Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Lawn Mower is "Reel" Green!

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.


They also don't handle sticks and random debris like a power mower would - they're designed to clip grass, not to be a chipper shredder! So you'll make your job MUCH easier by giving the yard a quick once over to pick up any stray sticks etc before you mow.

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?

25 comments :

  1. I remember using ours when I was a kid 40+ years ago and finding it very hard work. I loved the noise of it though. One of our neighbours has a push mower, and there's nothing more soothing than the sound of him or her pushing it back and forth, back and forth - I'm dozing off just thinking about it!
    Maybe now I'm a little (ahem) older, and ever so slightly (harrumph!) heavier, I'd be able to use one without straining anything. If Husband is ever forced to give up lawn duty I'll have to, because those motorised ones scare the abdabs out of me.

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    1. I personally think that fear of motorized devices capable of cutting off limbs is perfectly justifiable! I think that the new generation of push mowers are significantly lighter than the old ones were - making them much easier to push. I can easily lift mine with one hand!

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  2. We have the cordless electric enviromower which is light and very easy to start and use. I love it. Sounds like a hair dryer. We have a lot of lawn so I'm dubious about cutting it with a push mower. Having said that, my great grandma was on the front of the local newspaper pushing one at the age of 96, obviously good for you.

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    1. I'm chuckling to myself - I won't use a hair drier because I hate the noise. Not sure if I'm just over sensitive or what, but noises like that always give me a headache. That being said, I'm sure that a cordless mower is a VAST improvement over either gas or a corded electric model!

      And I am totally impressed with your grandma! Go granny go!!!

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  3. We'd like to try one if/when we have a yard of our own to maintain, but for now, I'm happy to leave that task to the landlord.

    Also, I imagine we'd have very little actual grass lawn to maintain, as we'd try to garden every last inch :)

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    1. Given the photos you've posted, it is hard to imagine you guys letting any gardenable space go to waste!

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  4. I'd like to try one, except that I foresee a few problems; our "lawn" contains very little grass, mostly woody weeds and other vegetation lacking little blades of greenery. Our yard is also very, very bumpy and chock-full of rocks. It doesn't matter how much or how many rocks we pick up, they just pop up out of nowhere.

    My "eco" version of lawn mowing is only mowing when I can no longer find my daughter in it!! :)

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    1. Ha! I like your eco plan. Before I got this mower I was on a similar plan... mow only when it's getting so tall that the neighbors are threatening to report me to the city!

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  5. The modern push reels are MUCH lighter. Even so, I burn calories when I use it.
    I do hate it when the grass is too long and it lies down instead of being cut. I can't be a slacker as much as I'd like to be.
    What's strange is that I'm allergic to the smell of mown grass. I have to shut the window when the neighbor mows. But I can breathe fine when the push reel is used. I read that it cuts the grass differently than a regular mower. Presumably it's not creating as much grass pulp (or whatever causes the smell).

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    1. That makes total sense since the power mowers basically whack the grass off creating lots of "grass dust." Maybe that's part of my issue too, though I never thought of it before.

      I do know what you mean about being lazy though... that's why I have the electric one. There are generally at least 2-3 times per year when I've let it go to long and have to resort to electricity!

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  6. we have 2 mowers; a push and a gas mower. I would rather use the push mower any day than the gas mower. Never mind the 'eco-ness'...when I've tried to use the gas mower, my back goes into spasms for days. I never have that problem with the push mower. I also LOVE the wssst sound it makes when it spins.
    Ours is an old one we picked up in a free pile about 10 years ago. We are on our 2nd gas mower in 15 years. What does that tell you!?

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    1. I totally agree! And that's VERY interesting about the lifespan of the gas mower. I fear I never really got to find out how long they live normally since all of mine suffered an untimely demise!

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  7. Wow, I am totally intrigued....but with a little over half an acre of hilly, bumpy yard coupled with wrist and elbow issues, I think I'd better stick with my current method. Bummer; if I had a smaller yard (and more ambition) I would totally check it out. Really enjoyed this post and the info, though.

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    1. I actually find the hills and the bumps much easier to navigate with this mower than with a power mower - of course if your current method involves a riding mower or a lawn service, then that's a different story! :)

      Anyhow, before I bought mine, a friend of mine let me give hers a "test drive." So if you're curious, you might see if anybody you know owns one and would let you give it a try. In my case it was an easy sell - I just stopped by her house and mowed her lawn for her! :-)

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    2. I wish I knew someone I could borrow one from! I mentioned this to my hubby this morning and he looked at me like I'd grown a third head. That's OK; I'm kinda used to that ;-)

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    3. Ha! CatMan still thinks I'm completely nuts on this one. I wonder if it's a male/female thing... I mean like a physical center of gravity thing or something like that.

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    4. Wanted to tell you that I bought a reel mower and I LOVE it. It's taken me two days after work and a total of 3.5 hours to mow my backyard (thankfully front is smaller! LOL) but it's FUN and it does wonders for my blood sugar. My husband thinks I have lost my last marble but I spent a gleeful afternoon out mowing with my dogs walking beside me and finished up the evening on the deck with a book while I watered my masterpiece. At the rate I'm burning calories, I should be skinny by the time the snow flies, ha! Just wanted to say thanks for the great post that made me think outside the box. And BTW, zero issues with my wrists and elbows, and my back feels better than it's felt in months!

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    5. Wow! That's wonderful! I can't believe I actually inspired someone to try something.

      I mowed the lawn today, and sure enough, when I was doing the front, the neighbor pulled up. He got out of the car and said to me "Takin' one for the planet, eh?" I tried to explain that I really enjoyed using it, but he just shook his head like I was crazy. What is it with men!

      Anyhow, I'm glad you're enjoying it, and hopefully the lack of pain won't be fleeting. It's kinda fun to look forward to mowing the lawn isn't it?

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    6. You're very inspiring! :) LOL about your neighbor. I'm waiting for that to happen!

      Still no pain; thankful for that since I'm a medical transcriptionist. My wrists were my biggest concern. I will confess I went from a riding lawn mower to this - that's why nobody thinks it will last ;-) Little do they know how much fun I'm having!

      Did my backyard in one hour last night; much easier once I wasn't fighting grass length (have to mow it longer with a rider to lessen the damage). Still a good workout though! LOL

      Thanks again for the info - helped me make a good decision and good purchase.

      Misty

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  8. my dad had one and I LOVED it! The blades were impossible to keep sharp though.

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    1. You know, I've NEVER sharpened mine. I don't know if they're making them out of some great new material these days, or if I just have low standards! I may try it some day if it starts feeling like it's not cutting well... sounds like sharpening it could be quite an adventure!

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  9. I've never tried one, but would love to. I hate it when I have the house open and am trying to relax on a nice summer evening and the peace is drowned out by mowers and weed-eaters. Although to be fair, we have both.

    The boyfriend does the yardwork around here tho and he REFUSES to even think about a reel mower. Since mowing and weed-eating aren't my favorite jobs (not the least because I'm a klutz and feel like I'm bound to do myself egregious harm sooner or later), he's the boss on this one.

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    1. I can totally relate on the noise front... it sort of makes me crazy.

      I think that men are strangely drawn to motorized contraptions. I don't know what it is exactly, but every one I've ever known tends to think of them as "powerful." I just think of them as noisy and dangerous!

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  10. I have a service to cut every other week. Needs to be done every week, I suppose, but even though I requested they cut closed to the ground, I still see tall clumps the next day. I didn't see any mention of a brand here. I want to get a push mower for the every other week my self. I am 76, and worry about a brand that is hard to push. Do you have a Fiskars, too? They
    cost more than I had wanted to pay, I think.

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    1. Hmmm... well, the sticker on mine says "American" so I assume that's the brand name. I honestly don't pay too much attention to that sort of thing.

      In my experience how difficult it is to push depends on five things.

      1) Keeping the blades adjusted properly so that they cut but aren't rubbing so close that they create a lot of friction making it more difficult to push.

      2) Picking up all the sticks before you mow. These things can't slice through them like a power mower can and every time you hit one you'll come to a rather abrupt and unpleasant stop.

      3) The overall weight of the machine - go as light as you can.

      4) The diameter of the wheels. Bigger wheels are MUCH easier to push because they don't tend to get caught in every little depression of the ground.

      5) And the most important... don't let the grass get too long! If you're trying to remove more than an inch or two of height you're gonna be in trouble! This is why I kept my electric mower as a backup for the times I've let it go too long.

      Good luck with it. Hope it works out for you!
      :-)
      Cat

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