Pros and Cons of Reel Mowers


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Wondering whether a reel mower is right for you?

Reel mowers can be used to cut grass reel low! They can be an excellent way to improve the look of your lawn.

Before gas-powered lawn mowers dominated the market, reel lawn mowers were the top choice for homeowners to cut their lawns. To this day, reel lawn mowers still remain popular!

When properly stored and maintained, you can enjoy your reel lawn mower for your entire life. After your time with the mower has ended, it can grace someone else with its ease of use and precise grass cutting.

Even though reel mowing requires a special type of mower…
It is the best way to mow your lawn short and get a much finer, clean and more precise cut at the same time. They work especially well if you have a warm season grass that is best kept very short.

Honestly, you will get the best cut with a reel mower, period.

How Does a Reel Mower Work?

Reel lawn mowers have blades that are mounted horizontally
As you push the mower through your grass, the blades spin to give you a clean cut. This is great for the health of your lawn! Tattered grass blades take longer to recover from cutting and look unkempt.

Reel lawn mowers differ from rotary mowers in their cutting mechanism. A reel mower cuts metal-to-metal in a similar way to scissors.

It has a set of blades that spin around and on the bottom of the mower lies a bedknife. This spinning action creates a draft that sucks the grass upwards while the blades scissor away at them.

The grass is cut at the point where the bedknife contacts the blades. As long as the bedknife and the reel are sharp and you have the mower adjusted properly, you will get the same consistent clean cut every time.

There are two types of reel mowers which I’ll discuss in in this article.

The powered reel mower works great for cutting very low. I’ve seen some models that can cut down to a quarter of an inch or so but these can be costly. While you can find them a little cheaper on the used market, they still do cost quite a bit and they aren’t 100% necessary.

If you’re willing to do some walking and you’re not looking to cut under an inch, a manual reel mower can work just fine.

Reel Mowers Have Changed a Lot!

Reel mowers used to be very basic. Nowadays, you can get them with a lot more options like easy height adjusters and baggers.

How Long Do Reel Mowers Last?

With proper maintenance, reel lawn mowers can last decades. Rotary mowers in their best shape only last eight to ten years.

This makes them popular across generations as someone’s grandpa gave the mower to his son, who gave it to his son, who passed it on to his daughter.

Powered Reel Mowers

Here are the benefits of getting a powered reel mower…

Pros

  • You get a very clean cut

With a rotary mower, sometimes the end of the blade can will get ripped. A reel mower will give you a much cleaner cut which is a good look.

  • You can cut in the rain

Powered reel mowers can work great even if the grass is wet.  As long as your grass is short and you take things slow, the cut you get from the reels is so clean that you can get away with mowing when the blades are wet.

If you’re used to cutting your lawn with a riding mower that weighs several hundred pounds, you’re going to have to wait a day or so after its stopped raining or you’re going to be left with nasty track marks all over your lawn. Reel mowers are often fairly light and their weight is well distributed.

  • It’s healthiest for your lawn

Having sharply cut blades is actually better for the grass. Your turf will be less prone to disease, fungus, insects and other problems.

  • Better color

When you cut with a rotary mower, it’s much more likely that you are going to rip the blades.

Mowing with a reel mower causes less stress on the grass which can actually improve the color.

  • Reel Mower Attachments

Even if the lawn you’re mowing down is rather grand, you can find reel lawn mower attachments to pull behind a tractor. This would be a nice homage to the olden days when reel mower blades were towed by oxen or mules across vast plots of land.

Cons

Top 4 Lawn Trends
Top 4 Lawn Trends

If you have taller grass, a rotary mower will be much more suitable. The suction is able to pull the blades up so they can be cut by the rotating blades. Although some models are better than others, a reel mower isn’t great for longer grass. It tends to get bogged down if the grass is too long.

  • Cost

The best reel mowers are certainly not cheap. Typically, the more blades the mower has, the more expensive it is.

You’re also going to have to purchase a second mower too since you probably can’t get away with having a reel mower as your only mower. You will want at least one mower than can cope with taller grass. Also, if you have debris in your lawn such as leaves or twigs, it’s a good idea to have a mower with bagging capabilities so you can pick these up.

  • Maintenance costs

A standard rotary mower has blades that are easy to remove and sharpen. If they get damaged and you need to swap them out for new ones, that’s easy and cheap to do also.

The most important aspect of reel mower maintenance is sharpening the blades. Unfortunately, sharpening the reels can get very costly.

Reel lawn mowers should have their blades sharpened annually, possibly semiannually if you are frequently cutting through thick patches of grass.

The gears should be oiled at this time as well.

  • Reel mowers don’t work well with obstacles

If you encounter lawn debris, your reel mower is going to have trouble. It could even jam up the blades.

It’s also possible that the reel and the bedknife can get misaligned.

While this can also happen on a rotary mower, they’re much more resilient.

Before reel mowing, I’d recommend making sure that your yard is clear of all debris.

  • Your lawn needs to be flat

Another thing to consider when you’re mowing low is that it’s best to have a lawn that has been leveled. You will get a much better cut so you might want consider methods of leveling your lawn before you try reel mowing.

Manual Reel Mowers

Reel mowers are powered by the user. By pushing the mower, you supply the power to turn the reels which cuts the grass. Without an engine, these mowers can be used safely by almost anyone. The light frame makes this mower easy to push, unlike rotary walk-behind mowers that require more effort to propel across the lawn.

Most of the older manual reel mowers have a couple of screws on either side of a pivot bolt. One screw will push the blade down while the other will push the blade up. By tweaking the screws, you can adjust the blade so it’s tighter or looser against the reel.

With a lot of the newer manual reel mowers, it’s super easy to change the height of cut. They usually come with two small levers that you can easily adjust.

Pros

  • They are very accessible

This type of mower’s ease of use is undeniable.

This easy pushing means that young people can be involved in the care of a lawn without worry of injury.

It also makes it easier for older generations who may suffer from vision loss that impairs their ability to operate self-propelled engines, such as a riding lawn mower.

Unlike engine-powered lawn mowers, no fuel is required for reel mowers.

No extension cords connecting to an electrical mower are spread out on the lawn.

  • Great for Small Yards

As the square footage of lawns is decreasing due to urbanization, reel lawn mowers are a perfect choice for small yards.

Reel mowers can certainly handle expansive lawns but they are particularly useful for smaller parcels of land.

  • They are lightweight

If you have areas that you want to avoid running over with a heavy mower, then manual reel mowers can work great because they are very light.

  • Cost

Manual reel mowers tend to be very cheap. If you’ve got a tight budget or you’re not ready to splash out on an expensive gas-powered reel mower, then a manual reel mower might be your best option.

You can get a great manual reel mower for well under $100 which is a fraction of the money that a rotary mower would cost.

Engine-powered rotary mowers can cost triple or quadruple that amount, with the latest zero turn mowers costing thousands of dollars.

  • They offer a higher cut to gas powered-reel mowers

A lot of manual reel mowers will go up a little higher than gas powered reel mowers. Some manual mowers will cut up to 2.5 inches.

  • They are quiet

You don’t have to worry about annoying your neighbors when cutting with a manual reel since it makes very little noise.

  • They are great for the environment

There’s no gas involved. If you’re one of those people who feels sick from all of the fumes from a gas-powered mower then a manual reel mower might be a great option for you.

This lack of fuel requirement also reduces the impact of your mower on the environment.

  • Manual reel mowers are very safe

If you have children or pets running around your yard, manual reel mowers are a very safe option. You don’t have to worry about losing control of the mower and they’re quiet so you can hear what’s going on in your surroundings.

  • Easy to Store

The compactness of reel lawn mowers makes them attractive to those who don’t have the means to store a large riding lawn mower.

Reel mowers do not have to be elevated when stored but mowers that are engine-powered do.

Engine-powered mowers have to be elevated when not in use to allow air flow underneath the mower.

The air flow reduces the amount of condensation collection in the engine.

Cons

  • You have to push it

There’s no gas involved and there’s so self-propelled system so you are going to have to supply the power to turn the reels.

This is probably fine for smaller sized lawns but you might want to consider a powered mower if you have a larger area or you have mobility issues.

  • It doesn’t go as low as a gas-powered reel mower

You won’t be able to cut the grass as short as you would if you were using a gas-powered reel mower. If you’re looking for a super tight cut down to a half inch or so, you’re going to be better off with a gas-powered reel mower.

  • Striping

Unless you put a striping kit on the back of your manual reel mower, you won’t get pronounced stripes in your lawn.

A lot of the gas-powered mowers already have rollers on the front and back which can give you some amazing stripes.

The manual reel mowers have wheels. There is often a small flap in the back which can help a little bit with striping, but I wouldn’t say it works the best.

  • You’re going to have to commit to mowing frequently

To keep your lawn very short, you’re going to have to mow it frequently which is something that requires a lot of commitment.

If you want to keep your grass under an inch, you’re likely going to have to mow every other day.

Which Manual Reel Mower Is Recommended?

This 14-inch manual reel mower by the American Lawn Mower Company is my favorite choice.

The 18-inch 5-blade push mower from Earthwise is also very popular.

A Place in History

We may think of mowing the lawn as a recent invention. However, lawns and courtyards have existed and needed maintenance throughout history.

The first noted patent for a reel lawn mower was filed in the United Kingdom by Edwin Beard Budding in 1830. Budding’s invention was also referred to as a cylinder mower. It featured two cast iron rollers that rolled across the lawn and created movement through gears that rotated a spiral cutting device.

The first American patent for the reel mower was received by Amariah Hills in 1868. Hills’s appliance made some improvements on the mower of the time. These improvements included opening up the cylinder, improving the handle of the mower, and creating the means for the cutter’s height to be adjusted.

We may equate this period of time with the Industrial Revolution or the Civil War, but the care of lawns has been a concern for those with the fortune to own land for many years. Prior to the invention and mass production of lawn mowers, the most common way to cut grass for middle- and lower-class people was animal grazing. Livestock were let into the frontmost part of the land often to mow down the plants growing there.

For the upper class, groundskeepers would spend hours with a scythe slicing through the ever-growing grass. Not only was this practice extremely laborious but it also took time. The upper-class society would impatiently await for their croquet fields to be cut down.

After the Second World War, the introduction of VA Loans and reduction of down payments by the Federal Housing Administration made homeownership more feasible for the average American. This newfound ownership created the culture of lawn possession and maintenance that has spread throughout the country. As more people owned lawns, the need to manicure those lawns grew.

Rotary mowers were a popular option in the past because of their efficiency and litheness. These qualities are part of why they are still in use today.

The Verdict – Should You Switch to Reel Mowing?

Don’t let its simplicity fool you into thinking that it won’t do the job right. Reel lawn mowers create a scissor-like cut on the grass blades. This clean cut not only makes your lawn more even and attractive in appearance but it’s also better for your grass.

It really depends on what type of lawn are you trying to have. Are you looking for a tall and thick lawn? Or are you looking for a short lawn that almost looks like carpet?

If you have a warm season grass, then I would definitely consider reel mowing. In my opinion, there’s nothing that looks quite as good as a golf course quality lawn that has a very neat and precise cut.

If you are going to switch to reel mowing, be aware that you’re going to have to commit to mowing frequently. Lawns that are kept short do require frequent mowing so prepared to get out in the yard every other day.

Why not choose the mower that can deliver that for decades to come?

Let me know what type of mower work best for you!

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