The Elegant, No-Engine, Reel Lawn Mower

Reel mowerAnd here we have my first non-cycling-related article on this blog, which some of you might find a pleasant relief.  However, it is still somewhat related since the subject matter is still about human-powered machines, the “simpler is just as good or maybe better” concept, and being environmentally friendly.  This article is about how I mow my lawn!

Many years ago, back when I still lived with my parents, my mom decided to buy a reel mower.  She hated smelly lawn mower exhaust and she was a big fan of peace and quiet, so she read up on reel mowers and decided to have her son (me, the family landscaper) give one a shot!  After getting used to the feel of the mower, I found that I liked it better than motorized lawn mowers for a number of reasons:

  1. No more burning sinuses.  Mowing for thirty minutes while breathing in exhaust never made my nose feel very good.
  2. I didn’t have to take a shower after mowing.  Sure I was a little sweaty, but I didn’t smell like I worked at a mechanic shop or petroleum refinery.
  3. Modern engine-less mowers are very lightweight and easy to push.  I find them much easier to push (especially uphill) than hauling around an engine on a mower.
  4. You can stop mowing whenever you want without wasting gasoline, having to restart an engine, or getting shot by something flying out of a grass chute.  Stop anytime to move something out of the way, pick up some trash, go get a drink, whatever.
  5. Reel mowers are safer.  The blade is easy to see and therefore easy to stay away from.  And the blade stops quickly and easily—you just have to stop pushing the mower!  Also, it’s virtually impossible to injure a foot while mowing since the grass cutting happens in the front of the mower, not the rear.  And even if a body part somehow got into that area of the mower, the injury would probably result in only a deep cut, whereas a motorized mower would most likely deliver a much more serious wound.
  6. No having to run to get more gasoline, no oil changes, no service and maintenance, no fuss, no mess (lots of cash savings over time).  Reel mower blades are scissor-action, so they sharpen themselves.  As the blades getting trimmed down over time, you simply give a little turn to the blade adjustments screws, and you’re back in action and your mower feels brand new again.  Oh, and I guess you have to apply a bit of oil and grease to the moving parts at the beginning of each mowing season.
  7. Reel mowers start out at only $150.  Try finding a brand new motorized mower for that price!

Reel mowerYears later when I purchased my own home I bought my own reel mower, pictured in this article.  This is my first home and doesn’t have a lot of grass to mow, so a reel mower is ideal.  If I ever buy a home with a massive yard, I might consider buying a different kind of mower, but using a reel mower on a small to medium sized lawn is quite easy.

Reel mowers are very simple machines, so they usually have no problems or repairs for many years.  After using my mower for 6 years, however, the handle decided to snap off!  After calling around to all the local stores that sold mowers, I was told that replacement parts didn’t exist for any kind of reel mower than they knew of and that I’d have to just buy a new one.  I thought this was ridiculous, so I called around to some repair places, looked on, and I found that I actually had a few options.  I found a handyman who said I could go buy a pipe from a local hardware store and he would bend it, drill it, and that should work fine as a handle.  There were also a few people on selling ancient reel mowers for a few dollars, and from the photos it looked like I could probably fit an old mower’s handle onto my mower with a little bit of finagling.  That weekend, my wife and I went to a friends’ yard sale that was going on, and lo and behold an old fashioned reel mower was there for sale!  To make a long story short, I bought it for the low, low price of $5, took the handle off of it, bent it a little to fit my mower, and I was back to happily mowing in no time!  It sure beat buying another mower!

Reel mowerAlso, before taking the handle off of the old lawn mower, I actually tried a bit of mowing with it.  I was horrendously astonished at how heavy and stiff it was to move, as it weighed about 3 times as much as my modern reel mower.  Whenever I talk to anyone about my reel mower, the first thing they always say is “haha, I’ll bet that’s a workout!”  Well, they’re probably remembering the good old days of these Fred Flintstone models.  Reel mowers have changed a lot, folks.  They are no longer made out of anvils and boulders, and are now made with lightweight steel and modern components; so I suggest you head over your favorite hardware store and give a new one a try before spreading anymore hate and discontent about these wonderful machines!

Lastly, here is another benefit of reel mowers from the lawn mower Wikipedia article:

Of all the mowers, a properly adjusted cylinder [reel] mower makes the cleanest cut of the grass, and this allows the grass to heal more quickly. The cut of a well-adjusted cylinder mower is straight and definite, as if cut with a pair of scissors. This clean cut promotes healthier, thicker and more resilient lawn growth that is more resistant to disease, weeds and parasites. Lawn cut with a cylinder mower is less likely to result in yellow, white or brown colouration as a result of leaf shredding.

Cool!  :-D  Happy mowing, everyone!

2 comments to The Elegant, No-Engine, Reel Lawn Mower

  • Jane Smith

    I have this exact model. I bought it used, and have no idea how to sharpen. But at least I know now there is a way. I will have to figure out what screws to turn. Thank you!

  • The blades are scissor-action, so they sharpen themselves for the most part. However, if you Google for “how to sharpen reel mower”, you’ll get a few additional methods. I’ve never sharpened mine and it seems to still cut fine. My lawn isn’t very thick or big, though. ;-)

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