade is what its maker, The Schrockenfux factory of Austria, refers to as the “2010”, a new model. This one weighs 490g, with 3mm neck.
At the bottom is another typically “Eastern” model recently manufactured by Falci; a 480g blade with 4 mm neck and also one visibly wider than on the “2010” blade (just above).


The group below is a trio of sturdier short blades, all contemporary production:
40 cm/460g/5.5 mm neck – Italian
50 cm/530g/4.0 mm neck – Austrian
50 cm/420g/4.5 mm neck – Italian
As you can see, the heaviest blade has again the thinnest neck…
Note also the difference in the size of the knobs and the taper of Italian tangs.

Shown above are not intentionally skewed comparisons, but rather the way it is.
Dozens of similar examples could be used…


Good Design

To anyone familiar with the challenges of producing a truly well-functioning scythe blade, the issue addressed here can be readily appreciated: A strong neck, a relatively thin but stiff body and a light point were always the principle features of good scythe blade design.
For the less initiated: The reason for a strong neck — relative to the overall weight/strength of the blade — is not only to prevent breakage at that point.
Yes, people have broken or seriously twisted the necks of scythe blades — but that, in my view, speaks of carelessness and stupidity. Even the relatively weak necks of some contemporary production (blades from Austria, Poland, Norway, and Turkey stand out in this respect) ARE all strong enough to withstand the pressure of work they are intended to perform, IF sensibly used.

Some topic-pertinent facts:
The resistance that a scythe blade in use encounters is related to following factors:
a) the density of the forage stand as well as the toughness of the individual stems (the latter is related to the species of plants, and changes with their maturity),
b) the condition of blade’s edge,
c) the sensibility of the mower.

The rather complex interplay between a), b), and c) nearly always results in some degree of flexion of the blade overall. It may be more pronounced near the point, or further back, be serious or not, cause misbehaviour of the blade, or not, and be perceived by the person swinging the scythe, or not. (I venture a guess that most casual mowers are quite unaware of it.)

Because realistically it is unavoidable, the flexion element must be calculated into a sound design equation, and scythe-makers certainly employed various means to meet that challenge. Adequate tensioning of the blade’s body is one of them. Another is lifting the point slightly above the horizontal plane of the overall length. Outfitting the blade with a strong neck to keep the rest of the body well anchored and thereby steady, was part of the anti-flexion strategy. Overall, the blade should feel stiff.

That said, a certain amount of uniformly distributed flexion is acceptable, and under some conditions even desirable because it can act as a sort of ‘shock absorber’ and thereby provide smoother action. The extremely elevated points of some of the old Alpine models were not made that way to avoid hitting rocks. They wereexpected to flex downward gradually as the blade moves from start to finish of each stroke. (Nowadays the “same” models do not flex as much, or in the same graceful manner because their bodies are thicker. Instead, some of them flex more at the neck.)
In any case, the zone of grace between ‘acceptable’ and too much flex is rather small, and the inherent virtue of the old style neck is that it helps reduce the excessive amount of flexion more effectively.

So why, you may ask, if a strong neck is a desired feature, did the necks in Austria become weaker?
For the short version of the answer start with Note 1 A. But if the topic really interests you I suggest reading also Note 1 B.

The previously referred to ‘gracefulness’ of the other easily discernible design features of Falci blades — namely the tang, the knob and the back — can be considered merely a cosmetic touch. However, that is not quite how I see it.
FirstIy, I like a tang that tapers toward the knob end because there is no extra weight where it has absolutely no function. It also, in many instances, requires a ring one size larger than might otherwise be necessary just in order to squeeze it first over the thick tip of a contemporary Austrian tang. (I’m referring to the most common manner of putting on the rings. I do not do it that way but still like that slim taper. I also prefer as small as ring as will just do the job.)
Secondly, Falci’s knob requires a smaller “seat”, and is fully adequate to serve its intended function. (Drilling larger holes into one of the most highly stressed areas of a wooden snath is illogical, and I have for years filed the knobs of many, many blades to a smaller size. These knobs suit me perfectly well as they are…)
Now, I freely admit that the actual usefulness of ‘elegant’ backs can be debated and also that the strict pragmatists would likely win. Still, the Falci blades’ backs resemble those of many of the old Austrian and South-German models, both in shape and the polish from the top. Note 2

The last of the readily noticeable design features is the stone point to which, in direct translation, the Italians refer to as “nail”. For their style of stone points the analogy is not that far off. As you see below, the Falci points (on the left in the following three photos) are formed as a more distinctive protrusion than a typically Austrian version, which blends into the edge.
Because of it’s thickness at the base, the Austrian point is stronger. However, the transition zone between it and the edge is such that anywhere from 2-4 cm are practically un-peenable.
The Italian point style allows the edge to be peened completely to it’s end, even around the curve just under the very base of the point. For this reason I prefer it.

(Edge on view – take a close look at the last inch of the blade)

 

What I discussed above are the most obvious differences in design — the only relatively constant of the complex triad of factors that together determine the tool’s final quality. The other two — the raw material and the workmanship — are (as I endeavour to explain below) both subject to change, sometimes “at a moment’s notice”. It is thereby more difficult to address them comprehensively, and I believe that even an appropriate professional would find it a challenge.
In any case, consider the following no more than an outline on the subject. On the plus side, a document of this sort written by a farmer can afford to be less ‘diplomatic’…


Regarding Material:

The quality of steel used in tool making has always fluctuated somewhat, but in recent decades it has become ever more the case — both with regard to the source/country of origin as well individual (large order) batches. Partially for this reason, to categorically declare the steel quality of one of the companies discussed here as “better” than the other, would be foolish. Falci presently obtains its raw material from within Italy; Schrockenfux imports theirs from Germany, but that in itself is not much to go by. Note 3


A few thoughts on the topic of workmanship:

More so than ‘quality steel, ‘quality workmanship’ leaves a lot to interpretation, and as used in common speech, becomes a rather ‘fuzzy’ term.
In the realm of industrial “hand-forged” tool production we can (or I do) differentiate between two kinds of ‘workmanship’. One is related strictly to the skill of the smiths and the other to how the ‘overseers’ manage their whole tool-making enterprise. The latter of these has troubled me more because I perceive it to have greater effect on the final quality of scythe blades today. It has little to do with skill per se but rather how much time the management decides to ‘devote’ (or, alternately put — ‘sacrifice’) to each of the respective steps in the production — and sacrifice is only so popular…

The single most visually demonstrative example of the entropy caused by the industry’s need to ‘economize’ is the progressive reduction in the number of hammer marks that comprise the step referred to (in scythe industry’s jargon) as “decorative tensioning”. Far from merely decorative, tensioning has an important function: It stiffens the blade. It was precisely the discovery of its applicable “magic” that enabled the European and Near/Mid Eastern blades to be considerably thinner in body than the British or American counterparts, while accomplishing the same task, and mostly with less exertion. Even today, a mid to good quality scythe blade is tensioned at least twice — once before it is tempered and once shortly before it is finished, the latter being the “decorative tensioning”.

Example below shows how the ‘decor’ of scythe blades (within the same enterprise) changed as our civilization ‘progressed’.
From left to right:
the 50’s, the 80’s and the first decade of 21st century.

Notice the difference in the distance between the individual hammer marks. (The shape of the marks is of little consequence in this discussion; many makers use, in line with each model’s tradition, variously shaped hammer heads. But to be fair, I should also add that: a) the blade on the very left is an example of the decorative tensioning at its best, even for that era. b) the two left blades are both 65mm wide, while the green blade is only 50mm — thus would naturally have correspondingly fewer rows of hammer marks.)

The pertinent issue here is time. In this specific case — how much of it can be spent on blade tensioning. That, of course, is a question for the overseers (owners and/or managers) to answer, not the smiths. And they did answer it — by reducing the number of those hammer strokes. That sort of change was universal, though, to put it bluntly “you can’t piss against the wind”. Most of the enterprises which tried are no longer operating…

Now, to be fair to the scythe-makers, I must add that (in symphony with the economizing trends) it was gradually discovered that the tensioning guidelines of the past were unnecessarily stringent, and that still very functional blades can be made without all that ado… especially if they are less thin. Yes, it is true. Consequently, the customers have (also gradually but effectively) been ‘educated’, that blades can have thicker bodies and still work ‘just fine’.This proved to be a wise move economically. Not because the tensioning takes much time (it is done under a hammer which moves about 300 strokes per minute) but because it isconsiderably more difficult to forge a scythe blade that is 0.7 mm thick than one 0.9 mm. (The “Essmeisters” that could still do the former on a regular basis at the speed so as to make the owners a little profit, can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand — and I mean globally. The majority could not forge one that thin, and do it well, at any speed.)

That said, some factories went with the economizing trend more than others — which brings me back to this Austria/Italy evaluation: One obvious difference between the Falci’s and Schrockenfux’ tensioning marks is that the Italian blades presently still have more of them per equivalent area of the body.

As you see, there are 12 marks in one lengthwise row on the Austrian blade (bottom) and 20 marks on the Italian blade (top). Including the snaky rows (which require more strokes than the straight ones), the bottom blade has 6 of them while the top has 9. The Italian blade is 52mm wide at mid body, the Austrian 50mm. Well, do the calculations… the former received, during this tensioning step, at least 2 1/2 times the hammer strokes (per square cm) of the former.
Also, in most instances, the Italians place the uppermost row closer to the base of the back rib — which is how it used to be done in Austria and Germany in the past. (In fact, some enterprises considered it important enough to justify the time of putting their blades through an additional step, where a hammer with differently-shaped face was focused on that uppermost pass. See example below.)

 


The Skill of the Smith (which could be referred to as ‘industrial craftsmanship’):

Globally there is a significant difference between the precision standards among scythe factories; always was. (Austria’s worldwide fame stems from the fact that in the past the devotion to excellence on part of both, the enterprises’ owners and their workforce was so extreme.) However, between the two companies targeted in this essay, the quality of present workers’ skill is difficult to pass definitive judgement on. I’ve watched both Austrian and Italian smiths at work and consider them on par overall. The most significant variable comes into play (either in Italy or Austria) when one of the critically important smiths retires or becomes ill and must be replaced by a less experienced one. In recent years it is progressively more of a challenge in both countries — and one that is unlikely to go away…

 


Tentative conclusions:

In view of the discussion above, it should go without saying that to randomly pull a single blade or two from each factory’s warehouse and put them through some steel or workmanship-related comparative test, may not be fair to either one of them.

That said, on the average, Falci blades are somewhat harder and, in spite of the smaller back, also stiffer. I’ve witnessed the standard scythe industry’s test of this property (during which a blade is set in a press with its point down while pressure is applied against the neck from above). The Italian blades of equivalent lengths and body width withstood up to 30% more pressure than samples from Austria before they bent beyond the “point of no return”, meaning they would spring back without any evidence of permanent damage.

On the whole, there is no doubt that by today’s standards Schrockenfux makes very fine products. With respect to factory edge preparation they are clearly in the lead on the global scene. (Note to follow) In my view, however, Falci scythe blades still come closer to how the best of them once used to be.

 


Epilouge:

I truly regret that I could not present a more optimistic picture of “how things are”. But if I did it would be fiction — and there surely is no need in this world for still more of that…
While it may not be easy for all of us to admit, the changes I discuss here, are the result of our collective choice to progress in exactly the manner we have. It would therefore be both foolhardy and unfair to simply blame the scythe industry for no longer making the blades of the quality they formerly did…
We — the scythe users — have, and continue to effect the industry’s trends. Trained as an army of ‘economy’ shoppers it is us, The People, that made the proliferation of Walmart and other giant chain stores possible. Whatever the corporate agenda, we did not — and still don’t — have to go along with it.
Be it as it may, when it comes to scythes specifically (but not much else), North America remains relatively ‘pure’ in this regard; with rare exceptions it is supplied almost exclusively with Austrian-made products. Europe, on the other hand, has been increasingly overrun with cheap scythe blades. These products of enterprises from at least five countries (two within Europe; three from the “East”) are not always sold for a low price, though often — in various chain stores — that is the case. The main reason they displaced the better blades from Austria or Italy is because at the wholesale level these two countries simply cannot offer their products at a competitive enough price. Thus the populace is rarely even presented with a choice between qualities.The purchasers representing the mega stores for the most part disregard the quality issue altogether; low price IS the bottom line. (Only if a massive, widespread boycott of their cheap substitutes was implemented, and qualitydemanded, would they likely change their tune. I am convinced that eventually the megastores WILL go the way of the old class scythe blades….but in the meantime much damage is being done.)
Interim we also have a situation where relatively wealthy, but inexperienced people are unknowingly purchasing what they think is the ‘quality’ hand-made standard because sometimes the labels (still claiming the old status quo) lead them to believe that this is so.
Consequently, while its authentic products (counterfeits also exist) are represented in nearly all European countries, Schrockenfux has been losing sales in most of them. Falci is in the same leaking boat but because their products were never as well-known outside of Italy to begin with, loosing the equivalent percentage of share to the cheaper blades hurts them even more. As my document is attempting to point out, this is a shame — and in view of future generations, an irretrievable loss. Can the tide still be turned, even a little?

 


By Peter Vido – Jan. 2012

 


Note 1 A:

Approximately 25 years ago the Austrian scythe industry made some choices that — with regard to the neck design issue discussed here — put it in a straight jacket, so to speak.

Some related history:
Regardless of the enterprise, scythe blades were traditionally forged out of small rectangles of steel. The first hot step was to draw each rectangle lengthwise into a tapered rod-like blank, referred to, in German, as “Zain”. (I do not know the English equivalent / an English word for this.) At the thicker end of this blade-to-be, enough material was left for a strong neck, while the opposite end was tapered thinner under a triphammer so that it would be easier to forge a nice light point — exactly the weight relationship mowers of old desired. The other equally important benefit of that approach was “homogenizing” the steel structure making thereby the end product ‘tougher’.

The skill-demanding job of the Austrian “Zain-maker” has now been outsourced to the steel mill. Once at the factory, the blank is merely cut to length of the blade-to-be, plus the tang. Subsequently, using a cold press, two pieces are cut off this blank; at one end to pre-shape the point-to-be and at the other to define the tang’s final width. (The Austrian smiths now refer to these as “gestanzte (stamped) Zaine” as opposed to the former “geschmiedete (forged) Zaine”.) Thereafter the tang and knob are formed (while hot) by a two-step machine process. However, when such a red-hot bar of equally thick and equally wide flat steel is bent at 90 degrees to form the tang, the material at the outside of the curve stretches and becomes thinner, while the rest of the blank retains the original dimension to both sides of the curve — which is nearly the opposite of how it used to be…

Though similarly modernized, Falci starts the process with a shorter, round blank which they taper on the blade-to-be end, using a profile-rolling machine. The result is not quite the sword-like shape of old, but it is tapered nevertheless. Then, while hot, the neck/tang end is drop-forged in a die, the shape of which approximates the traditional style of necks. As you can imagine, the old school (whose voice is still reverberates by way of the now retired smiths and former scythe industry’s engineers) insists that anything bypassing the hundreds of individual hammer strokes is not ‘the real thing’. Of course, the contemporary managers of the (two) remaining Austrian enterprises claim that the action of the roller in a modern steel mill is adequate.

The present method used in Italy can be thought of as a compromise between the two. Although I would wholeheartedly welcome a return to the hammer-shaping of the ‘zains’ and the hand-shaped tangs of yore, (with each of them slightly different) — when it comes to machine-made tangs, I haven’t seen anything as nice as Falci’s present version.

 



Note 1 B:

In a 2010 essay titled Will Europe’s scythe industry evade the Reaper’s deadly swing? I expressed at some length my concerns regarding a certain multi-level entropy. The phenomenon is a by-product of the industrial economizing (“production streamlining” is the more business-friendly term); it has been gradual, is many decades old and now apparently unstoppable….or so we are told. To fundamentally re-design the global economic system is not an option — this we are also told. Well, we shall see…

Interim, among scores of other tool-making enterprises, Austria’s scythe industry also bowed to the Bottom Line — and gradually evolved a system (outlined in Note 1 A) the outcome of which, among other compromises, is the weaker neck.
Its Italian counterpart by no means escaped the process of economizing, but was lucky enough to have their engineers conceive a way to save production time of certain steps withoutsacrificing the former neck-strength features.
(Notwithstanding the stereotypical image of Italian men — as ones obsessed with fast cars, fine cuisine and the beauty of women — some of their accomplishments command respect. Italy is renowned for innovative designs within the realm of the tool-making industry, and many factories all over Europe have, in fact, long been using Italian wood or steel-shaping machinery.)
Falci has been one of the companies contributing to the potpourri of the various inventions in the realm metal profile shaping. Their system of forming scythe blades’ back is an example of ingenuity unmatched in Austrian (or for that matter any other) scythe industry. And that is not only my opinion…

Beginning in 1999, I would from time to time bring to the Schrockenfux factory in Austria product samples I picked up while visiting other still existing enterprises, and ask some of the respective Austrian specialists (those who perform the specific steps in the blade making process) for their evaluation. As a rule there was a polite critique but, occasionally, an outright derogatory laugh, as they pointed to the flaws of some factories’ creations. With the Falci-made blades it was different.
Always there were quiet nods of approval. None of them could figure out just exactly how the Italians make such elegant backs. Yes, elegant is the term these country men with only basic education often used.
The Falci tangs as well as their knobs are also more ‘elegant’ than the equivalent presently made by Schrockenfux. In both cases (Austria and Italy) I am now talking of the most contemporary ways of Europe’s scythe industry.
Up until WWII most tangs and knobs were shaped under the hand-held hammer of a sweating smith. The tangs always tapered from neck toward the knob; sometimes slightly, sometimes a lot. The knob itself was a signature both of the individual smith, the enterprise he worked for and a period of history. (I was often told that each ‘knob-maker’ could, many years later, identify with amazing accuracy the very knobs he shaped. This feature is actually one of the tell-tale signs that help me identify the age of some scythe blades. I must, of course, be first familiar with that respective factory’s products — and how their process of production had changed over the years. At this point in history, it is relatively easy to identify the product of every single factory on the globe just by its tang, or even the knob alone.)
By the 1960s, depending on a factory, the tang and knob shaping was either partially or wholly mechanized. By late 1980s machines replaced pretty well all tang and knob-hammering men. The difference between the present tang/knobs of Austria and Italy has nothing to do with the skill of the respective country’s smiths. What in this case leads to either elegance or a ‘functional’ product it is simply the difference in the processes — performed by the (differently-designed) machines.

 


Note 2:

The closest to such a back presently on the global market is found on the special edition model made by Schrockenfux for the Scythe Association of Austria. Its members decided to pay an extra price for the additional grinding and polishing — partially to reduce the blade’ overall weight, and partially just for the back’s nice old-fashioned look. They also have the blade’s undersidepolished (to 800 grit) — the merit of which can be readily appreciated by those who have paid attention and felt the difference in how a well-used versus a brand new blade slide through the grass. (Only a very few of models in Austria or Italy are currently polished from underneath, though nowhere near as highly.)
At Falci, the polishing of the back has been a standard practice all along; in Austria it used to be done by some factories and/or on a certain portion of the models produced and, for the most part, became obsolete about 20-25 years ago.
The overall shape of the Italian blades’ back is the result of production technique (as a hot step), rather than additional cold grinding.

 


Note 3:
Many people likely don’t realize that — as is also the case with most tools today — scythe blades have, for quite some time, been made from “partially re-cycled” steel. The exact percentage of the recycled part appears to be a steel mill’s secret, and it may vary from time to time, or from mill to mill. It may also be a hefty portion of the whole. And whether that mill is in England, Germany or elsewhere, its vat of bubbling scrap contains the remains of Japanese cars, Turkish-made tractor engines and Chinese everything, plus more. Much of that stuff was already made from recycled steel and is now making its second or third trip into the pot. Thus “international” or “global” may be a more appropriate moniker with regard to the ‘genealogy’ of steel than British, German, Swedish, etc.

Of course, by virtue of modern metallurgy most of the undesirable substances can be removed, and the purified soup alloyed in myriad ways to produce endless kinds of steel with very specific properties. And yes, each scythe-maker asks for their own blend of individual elements and would prefer it to be just that. But “complete” purification, if at all possible, would be too cost-prohibitive to undertake on behalf of relatively cheap tools such as scythes, hoes, hammers, axes, etc. Consequently, each batch of theoretically the same steel that a tool-maker receives is never exactly the same.
I’ve discussed this inconsistency issue with managers of other tool enterprises, at whose table I was privileged to sit (through some friendly connection or another), and they were all more or less in agreement that it is so. They also agree that there is nothing they can do about it other than periodically send a sample for analysis to see that their recipe is being adhered to, more or less. However, this only tells them so much.
The first ones to really note the difference in “behaviour” between each last and new shipment of the steel are not the managers but the smiths — and I have talked to more than a few of those as well. Within the scythe industry it is primarily the “Essmeisters”, whose job is the most skill-demanding of all. And not long after the first of their hammer strokes fall, they either exclaim: “Ah, nice” or, alternately, “dammit!”… No matter what their initial impression is, that batch of steel has to be used up before another one arrives. The possible differences in quality among the runs of blades is due, at least in part, to this aspect of reality, and it can happen in Austria, Italy or anywhere else… Let me add, however, that I’m NOT talking of ‘quality differences’ which most scythe users could readily identify. Nor can a person experienced in these matters always readily point to a discovered flaw of a finished blade as being steel-related. To a large extent, material and workmanship are two sides of the same coin. The competence of the smiths to adjust their approach while working with “less cooperative” material than ideal, plays a role here, sometimes a significant one. Yet they have limited time-related “wiggle room” — an issue addressed in the next section of this essay.