I have just taken on a smallholding and am learning to scythe the grass on some neglected pasture (thick grass, thatch, tussocks etc).
I have found that after peening and honing the blade with reducing grades of whetstone, the blade is clearly sharp and “grabs” the grass and slices though everything with ease. After about ten yards, the blade is much blunter. I’ve then been trying to hone the blade with the Roszutec stone and, I’m finding that the scythe quickly loses it cutting ability compared to the initial treatment.
I’ve been thinking about this and thought that there might be two reasons for this – either the edge was too thin to start with and I’m crushing it in the heavy vegetation. The other thought was that I wasn’t honing the blade properly each time with the fine whetstone, so it successively becomes blunter.
I noticed on your farm website that:
The Rozsutec whetstone is so fine and hard, that beginner's often can't get it to do anything. Once you learn how to really use a whetstone, however, it creates a very fine edge.
And wondered if this was my problem. I also noted that, in your honing video (see above), you hold the stone in a way that would allow you to “torque” the stone onto the blade to apply fairly heavy pressure.
I was hoping that you would be able to advise how much pressure should be applied when honing and whether you can offer any technique tips? Alternatively, would I be advised to try using a Bregenser stone initially for honing – or will this wear out the edge too quickly?
Many thanks - Paul
I appreciate your question. I've been there myself. It's a tough one to answer, without being there, but l think that the bottom-line answer, is that your blade is not properly peened. To learn how to hone, you need to start with a well peened edge. I highly recommend my peening manual, How to Peen an Austrian Scythe Blade with a Narrow Anvil to learn that, if you have a narrow anvil.
Next, you need to understand what you are intending to accomplish when you are honing. If the edge is not very sharp to begin with, you can hone it all day long, and just get a temporarily improved, but overall a less and less sharp edge, because you are gradually wearing the metal back, and creating a steeper, and steeper bevel. It's like going from a bevel like razor to one like that of a hatchet. You'll be able to cut weeds with it at the "hatchet" stage, but not grass. (Which is actually what most people do. They don't peen their blades, and just use their scythe for whacking at weeds.)
First of all, you need to get the edge tapered out (peened) enough for the whetstone to work. The more that it's tapered out, the less work the whetstone has to do, and the finer a grit of stone you can use. The Rozsutec stone is for well peened blades. Beginners are better off with a softer, and coarser stone like the White Bregenser, because their edges (unless the blade is new) aren't as sharp to begin with, and also it takes more skill to be effective with the Rozsutec. You need to get the angle and the pressure just right, otherwise you won't be honing it enough. That's why I say that beginners often can't get the Rozsutec to work.
If your edge is properly tapered out, yes, you can dull it by honing at too steep an angle. What's the correct angle? With magnification of some sort, you could probably see the exact correct angle, but otherwise you have to learn to feel it. Too shallow, and you won't be doing much of anything to shape the cutting edge; too steep and you will actually be dulling your edge. You have to feel for the angle that's most effective. "Austrian" scythe whetstones are shaped to make this pretty easy to do. The curve of the stone is shaped to readily fit to the correct angle at the very cutting edge, and very effectively shape it to a sharp point. A grass blade would be honed at a shallower angle than a bush blade. A very well tapered-out edge for mowing grass, would be honed at a very shallow angle, but the more hours that you mow and hone, the more you would very gradually have to hone at a slightly steeper and steeper angle.
Mowing rounds off the sharp angle of the cutting edge. The purpose of honing in the field, is to keep reforming the sharp acute angle of the cutting edge. The more you mow and hone, the more the metal at the edge gets worn back, and the steeper the angle of the cutting edge becomes. To address this, you need to hone at a minutely, but progressively, steeper angle (unless you stop and re-peen the edge and start over.) This evolvement is so gradual, that most experienced scythers adjust for it completely unconsciously. They just feel for the correct angle automatically each time they hone.
The steeper angles will be less work, and more effective, to do with a coarser grit. So if you've been mowing a lot, and the Rozsutec isn't working very well anymore (and you don't want to take the time to re-peen your edge), you can switch to the next coarser grit stone that you have, and get more mileage out of your edge. If you do this however, you will need to peen your edge more thoroughly, when you finally do peen. I find that over-all, it's less work (both in terms of mowing and peening) to do light touch-up peenings more often, so that I maintain the edge at a level where the Rozsutec stone works continuously, than it is to really wear down my edge with coarser stones, and then have to thoroughly re-peen the edge each time. "Well peened, is half mowed."
I do use quite a bit of torque, or pressure, with a Rozsutec stone, because it is so very hard and fine. If I was using a coarser stone on the exact same blade, I would use less pressure. The same angle, but less pressure, because the grit would be more aggressive and do more of the work for me. It would produce a coarser edge though, which you would feel as a "bite" when mowing. The "bite" that you describe sounds, like it's from a rather coarse edge. It sounds to me that your edge is roughly sharp, and cutting more like a serrated knife. A finely peened and honed blade, would slice through the grass very smoothly, and the cut grass would "swoosh" over to the side in a cascade, with each full field stroke, and it's sharpness would last a much longer time, and would be easily restored with a whetstone.
Heavy vegetation does wear an edge faster than light vegetation. If I'm mowing something like mature Goldenrod, I'll switch to a bush blade to save the wear on the edge of my grass blade, so I don't have to re-peen it as often.
As for the initial honing after peening, if you are a beginner and are peening free-hand, I do recommend first honing the edge with a softer stone like the white Bregenser (not the blue), followed by the Rozsutec. If a beginner doesn't get the edge peened out as thin as an expert would, using the soft stone first will help taper out the edge further so that the Rozsutec can do a better job. This is similar to why they use a coarse artificial whetstone after using a peening jig, followed by a medium whetstone like the Bregenser. Peening jigs don't taper out the edge as far as free-hand peening does, so you need a pretty aggressive stone to initiate the job. Then this is followed with the stone that you would use in the field. I address this in my peening manual.
Hope this info helps.
May 23, 2013
I'm not sure if you remember me, but I purchased one of your Two Flags Doppelbock whetstones last year.
Well, I have just started mowing again this year and I have, possibly for the first time, experienced real elation while mowing.
Part of this may be that my grass has settled down after three seasons of mowing - it stands better and now is developing a more diverse flora. Part may be that I'm improving and using a better blade and better fitting (home made) snath.
But a big part, I think, goes to the whetstone. I'm having to hone far less frequently now and my scythe just whistles through the grass taking 6 to 9 inch strips with ease. A quick hone when it starts to drag a bit and away it goes again - fantastic.
They're expensive, but as you say worth every penny. I'm going to buy a few more next time my travels take me to the US.
Many thanks - Paul