Lawnmowers – Keeping it Reel vs Gettin’ Er Done

My partner and I are in complete opposition on this issue.

He is a career flute and bass player born in Ithaca, New York who spent most of his life in Eugene or Portland, Oregon. I was born in Asheville, North Carolina -and save for a brief spate of time spent in the U.P. Of Michigan and around York, PA – was raised in Western North Carolina and Upstate, South Carolina.

He was raised in urban centers and on college campuses and I was raised on farms and hillsides.

So when it comes to lawn care we have very different values.

He is all for cleanliness, greenness, and renewable resources. He feels that the weather is largely inconsequential, and he loves the idea of an urban garden but has no idea how to maintain one. This means he buys plants and trees and has elaborate garden and yard plans and that I plant his plants and trees (or explain why they won’t actually grow here) and actually maintain the yard and garden.

Recently he purchased a reel mower. One of the old-fashioned kind that has no motor and which is powered largely by its human owner. His reasoning is that they are “greener”, less noisy, and just as efficient.

I, on the other hand, repaired our walk behind/push power mower. We take turns doing the yard and the results have varied.

Below I will list the pros and cons of each mower from our running experiment – and then as a bonus I will include a few paragraphs on how to use and maintain each mower so that you can try them for yourselves.

But first, it’s table time.

Environmentally friendly Cuts more quickly and all heights of grass -better for larger yards
Minimum number of moving parts Mulches small twigs
Adjustable height Adjustable height
Less noise Most models include power assisted wheels for easier use
Lighter Less likely to rust
More easily collapsible Blade easy to sharpen
Easier to maintain Easy to maintain
Requires serious upper body strength – not good for large yards or very hot weather as exposure time and effort are both increased. Heavier
Blade must be manually cleaned every ten feet Louder
Blade sharpening is tricky given helix shape Harder to transport
All sticks and twigs must be removed from yard before starting to mow Requires gas and oil
Has trouble with tall grass – tangles in blade or folds under it May require professional repair
Blade always exposed and only rolls one way – you can’t back up.

Okay, having gotten that out of the way, lets move on to maintenance.

Check to make sure blades are unobstructed and frame unbent so that blade has full clearance Check to make sure blades are unobstructed and frame unbent so that blade has full clearance
Check to make sure blade bearings are oiled, freely moving and that blade rotates fully. Oil blade shaft. DO NOT ATTEMT TO ROTATE MANUALLY AS THIS CAN START THE ENGINE!
Oil all four wheel hubs and make sure wheels rotate fully. Oil all four wheel hubs and make sure wheels rotate fully.
Keep blades sharp. Use a rat tail file to remove burrs and reduce nicks. Check oil and gas levels. It is best to do this on a flat surface as fluid level readings will be both truer and easier to obtain. Always make sure to wipe the oil dipstick at least once as you need a clean dipstick to get an accurate reading.
Start mowing. Tighten spark plug and make sure spark wire cap is in full contact of plug.
Check starter pull cord for frays or breakages.
Keep blade sharp and blower output clear.
When ready to begin use primer button (if there is one) to prime engine. The manual will tell you how to do this and precisely how often. Do not flood engine. If you smell gas, then wait before starting the mower.

Despite the extra steps in power maintenance, I still prefer my Briggs and Stratton. Our yard is not small, it has unusual contours that make the full turns of a reel mower a nuisance, and while it is louder in volume, it does not sound like a pack of angry scissors a noise that annoys me severely.

Also, if properly maintained, smoke and emissions from a good small engine are actually pretty negligible.

I might as well confess that I don’t have the awesome guns my partner sports either. The reel mower tires me out very quickly. And if the weather is truly hot the addition exposure time and effort also lead to some major dehydration issues.

I prefer to pass on the heat stroke.

But since my bias is obvious, I recommend that you try both for yourself and see which one works better for you, your yard and your family.

Happy mowing!


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