It’s Time to Give the Push-Powered Lawn Mower a Shot
If it works for you, this old-timey contraption can be pleasant, healthy, and downright restorative.
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The time to mow is upon us. Old shoes have been unearthed, Airpods are charged, Saturday mornings cleared, and people everywhere are frantically googling information about sparkplugs and the best mower fuel.
This year, try something new. I come to you singing the praises of the reel mower. Also known as a hand mower, a manual mower, or that thing on a stick dads from the 1950s walked behind while merrily chatting with neighbors. The reel mower eschews a motor entirely, cutting each blade of grass based on the strength of the person pushing it. Despite how it sounds (exhausting), I swear that it is not difficult. In these warming days of spring, I eye my little Scotts reel mower that’s leaning pleasantly in the corner of the garage like a kindly ghost from a bygone era, and yearn to once again hear its pleasant snip snip snip.
Garden Glory Swedish Garden Hose Nozzle Set 195 – 258
I was not always like this. When I first bought my house, my brother-in-law, who owns a landscaping business, so naturally has a lot of lawn mower machine prowess, bequeathed me an extra lawn mower he had lying around: an orange, tank-like thing, ready for real work. I spent one magnificent summer walking behind it, but its maintenance was more than my postage-stamp-size yard really required. Blade sharpening, spark plug changing, and winterizing (not to mention the scream of the engine and the way it occupied garage space) all made a traditional mower seem a bit like cutting a peanut butter sandwich with a chainsaw.
I mentioned at one point to my other brother—who serves, unpaid, as my home-ownership therapist—that I had been considering switching to a reel mower. “Like this?,” he texted back, sending a picture of one sitting in his garage. He offered me a temporary trade: my huge orange tank, which he wanted to tune up for fun, for his reel mower. We have quietly never traded back.
The rewards are many. The grass is healthier, each blade snipped neatly at its end rather than whacked by a merciless, spinning death machine, so it heals better. It’s better for the environment than a gas-powered lawn mower—the reel mower emits zilch in terms of carbon whereas using a gas-powered lawn mower for just one hour is the environmental equivalent of driving almost 100 miles. And it’s better for me. It has turned mowing my lawn into something meditative and aerobic that I can fit in neatly whenever I want, especially since it’s so quiet. The mower requires almost no maintenance, beyond a little WD-40 when the wheels start to squeak.
It’s a great option for anyone with a perfectionist’s eye, too. All those precision scissor cuts can create something perfectly uniform, with snips at right angles across every blade, creating a more aesthetically defined front yard. They’re frequently used to create the diamond pattern on baseball fields and to create pristine, inch-length grass on putting greens.
Despite its long list of pros, there are, of course, a few cons. Truthfully, it can be a little finicky. The mower stops dead in its tracks when a twig gets in the way. Grass will sometimes push over rather than cut, particularly if you’ve gone a day or two longer than you should’ve between trims, too. In these instances, it’s best to back up and try the patch from another angle. Lastly, it’s worth being very clear that it’s unfeasible to use one for a massive yard—mine is under 2,000 square feet, making this whole thing very doable.
Think of it as the standing desk of lawn care: You’re going to look a little bit pretentious, or at least precious, wheeling out your little old-timey mowing contraption. But I am here to say that all of this is worth it. It’s nice, after all, to be a little precious about your yard, to care a little more about the wellbeing of each blade of grass up there, each of its divots and thick patches. The cost investment is minimal—a brand new reel mower is roughly a third of the cost of a new gas-powered motor, and there are always a few used ones for sale online—and the upside is enormous. Every time I hear an engine roar just so someone can go beast mode on their front lawn I become more certain that I’m never going back.
To help make things a little easier, we’ve rounded up four reel mowers to help you tackle this mowing season.
Do You Know How to Sharpen Your Push Mower?
I realize there are only 7 of us in the world that use a push mower, but for the other 6 in our small club? THIS is a special day for you. I’m going to show you how to get those mower blades sharp enough to even cut those weird, hard, weedy stems that the mower always misses.
Say hello to my push mower. It’s green and red and old. Not olden days old, but old. Floppy disk old.
I knew how to tighten the blades on this push mower so they ran across the metal bar properly, but I could never quite figure out how to actually sharpen it.
How to Adjust Your Reel Mower Blades
To move the cutters closer to the bar so your lawn mower makes that cool “click, click, click” sound reminiscent of an episode of Leave it to Beaver, you just have to tighten the blade tightening bolts on either side of the lawn mower.
What Do I Need for Reel Lawn Mower Repair?
Sharpening kits containing tools, grinding paste, and instructions are available through larger hardware stores and home centers.
Replacement parts are available from the manufacturer and aftermarket suppliers and from mower shops, local hardware stores, and home improvement centers. The tools you will need to fix a reel lawn mower include these:
Best Wide Cutting Width Reel Mower—Scotts Reel Mower
This Scotts manual reel mower is packed with features, including seven adjustable cutting heights, an ergonomic handle, tool-less assembly, a ball bearing reel, and five blades made of heat-treated steel alloy.
The blade cutting deck is made of 10-gauge steel, unlike the plastic deck of other reel mowers. Users advised ensuring that the bed knife on this blade mower is positioned well when putting it together to maximize its cutting ability.
“This reel mower we purchased is awesome,” raved one purchaser. “No fumes from gas. No residues from pollen, grass, or sticks flying up, hitting us, or getting into our nose. No loud annoying noises or vibrations from this Scott’s mower.”
Mower Blades Material: Heat-treated alloy steel
Adjustable Cutting Height: 1–3 inches
Best Adjustable Cutting Height Reel Mower—Sun Joe 9 Adjustable Heights Reel Mower
For customers who require maximum height adjustment options, this Sun Joe is the perfect reel mower as it features nine adjustable heights that can reach up to 2.44 inches.
The five durable blades on this reel mower are made of hardened steel, while the seven-gallon grass catcher provides mulching and cutting capabilities. This tool comes with a two-year warranty.
“This is all you will ever need in a ¼ acre or smaller yard,” explained one buyer. “No more gas fumes, oil changes, gas station trips, hard starts. My eight-year-old can push this no problem.”
Mower Blades Material: Hardened steel
Adjustable Cutting Height: Up to 2.44 inches
Best Reel Mower for Tall Grass—American Lawn Mower Company Reel Mower
Most reel lawn mowers can’t boast blades or a bed knife made of tempered steel or an unbreakable steel side plate like this American Lawn Mower Company 16-inch push reel lawn mower.
The blades slice grass blades that reach up to four inches tall, similar to a pair of scissors, unlike the ripping motion used on a rotary gas or electric-powered mower.
“This thing is phenomenal,” expressed one reviewer. “The most surprising thing to me is how easy it is to use. I was expecting it to be a lot of manual labor, but it just isn’t. It’s not quite effortless, but it’s very close. You can easily push this thing through even tall grass with one hand.”
Mower Blades Material: Tempered alloy steel
Adjustable Cutting Height: Up to 2.5 inches
Best Mower to Mow Wet Grass—Fiskars Reel Mower
The precision-ground, InteriaDrive reel and thicker blades provide 50% more cutting power to this Fiskars manual reel mower. What’s more, this reel mower cuts moist grass for early morning lawn maintenance in humid temperatures.
When assembling this mower, many buyers notes that it’s essential to ensure the alignment is correct; otherwise, it will only cut on one side.
“I love this mower because it’s easy to use, so quiet,” described one shopper. “I don’t have to worry about gas, and it’s so much lighter than a regular mower. Also, in case anyone is disabled, I have fibromyalgia, and I was able to put this together and do my lawn with this.”
Mower Blades Material: Heat-treated alloy steel
Adjustable Cutting Height: Up to 3.5 inches
Best Multiple Blades Reel Mower—Earthwise Reel Lawn Mower
The seven blades on this Earthwise manual reel mower mean more cutting on one pass than other reel mowers. The alloy steel blades are positioned on a ball bearing reel for more efficient cutting, and assembly is easy.
This compact tool also takes up very little room in a garage or shed and weighs a mere 21.83 pounds, one of the lightest reel mowers in the industry.
A seventy-two-year-old customer described, “I found the mower to be as easy to push as a non-self-propelled power mower. The handle is sturdy with no flex. The handle grips are plenty wide enough as the mower is easy to turn and maneuver. The foam grips seem as sturdy as any other foam grip I have used.”
Mower Blades Material: Alloy steel
Adjustable Cutting Height: Up to 2.5 inches
The Best Reel Mower—Summary
For thicker, unruly grass, the Earthwise manual push reel lawn mower (US129.99, Amazon) is a good choice. For larger yards that require a wider cutting width and versatile settings with more adjustable heights options, opt for the Scotts push reel lawn mower (US144.98, Amazon).
Push mowers come in a range of power options and are available as manual reel mowers, rotary mower options, and gas or electric mower models. Reel mowers, when pushed, activate multiple cutting blades, whereas rotary mowers are designed with one blade powered by gas or electricity that runs at higher speeds. Below we will cover the different types of push lawnmowers and their uses.
Manual Lawn Mowers
Reel lawn mowers feature up to twelve blades that catch and slice grass and even work on tall, and in some instances, wet grass. Reel mowers weigh less than other models, making them easier to maneuver, and, since they are quieter, users don’t need to wear ear protection while operating them.
These mowers are also low maintenance and only require sharpening the reel mower blades every few years. They’re also a great way to exercise! Best for a small lawn with few inclines, reel lawn mowers are also more economical than most other lawn mowers.
Electric or Gas Powered Reel Mowers
Reel mowers are available in electric or gas powered models but, similar to other gas or electric mowers, aren’t as eco-friendly as manually-powered reel mowers. When opting for a manual reel mower, a lawn must be maintained regularly as grass that is allowed to grow too tall will get tangled in the blades, whereas this isn’t the case when it’s an electric or gas mower.
Cutting Width and Reel Blades
Unlike the more traditional one-blade mowers, reel mowers come with up to seven blades and up to 18-inch cutting widths. The more blades, the thicker and taller grass it can handle, creating a more even cut. Seven-blade models with an 18-inch cutting width are suitable for medium lawns. A reel mower that comes with four or five blades and smaller cutting widths can successfully cut most small to medium lawns if they are consistently maintained.
Some more expensive reel models come with an adjustable blade height feature which is an important consideration for warmer, wetter climates where grass grows quickly. These settings are usually anything from 0.5 to 4 inches.
Some reel lawn mower models come with grass collection bins attached, ergonomic, and cushioned handles to allow for more comfort when mowing medium-sized lawns. Another feature to look for in a reel mower is an InertiaDrive reel that offers a more precise cut and is especially useful for tall and thick grasses.
We hope our review of the top reel mower has been helpful. For more suppliers of related products, including lawn mower blades, bags, handles, or rollers, consult our additional guides, or visit the Thomas Supplier Discovery Platform.
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