Sometimes, a lawn-care tool gives you exactly what you pay for – no more and no less. Priced under $70, it would be easy to declare the Sun Joe Mow Joe MJ500M manual reel lawn mower an overachiever. After all, anything that costs that little should acquit itself of even grievous flaws with its measly expense alone, right?
Not exactly, it turns out. The Sun Joe Mow Joe MJ500M isn’t entirely worthless. In fact, its design departure from traditional manual reel mowers is a novel touch that combines a motorless mower’s nostalgic appeal and fine cutting quality with the advantageous usability of modern machines. Unfortunately, it tends to falter miserably when faced with anything higher than moderately tall grass and exhibits a flimsy construction that demonstrates how very possible it is to bungle a relatively simple mechanical concept.
- Four adjustable height settings
- Detachable clipping bag holds up to 6.6 gallons of clippings
- Five steel blades
- Zero maintenance
- 8.8-inch wheels
- Foldable handle
Like any push reel mower, the Sun Joe MJ500M Mow Joe’s overall performance hinges greatly on the power mustered by the person behind it. That’s just the most basic inherent limitation of any analog lawn mower. That being said, there are a good many mowers competing mowers which will put the fuel of your sweat to far more efficient use.
The typical picture of a classic push reel mower is that of a cylindrical arrangement of blades attached to a T-shaped handle. The Sun Joe MJ500M Mow Joe bucks that notion to mixed effects by opting for a U-shaped handle reminiscent of what you would grip to use a push-powered or self-propelled motorized mower. By distributing your force across a wider grip, the flyweight 22-pound Mow Joe feels like a toy – at least, as long as you limit its use to flat, dry and relatively short grass spread over no more than about a quarter-acre. Its 8.8-inch wheels maneuver the 16-inch steel deck surprisingly smoothly, but herein lies a problem with its user-friendly weight: its lack of heft makes it feel laughably impotent against high, thick strains of grass, such as tall fescue. Don’t even think about trying it out against damp turf, either.
Ease Of Use
The Sun Joe MJ500M Mow Joe seems like it should be easier to use than it is. After all, I can’t imagine a lighter mower. A simpler mechanism for folding down the handle would have been nice, but loosening a pair of nuts still isn’t exactly a Herculean requirement of effort. The trouble is, this is an ultra-rare mower that actually needs to be heavier, if only so that it might stand up to a wider range of less-than-ideal conditions. It feels flimsy and not in a “deceptively strong for its build” sense. If anything will motivate you to keep your grass from evolving into an unruly savannah before your eyes, test this mower against growth of five inches or more. The wider handle’s distribution of force would have allowed a more dense, heavy body better equipped for unruly grass and weeds to still push effortlessly. Instead, the Mow Joe simply frustratingly ineffectual.
Cut Quality & Options
Within reason, the Sun Joe MJ500M Mow Joe’s five steel blades slice admirably enough. The array leaves behind the even, smooth finish one would expect from a push reel mower, provided you aren’t bothering with grooming grass more than, say, four inches tall. It offers four easily adjustable height settings, but I wouldn’t recommend anything shorter than the two highest. The shortest setting lists as .8 inch, practically a crewcut that risks scalping your lawn. Even its maximum 1.8-inch height is far too short for maintaining a healthy lawn. When mowing just about anything taller than four inches, it fails to lift the blades of grass vertically as the best push reel mowers will before cleanly slicing them. Instead, it tends to simply push the grass down and necessitate a number of passes to finally pare it to a desirable height. Finally, you have the option of attaching the modest-sized clipping bag to gather your lawn’s discarded remnants, but I wouldn’t suggest bothering. It tends to fall off annoyingly easily and frequently.
Fortunately, the Sun Joe MJ500M Mow Joe lives up to its “no-maintenance” boast. Assuming you have a very strict understanding of its frustratingly extensive limitations, you shouldn’t need to lift a finger between mowing sessions. Sadly, a few minutes’ searching online will turn up plenty of reviews scorning mowers that came apart within the first few uses or shipped without key parts. The paltry two-year full warranty would make me nervous about dropping even this mower’s bargain-basement asking price.
If you encounter an obstacle, let go of the handle. Problem solved.
Your dedication to staying on top of your mowing will determine the Sun Joe MJ500M Mow Joe’s ultimate cost effectiveness. If your budget to care for a fairly small, flat lawn cuts off sharply around $75, this mower might do the trick. It “technically” lives up to its maintenance-free claim as far as regular mechanical upkeep is concerned. Unfortunately, that’s right about where its upside ends. Though lightweight and maneuverable, it proves utterly worthless against particularly tall, thick or wet grass and is infinitely more trouble than its unremarkable cutting quality is worth on more than a quarter-acre of turf. Unless your choice comes down to the Sun Joe MJ500M Mow Joe or manicuring your yard with scissors, scrape together an extra $30 to afford a more durably built reel mower with some welcome heft and a bit more trimming finesse.
Lightweight Maneuverable Compact storage Optional bagging Mostly effective on flat, dry lawns with fairly short grass
- Flimsy build
- Useless against high, thick or wet grass
- Bag disconnects easily and frequently
- Lowest cutting height scalps turf