It needs to be emphasized that we are promoting a different version of this tool than the scythe with which many Americans, Canadians and the folks from the British Isles are familiar.
Ashley – The 8-year-old mower with an old blade which she says is “too pretty to use, because the beautiful label would wear off”.
Nostalgia aside, in the traditions of those regions, it was generally accepted that “it took a man to run one” and a woman would indeed rarely mow with a scythe all morning.
On the other hand, in many countries of Continental Europe and the Near East, teenage – or even younger – girls and women right up to the last years of their life did use the scythe for serious mowing on a regular basis.
Their blades, as a rule, were considerably lighter in weight than the English or American counterparts and their snaths often, (though not always), better designed. Well-peened edges (explained later) were also more efficient than those shaped on a grindstone.
Blades of that weight – relative to their innate strength – will not, unfortunately, be made again. For that, we can thank “progress”, although the best of what is available today is potentially still suited to “mowing with ease”.
That potential is related to, and will be realized in direct proportion to how we improve:
The version of the scythe that we hope you will take some day into your hands, is one that literally an average 10 year old can use without straining unduly.
In the two photographs at right, a seven-year-old girl is mowing an 8-foot/2.5m wide “pass” nearly as clean as a lawnmower could. (In fact, many lawnmowers would plug up before they advanced a yard in this stand). While not impressively high, it is the late summer’s regrowth of an established and well manured pasture. Under the apparent overstory of lush dandelion leaves is a very dense sward of white clover and bluegrass. Notice also the amount of forage accumulating in the windrow.In addition to a suitably sharp blade, ergonomically designed snath and optimal slicing technique, the girl is using the style of movement which enables her to take advantage of the principle of weight velocity. By shifting her body sideways, without leaning forward, much of the strength required to propel the blade comes from her legs, rather than upper torso and arms.
Beginning the stroke
Finishing the stroke
This is not conventional. However, using one of the more traditional mowing styles, a person of this girl’s strength and weight (47 lbs/21 kg.) would get “worn out” before cutting an equal amount of grass.
Here the same little mower, now 8 years old, is mowing alongside her 11 year old sister.It is late May in the North, the grasses are young and tender – easy to cut. In fact, the little girl fell out of a tree three days prior to this picture being taken and cracked her wrist. (Note the cast on her left arm). She insisted on mowing and claimed no discomfort. The ergonomically shaped grips require very little squeezing, they just sort of hang in the hand.
Here it is mid-June. This field’s growth is relatively scant, but the blooming plants are starting to put up a little resistance.
Photos at right are in late June. White clover is in full bloom. The fact that this is very fertile pasture (lst cut taken as hay, then rotationally grazed), make the mowing a more serious task. The stand is dense and beginning to “lay down” slightly. Notice the direction in which cutting proceeds – all mowers are making a gradual turn part way along the otherwise level field to take the wind- and rain-affected “lay” into account. (Mowing around and around the field is the way of the machines which cannot easily follow the “path of least resistance”.)
All of the photographs (to various degrees) illustrate the application of the legs as a power source, with the youngest mower exaggerating it somewhat. However, this enables her to cut a swath as wide as that cut by her older sister, sometimes wider. In all the above photographs both girls, but especially the younger one, seem to be cutting an unreasonably wide area, relative to their size, with each stroke. Many old mowers may even consider this some trick photography and would only believe it if they saw it “live”.
From 5 to 6 feet of a cut was expected, for instance, from a mature mower in Eastern Europe, 6 feet or so in America and up to 7 feet from the farmer in the Alps. The difference is related to the snath design and the style of movement.
In itself, the width of the swath is of course less relevant than the total area cut in a given time.
These girls would not break records in their class of the Alpine region’s style of competitive mowing which has now evolved into a very sprint-like discipline. The winners of the championships (using 125 cm. blades) shave 100 m2 of meadow in less than two minutes. It is very impressive to watch, though the mower’s comfort is not an issue.
The manner of movement portrayed in our photographs is more suited to a mowing marathon, not a sprint. As such it should be comfortable and also energy conserving. It is therefore desirable to distribute the applied force requirements as equally as possible over the whole body.
In a relatively narrow stroke the innate potential of the legs as a power source cannot be fully realized. The girls’ movement in the above photos does apply the legs fully and thereby shifts a significant portion of the strain from their shoulders and arms.
Equally important from the standpoint of energy conservation and general health benefits of mowing is the manner of breathing. Wider swaths encourage deeper breathing, timed in rhythm with the movement.
For more on the principles and practice of mowing, see Biomechanics and Hand Mowing.
Updated June 2007