Reel Mowers Buyers Guide

The push mower is the old, familiar standby. If your lawn is small, consider the push mower. Properly maintained and sharpened, it will give you years of good, inexpensive service.

Although rotary mowers have become the work horses of the lawn-cutting world, reel mowers still have several advantages over them. The reel mower blade makes a clean cut with a scissors action; in contrast, the rotary mower rips off the tops of the grass, leaving the remaining tips to turn brown. Safety is another significant advantage of reel mowers. If rotary blades hit rocks or pipes, they may shatter and become flying missiles; reel blades, however, won’t do this.

Push reel mowers have from five to eight spiral steel blades, which turn on a reel and catch the grass, slicing it against the fixed blade or bed knife. This scissorlike action provides a very fine cut, but the push mower operates well only on even ground with short to medium-length grass. It also requires careful maintenance.

The blades must be kept sharp and the mechanism must be adjusted so that each blade passes smoothly and evenly across the bed knife. When the blades are stopped, two of them should be touching the bed knife, one at either end. Rotate the reel, watching carefully to see that each blade touches the bed knife all the way across as it turns. The best way to check this is to put strips of paper between the reel and the bed knife; then turn the reel by hand and see whether the knife cuts the paper as it rotates. Adjust by raising or lowering the bed knife, as necessary.

Reel-type mowers are also available in powered versions. If your lawn is level and you want a manicured look, consider the fine-cutting power reel mower. This is the one used by most professional lawn cutters for fine lawns and by many parks and golf fairways.

Power reel-mowers generally are driven by a four-cycle engine with 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 horsepower. Cutting swaths range from 16 to 20 inches. Some larger models are self-propelled, and some also have electric starters. Mowing heights generally range from 1/2 inch to 3 inches.

Professionals who use reel mowers often cut the lawn twice—once in one direction and then again at a right angle. This double cutting removes the ridges left by the wheels of the first cutting. If you choose this method, wait a bit between cuttings to allow the grass blades to straighten up.