This is a slightly edited re-posting of something I wrote several years ago for a now-defunct blog. My apologies to the one or two of you who might recognize it.
It never fails. Every year about this time, when lawn mowing season begins in earnest, I’ll be out mowing the lawn and some neighbor will come running over to rescue the “damsel in distress.”
They’re just sure that nobody could possibly be using a hand push reel mower of their own free will!
This year it was the fellow house sitting for the guy across the street. “Do you need to borrow a real mower?” he asks.
“No thanks,” I reply, “I’ve got a reel mower!” The confused expression on his face told me that the pun had been lost on him, so I continued, “I prefer this one.”
Then ensued the standard discussion about workouts and muscles and gasoline, and I tried in vain to explain that really, this mower is lighter, more maneuverable and just easier to use than the power variety. They never believe me.
I think that reel mowers have taken a bad rap over the years because most people don't know how to adjust them properly. I even read a review of reel mowers on the Consumer Reports web page where they had the standard complaints about how these mowers didn't do a good job and were had to push, so they didn't recommend them.
Then followed about 100 irate comments from Consumer Reports members who owned and LOVED their reel mowers! The universal opinion was that Consumer Reports hadn't bothered to adjust the machine properly!
But really, I've owned this mower for nearly 15 years now and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s lightweight, quiet, easy to push, cheap, and it requires no fuel to operate. I've never even had to sharpen it, and this is the first year that I've actually had to do any adjustments to it since its initial setup. I think that once every 15 years is a maintenance schedule I can live with!
When I used to use a power mower I’d feel exhausted from the noise and the smell and the general stress caused by the whole experience. And I won't bother you with the gory details of how I killed three of them the first summer I owned my house by hitting things like stumps and concrete... oops! I'm just glad I only ran over inanimate objects and not a cat or a limb!
But mowing with the hand push mower is no more stressful than a walk in the park… really. And no mower is more eco-friendly! Believe it or not using a gas powered mower for one hour releases the same amount of air pollution as driving your car for 100 miles!
I actually do own an electric mower, but the cord is a massive pain in the rear, and even though it's much quieter than the gas powered variety, it still gives me a headache. Plus the tiny wheels seem to get stuck in every bump and hollow making it sooooo much harder to push. So I only drag it out a few times a year if the grass has gotten too long to do with the hand mower. I just think that the reel mower is so much simpler and easier.
OK, so the key to successful reel mowing is having the thing properly adjusted, and there are only 2 basic adjustments.
First is the height adjustment which controls how high the cutting blades are off the ground. On my mower (Which is an American Brand) the mowing height is adjusted by moving the roller bar up and down using the bolts located on either side where it’s attached. I keep mine on the highest setting because it's easier to mow and because the grass needs less water if you keep it a bit longer.
Next is the blade adjustment. Reel mowers essentially work like a pair of scissors. The spinning blades brush against the horizontal blade at the bottom cutting the grass between them. There are 2 screws on either side of the horizontal blade which adjust the angle at which it makes contact with the spinning blades.
You want to fiddle with them so that the spinning blades touch the horizontal blade, but aren't stopped by it. The manuals all say that you should be able to insert a piece of newspaper in between and it will cut it like a pair of scissors. Personally, I just go on the “feel” of it. You’ll know it’s right when it makes that satisfying “whst, wsht, wsht” sound.
Once you’ve got it adjusted properly, it really does cut “like butter!” Seriously, it sort of feels like you’re pushing a baby stroller.
There are a few caveats to using a reel mower. They can be a little bit unforgiving if you let the lawn get really long because then the grass can't stick up into the cutting mechanism to get clipped off. So depending on how fast your lawn grows, you might have to mow more frequently especially during peak growth seasons.
But in my opinion, the advantages of my hand push mower so outweigh any difficulties, that there really is no contest. Sure, you may have to mow a tad bit more frequently, but would you rather have a hideous life and limb threatening experience a few times a month, or a nice pleasant one once a week? I know my answer to that question!
So, what do you think? Have you ever used a hand push mower? Would you recommend one to a friend?