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Reel Mower Buyer's Guide



So, you're thinking about trying a reel lawn mower.

Good idea!

You're probably sick of the noise, the smoke and the hassles of keeping a gasoline-powered mower running. Or perhaps you are interested in a more environmentally friendly mowing solution. Or maybe you just don't have a lot of room, so you are looking for something small that you can hang on a wall in your garage.

Whatever your reason, you're making a good decision. Reel mowers are light, quiet, environmentally friendly, and contrary to what you might think, they're just about as easy to push as mowers with heavy motors. They're also better for your grass because they cut rather than tear the grass like gas-powered mowers.

Manual push mowers are also extremely easy to maintain. No need to change spark plugs and no air filters, and no gas cans! Of course, the best reason is that they don't blow exhaust in your face or rattle your nerves with ear-splitting noise.

Before you buy a reel mower though, you should probably know that there are a few situations where a reel mower isn't really an ideal choice.

Two Situations Where a Reel Mower isn't a Great Choice

1. If your yard looks like a vacant city lot, full of rocks, sticks and 2-foot tall weeds, you probably don't want a reel mower.

One thing that a gas mower has going for it is that it will typically destroy and mow down anything in its path with nary a complaint.

If you are mowing something that sounds like this, you won't be happy with a reel mower, which will bind up and skid and generally have a hard time with an out of control landscape like the one I just described.

Reel mowers are designed to mow grass, not tall weeds. They neatly cut your grass, and they perform the job exceptionally well. Tall willowy weeds typically roll right under a reel mower, leaving them to pop back up behind you.

Inevitably, you may have some weeds in your yard. Just pull them as you go. It's as easy as that! The more you mow over the growing season, the fewer weeds you'll have, so the issue will resolve itself. Mowing makes grass stronger and healthier, but it makes weeds weaker! That's because grass grows in a different way than weeds, and cutting it will stimulate growth and make grass grow back thicker. If you're interested, you can check out this excellent Virginia Tech website which talks about how grass grows. It has some great Flash animation that shows grass actively growing.

Note that reel mowers will mow through lower-growing, leafy kinds of weeds like clover and other kinds of plants you commonly find in the yard. It will also cut the lower part of a dandelion, but it will probably roll right over the longer stem, for example.

2. If you have a huge expanse of lawn, a reel mower may be too tiring and time consuming to use.

Let's face it, a reel mower is typically smaller than a big power mower, so it takes a bit longer to mow with. With a small to average sized lawn, you hardly notice the difference in the amount of time it takes. But when your yard starts to get gigantic, where you are mowing about a full half acre of grass, then using a manual reel mower starts to become a chore that most people are unwilling to take on.

In this case, you'll probably want to check out a mower with an engine. Remember, if you choose to buy a mower with an engine, we encourage you to purchase clean, exhaust-free electric mowers or a modern gas mower that includes some pollution control in the design.

However, if you live on a half acre lot or smaller, a reel mower is a very reasonable choice for you. But wait, didn't you just say something about a half-acre of grass being too much, you ask? Yes, I did! But there is a big difference between a half-acre of grass, and a house that is situated on a half-acre lot. When you have a house on a lot, it takes up a lot of space with the driveway, the house, the garage, the flower beds, the back patio, etc. That is different than a half acre of just grass.

You should know that most gas-powered mowers don't have things like catalytic converters built in to reduce smog. This is changing. So, if you're concerned about your health and the environment, you owe it to yourself to find eco-friendly ways to mow your lawn.

So, now you know when a reel mower might not work for you. However, when your lawn does not look like the ones described above, then a reel mower might be a good choice for you!

Now, the question is, how do you choose which reel mower to buy?

We get a lot of emails asking which reel mower is the BEST reel mower. The people who send these emails want to get the best one quickly and start using it. Sounds like a pretty good strategy, right? Alas, it isn't that simple.

If there were truly one best reel mower for every situation, we would just carry one model. Why would we offer so many different mowers if just one model is superior to all the others?

The issue is that people have different needs and desires when it comes to a reel mower, so we picked out a range of mowers that hit the sweet spot of best mower for the biggest range of people.

To you as a potential mower buyer, that means you'll still have to put a little bit of thought into which reel mower you want to get so that it works for you. So keep reading, and I'll give you some tips on what kinds of questions you should be asking yourself when you pick out your reel mower.

What To Consider When Buying a Reel Mower

If you're new to manual lawn mowers, a little later in this guide we'll explore all the details of what you'll need to know to buy the mower that's right for you.

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. 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.

  • We often recommend mowers based on your location and the type of grass you have. See below for more details.

  • Our reel mowers cut your grass at a healthy height, usually below 3 inches. The height of your cut depends on your grass as well. We do offer mowers that cut around 3 inches. 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.

    However, if I came over and mowed your yard with either an electric or a manual reel mower or even a gas powered mower and you looked at it two days later, you really would not be able to guess which mower was used. Or if you could, then you're probably a turf management specialist for a golf course, and you don't need to read my little guide to reel mowers in the first place.

    The Brill Razorcut electric mower will cut when you push it like a manual reel mower, but it uses proprietary batteries that are expensive to replace when they eventually wear out after a few hundred charges and discharges.

    So that's my opinion on the whole manual reel mower versus an electric reel mower issue.

    You'd think I would want to just sell you the more expensive electric reel mower and hype it up, but I'm weird like that. Some people really like their electric reel mowers and they do have certain advantages, so that's why we offer them as an option.

  • 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 the Scotts Classic, you are mowing 20 inches of grass with each pass of the mower. If you mow with a Brill Razorcut 38, you are mowing 38 centimeters of grass with each pass, which is about 15 inches.

    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?


  • I want to start out here with a comment about the whole 3 inch mowing height craze. People email all the time, "I read somewhere that I should keep my grass at least 3 inches tall!"

    The 3 inch cut is a complete generalization. Different types of grasses have different optimal cutting heights. Texas A&M has performed studies on the cutting ranges for various types of grasses. They are studies based on real research, and not just someone who says, "Three inches sounds like a good rule of thumb! I'll recommend that, even if it doesn't work for some grasses!"

    I have St Augustine grass in my own yard right now, and I cut my grass at lower than 2 inches. My grass is thick and green and healthy, and I live in an extremely hot part of the country. So, I'm living proof that the 3 inch rule isn't necessary for everyone.

    If you're a still not convinced, though, just look at the Scotts Classic, or the Fiskars Momentum reel mower. They give you the ability to cut at around 3 inches with the Scotts, and an incredibly high 4 inches with the Fiskars.

  • What type of grass do you have and where do you live?


  • After more than 10 years of using a reel mower in places I have lived around the country, and almost 10 years of selling reel mowers to people all over the United States, here is some advice I'd like to share.

    On the east coast, the west coast, and the northern half of the country, the lighter weight mowers like the Brill models tend to excel and get rave reviews.

    In the south and southwest, you see more of the thicker grasses like St Augustine, Bermuda, and Zoysia and sometimes just really thick cases of other grasses because of all the sun and heat. With those thick grass situations, the Scotts Classic works pretty well, and the Mascot 6 bladed reel mower totally excels. We see a slightly higher level of returns of Brill mowers versus the Scotts Classic or Mascot in this part of the country.

    Sometimes we'll get customers who send us emails about how their reel mower is "impossible to use" and how they are hard to push. In those cases, it's usually a case of the wrong mower for their type of grass.

    So that's why if you read reel mower reviews of particular models, you'll see lots of reviews about how great the mower is, followed by a small percentage of rants about how it's the worst thing ever invented. They just got the wrong mower for their yard, or they have one of those "not good for reel mower yards" that I described at the beginning of this guide.

    The good news is that we offer a 60 day money back guarantee, so no one gets stuck with a mower that they don't like. You're just responsible for the cost of shipping the mower back, which runs around the $20 or $30 range, depending on how much UPS or the post office is currently charging.

    And I want to point out that if it were true that reel mowers didn't work, we would be stuck with a lot of returns after 10 years of selling thousands and thousands of these mowers! How would we stay in business?

  • How much does the mower weigh and how does it affect the cut of the grass?


  • The weight of the mower is something that I briefly covered in other sections, but I'll address it directly here. In general, the bigger the mower, the heavier it gets. Electric mowers get even heavier, because they have motors and batteries connected to them.

    There are a few exceptions. The Prison Mower isn't that big, but it has heavy cast iron wheels so it has some heft to it. I'm guessing that prison wardens don't really care so much about how much a mower weighs as to how hard it is for a prisoner to break.

    If you have a thick grass like a Zoysia, a St Augustine, or a Bermuda, a heavier mower actually seems to work in your favor, strangely enough. A lightweight Brill manual mower will often bind up and skid on these types of grasses, because it just can't get through them. But the Mascot reel mower will typically plow right through. I use the Mascot on my own St Augustine lawn, as I mentioned previously. At my last home, I used the Scotts Classic on my Bermuda lawn. I wasn't able to use a Brill effectively on either of those lawns.

  • What kinds of blades do different reel mower models have and how do I maintain them?


  • First of all, when you get your reel mower, no matter which company makes it, you'll notice that it doesn't really have sharp blades like a knife. It has blades with a flat edge. That is normal. So if you look at your mower after a couple of years and the blades aren't sharp, that doesn't necessarily mean that the mower needs sharpening, since the blades weren't "sharp" to begin with. Keep that in mind!

    Second, much of the success with a reel mower will be determined with how well the blades are ADJUSTED. It is very easy to adjust a reel mower. Look at your owner's manual to find out how to adjust it for the specific model. Adjusting it means that you are making the reel line up correctly inside the mower body so that it sits properly against the bedknife of the mower.

    With the mowers made by American Lawnmower, like the Scotts Classic and the Prison mower, the blades are designed to make contact with the cutter bar as the reel turns. So you hear a little "Click, click, click" as you push the mower.

    With Brill reel mowers, you get a "Silent Cut" design, where the blades just barely miss the cutter bar by less than a millimeter. So it's still close enough that it cuts the grass perfectly, but you don't get any metal on metal contact or friction.

    When either one of those models seem like they aren't cutting as well as they did in seasons past, you'll typically just need to adjust the blades so that they are aligned correctly again, and you're ready to go.

    The American Lawnmower mowers have a slightly softer tempered alloy blade design, and they also have metal on metal contact. So eventually, you'll need to sharpen that type of mower. (I've had my Scotts Classic for three years now and I still haven't sharpened yet, so that gives you an idea of how long you can really go, and how little maintenance there really is, even with the supposedly higher maintenance models.)

    You can sharpen a Prison Mower, a Scotts Classic, or any of the American Lawnmower reel mowers yourself with a handy, easy to use sharpening kit that we sell. It takes 30 minutes or less, and anyone can do it. It really isn't hard at all.

    But what do you do about sharpening a Brill?

    Well, first of all, the Brill push mowers have hardened steel blades, which are harder than mere tempered alloy. And second of all, unlike the American Lawnmower mowers, there is no metal-on-metal contact where the blade hits against the cutter bar. No metal on metal contact and harder blades means very little friction and wear over time.

    Remember how I told you how I mowed with with my Scotts Classic for more than three years without sharpening it at my previous home, before I switched to a Mascot? Well, you'll probably make it 8 to 10 years with a Brill mower, for the reasons that I just described.

    It's all about keeping the blades aligned and adjusted with the Brill reel lawnmowers.

    But what happens after 8 to 10 years? Well, there's a Brill reel mower sharpening kit. It's inexpensive, and easy to use.

    You can keep it going for decades if you choose. But 10 years from now, we might have flying reel mowers made of titanium and powered by solar powered robots that will also do your laundry and cook your meals. So it might be worth it to just upgrade to a new magic super mower of the future.

    Still looking for more information? Try the Ultimate Reel Mower Site for more details about individual manual and electric reel lawnmower models.

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