Making Hay By Hand: How to Use a Scythe
Hank Will shows you how to make hay by hand using his Austrian-style scythe with a custom snath.
When gathering hand-mown hay, wagons and neighbors can make the process more fun.
Nothing so smells like summer more than a hayfield freshly mown. Even during winter when you break into those little bundles of summer sunshine, the scent will take you back — and the nutrition will help your flocks and herds thrive. Making hay is something that is universally anticipated by folks living on the land, but for many small holders, the expense of collecting and maintaining all the power equipment used in the modern hay meadow is just too much. Your options include buying hay, having a custom hay crew hay your place on shares, or making what you need, slowly but surely, by hand. And if you live in town and have just a few rabbits to feed, handmade hay is the only way to go.
As much as I thoroughly enjoy the sounds and smells associated with using diesel-powered equipment and modern self-tying large round balers, I’ve always wondered whether I could pass muster with my ancestors and make sufficient hay to feed a small sheep flock through the winter using only a scythe, primitive hand-made hay rake, pitchfork and wagon. Plus, I am no fan of paying for a gym membership and running on a treadmill for any reason, so I figured I could get healthful quantities of recreation and physical activity if I put my hand haymaking scheme to the test.
Making the cut: types of scythes
Since I already owned a lightweight Austrian scythe with a snath custom-made to my 6-foot, 4-inch frame (about $190 plus shipping for the outfit at Scythe Supply), and since we already had a few old three-tine pitchforks, an antique wooden hay rake and assorted small wagons cluttering up the barn, most of what I needed was already in hand, so I was able to spring into action within a day of hatching the plan.
There are at least a couple of different types of scythes out there, and I’ve used both for cutting weeds and mowing slopes. The first scythe I ever owned was beautiful, and so lightweight that I concluded it was a decorative replica of the real thing — I sold it for a few bucks to a “junk” collector. It turns out it was actually a very old Austrian-style scythe, and I wish I’d had the sense to keep it those 40 or so years ago. At the time, I incorrectly reached the conclusion that the heavy-snathed, heavy-bladed American-style scythe was the real deal — it was, after all, heavy duty. It also was heavy — and I was young, dumb and strong.
The American scythe is a formidable tool. This scythe is generally constructed of harder, thicker steel, and you really want to use a grindstone to whet it. The American-style snath is usually round in cross section and features adjustable handles that help you get the right fit. The combination weighs about 7 pounds assembled. You get plenty of momentum to motor through thick growth, and there is nothing wrong with the American scythe, but once I learned about and tried the Austrian scythe, my old American just collected cobwebs and corrosion — and got sold to another junk dealer.
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