Pros and Cons to Reel Mowers
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Pros and Cons to Reel Mowers

The advantages and disadvantages of using reel mowers to maintain your lawn.

If you want a better looking yard, a more enjoyable mowing experience, and cleaner air, then you might want to try using a reel mower. Reel-type lawn mowers were invented by Edwin Budding in 1827 in England. Budding's mower was designed primarily to cut the lawn on sports grounds and extensive gardens, and utilized a cylindrical cutting head.

Over the years these manual lawn mowers have improved on this basic design and have used lightweight components, adjustable cutting heights, and better gear ratios.

Misconceptions about Using a Reel Mower

One of the biggest misconceptions about reel mowers is that they are difficult to push. This may have been true 40 years ago when you had to mow your parent’s lawn when you were 12 years old, but modern reel mowers are lighter, better designed, easier to push, and cut better. Reel mowers are easier to push than an 80 pound gas mower that isn’t self propelled.

Some people think that you need to sharpen reel mower blades constantly. The fact is that people don't even sharpen their gas-powered mowers as often as they should. You should sharpen the reel mower blades in the spring and then every 3 to 4 weeks during the mowing season.

8 Reasons to use a reel mower

1. Lightweight.

2. Low noise.

3. Uses no grass and produces no pollution.

4. Healthier for the grass. Gas-powered rotary mowers tear the grass while reel mowers cut the grass like scissors.

5. Lower maintenance requirements.

6. Easier to push than heavy gas-powered lawn mowers.

7. Cleaner since they don’t blow dirt and debris on you and around your yard.

8. You'll save money on gas and oil.

Cutting Height

Some people are concerned about the ability to adjust cutting height with reel mowers. Researchers have determined the optimum cutting heights for different types of grass. Grass heights have been dictated by the use of gas-powered mowers to the point where most people don’t understand what the proper height of a lawn should be.

Gas-powered rotary mowed lawns must be mowed higher to compensate for the repeated disturbance to the lawn as well as to avoid browning and scalping injury. Mowing heights for reel mowers have been proven over generations of use around the world.

Consistency is very important to effective mowing. The rule of thumb is to reduce the height of the grass by one-fourth to one-third. If you mow to 1.5 inches then let it grow to about 2.25 inches it’s time to mow again.

Kentucky bluegrass (Poa Pratensis): Used in Lawns, athletic fields, general purpose turf. The mowing height is around 1.5 to 2.5 inches

Red Fescue (Festuca rubra L. subsp. rubra):. It can grow in hostile soil such as infertile, dry, acid soils. The mowing height is around 2 to 2.5 inches

Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb): It is used in lawn transition areas, slopes and banks, near waterways.

The mowing height is around 2 to 3 inches

St. Augustine at 2 to 4 inches

Zoysia from 3/4 to 2 inches

Bermuda at 1 to 2 inches

For more information:

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet -

Strategies for Success

1. Walk at a steady pace.

You are the power source for your reel mower. A reel mower will also tend to bind up and skid if you walk at a slow pace. The faster you walk, the faster the blade turns. Walk at a quick walking pace to get the best results.

2. Overlap your rows.

Overlapping rows will make the mower a bit easier to push because you’re mowing less grass, and it will also help catch any spots that you might have missed on the previous pass.

3. Experiment with different mowing patterns.

Various species of grass lawns have different growing patterns and characteristics. The direction in which you mow can make a difference in the quality of the cut. Try mowing in different patterns to which one works best for you.

4. Maintain a consistent grass height

Manual mowers are harder to push when the grass gets too tall, so keep your lawn mowed weekly.

5. Experiment with the lawn height.

Once you’ve looked up your type of grass and know the recommended cutting range, try different cutting heights to see which height makes your grass easiest to cut, and which height gives you the best cutting results.

6. Mow early.

You don’t have to worry about disturbing your neighbors in the early morning hours and you can work in the cooler morning temperatures.

Reel Mower Disadvantages

1. Reel mowers don’t mow tall weeds well.

Because of the design, they tend to just roll over them without cutting, leaving them to pop right back up after the reel rolls over them. This includes tall weeds that are more than six inches, and things like dandelions and buckhorn. Reel mowers are designed to cut grass, not weeds.

2. Tall grass

If you go on vacation and come back to eight inch grass, you’ll probably have to mow the same row more than once, going in both directions over the same row, to cut all the grass. You’ll also have to push a lot harder, because when the grass is really overgrown, a manual mower will bog down or bind up and skid.

3. It takes a bit longer to mow with a reel mower than with a power mower.

If it typically takes you 45 minutes to mow with a power mower, then you might expect it to take 60 to 70 minutes with a manual lawnmower.

4. A reel mower is best suited for 8,000 square feet of grass or less.

If you live on a half acre lot or smaller, then a manual reel mower is a very reasonable choice. But if you have much more grass than that, then it’s going to be too time consuming for the average person.

Additional resources:

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Comments (4)

Good job...

Good review. I hadn't really considered a reel lawnmower before but might well do when I need to replace my current model.

I remember the older reel mowers. The first lawn mower that I ever used was a manual reel mower. It was heavy and took about five to six hours to cut the lawn down on the farm. the first power mower we ever had was also a reel mower made by Montgomery Wards with a 1.5 hp Briggs & Stratton engine. That reel mower was self-propelled and we could cut the lawns in half the time. Small self-propelled reel mowers are becoming extremely difficult to find these days. If I lived in the city or suburbs, I might consider a new reel mower but up here on my mountain with a large, hilly lawn, I'll stay with my riding lawn mowers. You did a very nice job of expressing the pros and cons of the new reel mowers none the less Daniel.

Great review of reel mowers. I remember as a kid the most popular and maybe the best mower was a gas powered reel mower that was called the Cooper Clipper. I dont think I have seen anyone use a gas powered reel mower in years. I use a push reel mower at times, but after a windstorm and there are little twigs around, the reel mower stops cold when it hits those.