Cutting hay with a scythe is addictive, and, sooner or later, you will want to get deeper into this activity. One way to get more involved is to build your own snath, or scythe handle. This is a basic woodworking project with nearly limitless variations. The snath can be beautiful, or functional, or both. You will get satisfaction from creating a useful tool with your hands, and the process of setting up a scythe from scratch will give you a deeper understanding of how a scythe works. Ultimately, you will be a better mower.
A snath is a tool for holding the scythe blade next to the ground while the mower stands upright in a comfortable position. A snath has two handles, or sometimes just one handle, and hardware called a ring clamp to hold the blade. This is all that a snath is. If you keep this simple concept in mind, you cannot go wrong in building a snath.
A snath can be made from stock lumber, laminated wood or a stick from a shrub or small tree. They can also be welded out of aluminum or steel. The simplest snath is made by walking through the woods and looking for a branch of the correct shape. You want a bend of about 15 degrees towards the bottom for most blades. The bend will help make it possible for the blade to ride along the ground with the sharp end slightly elevated.
The snath should be at least long enough so that it reaches from the ground to your chin. For a two-handled snath,
the top handle should be at the height of the mower’s chin and the bottom handle at the peak of the pelvis (a bit higher
than your hip). Many rustic snaths only have the lower handle, but, in this case, the snath should be a bit longer. All
of this advice is just a jumping off point for customizing the snath for the exact person and situation. The mower should
not have to stoop for the blade to lay on the ground correctly. So fit the snath and handles accordingly.
Another technique is to rip some thin layers of wood and laminate a snath into the shape required. I built my latest snath using this technique. Starting with my “store bought” snath as a pattern, I duplicated what I liked and improvised elsewhere.
The handles were turned on the lathe from elm, and the laminations were cut from a nice piece of Douglas fir I had sitting around.
After building up the basic tool with glue and clamps, I spent a couple hours with a draw knife and block plane removing wood and
creating a pleasing shape. For attaching the blade, I used hardware from an antique, rotten scythe on my farm. You can also buy
ring clamps from any outfit that sells scythe blades.
The most important part is attaching the blade. Leave the snath long at the bottom, and start whittling it back and doing test fittings with the blade. The blade should slide along the ground with the sharp end angled up slightly and the tip also off the ground. Cut the snath to length, and shape the end where the blade is clamped to achieve this configuration.