Best Reel Mower
There are real advantages to owning a property that does not have a very large lawn. Smaller lawns are a lot easier to maintain and care for than large ones, for fairly obvious reasons. This allows you to really concentrate on paying more attention to the details of the lawn. It is more likely that you will be able to catch weeds as soon as they crop up on a smaller lawn; you can more easily overseed the lawn when it starts getting sparse or as winter approaches; and you will notice brown patches or bare spots a lot more quickly on a smaller lawn. But best of all, you do not need a big, power lawn mower to keep a smaller lawn looking great.
In the past, power mowers had several advantages over reel mowers: not only did they have much wider cutting decks than reel mowers, they also generally outperformed reel mowers in terms of the power they could provide and the evenness of the cut they gave the lawn. But this is no longer the case. In recent years, design innovations have increased the width of reel mowers’ cutting decks considerably, and now there are models available that can provide the same widths as many power lawn mowers. And in a similar vein, modern reel mowers have extra blades that are made to spin faster and provide professional looking manicured cuts to your lawn.
There are plenty of reasons reel mowers can be a superior choice to gas powered or even electric lawn mowers. For starters, there is the environmental aspect: reel mowers are the only ones that are truly 100 percent free of carbon emissions. These machines run on nothing but human power, and you can significantly reduce your family’s carbon footprint by switching to one. Reel mowers also do not need the kind of maintenance that gas powered lawn mowers do, and unlike electric lawn mowers they do not have batteries that will one day die.
In fact, if they are properly taken care of, reel mowers can last practically indefinitely, and may even outlive their owners. Beyond that, reel mowers are much simpler to use than power mowers: you simply point the reel mower in the right direction and start pushing. And they are much lighter and take up far less storage space in your garage or tool shed than electric or gas lawn mowers do.
But there are a lot of reel mowers out there, made by different companies, and with different designs, reel widths, and other specs. It can be difficult to determine which one is the best for you. Fortunately, finding the right reel mower does not have to be that hard. By familiarizing yourself with the characteristics that set the best reel mowers apart from the pack, you can quickly determine whether a particular model is quality or not. Then, once you have narrowed down the field to a few of the best models, all that’s left is figuring out how much you want to spend.
1. Best Reel Mower Characteristics
1a. Cutting Width
On any lawn mower – but especially on reel mowers – the cutting reel width is going to be one of the most important factors in determining the mower’s efficiency. The width of the cutting reel is going to establish how big a swath the lawn mower can cut in a single pass. Wider cutting reels can cut a lawn in fewer passes than narrower cutting reels can, which will save you a great deal of time and effort in the long run. You want to make sure you are getting the widest possible cutting reel for your price range. But it is also important to ensure that the cutting reel is not so wide that it will be unwieldy or difficult to get into tight corners. While this is not usually much of a problem with reel mowers, it is still something that is worth thinking about.
The width of most cutting reels is typically between ten and twenty inches, although there are a few reel mowers that are slightly wider than that. Regardless of how small your lawn is, I do not think it is a good move to get a ten inch reel mower – no matter how cheap it is. Increasing that width by just a few inches can cut down on the total amount of time you have to spend mowing your lawn by as much as thirty percent.
That may not seem like a lot – especially if it takes you less than half an hour to cut your lawn – but it can seriously add up over the course of a summer. As much as I love working in the yard, in my opinion the less time you have to spend mowing the lawn the more time you can commit to weeding and feeding it, edging it, and making sure it is the best looking little lawn on your block.
Very wide reels are of course going to be able to cut your lawn much faster than even medium sized ones, but there is a limit to the return you will get on reel sizes. As they get bigger, the extra inch or two does not have the same effect that it will on a small lawn mower’s ability to cut a lawn quickly. So you will reach a point – usually around 80% of the biggest available size – in which the extra cost outweighs the benefit.
1b. Reel Design
The design of the blades and cutting reel on a manual reel mower is very important – arguably more important than the design of the cutting deck on a power mower to that kind of machine’s performance. That is because on a reel mower, there is no motor or engine helping to drive the blades through grass. On mechanical machines, the engineering and design of key components is what will determine their overall ability to get work done. If the design is shoddy – or even if it is not the most superior available – you are going to wind up doing a lot more work to get a good cut than you should have to.
There are various designs for the cutting reel, and certain ones are definitely superior to others. The traditional design for a reel mower is one in which the cutting reel is mounted on a free wheel assembly that is connected to the outer wheels; as the wheels turn, they push the cutting reel. This design has its limits, however: much like on a single-speed bicycle, it takes a fair amount of effort to overcome the resting inertia of the cutting reel and get it spinning quickly.
More recently, cutting reel design has improved so that it does not take the same amount of effort to get the reel spinning at a good clip. These models have their reels mounted ball bearings between the shaft and the blades. These reels will also have more shafts – called “spiders” in the industry – mounted between each end to both provide more support to the blades and more contact points to the wheels. The contact points are mounted on ball bearings. Extra contact points allows for more ball bearing supports. More ball bearings allow the cutting reel to spin much more freely than on older models, which makes it far easier to get the cutting reel spinning quickly and makes sure the cutting reel spins longer without losing momentum.
The number and design of the blades is important as well. Five blades is always going to be superior to three or even four. The design of the blades will either be traditional, in which the cutting reel makes contact with a slicing blade in the rear of the mower, or no-contact. No-contact reel mowers are exactly that: the cutting reel does not make contact with the rear slicing blade. These mowers run almost silently, which is one advantage; more importantly, they do not need to be sharpened as often.
1c. Materials & Durability
Again, as with the design of the cutting reel, the materials that the reel mower is constructed with are going to have a huge impact on its ability to cut the lawn. With a power mower you can get away for a little while with blades that are not made of high gauge steel or a body that is made of thick plastic, but this is not the case with a reel mower. These machines have no power source to support them, and so they need to be made of the highest quality materials.
This is especially true if you are purchasing a mower with a traditional style cutting reel, although it also applies with a no-contact reel mower. Because the blades on a traditional style reel are making contact with a thick rear slicing blade on every single spin, they will get worn down very easily if they are not made of durable, high gauge, heat treated steel. This will mean you have to sharpen them more often than once a year – which is the maximum you should have to sharpen reel mower blades – and will wind up costing you a lot of time, effort, and possibly even money in the long run.
But it is not just the blades that have to be made from durable materials. The entire machine has to hold up to the rigors of manually cutting the lawn. The wheels on reel mowers are almost universally made of plastic, but there are plenty of models that have rubber tires as well. Make sure the wheels are made of a durable composite poly, and not a thin plastic. Metal wheels are obviously better. Te tires do not have to be very thick, but they should at least have treads that will help provide more traction to the mower.
The handle should also be made of durable metal. Aluminum handles, unless they are reinforced, are not going to cut it. You will be putting your weight on the handle in order to get the mower going – especially if you are pushing it through dense grass or working on tough Bermuda or St. Augustine varietals – and you do not want to have the handle buckling or bending under the strain. Finally, make sure the connections are made of solid, well designed nuts and bolts. I generally stay away from wing nuts, and avoid plastic connectors altogether for obvious reasons.
1d. Cutting Height
The height adjustment options are very important on reel mowers for a number of reasons. Depending on the season and type of grass you have, you are going to want to be able to cut it at different heights. A fair number of reel mowers do not have very tall settings for their blade height, and this can present problems depending on what kind of grass you have.
It is more important to let the grass grow a bit taller in the heat of summer than it is in colder months (obviously if you live in a climate that gets real winters, you will not be mowing it during the winter at all, and rarely in the spring or summer). It is also important to make sure you are never cutting your lawn shorter than 1/3 its current height, because this can leave it susceptible to all kinds of problems. Grass that is consistently cut too short will be more likely to suffer the effects of drought. It will also be more likely to develop problems with insects, invasions from weeds, or microbial infections.
But on the other hand, there are times when you do want to cut your lawn very short. If you are preparing your lawn for overseeding it, this is part of the process. Overseeding is an important part of lawn care, especially if you live in a region where warm season grasses predominate; these species go dormant during the winter, and overseeding with winter rye can keep your lawn looking great through those months. Overseeding is also a good way to reinvigorate a lawn that is getting thin or straggly. The first step in overseeding is scalping the lawn, or cutting it down to a half an inch or so. With a reel mower that does not go that low, you will have problems properly caring for it.
You can see why it is important to find a reel mower that has a fairly wide range of height adjustment options. I prefer mowers that can be adjusted from a half an inch all the way up to 3.5 or even 4 inches. This gives you a good range for whatever length your grass needs to be cut. In addition to this, make sure the reel mower has several options within that range. It’s no good if there are only two or three height options to choose from.
1e. Other Considerations
There are a few other considerations to look at once you have narrowed down your decision to a few reel mowers based on the width, design, and height of the cutting reel and the height options. Some of these affect how easy it will be to use the mower, and others influence how well the mower will function. They include the mower’s size and weight, ergonomic considerations, grass management options.
The size and weight of the reel mower are important for a variety of reasons. While reel mowers are the most compact lawn mowers out there, they do vary in weight a bit. A lighter mower is going to be a bit easier to maneuver around the yard and lift up to but away on a hook in the tool shed, which is good. But heavier reel mowers have the advantage that they will be more stable on uneven ground and be able to tackle tough patches of grass more easily.
The overall footprint of reel mowers is typically pretty small, too, but again there is some variance here. One area in which the total size of the mower is important is in relation to the width of the blade. You do not want to buy a reel mower that has wheels that are set much wider apart than the cutting reel. When this is the case, you are left with a trip of uncut grass at the edge of the lawn, especially if it abuts walls or fences, which will force you to go back over that strip with an edger.
The ergonomics of the machine will determine how comfortable it is to use it, and this is important for your own health as well. Make sure the handle of the reel mower is well padded with foam. The handle should be adjustable to accommodate users of different heights. Loop handles tend to be more ergonomic than T-shaped handles.
Not many reel mowers come with multiple options for managing the clippings, but some do. Certain models come with rear grass catchers, which get rid of the need to rake clippings from the lawn or sweep them up. And among reel mowers that do not have grass catchers, most kick clippings out the back of the cutting reel. But more recently, designs in which the clippings kick out the front of the mower are becoming more common; these are great for saving your shoes from grass stains.
2. Best Reel Mower Reviews
The Great States 415-16 is a manual reel mower with a 16 inch cutting deck. This places it in the mid range for reel mower cutting deck widths, and makes it wide enough that it will be able to handle small lawns efficiently and in fewer passes. It is rather lightweight for its size, weighing […]
The American Lawn Mower 1304-14 is a manual reel mower designed to provide the most efficient lawn care experience to homeowners with very small yards while providing significant savings. This mower is quieter, smaller, and more lightweight than rotary power mowers as well as most manual reel mowers. As a result, it is perfect for […]
The American Lawn Mower 1404-16 is a manual reel mower with a sixteen inch wide cutting reel. The cutting reel has five hardened steel blades that are designed to provide reliable cuts without needing to be sharpened too often. The reel is mounted on a 4-spider ball bearing assembly that helps get it spinning quickly […]