Garden Gear - Garden Tools

A scythe renaissance

No longer just for the grim reaper, this handy tool is making a comeback in gardens across North America

Imagine being able to listen to the birds while you mow the lawn or trim the weeds. With weed whackers on the environmental-do-not-use list, the quiet and efficient scythe is enjoying a comeback.

The exact origins of this ancient tool have been lost, but we do know the Greeks and Romans used them. Scythes migrated to Europe in the 12th century and were eventually brought to the New World by the settlers. In the mid 1900s, scythes were slowly replaced by mechanized harvesters and lawnmowers. With a renewed focus on sustainable gardening, they can be an efficient alternative.

“A scythe is a good investment since it lasts a lifetime,” says Peter Vido, founder of Scythe Connection. “There’s nothing to break, nothing to plug in, nothing headed for a landfill.” The versatile scythe has a deceptively simple design: A curved blade is mounted on a long, wooden shaft, known as the snath. Handles on the snath let the user stand upright while swinging the scythe back and forth in a sweeping motion to cut grass, weeds or bush. Although you can cut anything in the yard, beginners will get the most satisfaction using their scythe as they would a weed whacker to prune back unwanted growth and trim garden edges.

Originally from Slovakia, Peter grew up watching scythes being used for urban landscaping. But he didn’t pick one up until he started his ecological farm in New Brunswick. He was soon hooked and began experimenting with designs and improvements, going as far as Austria to speak with blade craftsmen. Today Peter builds custom-made artisan scythes and teaches scythe workshops alongside his wife, children and brother Alexander. 

Peter is the first to admit there have been some “stumbling blocks on the path to the scythe’s widespread use.” Being associated with the Grim Reaper hasn’t helped, but its reputation as a backbreaking and difficult tool can be traced to the North American scythe. Heavy, cumbersome and difficult to sharpen, the American scythe is the one most commonly found in retail stores.

Finding the right scythe
Experts like Peter recommend the European scythe. The lighter and stronger blade make it easier to wield and the elegant, ergonomic design means you can stand upright while mowing or clearing, which is easier on the back.

The secret to success is twofold. When it comes to scythes, one size does not fit all. Stay away from the generic brands. A made-to-measure scythe can make the difference between enjoying your environmentally friendly mower or not.

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