Monday, March 17, 2008

#193 - The Reel Deal

Mowing the Lawn with a Reel Mower

I know some of you are still in "snow shovel" mode, but down here in sunny Virginia, we're gearing up for Spring and things are starting to blossom! The daffodils are up, the trees are budding and the grass is starting to grow. Quickly.

So before hubby could even fill up the tank on the gas-powered pushmower, I trucked myself on down to Home Depot and picked up a good old fashioned reel mower. (I tried to find one on freecycle or craigslist first, but had no luck.)

Anyhow, we used to have one of those people-powered puppies at my grandmother's camp and I remember it did a fine job of keeping her 12' x 40' patch o' green looking neat. The question is -- would it work on our slightly larger and much more inclined yard? The second question, of course, would be -- is hubby going to poo-poo the idea as another wacky green scheme that is destined to fail?

Turns out the answers are 'yes' and 'no'. To both questions.

Yes, the mower did work on our lawn. It was no more difficult to push than the gas mower, in fact, I thought it was much easier to maneuver. It sure as hell was easier to start! It makes no noise and I'm able to use it in the front yard while the kids pick up pinecones, play on the steps or dig for worms.
The downside is that sometimes it's just as likely to bend the grass over as it is to cut it and a small twig or piece of mulch caught in the blades brings the machine to an abrupt stop. Personally, I thought it did a good enough job to satisfy the neighbors, but would definitely not pass muster as a par 3 golf course. The good news is, our yard isn't listed on the tour, so I think the reel mower will do just fine.

Hubby grumbled a bit at first, saying that he didn't think it would do the job. I think he thought I wasn't being reelistic. Then he tried it and was actually impressed at the ease of use. He didn't heartily endorse it, but didn't say it was crap either. He thought it would be great to use for a once-a-week cut, but feels certain the yard will still need a "thorough mowing" every now and again.

I'm betting that once the heat of summer hits full force, he'll be happy to have my slap-dash REEL mowing (performed by me in the cool mornings), rather than his 'wait-until-he-gets-home-after-work-when-it's-a-hundred-degrees-out' REAL mowing. We'll see. In the meantime, let's see what this little change means for the environment.

According to the EPA, more fuel is spilt each year filling up garden equipment (e.g. lawnmowers, string trimmers, chipper/shredders, etc.) than was lost in the entire Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. - Yikes. Also, mowing an average 1/4 acre lawn produces more air pollution than driving a new (i.e. 1995) pickup truck round-trip to NY from Washington D.C. - Double Yikes.

So from here on out, I'm going to be sticking with the reel deal, my friends.


I couldn't find good estimate online for how much gas we use when we mow the lawn. So I asked hubby and he estimates it takes about a half gallon of gas per mow. We try to maintain a quasi-presentable lawn, so we mow it every week. Here in Richmond, we start mowing around mid-March and stop in October. At a half gallon per mow, that's roughly 16 gallons of gas we will (hopefully) be skipping this year. And, at $3.15 a gallon, that amounts to over $50 in dollar savings. One more season and the reel mower will have paid for itself!

Difficutly Level: 1 out of 5

Personally, I prefer the reel mower to the gas machine. Let's face it, the gas mower is a mother-thumpin' bitch to start, it's noisy as hell, hard to push and you simply cannot use it when the kids are outside, for fear that they'll get hurt. The reel mower, on the other hand, is light, simple to operate, quiet as a mouse, and can be used around the kids. Although it should NEVER be used on the kids. It gives a very sloppy hairut.

Just kidding. In all seriousness, though, the kids shouldn't be allowed to touch it -- after all, those are big friggin' blades and they're sharp!

We'll see if I'm still still in love with the reel deal come June, when the lawn is thicker! Be sure to ask me then.... but in the meantime, remember: Reel men don't use gas mowers.


Vera said...

I have thought about getting into this, but there is no way that Brian will push a mower now that he has a riding one.

Joyce said...

We've ditched the gas powered mower, too. For several years we used reel mower, but found it hard work to keep up with the lawn in April and May when you have to mow more than once a week here. Finally, we got a rechargable cordless electric mower. I love it! It starts with just a little lever switch, it's quieter than a gas one, and you don't have to keep a can of gas in the garage, which I always thought was sort of a fire hazard.
I hear the new reel mowers are a big improvement over the old ones. And being able to mow when the kids are out playing is a big advantage. Keep us all posted on how this works out! I hope more people give this a try.

Lady Di said...

Oh goody, someone that I can ask questions of. Of course, I may have to wait until you've had it awhile before you can answer them, but I can wait. :)

I keep forgetting to find out how much those things run when we go to those stores, are they in the lawn mower section? I never seem to actually see them when we look (I must admit we get distracted by the riding lawn mowers since we have 2 acres here). I know that I won't be able to do the whole lawn with it, but I would like to at least offset some of it.

Our lawn is bumpy, and I don't mean hilly, I mean we have clumps of grass in spots, do you think that would be a problem? It's also quite thick in spots (and I see that might have to be a question to be answered later once our lovely summer humidity kicks in UGH).

How often and how easy is it to sharpen the blades?

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

three suggestions, nothing very original:
Native plantings to reduce lawn.
Food crop instead of raising grass in order to mow it(who the hell ever set THAT standard of beauty?).
EETY BEETY lawn, if any.

crabbydad said...

We use the ol' Scott's Classic on the crabbylawn. It's great if you cut it every week or so, but if we wait too long, holy carp it's a grass-kicker. My neighbors probably think I'm a tool when I'm pushing that thing around, but they think I'm a tool regardless, so ya know. The key with the reel mower is keeping it sharp and keeping the blades adjusted properly. If you do that, cutting the lawn can be quite the zen experience. Reels rule!

Green Bean said...

Great post. We too have a reel mower and love it. We got it last fall so, in all honesty, it might get to be a bit of a pain in the dead of summer but I love the fact that it makes no noise, is easy for me to operate and I can actually hear the birds and not disturb the kids or my cat while I'm mowing.

Stephanie said...

When I first bought our Reel mower my husband was sure he will still have to use the gas mower at least once a month to cut the grass, but after a couple of months of having both I finally convinced him to get rid of the gas guzzler. I think he liked that I would now occasionally mow too, so he didn't have to do it in the heat of the day (it's Arizona people, very hot!). I could not start our gas mower so I never mowed. As for the Reel mower laying the grass down we read to change up your angles and directions when mowing to help prevent this. It helps, still not perfect but much better.

Wendy said...

We had a reel mower, but like you observed, it was more likely to simply bend over certain types of grass (of which most of our lawn seems comprised) than to actually cut. So, we ended up having to borrow our neighbor's gas powered mower occasionally - which I hated. Now, we have an electric mulching mower and hubby is working on fitting it with a solar battery. Of course, with good planning in the near future, I won't need a mower at all, as the "lawn" will be walking paths and garden beds and lovely edible landscaping all around ;).

CindyW said...

One other advantage: you can mow and read at the same time :) I saw it being done by this really nice lady a couple of blocks from us - a picture of sereneness. The push mower in front stops her from running into trees head on. No bad, huh?

leslie said...

How appropriate to have a "grass green" post for St. Patrick's Day!

Mowing more often than the typical "once a week" is so much easier on the human part of the reel mower.
Every five days is about right. The grass doesn't become so long, and 'bendable', and the clippings are smaller, and don't clump up.

PLEASE leave your grass clippings on the lawn. It is Fertilizer. It does not cause "thatch". Really. And it's easier to not bag the clippings.

If you must bag it, then compost it. Or use it for mulch in the flower beds.
Do not send it to the landfill. PLEASE.

Mowing in the morning may prove problematic if there is moisture on the grass. It gets the blades all 'glommy' (official lawnkeepers terminology).

And I will attest to the fact that a twig can stop you dead in your tracks, with the mower handle giving the old solar plexus a good punch.
The kids job is to clear your path!
I love me some reel mower.

leslie said...

Each day I love you a little mower.

Gruppie Girl said...

Great review! Thanks for sharing.

We have a fairly large, hilly yard that gets professional mowed once a week due to time and Hubby's back issues.

I think that I could handle using the push mower once a week.

Are you comfortable sharing how much your mower cost? What about sharpening? How is that done?

Burbanmom said...

Holy comments and questions, Batman! I'll try to answer them all...

The mower I bought was an 18" Scotts mower, adjustable from 1.5" - 3" (I wanted one that mowed as high as possible, to protect against drought and the Scotts ones all seem to go to 3"). It cost $85 at Home Depot and was located in with all the other push mowers. It doesn't have a bagger or anything, but as Leslie pointed out, bagging is for the birds anyhow. Leave the clippings on the lawn to help fertilize the soil.

I bought it at Home Depot because I wasn't sure it was going to work or not and Home Depot will take pretty much anything back (if you don't mind store credit). I figured if it totally sucked, I'd just take it back and get some nice plants instead.

I think clumpy and bumpy would be difficult with a push mower, but you never know until you try.

I don't know how often the blades need to be sharpened, but I know that Scotts does sell a mower sharpening kit for $30. There are instructions posted online at

Maybe Crabbydad could give us the lowdown on how big a PITA the sharpening/adjusting is? :-)

Leslie - Them are some reely bad puns ;-)

Whew. Anymore questions? :-)

heather t said...

What? $85? You mean Scott's/Home Depot haven't figured out that us greeny types are a bunch of pushovers who will pay ANY price for something that's good for the enviroment?

That's actually pretty awesome. I could swing that this spring. I think both (all - sad I know) of our gas lawnmowers are currently dead or running like they should be shot, so this would be a good option.

I'd love to hear more from the person with the rechargable electric tho, since we have almost a full acre here. bleh.

Joyce said...

Our rechargable is a Black and Decker and we bought it at either Lowes or Home Depot (they look so much alike, I can't remember.) The store carries replacement blades, which is what is recommended instead of sharpening. We get a new blade every two years (unless Yours Truly runs it over a big chunk of concrete, in which case, more often!) We always save stuff like that to run out to the scrap metal place once or twice a year, so the blade does get recycled.
During the winter it doesn't need to be on the charger, of course. When mowing season comes, we leave it on the charger all the time so we can mow on a whim, but you could just charge it the day before you are going to mow. I'm going to try to remember to do that this summer. That would be a good step forward on energy savings for us.
That's about it. Oh, it cost about $300, so not cheap, but then you don't have to buy any gas.

crabbydad said...

Sharpening is a piece of grassy cake. Look here:

There's also some great vids on this page:

Get one!

Chile said...

When I had one (when I was forced to maintain a lawn in a rental house), I found that mowing the grass before it got too long was the key to cutting, not bending. Long grass bent, shorter grass cut.

Think of it as extra exercise. :)

maria said...

found your blog through fakeplasticfish--it's great!

we love our reel mower, and we DID get it for free on craigslist! our local hardware store will sharpen it for $25, and it did need sharpening, so that was the true cost.

i agree with another commenter that the trick to a good cut with the reel mower is not to let the grass get too long.

we have a shed that we share with our neighbors, so the fact that it takes up much less space is a big plus.

Shannon Hodgins said...

I had one, oh, like 15 years ago and it was a cheapie that I bought from Wal-Mart. I think in this case you do get what you pay for.

It's now 15 years later and I'm willing to try again. I'd concur that waiting too long to cut it was a problem for me, and the rental yard was so weedy and such. I do think that spending the money to get a decent one and keeping the blades sharp would help out.