Practicing on Strips of Sheet Metal
When you get your first scythe, it can be very intimidating to hammer away on your expensive new scythe blade in order to sharpen it. Most of us have had some, or even a lot of experience with hammering nails, but peening, namely hammering metal to thin it out, is a completely new experience, and a rather foreign concept. Berhard Lehnert suggests in his book on peening, called Dengeln, that you can practice on scrap pieces of metal banding strips before trying your hand at peening your scythe blade. I tried that out, but the banding strips I had access to where made of a very hard steel, and I found peening them to be a rather miserable experience. My scything friend Monica, who also read Lehnert's book, did some research and experiments, and discovered that the 22 gauge sheet metal commonly available in hardware stores were made of a steel just a little softer than our European scythe blades, and could be cut into strips for peening practice. She was kind enough to send me a couple of strips in the mail to try out. To my delight, I found that practicing peening on these strips of sheet metal was actually fun! I really enjoyed it.
They are thicker and softer than the edge of a scythe blade, so everything you do is quite a bit more exaggerated, but it makes for some great practice, and quickly teaches you to have some finesse with your hammer strikes. I enjoy them for just warming up, as well, before peening blades for customers. I also like them for practicing more advanced peening techniques that I don't use very often.
I started incorporating these sheet metal practice strips into my scythe workshops in 2015. People usually have some apprehension about attempting to peen their scythe blades for the first time. When starting out with these practice strips first, quickly leads to big smiles and laughter. I find them to be a great teaching aid.
It is very easy to clearly see how a scythe anvil and hammer are designed to hammer the edge to draw it out and thin it down, with these practice strips Since the peening effects are more exaggerated on the thicker, softer sheet metal edge, it helps you quickly develop some finesse and consistency with your hammer strikes, before attempting to peen a scythe blade. Peening on your actual scythe blade won't be as dramatic. The metal will be harder and thinner to start with, and therefore will move in smaller increments. And if you start with the method I outlined in my manuals on my Peening Workshop page, and only peen the very edge (as opposed to starting starting a distance in from the edge and working your way out), the chance of doing any serious damage is very minute. Any unevenness will be worn away eventually by the act of mowing and honing. So have no fear, yes you can peen your own scythe blade!
I include a strip of practice sheet metal in the peening kits that I sell. Once you have read my manuals, try out the hammer drawing and packing hammer strikes and see how evenly you can draw out the metal at the edge of these practice strips. Your results may be quite zagged at first, but will get better with practice. These strips can be filed or ground back down on a bench grinder, and you can use them again. Once you get a better feel for peening, an exercise that I recommend is to keep track of your passes by peening one inch less per pass, so you end up with a practice strip that looks like the photo above and below, with the amount of metal drawn out by each pass being clearly illustrated. On the first pass with the drawing hammer strike, I left an inch of metal unpeened for #0. On the second pass I stopped leaving an inch of the first pass for #1, etc. On this strip I was doing the drawing hammer strike. On the 5th pass it stopped being very effective and I repeated it for #6. Then on the 7th pass I switched to my packing or sharpening hammer strike (see manual 2) to finish out the edge. You can clearly demonstrate how much metal you can move and thin out by just repeatedly peening the very edge.
I hope this article inspires you to give freehand peening a try, and that you enjoy the learning process. Yes, you can!
- Botan Anderson