Earlier this summer the Marshall School welcomed Barbara Brueggemann as the new head of school. Barbara is an accomplished cross country runner, former basketball player and a person who is very interested in all sports. As the Nordic ski coach and trail groomer at Marshall, I was very excited to welcome Barbara to the campus and show her around the ski trails. After an initial tour of the trails, I discovered that Barbara was more than just interested in the trails; she also wanted to be a part of maintaining the trails for running and skiing. I shared with Barbara my interest in hand mowing of the trails using a scythe. To my surprise, she asked me to do some research on scythes and to order one for her so that she could help with the mowing of the trails.

After doing an internet search, I found the Scythe Supply Company located in Perry, Maine. www.scythesupply.com Their website was filled with fascinating information on hand mowing. They supply handmade Austrian scythe blades and manufacture handmade, custom fitted European style snaths (handles). For those new to scythes the American snath is bent and the European style snath is straight. The blades are different as well. The American style blades are longer, heavier and designed to be sharpened with a grindstone. The Austrian blades are cold forged and sharpened by a combination of peening and frequent whetting with a natural stone. Peening is a sharpening process that involves placing the edge of the blade on a special anvil or jig and repeatedly striking the edge of the blade with a hammer. This process “moves” and shapes the edge to the proper shape. The Austrian blades are then whetted after every 5-10 minutes of mowing.

Here are some things that I really like about hand mowing of ski trails by using a scythe. For a skier, the actual mowing is a great workout. The rhythm of mowing is similar to skiing. It involves learning technique and there is room for individuality. The mowing is quiet and no fossil fuels are burned when hand mowing. I have also enjoyed learning how to sharpen and repair nicks in the blade. The hand mowed trail looks great and it is possible to mow a large area quickly. According to The Scythe Book, an acre of land was what a typical worker could mow in a day’s time.

Our goal on the Marshall Ski trail is to mow as much of the trail as possible using a scythe. We have just 3.5 kilometers of trail and a good portion of that trail is covered in woodchips or is athletic field. We mainly use the scythe for the edges of the trail and in the woods. I currently have a bush blade which is shorter and heavier. It is designed for cutting heavy brush and small saplings. It is very effective on tansy and the brush on the edges of the trail. Barbara uses a ditch blade that works very well in heavy grass and light brush.

If you have any questions on mowing with a scythe or would like to learn more, please feel free to email me at djohnson@marshallschool.org or visit the Scythe Supply website. They have been very helpful providing equipment and helping us to learn about this “forgotten” art.
Mowing Marshall

Photos by Dave Johnson