Top ten reasons to use a reel mower

Submitted by Ben on Thu, 01/08/2009 - 21:23

My landlady in Fairfield had an old rusty reel mower in the garage, and I tried using it once before giving up -- it just wouldn't cut worth a darn, so I assumed it was dull, and I asked around to see if anyone would sharpen it, but no one would.  But then just before I left Fairfield, a friend told me that he used a reel mower, and he was the first person I'd ever met who did, so I asked him how he sharpened it.  He said, "You don't need to sharpen it.  You just adjust it right, and it sharpens itself."  Well, that got me intrigued, so I tinkered with the thing until I figured it out, and it did an OK job.  I wouldn't want to use it on a lawn the size of the one I had in Fairfield, but for one the size we were buying in Emporia, it was just the thing, so I asked my landlady if I could buy it from her, and she gave it to me for free!

During the summer and fall, I had plenty of time to think about what I was doing.  In no particular order, here's a partial list of top ten Reasons to Use a Reel Mower:

  1. Never use two horses to do what a quarter of a horse can do.
  2. Gas-powered mowers are noisy and smelly, and electric ones are expensive.
  3. No really, how many quiet evenings have been ruined because your neighbors were mowing their lawns?  Do you want to be that obnoxious to them?
  4. Power mowers are dangerous.  Why does a blade have to go so fast just to cut grass?  You might as well keep a chainsaw in your kitchen to open cans.
  5. It's great whole-body, aerobic exercise.
  6. It will make you seriously wonder why you have so much grass.  Even if you have hardly any to start with.
  7. It will make you see the virtues of crab grass, which is succulent and easy to cut, over zoysia, which is stringy and tough.
  8. The way it throws clippings into the air, it's like marching in your own ticker-tape parade.
  9. Mulching mowers are back in style.  This mower was mulching before mulching was cool.
  10. It slows traffic in your neighborhood.

I hope I can convince some of you to give a reel mower a try.  It's not for everyone... at least not yet!


Nathaniel (not verified)

Wed, 05/13/2009 - 12:53

We have a reel mower. I didn't make enough effort to go find one for cheap/free so we just bought one from Lowes at less than half the price of a gas mower. Good cordless electrics are double even that. I've found our reel mower to be perfectly functional after about June. But April and May suck. Our grass grows too fast for me to keep up with and once it gets above a certain height the mower bends it over rather than cutting it so we end up with this scraggly lawn. If I could figure that piece out I'd be much happier with it. Ours also is self-sharpening, but not by simply using it. You take the reel out, turn it around and then run it a bit. I've found a bit of wd-40 on the blades also makes life a bit easier. Definitely true that we bought out house in part because of the big yard space and I am now trying to figure out how to get rid of grass in need of mowing in all the places we don't need it.

Another bonus of using a reel mower is that no one knows what a reel mower is, so they think you're saying that you, the super stud you are, are using a REAL mower. Not one of those pansy things that everyone else has.

You're right that a reel mower does create a scraggly lawn (thatch) by bending long pieces over.  Those who want a healthy, uniformly green lawn will probably want to stick with a rotary mower.  But those who use the lawn primarily to keep the mud off their shoes will find that thatch works just as well!  :-)

cece (not verified)

Sat, 09/05/2009 - 21:46

I mow every week. I have a beautiful crabgrass lawn--I'm green and lush all summer. I just mowed tonight and saw no thatch at all. How can you have thatch with a reel mower, it cuts instead of ripping like a rotary mower. I'm sorry but your comment annoyed me very much. Look, I have a large parcel of uneven land, crab grass, and I use a one-inch cut and it looks beautiful. I get nice comments all summer about the pretty striping. I have no thatch. I think you must have had a bad experience with a poorly made reel mower, you sound angry. But truthfully, you are unfair and inaccurate with your comment that reel mowers make thatch. That is just not a fact and is not true. Toledo, Ohio

Sorry, you're the one that sounds angry.  I apologize that the generalization I made from my experience did not apply to you.  But the generalization from your experience also does not apply to me.  I'm glad you don't have thatch, and I stand corrected in my generalization that a reel mower will necessarily create thatch, but how can you tell me that I don't have thatch either?  Did I miss you when you came down from Ohio to inspect my lawn?  I think you may be unclear on what I mean by thatch -- cutting vs. ripping the grass is irrelevant.  The issue is that the mower knocks over tall pieces and lays them down horizontal instead of either cutting or ripping them, so long pieces just get longer and longer, growing horizontally in the grass and smothering other pieces that would like to grow upright.  This is what I mean by thatch, and it doesn't happen with a rotary mower because the rotary mower creates an upward suction that pulls the grass upright before cutting (or ripping, if you prefer) it.  As long as I mow every week, it doesn't happen, but if I'm a few days late, the thatch starts to build up and I have to borrow a rotary mower to remedy the situation.  You may not have this problem in Ohio, but I assure you, here in Kansas we do.  If you'd like to prove me wrong, you're welcome to come mow my lawn.  :-)