Saturday, April 28, 2012

A scythe, antique razors, and a wild salad

Well, we had a very busy but productive weekend. Our good friend Tyler showed up for a house show- he's th' mastermind of th' band Insomniac Folklore. As we had some folk request a wild salad for th' potluck, me and Tyler went on a foraging trip to see what we could find. I knew it was linden leaf season, so we planned on these as th' base.

Tyler under th' Linden Leaves...
You wanna get these while they're still young and waxy looking... they have a very mild flavor that slightly resembles th' flowers that will appear a bit later. Few people will object to them in a salad.  You've got about two weeks of good harvest time here, so that's a pretty small window... thus th' two very happy campers you see.


With th' base gathered, we set off to see what else we can find...

Is that? Is that? Yep, asparagus. A bit early for around here, but this spring has been so hot and dry that timing based on previous years means next to nothing. Just to prove that, we also found milkweed popping up already, which is usually a few weeks to a month later than asparagus.

young milkweed with flower bud.

It'll be an interesting year for foraging. Which is fine by me, it keeps us guessing... hunting, searching, ever learning, never thinking we know it all, or have it all figured out, which is the enemy of adventure. Here's some nice young asparagus close up, and next to it is a young horsetail, or scouring rush... these make excellent sandpaper.

horsetail and asparagus

We ate a bunch of asparagus in th' field, and also saved some for th' salad. After that we gathered up a bunch of young lamb's quarters, aka, wild spinach.

didn't bring a bag, had to use my shirt

Then we came across a nice patch of Bull-rush. These were traditionally eaten similar to cattail, th' roots are starchy, but lack th' itch that cattail has. We pulled up a bunch for th' tender core at th' base. This is a very mild vegetable with little flavor and a lot of water, kinda like a water chestnut, but softer.

Young Bullrush stand
Here's th' bullrush with th' part you want to eat on th' right. Native americans also made boats and houses from these plants, as they are filled with a spongy type core that floats and makes very good insulation. 

Now i've found that th' best way to store most wild greens is to put them in a container of cool water. This way they'll last for several days, and they don't dry out like they do in our fridge. We change th' water every day and that's all it takes.  Here's our salad...linden, lamb's quarters, asparagus, bullrush, milkweed, and catmint. Turned out pretty well, and it's always nice foraging with a friend.

wild salad soaking

Also, while Tyler was here he showed us his new found treasure, old razors.

antique shaving razors
He decided he was done throwing away razors, and sought these out. Being a knife lover, i was very impressed, these are high quality steel, with a really nice hollow grind bevel on them. They are friction folders, and th' one on th' left has a handle of cow horn, with the inscription "King of Whiskers" on it. I think he said he paid three dollars for these. I imagine finding one and with a little work on a grinder to change th' shape just a bit, making a really nice sloyd knife.

He'd been looking for someone to sharpen them for him, and kept being met with a nope, can't do it. I can do it i told him, better yet, you can do it. I made him a strop, and in th' morning we got out th' stones to put a razors edge on a razor. It's a very empowering thing to know how to really sharpen a knife... and Tyler was smiling throughout th' learning process. Like any skill, it takes more than a day to learn, but it is nice to get your feet on th' path.

Sharpening tools

We got out th' stone collection, strop, and magnifying glass. Here's Tyler having a go at it.

coarse grit.
ceramic, extra fine

stropping, look at that smile.

After putting a good edge on these, Tyler went to try them out. He came out a few minutes later looking quite pleased, and a bit more clean cut...He put a razors edge on his razor, and shaved with it. All after being told repeatedly, even by barbers, that you can't sharpen razors and have to throw them away and buy new ones... What's th' world come to? These things are old enough to be his grandparents, and he just shaved with them.

lookin good Ty!

And, to top off th' whole weekend, we got a package in th' mail from Peter Vido of Scythe Connection, two blades. I've had a couple of old american scythes for a few months now, and they are stout, heavy beasts. Th' first thing that struck me about these new blades was how light they are. Both of them together weigh less than one of my american scythes. Th' next thing i felt was their great balance. These are really fine instruments, swords that you cut grass with. In comparison to our old blades, it's like riding around on a Huffy Bicycle, then getting on a really nice road bike.

austrian and italian made scythe blades.

So then i was faced with th' challenge of making my own snath (scythe handle). It may seem simple, but there's so many variables and subtleties that it can be overwhelming. For some great reasons to make your own snath, look here. I studied and studied th' pics on scythe connections website, and figured out a few things, then set about making one. Following th' Vido's advice, i foraged my own wood and used only hand tools for construction. Th' main wood is Alder, with a willow handle. I carved it with a knife, and sanded it with some locally found sandstone. Th' handle has a locust thorn in it to keep it from twisting or coming loose.

scythe with wild wood snath

 I made some mistakes, and will make another one right away, (snath that is, hopefully,) with improvements, and another handle at th' top. But, i did mow our lawn with it. I've never been so excited to mow th' lawn. It was relaxing, a bit like slow dancing, and our answer to th' exhaust and noise and destruction caused by lawn mowers. And, i was easily able to mow around th' Salsify growing in th' yard. Here's me and Beth trying it out.

This really surprised me with how well it cut, not sure why considering it used to be the only way to cut grass. But needless to say, i'm hooked on scything, and if you're interested in this fascinating tool, check out th' links on our sidebar that have to do with scything.

look out grass, here i come!
And to finish th' weekend, Fynn was very excited about th' spring pole lathe, and asked me if he could try it too. This is made entirely of local wood, with only two metal parts to it, I'll write more about this on our crafts blog later. Adios.

Fynn on th' spring pole lathe.


  1. That's one funky-looking snath! We always used Austrian blades on American-style snaths and used only stones to sharpen them. I want to buy or make a proper snath and then learn how to peen the blades, instead of using the stone so much.

  2. My friend uses a straight razor. He also did a short workshop one time on it's use. If I ever shave again I will be using one.

  3. Rico,
    You're right to say there's a whole lot to making snaths, they're subtle - I'm still learning.
    Something to keep in mind is the alignment of your hands with the blade. When looking down the snath, like in the 2nd scythe pic, if you make a straight line through your hand positions, it should cross the blade at about one-third of the blade's length from the tang. On your snath, the hand grip is too far over to the right so you've got to do extra work with your wrist to keep the blade right on the ground.
    I've got some photos somewhere that show this really well and will post them up on my scythe blog
    all the best,

  4. Say I love the pole lathe. Might you provide more photos and even a design discussion? Jeromy from the Finger Lakes.

    1. yes jeromy, i will do that in th' future, th' lathe in the above picture has been cremated... th' one is use now is more stationary, but it's in my garage surrounded by stacks of wood and plant stalks, bad pictures... but i'll do a post on it soon... in th' meantime check out and - they've got great stuff and have been th' biggest inspiration to my turning... cheers