We made Peter Vido laugh!

Posted by in Blog on Apr 15, 2012

“What you have put together should be nominated for “Niftiest New Scythe Website of the Year”. I doubt that someone will come up with anything more humorous, yet sprinkled with deep meaning throughout.”

So said Peter Vido after visiting this site. We were pretty chuffed by this, since Peter is the undisputed “grandmaster” of scything. He’s written about scythes on his website and in print, has made 20-odd trips to Europe since 1999 for scythe-related/promotion/improvement matters, has consulted to blade makers of the likes of Schröckenfux on ergonomic scythe design, and even had a home-away-from-home on their grounds. So we felt that this was high praise indeed.

But then came the “but…”

I had the pleasure of chatting to Peter via Skype, and I suspect that, even though I was being gently divested of my erroneous scything assumptions, it was more pleasurable for me than for him, since he was sitting in an unheated room on a -20 degree Canadian day.

He emphasised that a lot of the talk about English-style scythes being “high tempered steel”, in comparison with more malleable “Austrian” blades, is effectively bunkum. Both of these “regional variations of principally the same tool” as well as those made in the rest of continental Europe, Scandinavia, the Near/Middle East or North America were/are made of high carbon steel, period. The actual carbon content of the initial material contained within the vast array of blades that are still in existence (though many are no longer made), may vary from as low as 0.7% (which is classified as ‘high’) to 1.15% (the carbon content of some German and Austrian steels used in the past). If we want to discuss relative ‘hardness’ with any meaning, we’re better off sticking to a hardness scale, of which the Rockwell scale is the international standard in the realm of common tools.

And he doesn’t believe there’s a scythe blade out there that can’t be peened. Grinding vs. peening are just different options, and while it may take more skill, a wide variety of blades can be peened, even by attentive novices.

Peter had once peened a Gorbushka pattern blade that was made approximately 100 years ago by the Redtenbacher company in Austria for market in (and thereby to the specs of) one of the regions of the old Russia, which Schröckenfux factory technicians determined was 62 RC hardness. Because it was so unprecedented, they repeated the test 3 times, with same results.

And the whole notion of an ‘Austrian-style’ scythe is a misnomer from Peter’s point of view; within the whole of continental Europe, only Holland, Belgium, Slovakia and Switzerland have never established a scythe blade industry at some point in their histories. Peter also noted that in his opinion the best blades currently being made are coming out of Italy.

Indeed, Peter felt it would be hasty to claim that anyone really even knows for sure where the scythe was first born and who actually made the best one ever. While the historians of central Europe concede that the Celts made the first scythe blades, the Basques (who until 1992 had a thriving scythe industry) claim the same title. And we in the West know very little about the scythe history of the ‘Fertile Crescent’…

Another point made was that one need not be too particular about preventing a blade from rusting. While scythe blades will rust quickly (Peter said his will start to rust in ten minutes if left in damp mown grass), they’ll also clean up quickly if used soon afterwards. In fact, in Slovakia one tradition dictates that a Russian-made blade received as a gift for Christmas should be buried in a heating manure pile until Easter, to be subsequently cleaned and peened.

From Peter’s perspective though, it’s more about conserving resources in the face of peak oil (which of course with more universal acknowledgment is scoffed at a lot less these days than in former decades). Peter recommends two rags – one for drying, and one for drying really well – and he will only oil a blade if it’s going into long term storage.  As a seasoned snath maker, he also feels that, subsequent to initial oiling of a new snath, to repeat the treatment “after each use in wet grass” (as per the advice from The Scythe Book) is a waste of precious resources; if the snath cracks and eventually breaks (which would typically take years), make (not buy!) another one from local wood. His snath-making pages are a good place to start – one gripped, two gripped.

Peter’s also pointed me in the direction of some very useful articles on how to retrofit my current snaths – I’ll be giving that a go as soon as I get a free moment.

Thanks for being so generous with your time and knowledge, Peter!