Sharpen the blade

By crispinheneise / On / In Engineering Daybook

I’m a bit of a Luddite.

My least favorite tool in my tool shed is the weed whacker. I hate the smell of it, the mess it makes, the way it splatters bits of grass and weeds all over my legs. But most of all I hate the noise. There’s nothing worse than ruining a fine, sunny mid-morning with the noise, smell, and mess of the whacker.

That’s why I prefer to cut weeds with a scythe and a sickle. Scything and sickling are just as effective, and they let me enjoy the sunshine, the smell of the air, and the company of my children while I work in the garden without disturbing the peace.

A sickle is a short blade with an extreme curve. The handle is held in the right hand, and the grass or weeds that you’re cutting are grasped in the left. You slide the curve of the blade across the clump of grass, and it slices through the grass at the base.

Of course, with a sickle you have to be very careful not to cut your left hand; a leather glove is highly recommended. It might seem backwards, but the sharper the blade, the safer it is. A dull blade requires more force to cut through the grass, which increases the chance and severity of a cut to the hand. A sharp blade will cut through even the toughest grass like a hot knife through butter.

The scythe is a longer blade mounted on the end of a specially-shaped wooden shaft called a “snath”. It’s basically a sword on a stick. (Picture the Grim Reaper: that’s a scythe.) The scythe is less curved than the sickle, and longer. To cut grass or weeds with the scythe, the handle on the end of snath is held with the left hand, and middle handle with the right hand. The blade is propelled horizontally an inch or two above the ground level by twisting the body from right to left.

A sharp scythe blade slices through even the toughest grass like a razor. A dull blade will just fold the grass over, leaving it uncut.

It’s tempting, when the grass starts folding over, to just work harder. Swing harder. Put more muscle into it. But this will just make the problem worse, and will further dull the blade. It’ll use more energy, and it won’t work as well in the long run.

The answer is to pause and sharpen the blade.

Part of every scythe outfit is a whetstone. This smooth stone goes wherever the scythe goes, and is used to put a keen edge on the bade while out in the field. Every now and then, when the cut becomes harder, you pause and spend a few moments to sharpen the blade.

Do you ever find yourself working too hard on something? When the going gets tough, the tough… what? Try harder?

The tough might try harder, but the smart will pause and sharpen the blade. What are some ways you can sharpen your blade today?

Also published on Medium.

%d bloggers like this: