The majority of scythe blades used in North America, as well as most of Scandinavia and the British Isles, were traditionally not peened. David Tremeser, author of The Scythe Book stated that the “hard” American scythe blades can (probably) not be peened, and thereby initiated what was to become one of numerous scythe-related myths.
Because I’m not prone to go by hearsay in areas of my serious interest, back in the ’90s — when I was just beginning to learn the art — I tried to peen several of the American style of blades, some made in USA, some in Austria. Surprisingly, they all yielded to my less-than-experienced hand.
Consequently, in our 2001 Addendum to The Scythe Book, I had shared my findings and suggested: “Practice peening (even with the jig) on used “American” blades. They can often be obtained for a few dollars and may save your new blade from abuse. I have yet to come across one that could not be peened; some, in fact, respond better than blades of recent production”
Many readers apparently missed that portion of the book because I keep coming across numerous variants of that original myth, the collective message of which is that “American blades are too hard to be peened and must instead be sharpened* on a grinder”.
*’Beveled’ would be a more accurate term.
Botan Anderson, of One Scythe Revolution — a somewhat prominent voice on the electronic scythe scene — is (for reasons I can’t quite grasp) one of the perpetrators of said myth.
“Motivated” by his A Tale of Two Scythes, I dug up a few American style blades and, about 15 years after the initial trial, gave it another go.
Now, I want to make plain that I know virtually nothing about the production methods of American scythe makers, nor what the carbon content of the steel they used was, nor their aimed-for final RC hardness. And, as I’ve explained elsewhere, the higher the initial material’s carbon content, the greater the “hardening” effect the hammer has on the edge and the more careful one has to be shaping it by this method. But that does not mean that it can’t be done.
Once upon the time, steel containing up to 1% carbon was sometimes used by both the Austrian and German scythe makers, for certain blade models (stamped as “Hartstahl”) used within continental Europe, and some for export to Scandinavia. I don’t know about all the blades imported to USA (some were made in Sweden), but I do know that the Redtenbacher company of Austria — the single most significant supplier — used their standard steel for production of the American blades. Today, steel of carbon content 0.8% is used for the making of ALL Austrian and other ‘style’ scythe blades.
Here are the subjects of my most recent trials:
Comments regarding individual blades: (From top to bottom)
1. 30 1/2 inch, 1 lb 9 oz. Made in Austria (by Redtenbacher Co.)
Peened as easily as any Austrian blade of contemporary production.
2. 30 1/2 inch, 1 lb 9 oz. Made in Austria (by Schroekenfux Co.)
Going by the feel of this blade’s edge response, I think its Carbon content is higher than blade #1, or it was tempered (accidentally?) to considerably more than the usual 47/48 Rc. It can readily be peened, however.
3. This 30 inch, 1 lb. 7 oz. “True Temper” blade is the one I had referred to in the Addendum as one “decidedly stamped” — which was wrong; I should have stated “drop-forged”. Looking at it today I’m still of the same opinion. I had tried out a piece of it back then by means of a peening jig (far left), a smaller piece freehand (middle), and my new freehand piece (right).
It peened noticeably easier than the other 5 blades.
4. A 28 inch blade that I think of as multi-purpose as far as its length goes — but at 2 lb. 7 oz. so thick and heavy that it could easily function as bona-fide bush blade, or even an ax on an extra long handle. Maker unknown to me, but almost certainly a USA product because Austrian or Swedish company would be unlikely to leave their blades without a hot stamp of some sort.
5. I think that this 20 1/2″ (with 17” of edge), 2 lb 6 oz. blade was made by the same company as the one above (due to the same shade of green as well as style of neck/blade’s body transition). It peened the hardest of the bunch, partially because the beveled portion of the blade is so gosh-darn THICK. But I also suspect that the C-content of these two un-named blades was higher than the rest.
6. 19 1/2″ long, 1 lb. 13 oz. with ‘WV 49’. stamped on top of tang; no doubt another USA product. Peened nicely in spite of thickness — which was slightly less than #5.
(Note the three peening lines.)
There you have it — ALL (though to various degree of ease) these ‘American style’ blades could be peened, without any preliminary thinning. However, as I suggested in The Scythe Must Dance, beginners would be advised to reduce the (usually) thick and/or rounded profile, with file or other means BEFORE peening.
The hammer and anvil I used was my standard set that I use for nearly all the peening I’ve done in the past several years.