What should I look for in a manual push mower?
April 29, 2006 4:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a reel mower. What features should I be looking for? Any recommendations on models?

I've been borrowing my neighbor's gas mower for a few years, but I'm tired of dealing with it -- it's old, eats a lot of gas, and starts on the 20th pull. I don't have that big a yard (usually takes me 15 minutes to mow front and back), so I'm thinking I should purchase a reel mower, one of those non-electric, non-gas push mowers popular before the days of Toro and Lawn Boy. It's eco-friendly, and I think it'd be less work to cut the lawn with. At least I won't be hurting my shoulder out every time I try to start it.

Anyone have a reel mower? What sorts of features should I be looking for? Any recommendations on models?
posted by dw to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Treehugger recently had a good recommendation here.

I thought it was a tad bit overpriced so I went to the local Home Depot and bought one for $80. It works ok, not great, but not bad, but I use it for a very small space. I'm kind of wishing I had bought the one treehugger reviewed though.

I'd say you look at how often it has to be sharpened, the length of the wheel base, the adjustable height, and how well it actually cuts the grass. You also really have to stay on top of things -- reel lawnmowers are not good at cutting high grass.
posted by visual mechanic at 4:34 PM on April 29, 2006

After a string of bad luck with different gas powered mowers (finally culminating with the blade breaking free and missing my foot by about an inch) i picked up a reel mower.

By and large i have been very happy with it. But there are a couple of things to be aware of:

It doesn't like really long grass, but if you keep the grass cut regularly it shouldn't be a problem. (i don't like cutting the grass, so this one affects me all the time)

It can be kind of a pain in the ass on hills, but then, so can a normal gas powered push mower, so we'll call this one a wash.

Because of the design, you really can't use it for edging. The wheels are on the outside, so there will always be an inch or so that you will have to weed-wack later.

The blades need to be oiled and sharpened a bit more often than a gas mower, but it's pretty simple to do.

All that said, i really like mine. Between the not having to start it, and the lack of a noisy engine i really haven't had to look back. The one suggestion i would make is to get a newer one. They are considerably lighter than the ones from 20 years ago and will save your back a lot of aches.
posted by quin at 4:38 PM on April 29, 2006

Oh, and as to which model to get, we got the cheapest model Home Depot carried.
posted by quin at 4:47 PM on April 29, 2006

I used to use a reel mower back when I was in a house with a smaller yard. It was nice for awhile. I wasn't burning gas, it was quiet, and the cute was, supposedly, easier on the grass itself.
But the downsides eventually made me sell the thing.
First off, the cutting width was a lot narrower than what you normally get with a power mower. This meant it took a bit longer to mow the yard.
Second, the reel mower was really heavy. More so than the power mower I had been using. That was very surprising. Hopefully, that has changed.
Finally, unless your yard is absolutely clear of tiny twigs, nuts, pinecones, etc, be prepared to stop every 10 feet or so to clear some bit of detritus that wedges in the blades. That became the big straw that broke my back. It was just a pain in the ass.
I really, really wanted to keep using the reel mower.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:17 PM on April 29, 2006

I have one of the home depot ones. I have had the cheapest one, which I liked, and the next cheapest one, which is OK but I don't love. The one I have now, the second cheapest one, is wider but the handle sucks (it sort of twists to the side) and the height adjustment will tend to slip off it's setting sometimes, and before I notice I'm cutting lopsided.

Buy one from home depot, try it, if you don't like it, return it. They'll probably take it back without too much question.

I've not had to sharpen my blade yet (had this one about 1 year) but I constantly have to lubricate it. Also it takes some time to get it adjusted right. These things cut like scissors, not like a scythe, so you have to adjust the moving blade to the stationary blade using adjustment bolts. You basically keep twiddling until you can stick a piece of paper in it and cut the paper across the whole width of the mower. When it cuts clean like scissors and does not tear at all, you've got it.

The really nice thing about a reel mower for me is that it's quiet so I can easily listen to music in earbuds while I mow, which makes it go much faster for me.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:21 PM on April 29, 2006

Oh, another point in the reel mowers favor: it's much easier on people with allergies; (and forgive me if i get this a bit wrong, my wife is the one with the perpetual stuffy nose, so i'm going on my memory of what she explained...) a normal gas mower uses one big blade that basically tears the grass off at the height of the blade, this kicks up a lot of dust and other badness (most people aren't actually allergic to the grass itself, but a particulate on the grass). Because reel mowers act more like a scissor, it generates almost no dust. This made the wife very happy as she was able to stay outside and do her gardening while i was mowing rather than having to wait an hour for all the dust/ pollen to settle.

Of course if you and yours are not allergic to grass, you can safely ignore this entire comment :)
posted by quin at 5:45 PM on April 29, 2006

I have a Sunlawn. Yes, they're more expensive, but they are quite different from a Home Depot reel mower. The traditional design pinches grass like scissors when the blade comes in contact with the bottom plate.

The Sunlawn shears the grass (there is a slight space between the blades and plate). The upshot: it is near silent, can be pushed with one hand and blades need sharpening every 6-8 years. Classic reel designs clank when the blade comes in contact and usually require sharpening every 1-2 years.

I recommend it without hesitation. Find a dealer and push one for yourself after trying a Home Depot ditty.
posted by pedantic at 5:58 PM on April 29, 2006

My bad. Try this link for dealers. The link in the previous post was California only.
posted by pedantic at 6:01 PM on April 29, 2006

European Scythe (from Cool Tools)
posted by bleary at 7:24 PM on April 29, 2006

Reel mowers excel at getting an even cut which is nice when you cut the grass short. Keeping the grass short can be attractive but requires more water, and weedkiller. If you nevertheless want to go short, the Brill Luxus mowers are supposed to be great. Their maximum height is still pretty short. Scotts makes a reel mower that will cut to three inches which is a good height to fight weeds and helps keep the grass more drought tolerant.
posted by caddis at 7:44 PM on April 29, 2006

I'll piggyback on dw's question here. Thanks for the Sunlawn links, but I really need a reel mower that cuts at around 3". The Sunlawns in my price range cut only to a maximum of 1.8", and that's incredibly hard on the turfgrasses in our blistering summers. Any other ideas for a reel mower that isn't intended for greenskeepers?
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:45 PM on April 29, 2006

That's what I get for not previewing. Thanks, caddis. Precisely what I need.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:52 PM on April 29, 2006

The Brill is mentioned by Cool Tools.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:46 PM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the advice. I don't mind the grass being short -- when the dry season starts in July it'll all be dead anyway. Sounds, though, that I'll need to use the gas mower at least one last time.
posted by dw at 10:01 PM on April 29, 2006

If presented with a choice, get the wider one.
posted by flabdablet at 5:56 AM on April 30, 2006

I use a cheap, generic reel mower from Sears, and I keep my grass at 3". Not a problem.

Do get one of the newer ones, they are much lighter than the reel mower my dad had 35 years ago. I'll also pile on the advice to get the wider one - I didn't. And you don't want one if you have a huge yard. I end up mowing about twice as often as when I had a gas mower, but I don't mind. I sharpen it with the kit once a year.

I love that I can life my reel mower over my gate one handed (it is lashed shut so the dog can't push it open). I love that it doesn't make noise. And I get to feel all virtuous and tingly about being environmentally sound.
posted by QIbHom at 10:13 AM on April 30, 2006

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