Using a scythe is called mowing, or often scything, to distinguish it from mowing with more complex machinery. Mowing is done by holding the top handle in the left hand and the central one in the right, with the arms straight, the blade parallel to the ground and very close to it, and the body twisted to the right. The body is then twisted steadily to the left, moving the scythe blade along its length in a long arc from right to left, ending in front of the mower, thus depositing the cut grass to the left. Mowing proceeds with a steady rhythm, stopping at frequent intervals to sharpen the blade. The correct technique has a slicing action on the grass, cutting a narrow strip with each stroke – a common beginner's error is to chop or hack at the grass, with the blade length at right angles to it, thus trying to cut too wide a strip of grass at once. This is much harder work, and is ineffective. Cutting too close to the ground can contaminate the blade with soil, rapidly blunting it. Much of the skill is in keeping the blade close to the ground and the cuts even.
Mowing is normally done cutting out of the uncut grass, the mower moving along the mowing-edge with the uncut grass to their right. The cut grass is laid in a neat row to the left, on the previously mown land. Each strip of ground mown by a scythe is called a swathe (pronounced /ˈsweɪð/: rhymes with "bathe") or swath (/ˈswɒθ/: rhymes with "Goth"). Mowing may be done by a team of mowers, usually starting at the edges of a meadow then proceeding clockwise and finishing in the middle. Mowing grass is easier when it is damp, and so hay-making traditionally began at dawn and often stopped early, the heat of the day being spent raking and carting the hay cut on previous days.
Mowing with a scythe is a skilled task, performed with relative ease by experienced mowers, but often poorly and with very great effort by beginners. Long-bladed traditional scythes with double-curved wooden snaiths are harder to use at first, but once mastered are more effective and comfortable for longer periods. Shorter-bladed or hack-scythes are easier for beginners. A skilled mower using a traditional long-bladed scythe can even cut very short grass, and this is how lawns were maintained until the invention of the lawnmower.
In addition to mowing grass and reaping crops, a scythe can also be used for mowing reed or sedge, remaining effective even with the blade under water.
The scythe and pitchfork have frequently been used as a weapon by those who couldn't afford or didn't have access to more expensive weapons such as swords, or later, guns. As a result, scythes and pitchforks are stereotypically carried by angry mobs or gangs of enraged peasants.
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