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Reel Mowers - Buyers Guide

Battery powered reel lawn mower
Figure 1 - Battery powered reel lawn mower

If you're new to manual lawn mowers, for now, here are some of the most important things to start thinking about as you shop for a new eco-friendly mower.

  • Some reel mowers are electric and/or come with batteries (Figure 1). In my opinion, manual reel mowers work just as well as electric reel mower for most people.
  • For average sized yards, smaller mowers work great. Larger reel mowers will give you a slightly wider cut and may reduce mowing time if you have more space to mow. However, they also weigh a little more.
  • The mower you choose should be based on your location and the type of grass you have. See below for more details.
  • Reel mowers cut your grass at a healthy height, usually below 3 inches. The height of your cut depends on your grass as well. Keep reading for more information on grass height.
  • Heavier mowers cut certain grasses better. Find out what kind of grass you have and refer to the information below about mower weight.
  • There are two basic designs of reel mowers: mowers whose blades make contact with the reel, and silent cut mowers, with no contact. Because the blades are made of different materials depending on the mower, both kinds require minimal maintenance.
  • Reel mowers are easy to maintain and last for a long time. In general, sharpening your mower is not as important as aligning and adjusting it, which is very easy.
  • Now that you've got the basic idea, we'll go on to discuss the different features of reel mowers in more detail to help you make an informed decision.

  • Do you want a manual reel mower, or do you want an electric reel mower?
  • If you are drawn toward an electric reel mower, you probably don't want to hear my opinion on this one, because I have a definite bias. In my opinion, no one really NEEDS an electric reel mower. It's sort of like adding a motor to a horse. What's the point? People who like electric reel lawnmowers will usually point out the following advantages.

  • When the electric motor turns the blades for you, it does most of the cutting work, so it is slightly easier to push. That's true, but an electric reel mower is also heavier, because it has to carry the weight of the batteries and the motor. It's easier to push through the grass, but it's harder to pick up because it weighs more.
  • An electric mower also spins the blades at a much higher RPM, so you get more cuts per square inch and a slightly cleaner cut. You can actually increase this effect by walking super slow with the mower while the blades are turning faster. With a manual reel mower, you have to walk faster to make the blades turn faster. Again, this is true.

Does A Bigger Reel Mower Mean A Wider, Faster Cut?

The general rule is the wider the mower, the more grass it cuts with each row that you push. If you mow with a 16″ reel mower you are mowing more grass with each pass of the mower. If you mow with a 12″ reel mower, you are mowing 12 inches of grass with each pass, which if you have a small amount of grass, you won't notice a bit of difference in the time it takes to mow. As the yard gets larger, the difference in mower width becomes a bit more noticeable.

However, smaller mowers typically weigh less. So, they are easier to lift when you hang them on a wall in your garage or you carry them up and down stairs. They may or may not be easier to push through the grass depending on your situation.

In the end, the person pushing a manual reel push lawnmower is the motor. So when you let the grass get overgrown because you go out of town for two weeks, you, the motor, will be doing the extra work to cut the grass back down, regardless of the size, weight, or width of the mower.

How high or low does the mower cut?

The 3 inch cut is a complete generalization. Different types of grasses have different optimal cutting heights.

The Lawn Institute brings us a clear list on proper grass height. No matter the kind of grass you have, there is a simple; rule of thumb to follow when mowing your lawn.

Never remove more than one-third (1/3) of the leaf surface each time you mow. Leaf surface, or cutting height, refers to the length of grass above the soil. Cutting below the optimum height impedes root development, which is key to having a dense, healthy lawn. Use Table 1 to determine the best growing height for your kind of grass and when to mow it again.

Table 1 - Optimal Grass Cutting

Table 1 - Optimal Grass Cutting

Seven Reasons to Use a Reel Mower:

  1. They're light
  2. They're quiet
  3. They're environmentally friendly
  4. They're better for your grass. (Rotary mowers tear the grass. Reel mowers cut the grass like scissors, leaving a fine spray of cuttings as mulch for your yard.)
  5. They're virtually maintenance free
  6. They're as easy to push as much heavier motorized mowers
  7. They don't blow exhaust into your face while you're mowing.

Oh, and they cost less too!