How To Cut Tall Grass With A Reel Mower In Just 4 Easy Steps. Gas powered reel lawn mower

Reel Mowers

Redefine the way you care for your lawn with the world’s most advanced reel lawn mowers – no gas, no cords, no annual blade sharpening. Fiskars Reel Mowers promote healthier lawns by cutting each blade of grass cleanly – as if with a pair of scissors. While gasoline and electric mowers tear through grass blades, leaving them more susceptible to drying and disease, push reel lawn mowers remove your exposure to exhaust gases, noise pollution and more, providing many benefits to your health, as well as the environment.

What Are Reel Mowers Used For?

Fiskars Reel Mowers are an eco-friendly way to keep your lawn greener and healthier, all season long.

Our StaySharp Reel Mowers offer a cleaner cut without the hassles of gas, oil, batteries, electrical cords or loud engine noise. These mowers feature three amazing technologies that deliver more cutting power, convenient, one-touch cut height adjustment, and the ability to reduce wear on blades for long-lasting performance, as well as superior ergonomics for a push reel mower that is 30-60% easier to push than other reel lawn mowers.

Accessories include a grass catcher that can be hooked onto the front of our push reel lawn mower to capture grass clippings as you mow, as well as a blade sharpening kit. for restoring your reel mower blades to like-new condition after several years of heavy use.

How Does A Reel Mower Work?

With a reel lawnmower, the blades are spinning from above. This tends to cut the grass at a more natural angle, as it essentially pulls the blades in and cuts them like scissors.

A convention gas-powered or electric rotary lawnmower has blades that attack the grass from the side.

Even when a rotary mower’s blades are more perfectly sharp, they still tend to more damage to individual blades of grass.

When a rotary mower’s blades start to dull the damage to the grass can be pronounced.

Not only can this leave your lawn looking shaggy and unkempt it can also lead to future problems. Damaged grass blades tend to be more prone to common lawn diseases as well as pests.

Inconsistently cut grass is also increasingly prone to problems with excess thatch suffocating the turf, making it harder for water, air, and key nutrients to feed the roots.

How Often Do You Need To Mow The Lawn With A Reel Mower?

A reel mower isn’t really designed to tackle an overgrown lawn. Long blades of grass can be matted down or even potentially tangle in the cylindrical blades.

Even the best reel mower will struggle to handle grass that is longer than say 4-inches.

For most lawns, this means cutting the grass with a reel mower at least once a week. During the peak of the growing season, you might have to mow more frequently, like once every five days.

Then as the sun starts to wane in early fall, you might be able to get away with dialing it back to once every ten days. If you keep an eye on your lawn, it will tell you when it needs to be cut.

How Can I Cut Tall Grass With a Reel Mower?

Reel mowers and stray sticks do not like each other. Twigs, fallen leaves, and other lawn debris also have a knack for hiding in tall grass.

Make sure to go a little walkthrough to clear away any debris before you start mowing. This will spare you unexpected headaches along the way.

Step Four: Increase Your Overlap

If the blades of grass are over four inches tall, you will need to increase the size of your overlap. This means walking a full pass down your lawn.

When you get to the end, turn around and make sure that your second pass is overlapping the first by at least four to six inches.

You may have to have even more overlap if you notice blades of grass from the first pass that have essentially been knocked down instead of cut.

In the case of a severely overgrown lawn, you might have to repeat the same path twice. This will ensure that you have made contact with each blade of grass and cut it to the desired height.

Can I Cut My Grass In A Checkerboard Pattern?

Checkerboard patterns and lawns that are cut at intersecting 45-degree angles can be very visually attractive.

This is also another type of mowing pattern strategy that you can use to tackle long or otherwise overgrown grass.

With a reel mower, you tend to get the best results by completing one pass in each direction.

Then when you are done, you walk along at a perpendicular angle. Not only will this catch any long blades that may have been left behind by the first pass, but it will also leave you with that visually appealing crosshatch pattern in your lawn.

What Happens To The Grass Clippings Produced By A Reel Mower?

Grass clippings, which are also known as “Thatch” can be a little bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to a reel mower.

If conditions are normal, or perhaps even a little wet, grass clippings can quickly decompose within a few days to a week after cutting. This is more likely to occur with short clippings.

When this happens it can actually feed nitrogen and other basic nutrients back into the turf. The net result is a lawn that says verdantly green, while also helping to prevent weeds from establishing a presence in your lawn.

Yet long grass clippings tend to take much longer to break down. If the summer has been particularly dry, grass clippings of any size can stop decomposing.

When this happens, the thatch layer starts to buildup in the upper layers of the turf. Left unchecked, it can choke off otherwise healthy blades of grass causing dead spots and making it increasingly hard for your irrigation system to thoroughly soak the roots.

Some reel mower manufacturers produce units that have a removable collection bin positioned right behind the cutting cylinder. I would personally recommend these over units that don’t have an optional bin.

Yes, you will need to empty it from time to time in a single mower session, but it will spare you having to deal with thatch complications and excess costs of seasonal aeration.

If the grass is excessively long, or the recent weather is very dry, you can attach it to collect most of the clippings.

If you have been keeping the grass short, with frequent mowing sessions, and the local weather has been normal to wet, you can leave the collection bin off, to let the clippings refeed the turf.

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.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

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.

Reel Mower vs. Rotary Mowers

But one of the most unique distinctions between lawn mowers is whether the mower uses reel or rotary blades.

And no I’m not talking about manual push reel mowers. I’m talking about the REAL, gas-powered reel mowers like the one below:

So, which is better rotary or reel? Let’s find out!

Which is better a Rotary or Reel mower?

To determine which mower is better, we have to weigh the differences of each machine. As well as the pros and cons.

First up is the rotary mower:

What is a Rotary Mower?

A rotary mower is your standard everyday lawn mower. It’s likely what you immediately think of when you hear the word “lawn mower”. Rotary mowers use a blade that rotates parallel to the lawn they are cutting.

How do rotary mowers work?

Rotary mowers work by rotating at incredibly high speeds. This high speed creates a lift, forming a vacuum, which causes the grass to be sucked upwards. Meanwhile, the blade rotates quickly around (at about 200mph or 3000 rpm) and slices the grass at the blade height.

This suction along with the quickly spinning blade or blades is what cuts grass efficiently.

tall, grass, reel, mower, just

The Purpose of Rotary Mowers

Rotary mowers are all-purpose mowers that can cut just about any type of lawn. They are better for cutting grass on uneven ground, or on lawns where sticks and rocks are present. Further, rotary mowers are best for cutting grass at taller grass.

Pros of Reel Mowers: Can cut tall grass easily, and the blades are cheap and easy to sharpen. Are not easily affected by sticks or even rocks. To get your lawn ready for a reel mower, use these yard clean up tips.

Cons of Reel Mowers: Can not cut grass as low as a rotary mower, and does not cut as evenly as a reel mower can. Does not cut grass as cleanly.

What is a REAL reel mower?

Look, I was shocked when I found this one out myself. Reel mowers aren’t just rinky-dink pieces of metal that serve better as a lawn decoration than actually keeping grass cut.

No, there are also commercial grade high-end top-of-the-line reel mowers that offer some unique features that the traditional rotary mower can not. We will get to those features in a moment. But first…

How do reel mowers work?

Unlike a rotary mower which uses 1, 2, or even 3 quickly rotating blades that spin parallel to the ground, a reel mower uses 4, 5, 7 or even 11 blades on a single reel.

Get this, some top-end commercial reel mowers, like the TORO 121″ Reelmaster 7000 Mower, can have as many as 5 reels. With 11 blades on each reel. That’s 55 blades!

I would hate to be the one that has to sharpen the blades on a mower like that!

So, what the heck is so special about these “reel” mowers anyhow?

tall, grass, reel, mower, just

The Purpose of Reel Mowers

Here’s the deal, a reel mower isn’t for your average homeowner’s lawn. No, these precision-grade machines are for those who want a PERFECT lawn. And I mean perfect.

As far as use on residential properties, about the only people that use a high-end reel mower, are hobbyist homeowners who love perfecting their lawns.

However, when it comes to commercial properties like baseball stadiums, golf courses, soccer fields, and the like. A reel mower offers a far superior cut, with sharper stripes and a tighter cut.

Pros of Reel Mowers: Reel mowers are excellent at cutting grass low and tight to the ground, best of all they can provide a nice even cut on the lawn. They also offer a sharper, cleaner cut on the grass which avoids grass discoloration.

Cons of Reel Mowers: Easily jammed up by sticks and rocks. Further, they can not cut tall grass well either. Sharpening the blades is not a DIY project. The lower cut may lead to a lawn more likely to become brown in the summer heat. Grass needs to be cut more frequently (twice a week or more).

Which is Better Reel or Rotary Mower?

Well, to be honest. Each mower has its place.

Rotary mowers will probably always be the front-runner choice for most lawn care pros and homeowners. Simply put they are more versatile and easier for the average user to operate and troubleshoot.

Should I invest in a reel mower for my lawn care company?

While in theory, a reel cutting service may appeal to some residential clients, very few are going to want to pay for 2 or 3 cuts a week.

In my experience, the only practical application for reel mowers is for lawn care companies that specifically service large commercial properties that are willing to pay top dollar to have their lawns perfectly manicured.

Or if you are specifically targeting VERY wealthy clients that want a perfectly maintained lawn and are willing to fork out

Reel Mowers are practical for cutting sports fields, and especially golf courses. So unless you have large commercial clients I would not recommend investing in a reel mower for your lawn care business. The bottom line is it’s not the type of equipment you want if you are just getting started.

Rotary vs. Reel At the End of the Day

While there are certainly some amazing advantages to using a reel mower on certain properties, overall the rotary mower will always be a more practical solution for a lawn care company.

While they can be a fun hobby for your own lawn, the commercial use of a reel mower for a profitable lawn care company is strictly limited to VERY high-end residential clients and commercial clients that want a perfect lawn.

If you are looking for more great lawn care business tips, check out our lawn care pros section.

The Best Reel Mowers Tested in 2023

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

Quiet in operation, simple to maintain, and largely affordable, reel lawn mowers can be Smart options for yard maintenance. Taking up about a third of the storage room needed by a traditional mower, they’re easy keepers.

Reel mowers also might be better for a lawn’s health than standard mowers. They make a sharp cut along the top of the grass blade, similar to the way scissors cut. Traditional rotary mowers have blades with a tendency to tear the grass, which causes ragged brown tips and increases the risk of disease.

While all reel mowers function similarly, there are differences among the options. We tested the following models to find out how blade width, mowing height, handle design, and other details affect performance in different settings. Keep reading to learn what to look for when shopping for a reel mower, and find out why the following models are among the best reel mower options available.

How We Tested the Best Reel Mowers

We tested these mowers in a Georgia backyard in the middle of winter. That meant a combination of dormant warm-season grasses (some Bermuda grass and some centipede grass) along with a few areas infested with cool-season weeds like annual bluegrass, chickweed, henbit, dandelion, and wild onion. The test areas included a combination of flat, sloped, and uneven lawn.

We divided the lawn into test plots so that each mower would have a chance to prove its capability under a variety of conditions. For inclusion in this article, each mower had to effectively perform the basic function for which it was built: mowing to reduce the grass height by approximately one-third. Then, beyond basic weed-free lawn mowing, we also tested each mower on the tougher conditions of overgrown and weed-infested grass. All of the mowers included in this guide easily passed the basic functionality test and earned bonus points by tackling one or more adverse conditions, noted in the reviews.

Our Top Picks

Using a reel mower is an environmentally friendly way to mow the lawn and get a bit of fresh air and exercise at the same time. We tested these manual models on our lawn to find out which would be the best reel mowers for different users and circumstances. Learn about the performance details in the reviews.

Great States 18-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower

Those wanting a wide swath on a reel mower may want to consider the Great States 18-inch five-blade mower that cuts a hearty swath to reduce mowing time. This reel mower is simple in design and allows for adjusting mowing height from as low as 0.5 inch to as high as 2.75 inches. It comes with 10-inch composite wheels and back stability rollers.

The blades are made from heat-treated alloy to retain their sharpness longer, and the handle comes with nonslip cushioning to help reduce blisters and to improve grip. The loop-style handle folds down for easy storage, and the mower weighs in at 27 pounds.

In our backyard test, this mower worked quickly, quietly, and easily. It was pretty easy to push in all but the thickest grass but was abruptly stopped by twigs or debris thicker than a pencil (as were the rest of these mowers). We liked the padded wide-loop handle that gave it the familiar feel of a conventional gas mower. Sharpening the blades—a task that most users would require once or twice a season—requires disassembly of one wheel to access the blade drive mechanism. The process is typical of these mowers and was only slightly complicated.

Jump to Our Top Picks

For any home with a lawn, mowing is a fact of life that is required in most neighborhoods. To cultivate a lush green expanse, regular mowing is essential. When mowing is done correctly—frequently enough to remove no more than one-third the height of the grass—it promotes dense, uniform growth.

Manual vs. Powered

Unlike standard mowers, the majority of reel mowers are manual, although consumers can find a handful of gas-powered and battery-powered models.

The Advantages of Using a Reel Mower

Reel mowers are almost always powered manually. The physical pushing of the mower turns the blade cylinder, which in turn cuts the grass. Since they’re push-powered, reel mowers excel when cutting fine, straight-growing grasses but can bog down in coarse, wiry grass. The following are some of the advantages of using a reel mower.


With no toxic fumes, no need to store fuel or charge batteries, and quiet operation, the reel mower is making a comeback. This eco-friendly mower will reduce your carbon footprint while offering some physical exercise. For those thinking of investing in a reel mower, a few questions are to be expected.

Q. Is it hard to push a reel mower?

Manual reel mowers are easy to push in thin sparse grass, but it takes more force to move one through tall, dense, or coarse grass.

Q. Can you mow wet grass with a reel mower?

Although a manual reel mower can easily cut through wet grass, doing so frequently is not advisable. As with other mowers, clippings will clump and look unsightly. Wet clippings that stick to the mower increase rust formation, dulling the blades prematurely.

Q. How often should you mow with a reel mower?

Mow as often as is necessary to keep from removing more than one-third of the grass’s blade. This may mean mowing two or more times in a week during the fast-growing grass season.

Q. When should I sharpen my reel mower?

In general, it’s a good idea to sharpen the blades on a reel mower after 20 to 25 hours of use. For some users, this may be once a year; others may need to sharpen blades two or more times in a season.

Why Trust Bob Vila

Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.

Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.

How to Maintain Reel Mowers

There is one regular mower-maintenance chore necessary with reel mowers: sharpening the blades. This needs to be done once or twice every year. You can buy sharpening kits, or you can grab these three basic items: grinding stone, grinding paste, and newspaper. The blades can remain on the mower, and with a little bit of manual effort, you can complete the sharpening process.

  • Grinding stone: Use the stone first to smooth out any nicks or burrs you feel on the blades.
  • Grinding paste: Apply the paste to the blades and cutter bar. Then turn the reel backward. The grinding paste and running it backward will sharpen the blades and cutter bar’s edges. Do this for a few minutes, and you will see the paste going away and shiny edges appearing. If there’s any excess paste, simply wipe it off.
  • Newspaper: Test the sharpness of the blades on the newspaper. If it’s not sharp enough, repeat the sharpening process.


After each use, make sure to wipe/wash off any grass clippings that have built up on the mower. Store the reel mower in a dry place to help keep it from rusting.