Wet or Dry Sharpening
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  1. #1
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    Default Wet or Dry Sharpening

    My son bought himself an Austrian-style scythe. Brought it here for help setting it up. I have a fair bit of experience with American-style scythes, and find them more rugged than the Austrian, but he is spending his own money and learning.

    The lit with the tool recommends thinning the edge by peening, which I think carries unacceptable risk of a rippled edge. But maybe the steel is too soft, and needs the work-hardening?

    Also recommended is wetting the stone before whetting (sorry, could not resist)

    My experience with all types of honing, grinding, stoning, is that merely wet is never a good idea because swarf becomes mud and clogs the stone. Flooded is great, but dry beats merely wet, whether with water or oil, because dry swarf is dust that falls away, or can be blown away, but damp swarf makes mud.

    I know what I would do, but do not want to go out on a limb against the advice of the Austrian scythe "experts".

    What say you all, fellow keepers of mechanical arcana?

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    What kind of stones are you using?

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    If they recommend peening in the literature, there is probably a good reason. Give it a go, after all it’s a learning experience. I’ve actually found the paste (mud) generated by using a wet stone to be helpful in polishing blades to a fine edge. It gives the effect of lapping.

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    It will depend upon what type of stone you're using but if it's a natural (Novaculite, Limestone, Japanese type)or carborundum (India) then I'd say use it wet. Yes it makes "mud" and is a bit messy but the liquid helps keep the metal particles in suspension rather than adhering to the stone. Once metal particles have clogged the pores in a stone, then a shiny surface appearance, it will greatly reduce the ability to cut. You're basically burnishing at that point rather than cutting/abrading. If you're using diamond or one of the synthetic types then I'd follow the manufacturer's instructions. For the abrasives I've previously mentioned I can see no benefit to using them dry. Oil, mineral spirits, kerosene, alcohol, or even soapy water works better than dry. JMO.
    Last edited by AD Design; 09-12-2019 at 03:20 AM. Reason: Additional thought

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    I use three Bester ceramic stones and a final pass on Japanese water stone. Before the sharpening the stones are soaked in water for a few minutes.
    I find that plain old spit is the best lubricant when sharpening. And a occasional lapping of the stones to each other from one grade to the next.

    The residuals from a bunch of passes on a stone are what gets the final edge.

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    Without getting too fancy:

    I suspect that the peening was to thin the edge of a scythe to something approximating a cutting edge. People using scythes often carried a sharpening stone with them. This was often used dry, and might have been nothing more than a piece of sandstone. There is a youtube from Ireland made in maybe the 1970's, in which some brothers on a farm quarry sandstone and shape it into scythe stones for sale. These stones are about the size and shape of a "sub", "hoagie, "hero", or "grinder" roll (bread, and the terms refer to regional names for the sandwich made on these rolls). Apparently, the stones were used dry or wet.

    If the Austrian scythe can be peened, then the steel is initially quite soft. The peening will work-harden the steel locally, aside from thinning the blade to approximate the cutting edge.

    Take a clue from the old farmers here in the USA. They had grindstones made from soft natural sandstone. These grindstones were often driven by a foot treadle or hand crank. The farmers either had a can of water with a nail hole in the bottom hung to drip onto the wheel, or they cut a piece of an old tire and made a
    trough for water that the bottom half of the wheel dipped into. Either way, they used the grindstones wet. Plenty of axes, scythes, meat cleavers, butcher knives and and more were sharpened to keen edges on those old grind stones.

    There were elongated "almond" or "lozenge" shaped stones, and a stone with an "oval" cross section with file-like ridging on it (all were gray, aluminum oxide abrasive) which were sold for sharpening tools like scythes and sickles. The shape of the stone allowed it to be carried in an overall pocket. Oldtimers using scythes would touch up the cutting edge with this sort of stone, using it dry. My father bought a scythe at a farm auction in 1955, and used it to take down some tall grass around a place we were staying on vacation. Dad sharpened the scythe wet on a grindstone, and used an oval shaped stone to touch up the cutting edge, using the stone dry. Dad had been an Ag student at Cornell during the '30's, and had co-op'd on farms back when farming was done with draft horses and scythes were in common use. I learned a lot from my father, and the old scythe hangs in my garage to this day. Truth to tell, I tried using it once or twice. A Husqvarna brush trimmer with steel blade (or carbide toothed brush blade) is my 'druthers. The scythe has not been off the garage wall in well over 25 years.

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    Thanks for all the thoughts.

    The stone my son got is a long ellipse, with a nearly square cross-section. Looks like Al2O3. The oval-section scythe stones I have used, like the ones Joe Michaels described, certainly are, and the long-ellipse of the newer stone looks like a way to slow the process of thinning in the middle, which eventually turns the parallel style into two stones, each too short to easily and safely use on a scythe.

    I have one of the old pedalled, natural Ohio sandstone grinding wheel outfits, with a can to drip water on it, and after very-laborious truing many years ago, it does great work. It is the best compromise I have found between swift and poor , and slow and good, ways of sharpening most tools. I have even used it to sharpen twist-drills, although the electric bench-grinder is surely easier.

    The instructions with the new Austrian scythe show two techniques for peening, both designed to minimize stretching of the metal along the length of the blade, which would ripple it. One recommends a cross-pein hammer used with a matching anvil, length of pein parallel to edge, and the other uses a series of two clever die-sets with circular faces, with the edge laid as a chord of the circle.

    The suggestion that a partially loaded stone polishes makes sense, but my feeling is that a rather ragged edge, such as would be produced by the coarse grit of the scythe-stone, actually cuts grass better than a polished one. All the scythes I have used have been soft, and required sharpening from both sides to control the wire-edge.

    I wonder if the softness is needed to prevent brittle failure? Seems a sword failing due to brittleness would have graver consequences than a scythe, but , then, I do not know how hard swords were generally tempered. Or is the softness of scythes because they were made to a price-point for impecunious farmers, and better steel and careful hardening of a long-thin blade would be too expensive?

    I suppose my son will follow the instructions, and I will hold my tongue, at least until the stone becomes unuseably loaded.

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    A lot of the action of a scythe comes from the "micro-grooving" by the stone used for sharpening.

    You don't necessarily want a "razor edge" to a scythe. Better that the grind marks present a sort of "teeth action" to the severing of stalks. The sharpening action of the old fashioned "scythe stones" is EXACTLY what is required - and done in the usual manner right to left seen formed the proper angle for use by the scythe blade/operator.

    Some discussion of this in a book whose name and author escapes me now, but was set in the early part of the 20th century and told the tale of "Grandpa" - and the way he did things and lived in southeastern Vermont probably a hundred years earlier.

    I have the book here somewhere. I'll think on it and if I come to the right thought, I'll come back.

    Edit: "A Book of Country Things" by Walter Needham (as told to Barrows Mussey)

    Another book whose name also escapes - tells about "English Scythes" which were soft and sharpened in the work-hardening "hammering" method of the OP. Not considered as effective in use - although longer lived between sharpenings - and overall on the blade. This may be "A Museum of Early American Tools" by Eric Sloane.

    Joe in NH

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    Lots of discussion here:

    sharpening a sythe - Google Search

    I too have my fathers brush scythe, and would use it on my overgrown back yard if I knew where it was.

    Paul

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    Most of the time I lurk on this board with no professional machine shop experience, I yield to the experts here and have learned much about machine tools over the years. However I can speak to this topic with some hands on experience, having owned and used both Austrian and American style scythes.

    Bought my first Austrian scythe 14 years ago after getting tired of fooling around mixing two stroke mix, loading string and when it worked taking a shower in weed cuttings that often contained poison ivy. The scythe seemed a viable option.

    A short time later, after some horse trading with a buddy, I ended up with a modern version of the classic american scythe. Rather than a steam bent oak handle, it has a thin wall aluminum tube handle bent to the same shape as the wood handle. It was marked tru temper, my friend said he bought it new around 1980. Its interesting that the blade is clearly made to the classic american design, but it was made in Austria.

    First off comparing Austrian to American style scythes is apples to oranges. Austrian scythes are light, flexible and tough. It is forged to have a stiffening rib opposite the edge. From rib to edge, blade thickness varies from .160" to .025". The blade is somewhat soft perhaps similar to normalized medium carbon steel. Hardness is similar to an axe: hard but can be filed. Peining the blade is necessary occasionally. Grinding on this type blade I believe would be a mistake, high probability of spoiling the blade. For most sharpening I use a medium grit elliptical water stone and carry it it with me to the field in a water tight holster about half full of water. When the cutting edge loses its keenness a few strokes with the stone brings the edge right back.

    The American scythe blade is flat across most of its width with a stamped rib neAr the rear and a raised rib along the rear edge. It is arched like a banana along its length. Thickness varies from .275" to .095" near the cutting edge. The blade does seem to be a little harder that the true Austrian style blade. A file does scratch it but doesn't want to take a nice cut. To sharpen, I have used a 1/2" square ceramic stone that is fairly coarse. In use the edge can be touched up with the water stone as needed.

    For cutting grass and weeds the Austrian style is better. It is light and less fatiguing to use. It works the best on green wet grass with the dew still on it. Once the grass has dried some it is more difficult to cut.
    Brown dried grass and weeds don't cut well at all.

    For cutting grass and weeds containing light brush up to 3/4" dia the American style scythe shines. If the stem is too big the blade is stout enough to allow pulling the brush out by the roots. Just let the blade bite into the stem close to the handle an give it a good sharp tug and privet and sweet gum will often come right out. Try the same thing with the Austrian grass blade and it will likely make an unhappy popping sound.

    My go to scythe is an Austrian "gardeners" style with a 16" blade. It does what my string trimmer used to. Trim around trees, near the house and keep the ditch clear of weeds. The other Austrian has a 26" grass cutting blade meant primarily for mowing, I don't use this or the American style scythe very much anymore.

    If you are interested in learning more about the Austrian scythe do a web search for the sites "scythe supply" and "scythe connection".

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  14. #11
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    AND - to mirror the comments above - there is a difference between a scythe and a SNATH. The scythe is the narrow bladed designed for grasses and grains. A snath is similar to a scythe, but the blade is thicker and shorter and more reinforced. And designed for brush up to perhaps 1/2" diameter.

    In with my grandfather's garden tools was the complete setup. The steamed bent wood handle, and the two blades. The steamed handle had two "adjustable" pegs as hand-holds, and the bottom a fixture to take either of the two blades. He had used the snath a fair amount in the time since he bought it post WWII, but the scythe was virtually untouched. Which was in keeping with his needs. IIRC, the kit came with the stone as well and this used apparently on either in the manner I describe above.

    I tried using the scythe when done up with an oilstone and it would cut nice for a short time, but necessitated a trip back to the shop to "re-stone" for continued ease of use. Meanwhile, the fairly course pocket stone on a handle I could carry in my back pocket, and whip it across the blade every half hour or so - and keep on cutting as before.

    Just a different operating modus I guess.

    Joe in NH


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