What Is A Push Reel Lawn Mower?
The push reel lawn mower is about as simple and effective as beautifying a yard gets. Instead of a helicopter-like whirling blade lopping off the top of your grass, these classic Luddite mowers clip like rotating pairs of scissors. True aficionados love the way this uncomplicated design neatly trim each blade compared to a powered mower’s potential to tear and shred turn when not operated properly. Being motorless, it will produce as much power and speed as your muscles can put behind it.
What Are The Different Types Of Push Reel Lawn Mowers?
A reel mower is recognizable by its cylindrically arranged blades – hence, why they are occasionally known as “cylinder mowers.” Their rotation on a horizontal axis pushes grass down and cuts as they turn upward. The even, level finish resembles a golf course’s putting green.
Exactly what it sounds like: rather than a true “push” mower that goes where you shove it, these motorized mowers propel themselves forward using an actual engine and transmission. Though more common in rotary designs, there are certainly self-propelled reel mowers available for sale wherever fine lawn tools are sold.
On the other hand, a rotary mower operates more similarly to modern electric or gas-powered designs. The more blunt cuts resulting from horizontal rotation along a vertical axis results in a slight brownish finish.
Who Is A Push Reel Lawn Mower Ideal For?
Assuming you are committed to a true push reel lawn mower in the classic style, be advised that these are not tools made for sprawling properties. Rather, this is the quintessential money-saving lawn mower for small, relatively flat yards. Being incredibly simple, it’s not wonder prices have held under $500 since the 1950s for models that have changed precious little since the decade after World War II and can virtually a lifetime with dedicated care.
What Are The Benefits Of A Push Reel Lawn Mower?
Up to about a quarter-acre of lawn, an electric or gas-powered motorized push mower just is not cost effective. A motorless push reel mower, on the other hand, provides ideal maneuverability for tight squeezes and leaves behind absolutely no environmental drawbacks whatsoever. No engine means never burning gasoline or oil and the luxury of mowing with no noxious fumes, a literally nonexistent carbon footprint, and zero noise pollution – all with absolutely minimal maintenance and the ability to set your own perfect pace for the cutting quality you want. With nothing to send dust and projectiles flying with every pass, your mowing no longer triggers weeks of allergy attacks. Even using one to pare down isolated patches growing just a bit taller than the surrounding grass provides the bonus of an outstanding workout as long and satisfying as the length of breadth of roughage you have to manicure.
Nevertheless, while push reel mowers offer arguably the fewest drawbacks of any lawn mower around, all that ease of use and durable, simple construction comes with just a few shortcomings. In addition to larger lawns being prohibitively exhausting to tackle with a push reel mower’s strictly manual power, it isn’t exactly the ideal choice for lawns prone to overgrown grass or thick weeds. Nor would I recommend these somewhat “vintage” mowers for anyone in a physical condition that doesn’t lend to prolonged physical exertion. As far as a push reel mower’s actual operation, you will inevitably have to dispose of the piles of grass blades left behind for want of a mulching, side-discharge or bagging mechanism and blades can be prone to jams caused by stray twigs and rocks.
How To Choose A Push Reel Lawn Mower?
When it comes to electric or gas-powered mowers, more weight comes with the territory of sturdy steel bodies and engines that produce smooth, consistent cuts with a steady stream of power. A heavier push reel mower is mostly just more exhausting to shove around and no more effective for the extra exertion, though some models with a bit more heft have been known to perform better against certain thicker, more stubborn strains of grass. Stick with the best combination of a lightweight body and broad cutting deck.
A wide swath comes at the cost of a heavier mower. On a small enough yard, the added effort can prove negligible in exchange for finishing the lawn in fewer passes. Only trying out a push reel mower yourself will tell you what the right balance feels like.
Direction Of Grass Spray
Unfortunately, push reel mowers only dispense clippings in front or behind the mower. Before you choose a rear-dispensing mower, ask yourself something: just what shade of green can you accept your shoes being stained? Spraying the grass in front leaves much less mess to deal with from the start of the job to the finish. Alternately, many newer mowers provide receptacles that conveniently catch clippings to make cleanup even neater.
Mow Height Adjustment
Any mower you choose should allow for adjusting its cutting blade up and down to a suitable height for your grass within several optional settings. For the good of your lawn’s health, avoid cutting your grass down to below 30 percent of its overall height. While smooth cuts at the right level can ensure grass continues growing in a steady and healthy fashion, shearing it too short hinders its resistance to disease and leaves it susceptible to drying out during prolonged hot spells.
Types Of Blades
Your mower’s blade influences the cutting quality you can expect. A rotary blade mounted on a vertical axis makes rather blunt cuts with its horizontal swings that tend to leave behind a brownish finish. A reel mower’s vertically multiple rotating blades instead produce a smooth finish like a golf course putting green by pushing the grass down as they rotate forward and cutting smoothly as they progress upward, trimming more like multiple pairs of scissors slicing at once.
Number Of Passes For Even Cut
Since you are your push reel mower’s engine, be mindful that cutting efficiency accounts for more than just the width of the mower’s path. Push mowers of all kinds vary profoundly in how many passes it will typically take to produce consistent even cuts. If you have a lawn plagued by crabgrass, know that although most mowers will cut it down to size with no issues, some may jam up frequently. The number of times you may have to revisit a patch to even it out may be a combined product of its weight, the configuration of its blades, its deck height, and how easy the mower is overall to push. Remember, some heavier mows have been shown to be more efficient than lighter ones at trimming certain strains known for being thick and stubborn.
With no motor driving your push reel mower, you can expect some degree of resistance. Meeting resistance that your strength alone can’t break through should you either that the height needs adjusting or you may need to consider trying a different mower entirely.
There’s an excellent chance your push reel mower will require some assembly. The number of parts you receive and difficulty of the instructions will vary from one mower to the next but most models require only an average 14 minutes to have in working order.
Whether you have a cavernous barn, cluttered garage or nothing more than an overloaded shed, a push reel mower will almost never present a significant storage problem. I can stand mine against a wall and forget where I put it for months at a time during the offseason. My personal favorite lightweight models can actually hang comfortably and easily from a few well-placed nails in a sturdy wall. Wherever you choose to keep your mower, make it a dry, out-of-the-way place where it won’t be at risk of getting wet and rusty.
Push reel mowers keep their users safe while cutting with quite possibly my favorite emergency shutdown procedure of any lawn tool I have ever used: drop the handle and walk away. There. You are now safe from any hazards presented by your lawn mower.
Joking aside, take this one caveat to heart: some mowers’ instruction manuals contain explicit warnings that the model in question is probably not safe for use by children under 10 years old. Being easier to push, lighter models may be safe for use by most ages. Heavier models merit a bit more caution because an operator lacking the strength to handle their heft can invite dangerous accidents by exerting too much effort just to move forward.
Warranty & Customer Support
A well-made push reel mower may never need any maintenance more extensive than oiling and sharpening its blades regularly and keeping it stored in a moisture-free place to avoid rusting. However, it’s always good to know a manufacturer has the gumption to stand firmly behind their products. A two-year warranty is a great start, but prioritize any manufacturer that offers three or four years of guaranteed service and can point to a long string of satisfied reviews from real customers on sites such as Amazon.
Cost Savings Vs Other Types
The money a push reel mower can save on a feasibly sized yard is easy to calculate. Having no engine means:
- No oil (except what you coat the blades with occasionally
- No gasoline
- No spark plugs
- No air filters
- No batteries or extension cords
- No need for a mechanic
It takes about a season at most for a quality push reel mower to pay for itself several times over.
Even the finest push reel mowers around typically don’t cost much more than $400. On an extremely tight budget with a willingness to accept the simplest of simple mowers, you could easily find one for under $100 that doesn’t quite live up to the improved craftsmanship and cutting quality that $50 to another $100 will buy.
Number Of Blades
Rotary mowers cut with a single horizontally turning blade but push reel mowers make finer cuts using an array of five to seven cutting surfaces arranged in expertly aligned patterns. While I don’t believe in one magic number of blades that fits every need, I tend to tell people that more blades will produce finer cuts. Your best bet is to judge from the results you see with your first pass on your own lawn.
Lawn Clipping Disposal
The bad news is, push reel mowers do tend to leave a mess in their wake. Clippings will dispense from the cutting area either via the front or back of the reel. Personally, I recommend mowers that project them in front and away from my shoes. If that just won’t do and you would rather raking up clippings after you cut, I would recommend a collection tool that gathers them up for you to do away with when and how you choose.
Grass Cutting Ability & Quality
To begin with, know that lining up and adjusting your blades along the reel per the instructions in your owner’s manual is more important than sharpening them. Keeping their positioning in order ensures that the reel sits properly against the bedknife and remains fairly easy to push. Generally, the easier your mower moves, the simpler it will be to achieve smooth cuts with every pass.
The way your reel neatly snips your grass allows it to heal faster and leaves it less vulnerable to plagues of disease and insects risked by mowers that shred and tear it. For what it’s worth, remember that professional landscapers keep golf courses and baseball fields looking pristine by towing giant reel mowers behind tractors.
What Are The Top Features Of A Push Reel Lawn Mower?
It’s your energy alone that will be setting the pace and making the cuts happen. Older folks and operators smaller in stature or lacking some degree of hardy conditioning should stick to lighter mowers. Bear in mind, some notoriously thick and stubborn strains of grass are indeed best met by a heavier mower’s extra heft.
A broader swath cut with each pass means less time spent mowing. It also means more weight and more effort needed to get the job done. Before you choose the widest deck around, consider whether the lawn you have to mow is big enough for the time you save to make a tremendous difference that’s worth the added exertion.
Unless you have no qualms about turning your sneakers green with grass being constantly on them or you have a newer push reel mower with a convenient grass catcher to gather clippings, go for a model that sprays remnants in front of the blades.
One deck height virtually never fits every yard, type of grass or owner. For the good of your lawn’s health, look for an easy-to-adjust mower with a range of height options. Cutting your grass cleanly at an optimal height will promote faster healing and steadier growth. Clipping it below 30 percent of its overall height weakens its resistance to drying during prolonged hot spells and renders your yard more susceptible to disease and pests.
What Types Of Grass Is Best Or Bad For A Manual Push Reel Lawn Mower?
Lighter mowers tend to bind up and skid when trying to cut stouter grasses such as Bermuda, St. Augustine, Zoysia. These are just a few of the environments in which I would suggest opting for a wide deck and heavier body – added effort to push it around be damned. Lightweight models sell quite well in the northern half of the United States and on both the east and west coasts. However, the sun and heat of the American south and southwest regions tend to favor some double-tough strains that call for heavier artillery.
Extra Features To Consider
Look, you already accepted the added effort of going motorless and being the only engine your mower will ever need. You don’t need the added chore of sweeping up errant grass after finishing. Pick up a grass-catching attachment that will hang on to your clippings until you need an opportunistically timed break to dispose of them.
The added effort a push reel mower will call upon to groom your greenery shouldn’t include a complicated process just to get started cutting. Mowers that require any assembly at all usually don’t take more than 15 minutes to put together.
Sharpening The Blades
Interestingly, since push reel mower blades resemble scissors with relatively flat edges more than knives, a regimen of grinding and filing blades may actually ruin your mower be eliminating the tight clearance the need in order to cut properly. Your blades don’t need to be “sharp” so much as “exact” in how close true it remains to the bedknife.
Thus, you should instead “lap” your blades, not sharpen them:
First off, invest in an all-inclusive lapping kit. It will consist of a crank handle that fits inside most mowers’ shafts and specially formulated heavy-duty abrasive compound suspended in a thicker goo.
To begin, remove the drive wheel (ordinarily the left one, if you stand facing forward behind the mower) and the attaching mechanism’s covering – usually, a nut, cotter pin, or retaining ring. That will reveal the gear driving the blades. Remove it and its retaining component to reveal the driveshaft.
You can adjust the blades to bring them into contact with the bedknife in several ways, depending on your individual mower. It often involved a bolt and threaded rod or screw. Use your mower’s given technique to adjust the blade until it makes even contact with the bedknife across the blade’s entire width. Tap the blade with a hammer or twist a few times with pliers to restore a bent blade hanging up on the bedknife to its correct posture, but try to avoid this.
Your blades likely have started displaying a little resistance and making a scraping sound. You have them a bit too close to the bedknife, which is good. Next, paint a bead of lapping compound on each blade edge with a small brush and start turning the crank backwards to begin sharpening the blades. Keep this up for about 10 minutes or so, reapplying lapping compound as needed. Notice the shiny, flat blade surface formed by the compound’s abrading and how it matches the bedknife. Keep reapplying the compound as needed and cranking, noting the beginning of a shiny edge and how you keep hearing less and less scraping.
After cleaning off the compound, examine the blades. Add more compound adjust the bedknife closer to the blades to clean lingering material off any stubborn surfaces. Ultimately maintain a gap between the blade and bedknife less than the size of a blade of grass to maintain cutting ability.
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