In Praise of the Push Reel Mower

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 23, 2012 · 183 comments

in DIY Home Maintenance, Manly Skills, Outdoors

The push reel mower: Fun for the whole family!

I recently became a homeowner and along with my first house came another first: my very own little piece of land to tend. And since Kate and I had been living in apartments for all our married life, I needed to buy a mower to take care of our lawn. Like most Americans, I grew up using and being surrounded by gas-powered mowers. The sound of two-stroke engines firing up around the neighborhood was the unofficial soundtrack of my boyhood summers.

But despite my immersion in the cult of Lawn Boy,  I’ve always been intrigued by old-fashioned manual/push reel mowers. Maybe my curiosity about them came from flipping through old magazines depicting a happy 1950s suburban dad mowing his small patch of green heaven. Or maybe it was from watching groundskeepers use giant reel mowers to mow the infield at baseball stadiums.

Whatever the reason for my lifelong pull towards the manual reel mower, when I was in the market for my own mower, I decided to look into whether the old-fashioned push reel mower was a viable option for my lawn mowing needs. To my great surprise, I discovered that the reel mower isn’t just a viable option, but is in some instances superior to its gas-powered cousins.

How a Push Reel Mower Works

Your typical power rotary mower has a spinning blade that chops off the top of the grass as it rotates like a helicopter, resulting in torn and shredded turf. Instead of tearing and chopping your grass, a reel mower cuts your grass just like a pair of scissors. It’s easier to understand how this works when you can see the mower, rather than just describing it, so check out the video below for a full explanation:

Oh, and it goes without saying, but unlike a power mower that requires gas or electricity to work, you provide the power to your manual reel mower.

Choosing a Push Reel Mower

Mowing with my Fiskars Push Reel

The basic construction of a reel mower is pretty much the same across brands. They mainly vary in characteristics like:

  • Weight. How heavy will it be when you’re pushing it?
  • Cutting width. The longer and bigger the mower is, the heavier it will be, but the less passes you’ll have to make back and forth on your lawn, and thus the faster you’ll get the job done.
  • Cutting heights. What’s the range of heights you can adjust the blades up and down?
  • Direction of grass spray. Does the grass spray behind the mower or out in front? Obviously the latter has an advantage in not covering your feet with clippings.

When I was looking for a reel mower, I did a lot of research and finally brought home the Fiskars Staysharp Max Push Reel Lawn Mower. This thing isn’t your grandpa’s heavy old contraption. The folks at Fiskars have taken the old manual reel mower design and updated it for the 21st century: it’s 60% easier to push than other manual mowers, boasts twice the cutting power of competitors, sprays the grass out in front of you, and the blades only need sharpening every 5-10 years (that’s the “StaySharp” bit). It’s fast, powerful, and maneuverable. Not to mention kind of fun to use. After mowing with my Fiskars for nearly two months, I can confidently say that it’s given me the best mowing experience I’ve ever had. Kate and I even fight over who gets to mow the lawn now (the compromise: I mow the front; she mows the back). I can’t sing the mower’s praises highly enough (and I don’t have any affiliation with the company whatsoever, by the way–just a very happy customer).

Look at that beautiful cascade of grass.

If your only experience with a push reel mower was using a heavy clunker in your youth, I highly recommend giving the Fiskars a try. It will change your mind about manual mowers.

The Benefits of a Push Reel Mower

Push reel mowers are better for your grass’ health. This was my biggest motivating factor for purchasing a push reel mower as opposed to a power rotary mower. As mentioned above, power rotary mowers cut the grass by chopping and tearing your grass, while reel mowers cut the grass by snipping it cleanly like a pair of scissors. Torn and shredded grass leaves your lawn vulnerable to disease and insect attacks; grass that is cleanly cut with a reel mower heals faster and is less vulnerable to those maladies.

Push reel mowers make your lawn look nicer.  Not only are reel mowers better for your grass’ health, they leave your lawn looking professionally manicured. Again, it all goes back to the scissor-like way the reel mower cuts the grass. Clean and even cuts make for a clean and even-looking lawn. The reel mower’s superior cut is the reason why groundskeepers at professional baseball stadiums and golf courses use large reel mowers pulled by tractors. The reel cut makes the grass look purty.

Push reel mowers are quiet. One of the things I hated the most about the old gas-powered Lawn Boy of my youth was the noise. First, it’s just grating to have to listen to a loud and obnoxious two-stroke engine for extended periods of time. Second, because the thing was so stinking loud, I couldn’t mow the grass too early or too late in the evening, lest I disturb the neighbors. That’s not a problem if you live in, say, Vermont, where summer days are pleasantly warm and idyllic (if it’s not raining). When you live in hot and humid Oklahoma, however, mowing your yard during the day with the sun beating down on you is downright miserable.

The push reel mower solves both of those noise-related problems. The only sound it makes is a satisfyingly quiet “snip-snip-snip” as the mower cuts the grass. I love hearing that sound. It’s actually rather soothing. And because my manual reel mower is so darn quiet, I can mow my lawn early in the morning without waking up the neighbors. Goodbye 107-degrees-with-a-heat-index-of-a-115 lawn mowing sessions!

Push reel mowers don’t emit pollution. Don’t let the smallness of your power lawn mower engine deceive you. That sucker spits out a crap load of air pollution. If you let a typical gas-powered lawn mower run for an hour, it will produce as much air pollution as a sedan running for two hundred miles. Jeez-um!

The amount of pollution a push reel mower produces? Zilch. Unless of course you count the relaxing farts you rip as you cut the grass.

If you’re an environmentally-conscious guy, the choice is clear between power and manual. You gotta go manual.

Push reel mowers are hassle-free. Push reel mowers are simple machines. You push it and blades spin around and cut your grass. That’s it. No pulling starter cords or priming the engine before you can mow. Just start walking and–bam!–you’re cutting the grass. Also, you’ll never have to buy gas, oil, or spark plugs ever again. About the only maintenance you’ll have with your manual reel mower is blade sharpening, and some folks think that’s more of an enjoyable, mind-settling task than a chore. And again, with the Fiskars, you’ll only have to sharpen the blades every half decade or so.

Push reel mowers are cheaper. Even a “top-of-the-line” reel mower like the Fiskars costs less than most power mowers. And if you get one of the smaller, classic models, they can run you less than $100. Plus, there are no maintenance costs. With gas prices as high as they are, why waste a single drop tooling around your backyard?

Push reel mowers exercise your body. There’s no autodrive on a push reel mower. These bad boys are man-powered. The Fiskars is particularly heavy for a reel mower (52 lbs), but is designed in a way that makes it easier to push, and it gives me a nice bout of exercise; hard enough to work up a satisfying sweat, but not so hard it leaves me feeling exhausted. It’s kind of like pushing a Prowler Sled around your yard, except for that when you’re done, you’re in better shape and your lawn has been mowed.

Push reel mowers are safer than power mowers. In a careless moment a power mower can turn into a rolling death trap, or at least an appendage mauler. More than 75,000 Americans, 10,000 of which are children, are injured in lawn mowing accidents annually, and, get this, 75 people die from lawn mowing accidents every year. Mowing over a grass-hidden rock can turn it into a projectile capable of traveling 200 mph and taking out someone’s eye, and the power mower’s fast-whirling blades have eaten up children’s toes and hands. And even if your power mower isn’t running, you’re still at risk for an accident. I burnt my hand on a hot lawn mower engine as a boy and still have the scar to prove it.

While some dangers still exist when using a reel mower, they’re much, much safer than power mowers.  Unless I ran the thing right over someone Tom and Jerry-style, there’s little risk of it chewing up a limb. If you run over a rock, instead of shooting it out like a bullet, your mower just jams. Also, no hot engines to burn yourself on.

Push reel mowers make mowing a pleasure. As a young man, I saw lawn mowing as a chore that you had to do every week. I didn’t look forward to it. I just did it because I had to. Since I’ve started mowing with my Fiskars push reel mower, mowing the grass has turned from a chore into a pleasure. I actually look forward to lawn mowing day. Really!  I love pushing it in the cool of the early morning as birds chirp at the day’s start. I love listening to the quiet “snip-snip-snip” of grass cutting. I love the physicality of it–how it feels a little like pushing a plow. I love watching tiny blades of cut grass spit out in front of my mower in a green cascade. Most of all, I love the satisfying feeling I get as I look over my cleanly cut lawn.

Is a Push Reel Mower Right For You?

In Gran Torino, Korean War vet Walt Kowalski calms his mind before confronting a violent gang by mowing his yard with a manual reel mower. Manly.

Now before you head to the home improvement store to pick up a push reel mower, you need to know that it’s not for everybody. Sometimes power or riding mowers are actually better, depending on a variety of factors. Below I highlight a few of these factors you should consider before switching to a push reel mower.

Your yard is a half-acre or smaller. Manual reel mowers are suited for small to medium-sized yards. Most experts agree that if you have to mow more than 8,000 square feet, you’re better off using a power push or riding mower. Although I will say that my yard is on the large end of a medium-sized yard, and it only takes me 45 minutes to mow with my manual mower. And if your yard is the size of most yards in suburban developments, there really isn’t any reason you shouldn’t use a push reel mower.

You can’t bag clippings. If you’re one of those folks who prefer to bag your clippings, then a push reel mower probably isn’t for you. While some push reel mowers have a basket that will catch your clippings, they don’t work very well, and many don’t offer any clipping catcher at all.

However, if you’re a devoted-bagger, you might reconsider your stance. Most lawn care experts agree that you shouldn’t bag your clippings and should just leave them in your grass. Grass clippings are fertilizer for your lawn. They provide the same beneficial nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium nutrients that are in commercial fertilizers, except they’re free.

Not great for excessively bumpy and overgrown yards. I’ve noticed that on areas of my lawn that have a lot of bumps, the reel mower doesn’t do a good job of cutting, mainly because the wheels can’t get good traction to move the blade. I’ll usually have to come back and trim that with my weed-wacker. It’s not a problem because there’s only one part in my lawn that gives me trouble.

Also, push reel mowers work best on yards that are already well-maintained. They don’t cut really long grass too well, so if you always let your grass get pretty long before you cut it, you’re better off using a power mower.

What sort of grass do you have? Manual reel mowers work better on some types of grass than others. Most reel mowers have a hard time handling extra thick grasses like Zoysia, St. Augustine, and Bermuda. Never fear. If you have a lawn that’s made completely of one of these grasses, you’re not necessarily relegated to just gas-powered mowers. Heavier, more powerful manual reel mowers like the Fiskars don’t have a problem with these types of grasses. Adjusting the height of the reel mower’s blades can also prevent the mower from getting bogged down in thick grass.

Shave Like Your Grandpa, Mow Like Your Grandpa

After a couple of months of using my push reel mower, I really don’t know why the manual mower isn’t more popular or why most folks get the gas-powered variety.  It seems quite analogous to shaving. There are a few things where the classic turns out to do just as good a job (sometimes an even better one), and provides a more enjoyable and satisfying experience to boot. The safety razor is one of those things. And so is the push reel mower. Give it a try!

Any other push reel mower users out there? Share your experience with us in the comments!

{ 183 comments… read them below or add one }

101 WillyT May 25, 2012 at 8:28 pm

For the record, gas powered lawn mowers use a 4 stroke engine. Even back in the ’70s when I was a kid. There may have been some 2 strokes that require mixing the gas and oil together,like with a chainsaw but I have never seen one. Grandpa had the old heavy reel mowers and they worked great on his small city yard.

102 Mike May 25, 2012 at 9:21 pm

While the author did include some cavats in his praise of the reel mower, this choice depends a lot on both size and geography. In coastal Texas (and much of the south) the Bermuda and St. Augustine grass grows too high, too fast and too thick and ropey to use a reel. Believe me, my first suburb mower was a reel and it didn’t work worth a darn. Aside from putting greens you won’t see them down here. Plus the summer rains can cause grass to grow very quickly and most reels won’t handle that.

103 Rod May 25, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Great article. I bought a Fiskars about a month ago and for the first time in my life I enjoy mowing the lawn. Great little mower and it works very well.

The other thing is I feel much better about letting my kids mow the lawn. I was always worried that someone would lose a toe with the gas mower. Reel mowers are idiot proof pretty much.

104 Alain May 25, 2012 at 11:04 pm

In Cuba we used to use machetes. They take practice and skill and will give you a workout. But they get the job done well — with grass both short and tall.

105 Fred May 25, 2012 at 11:13 pm

@Daniel

Some folks call it a scythe, I call it a sling blade. Uh-huh.

106 Jimmy May 26, 2012 at 12:22 am

Still prefer a nice Honda power mower, but have a bit of green to cut through. I admit that I dislike the noise when others are using them, but find that the power mower does a great job.
I hear my neighbor with his push-mower out there for 45 minutes just to do his little patch.

107 Gareth May 26, 2012 at 12:42 am

Thanks for the article on this worthy subject. It’s always more satisfying to use a push reel mower. There are loads of positives about it. However, as you say, you can’t let the grass grow too long before you get started.

108 Amy May 26, 2012 at 10:48 am

I remember my Papaw having one of these. I remember as a child helping him push it. Love your blog!

109 Kevin May 26, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Oh man, that brings back memories. I had to use my grandpa’s old rusty push mower for a few summers when I was a kid. At the time I hated it, but this post makes me want to go buy a new one and see how much different it is.

110 Jonathan May 27, 2012 at 1:24 am

I bought a reel mower from Sears about 5 years ago. I struggled through about two summers using it before I gave up and gave it to a friend when I moved.

I blame a poor design of the model sold at Sears. I still love the idea of using a reel mower.

I will have to try again, probably with a Fiskar model, after reading this post.

111 Carl P. May 27, 2012 at 7:14 am

I bought a Scotts push lawn mower last year when my gas powered lawn mower gave up the ghost. We all use it and it is nice not to worry about pollution, noise, gas, and oil. it works great as long as you don’t let the grass grow to long.

112 Mike May 27, 2012 at 1:18 pm

@WillyT,

The Lawn Boy mower he refers to is in fact two stroke. My grandma had one and I mowed her lawn for years with it. Very light weight, and did well with a maintained lawn. Didn’t have the torque to do heavy or long grass however.

113 derrick May 28, 2012 at 4:01 am

my manual mower is loud as hell and its a fiskars.
sounds like metal grinding on metal the entire mow, and ive even tried oiling the thing. not a thing changed. loud whining, annoying spanking new mower.
maybe not a grind or a whine, more of a….banshee’s screech.
and the old man for some reason refuses to leave the clippings. i despise raking up clippings after having just mowed the entire front and back lawn.

but its certainly fun mowing your initials into the lawn!

114 Clayton May 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm

I use to have a push mower back when I only had about 20m2 of lawn. It was quicker to use it than it was to check and start my petrol mower. Then I lent it to a mechanic friend who took it appart to fix a jam and promptly lost some of the bolts… thanks “mate”
Now I have two petrol mowers one is my wifes Grandfathers rotary mower and the other is my Grandfathers reel mower.
Unfortuantely due to the shape of our lawn (lots of curved rock wall edges) it is more practical to use the rotary even though I prefer the cut of the reel mower.

115 Mack Hall May 29, 2012 at 9:51 am

I’ll push one of those ****ed things again when Buna, Texas freezes over.

116 Jack Alexander May 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm

This is great! ‘Yard’io workout.
You get to work out as well as having a nice yard!

117 Nate May 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I have a Scott’s Classic Reel Mower. I like not having to buy gas for it and don’t have to feel guilty about mowing during one of the many Smog Alerts here in SW Ohio. I do have to get it sharpened annually, though – otherwise it cuts like you are ripping it out with your hands. The good part is that my first grade son should be able to use it soon. He is starting to with my help. Love it.

118 caleb May 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Have a Real mower (wordplay intended) and love it!

I usually let it go to seed first time around, so have to use the electric for that. Or if I miss a week.

Other than that, I love it!

And to the prior commenter about 4 stroke/2 stroke – it may be regional. All dozen mowers I have had or used in CO and MO have been 2 stroke. A place like CA probably makes you buy 4 stroke.

119 michael May 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I had a reel for several years. I purchased it when gas prices started going up. It was great for many of the reasons stated above. We recently bought a house with a much larger yard, so I had to get a different mower. Very sad.

120 Nick May 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm

I reckon at least 74 of those 75 annual lawnmower-related deaths come from folks who work at home finally snapping and bludgeoning some poor landscaper to death with his own ear-guards. My wife and I were foolish enough to rent a basement suite in a fairly affluent and verdant part of town. Monday to Friday, year round, either our landlords or one of the neighbours has a team of gardeners running mowers, weedwhackers, leafblowers, powerwashers, hedge-trimmers, or any other gas-powered tool-for-sluggards that you can think of. They do it in shifts, too, so the things run solidly from morning to evening. And then Sat/Sun the only two guys in the neighbourhood who don’t have a gardening service fire up their own implements of destruction. Even if they don’t want to use a push-mower, what’s wrong with electric mowers? Or a damn rake instead of a leafblower? We were hoping for peace and quiet, but we may as well have moved into a shack on the grassy verge between the highway and the airport.

121 Roger T. May 30, 2012 at 12:13 am

I grew up using a four-stroke self-propelled power reel mower, with a ripcord start (no retractable pullcord). When that puppy was in gear it was all I could do to keep it out of the flowers. In seventh grade I bought a used Toro rotary for my commercial lawn cutting. When I bought my first house I got a push-reel mower. Had the best looking lawn on the block. (Good cuts and Scott’s Four-Step fertilizer.)

Ultimately I switched to corded electric mowers. High rpm, good mulching, quiet, and no gas needed. And a lot less work in the Spring and Fall when the grass growth is heavy. I still use the push reel during the hottest months when only part of the lawn needs cutting. Who needs a gym membership when you have a reel mower?!?

122 Rob T May 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I just started mowing my lawn with a push reel mower that my wife got from a housekeeping client in trade for an hour’s cleaning (barter system ftw!). It needed a sharpening, because I found I had to push back and forth three times for every step, and took me two and a half hours to mow. My buddy has one almost identical to mine, and offered to my wife (also his boss) to sharpen it, and took it home last week, so I had to m

123 Rob T May 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm

I just started mowing my lawn with a push reel mower that my wife got from a housekeeping client in trade for an hour’s cleaning (barter system ftw!). It needed a sharpening, because I found I had to push back and forth three times for every step, and took me two and a half hours to mow. My buddy has one almost identical to mine, and offered to my wife (also his boss) to sharpen it, and took it home last week, so I had to mow with our old GE electric. It reminded me just how much I hate using corded mowers!
Hopefully he’ll bring it back before the weekend.

124 Emily May 30, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Can I say another benefit? As a woman with sensitive skin, grass right after being mowed with a gas mower has an oil slick feel and makes me feel disgusted. We had an electric growing up for a while and that was much nicer, but I longed for a mower like this where there’d be no slick feel afterwards. It’s sort of like how if you put slick in your hair a girl is less likely to run her fingers through it. If you put slick on your grass, you may find some ladies don’t want to stretch out and relax/tan on your lawn. Isn’t that an incentive?

125 Bryan Sullo May 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm

I have an older, heavy reel mower that I tried using almost exclusively last year. It took me several days to cut all the grass on my half-acre lot, but it worked great. Unfortunately, during the cooler, wetter months, the grass grew so quickly that, by the time I finished I had to start again or the grass would be too thick to mow. During the hotter months, pushing the thing around became a sweltering chore.
I really enjoy the noiselessness, and the freedom to stop and talk to a neighbor without having to stop and start a gas mower, but I couldn’t quite get over the fact that I was spending about 45 minutes every day mowing my lawn. Maybe I’ll check out one of those fiskars mowers.

126 Scott May 30, 2012 at 9:30 pm

I have always been intrigued by the reel mowers, but have usually had big yards and thought the extra weight/resistance would make a chore that I don’t enjoy even worse. After reading this article and doing a little research, I bought the exact same model featured here, the Fiskars 18-in. The difference in effort to push the reel mower versus my gas powered mower was negligible. Even though the reel mower didn’t get 100% of the grass I covered, it still did a remarkable job. The time flew by–I didn’t need earplugs, I didn’t have to worry about kids or myself getting hurt by projectiles, it doesn’t kick up a ton of dust, dirt, or other eye-irritants, and I was able to talk on the phone to my brother while cutting the grass! Yard looks great and I’m looking forward to next weekend when I get to use the reel mower again.

127 Pat Ryan May 31, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Interesting article… while looking towards the past is great, it would be cool to see an article about the manliness of looking towards the future for once. Especially when talking about lawns because they are both a waste of space and resources in lots of places.

128 Mike June 1, 2012 at 12:04 am

When my old gas mower dinally kicks the can (any day now) ill be buying a push reel mower thanks to you!

129 jay Hoffman June 1, 2012 at 10:03 am

I have a manual mower and it works great on grass, but if you any weeds in your lawn, like dandy Lions. the mower will just run over them and not cut them. If you have time to pick all of them then your fine. If your like me and you don’t, your lawn looks pretty ugly in the spring and early summer..

130 tauceti June 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm

My father would secretly go over the lawn with a pair of shears to convince our family the push-reel mower he bought was working. If your grass grows as thick or as fast as ours, do yourself a favour and buy a battery-powered mower.

131 Ingar Grev June 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm

This update was posted shortly after I had to pull out my Toro gas mower to solve the Friskars problem. What’s the problem, you ask?

First of all, as a business owner, I was forced to outsource the care of my lawn for a few years to a service. They did an OK job, but their large riding mowers tore up big sections of my lawn as they turned corners on damp days.

So, now that my oldest child (a daughter) is 10, we decided it was time for her to mow. She helped me pick out the Friskars. I put it together, tuned it using the excellent instructions, and set her out to do her best!

Well, here’s the bad news. If you have any weeds in your lawn that grow faster and tallter than the rest of the lawn, you’ll have a problem. The Friskars will just flatten anything that is about an inch or so taller than the cross bar in front (see above picture). Yup. And that sucks.

It’s not a cheap mower, either. It is about double the price of another brand of reel mower.

Am I un-sold on the Friskars? No. It is REALLY easy to push – easier than my power-assist Toro, believe it or not. You just better stay on top of your lawn, or else you’ll have lovely short grass peppered with these really tall weeds that didn’t want to be cut by the Friskars. This isn’t user error, either. The Friskars book tells you that it won’t cut grass that’s too high.

So, I took about 3 hours to mow with the old Toro that I haven’t used in 4 years (I decided to “vacuum” up a bunch of debris – especially holly leaves – and that took forever) and I suggested to my daughter that she get started mowing about mid-week and just divide the lawn into sections so that we can keep the weeds from growing so high that she couldn’t cut them.

She didn’t listen.

Bottom line – the Friskars can’t be your only lawnmower if you don’t stay on top of the lawn from the minute things start growing.

132 Joe June 2, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Another benefit is that it’s better for people with pollen allergies. A power mower throws the cut grass into the air, terrible for allergies. A manual tosses it much more gently back onto the lawn.

133 Noel Lynne Figart June 3, 2012 at 8:54 pm

My husband uses a push reel mower (or I do, but he likes mowing the lawn, and tends to grab the chore) and absolutely swears by it. The lawn does look nicer, we don’t have to buy gas, and he’s never annoying the neighbors at any time he’s choosing to mow the lawn.

134 Mitch June 4, 2012 at 12:45 am

Gas mowers do not tear the grass when they cut unless the blades are dull.

135 Cory June 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I’ve wanted one for a while, so after reading this article I did a quick Craigslist search and found one of those guys that had dreams of reel mowing their 3/4 acre suburbia lots…got a great deal on the fiskars reel mower mentioned in the article. Beauty of it is that this mower cuts may lawn in the same time that I did it w/ a 6.75HP push mower. I highly recommend this machine for anyone that has lawn space smaller than 5k sq ft.

136 Neil Schofield June 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm

I own a push mower, and I have had nothing but success after success with it. It is, what I would say as a man, the ONLY way to mow your lawn.

137 Arminius June 8, 2012 at 11:15 am

You can say the same for an electric mower. It is quiet & cuts nice. The only drawback is the chord.

138 Graham June 8, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I have an 18″ reel mower and a front/backyard totaling about 2400 sq. ft. I still use the same reel mower as I did when I only had 200 sq ft frontage before I became a homeowner.

It cuts great and it the minimal effort required really is mind-settling. Plus it gives me the opportunity to pass down one of my grandfather’s values to my sons and daughter.

139 Nick June 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm

My wife and I have been tossing the idea of a reel-mower for a while now, and this article tipped us over the top. Bought the Fiskars model mentioned here, and couldn’t be more pleased! Our lawn has never looked better, and I’m actually don’t much faster then my old gas mower. Excellent upgrade!

Thanks, Brett!

140 Daniel June 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm

After watching the vid, I went out and spent awhile adjusting my Scott 5 blade and now it works beautifully! I love the sound it makes and the looks from neighbors and those that drive by are priceless! Thanks AOM!

141 Jon June 9, 2012 at 8:22 pm

The type of mower with which you will be happy depends on the type of grass your climate sustains. Lawn equipment vendors know this. The market does not support the reel mower where I live here in North Carolina. Most of us grow fescue, which grows pretty rapidly in the spring and fall. During those times of the year, you’d have to mow the grass every few days or make a half dozen passes over the grass with a reel mower, blowing an entire Saturday tending your lawn. I sold landscaping equipment and supplies years ago, and my company tried selling a few reel mowers one year; the lesson I learned was to be careful in what you buy. If the reel blades are not perfectly twisted to sheer you will not cut grass. If the reel blades are not dull you will not cut grass. If you cannot sharpen the reel blades or find a service to do so you will not cut grass. Don’t underestimate the importance of having sharp blades: on a conventional mower the grass just gets “split ends” when you cut it, but on a reel mower you will not be cutting grass.

142 Indigo June 10, 2012 at 7:44 pm

One of the things I looked forward to and dreaded as a new homeowner was the lawn. I love gardening and I am slowly cultivating the Japanese garden of my dreams but mowing… that is another story.

My brother ran over my foot with the riding mower when I was a kid (so I am one of those statistics and I have the partial amputation to prove it) so being near a gas mower makes my foot twinge.

I ended up getting a Fiskars even with the slope in the front yard it takes about 30 – 40 minutes to mow early in the morning. If I go out on vacation and the yard gets a little too wild for the Fiskars I have the neighborhood lawn tycoon (a boy who lives down the road) mow it down and then I maintain again.

143 Nikki June 11, 2012 at 12:35 am

I was pushing our reel mower when I was 9 months pregnant because I thought it would move the baby along, all it did was trim the lawn. Our push mower is fantastically easy to use and we have 1/3 acre.

Incidentally, I still use a reel mower on the front lawn and my husband uses a gas power mower on the back lawn. This morning he shot a croquet ball through one of the windows. (yes, loads of commentary about checking the lawn, how could you miss a croquet ball and the kids leaving sports equipment all over the place.) Had we not replaced the windows with good, new, double paned windows, had curtains not been up, had one of our sons not been sitting where he had 10 minutes earlier than somebody would have been seriously hurt. The end result is that the croquet ball was moving at a good clip and the only thing that really slowed it down were the two thick layers of glass. Not a ringing endorsement for power mowers.

I’ll stick with my low emissions reel mower and my iPod, no earbuds needed to mow.

144 Brad June 13, 2012 at 8:36 am

I would not mind getting a push reel mower if it comes with someone to push it!! I have a little over an acre and a regular push mower is almost not quite up for the job.

145 Mitchell June 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Yeah 2 and a half acres…. a manual mower isnt gonna cut it. great article though

146 Skip June 16, 2012 at 5:15 am

Didn’t Clint Eastwood cut his lawn with a reel mower in the movie Gran Torino?
Now that’s a manly man.

147 Kit June 16, 2012 at 7:36 am

Recently my wife brought home a push mower. I had used one as a kid and was very familiar with one. To her it was a new and wonderful expereince. She had two of our kids with her when she bought a Scott Push Mower at the local pawn shop (way cheap). And everyone couldnt be happier. My son isnt too sure he will use it ALL the time, but it is a fun novelty. When the power mower diasappears I guess the “fun” will continue……. great article.

148 Toby June 17, 2012 at 10:42 am

Totally agree – love my push mower!
Quiet, clean, spreads clippings evenly over the lawn.
No fuel, no cord.
Best gardening related purchase I ever made.

149 jhb090107 June 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm

My reel mower works like a dream on grass the problem is any weeds and whatnot that may also be growing in the yard gets too tall too quickly or they are too flexible to get pulled b/t the bar and the blades.

As for the work – I’m a 37 year old fat man with a decent sized yard and if I can do it so can you. People react like you are building the great wall of china when you tell them you use a push mower.

150 Chris Cowley October 15, 2012 at 3:37 am

Just moved in to a house with half an acre of lawn and just bough a Fiskars Momentum. The previous owner was adamant we would need a ride-on mower – 2k euros? yeah whatever!

It works a charm, but yes some of the longer weeds escaped. I worked around that by having my son run along behind me with a pair of shearers (used to solve the same problem that way with my own dad).

151 Mike November 26, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I have a push mower. I love it. I love the fact that I’m not getting choked by fumes and that using it counts as exercise.

152 Anthony Styles February 7, 2013 at 12:24 pm

If you have a lot of weeds and don’t plan to get rid of them then a push reel mower is not for you. If you care about your lawn and put forward effort to keep weeds away or you have no weeds at all then a push reel is perfect for you. I’ve been in my home for a year now and when I first moved here we had Bermuda filled with weeds(mainly dandelions) when the summer came the push reel was not enough. So I killed my lawn and hydro-seeded with Pennington Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue. Now the push reel mower works great! push reel mowers can cut GRASS but has a very hard time with weeds. No weeds=push reel…Weed=gas power mower. That’s the honest TRUTH!

153 Edd March 16, 2013 at 12:38 am

When I moved from Melbourne to Christchurch in 2007, I was surprised to see how many people still used push mowers. Needless to say when I got my own place, it included a push mower. Even though this thing looked like it was older than my grandfather, it still worked surprisingly well! Since then I’ve been sold on them, it’s great when you get into a steady flow and have the constant stream of grass clippings flying out. Christchurch usually has lush lawns so its quite easy with a push mower to cut attractive patterns into your lawn.

154 moocifer April 18, 2013 at 6:21 pm

I mow a fairly large lawn, about 3/4 of an acre in total, with a push reel mower.

I do it in 15 minute daily stints in the morning or the evening.

Some people walk, some run….in the summer i take a pleasant “stroll” on the lawn for a few minutes a day and the lawn looks great. I even have done it at night using a headlamp to light my way…unless i get really close to the neighbor’s house there’s no appreciable noise to disturb anyone and the only smell is freshly sheared grass.

155 guy April 22, 2013 at 10:12 am

I bought a cheap $100 Remington 16″ model at KMart and it works great. We rent and have to take care of a somewhat small yard. It had some overgrown areas and some weeds/dandelions that I was worried about…but it really did a good job. It cut through the thinner weeds, thicker areas, and the dandelions with no problem. It really does work better than you would ever think.

The only negatives would be it can be hard if you hit an uneven spot. A couple of times I hit spots where the wheel dipped and the front of the mower sort of just stopped on the bump. I had to rear back and push over but it did. You will also want to remove any medium-large sticks/branches and any rocks. They will stop it in it’s tracks. And lastly, it ended up being harder to push than I thought–maybe just being naive on my part–but it took some push. That being said, it was the bottom of the line, price-wise and I still liked it alot. A higher end model will probably take care of some of that. I actually can’t wait to use it again.

156 Phil Bartlett May 1, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I have a good lawn in Sydney Australia. It is now much better as I now use the Fiskars Staysharp Max 18″ (460mm) Push Reel Mower. It is much easier to use than my petrol/gasoline rotary mower which always leaves scour marks. I have since tossed that noisy bit of old technology.

This Fiskars mower is so good it will revolutionize lawn mowing. No fuel or cords, silent and a delight to use. I have looked at all the others. They don’t compare to this well engineered product.

157 JS May 23, 2013 at 10:04 am

When I was just 5 or 6 years old, my ‘best friend’ was the 80+ year old, next door neighbor named Andy. He had a an old push-reel mower that he’d let me push all around his yard. I never had so much fun cutting the grass…

158 Che May 23, 2013 at 10:05 am

We know them as push cylinder mowers here in the UK. Fine if your lawn is even, not ideal if it’s bumpy or has mole hills!

159 Jordan May 23, 2013 at 10:21 am

I do believe most mowers are 4 strokes these days, but we have a two stroke lawn mower. We have to mix the gas. It’s from around the mid 80′s. It’s a Toro. It may have just barely stopped working. It was quite the machine. If you’re going to get a gas powered mower the Toro is a great option.

160 Nate May 23, 2013 at 10:35 am

My 7 year old can use our Scott’s Reel mower to mow the lawn (while I am picking up after the dog). He earns a few bucks doing it, too. I like the look of the Fiskars!

161 Don May 23, 2013 at 10:46 am

Good write, but obviously you didn’t grow up as I did, using one of the old style 50s push mowers. If you had, you never would have even looked at the pictures without wincing.

162 oki May 23, 2013 at 11:38 am

i own and use one regularly. i agree

163 DanDaniels May 30, 2013 at 1:02 am

Ahh the glory days when men had more fur and less cologne. I remember the 70′s and trying to avoid cutting the lawn any way I could. Luckily most of our houses had more dirt and rocks than grass. Even moles sneered at it. Usually we would use a weedwacker to cover it but that would end after a few Mickeys wide mouths. As a resident of a quiet cull de sac it is nice to hear the sound of the modern mower in pirate attire and happily mowing his peace of paradise. Beats gunfire. Gotta run and pluck my unibrow

164 Mike June 4, 2013 at 7:46 am

We have one of these – and a gas-driven push mower (no autodrive). Try using that push mower on lump hills, long grass or in less than a full day (takes me a few hours to mow the lawn with the gas mower) and you’ll quickly loose your idealism. Just sayin’. And pushing the gas mower is plenty of exercise. Autodrive is for wimps!

165 Chris June 10, 2013 at 8:15 am

We are in the market for a new mower now, and would think about a reel mower. However, it looks like it will not mow right up to the side of the lawn. What if there is a step, wall or stone garden barrier at the edge of the lawn? What if there is a 2 or 3 inch drop at the edge? It looks like the wheel would have to be on the edge, which would mean that the band of cut grass would stop short of the edge. True?

166 Stephen June 14, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Bought my first house in February (at age 64), and got a Fiskars in April. Really like it. Love the “snip snip snip” sound. Easy to push but get a little workout, so that’s good for me. Takes me about 45 minutes or so to mow the whole yard. As mentioned by others, the mower does not take down tall weeds or tall seed shoots of grass. Just don’t let the lawn go so long. No one hated mowing the lawn with a push mower more than me when I was a kid, but I actually enjoy it now with the Fiskars for the same reasons mentioned by Brett.

167 TOMSHERMAN June 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm

i bolted the handle of my reel mower to the body itself so it functions like a wheelbarrow per up and down movement where i “top” the grass. i can therefore cut grass a foot high and at higher speed than any standard reel or gas mower hand pushed

168 Bob June 28, 2013 at 11:18 am

I use a McClane push reel mower. Made jn the USA. Not advertised much as it is a low volume low margin product. Similar design to the Fiskars’s . Mine was made to order, Difference is like a Samurai sword vs a Ginsu knife. Both cut well but the Mclane’s craftsmanship is evident. If your needs increase you can graduate to one of their powered reel mowers. When you hit the big time buy one of the Gravely powered reels, Their mowers are used to cut the White house lawn. Teddy Roosevelt ordered 7 sheep per acre. That;s the way to do it.

169 Chuck July 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm

I use the Scotts 20″ Classic and I love it. I use it on the lawn at our recently purchased home, which continues to look better and better. Very pleased with it and I get a great workout, too.

170 Brock July 6, 2013 at 10:20 am

Just picked up the Fiskar’s StaySharp Max from a guy on Craigslist (gently used… can’t even tell it was used at all) for $120. Mowed our tiny little patch out front earlier this week and it did an excellent job. It is new sod… so I had it on the highest setting (had 3 weeks of growth) and it handled it like a champ. Looks great. Wasn’t hard to push at all and only took about 15 minutes. As others have mentioned… if you get a tall weed, you will have to pull it by hand because the Fiskars will just bend it over. Luckily I only had one. I tried it from both directions and it just bent over each direction. No bigs… just gotta take care of the weeds.

Pleasantly surprised with the mower on the first use. We’ll give it the rest of the season and see how we feel early next season, but I can’t imagine us not loving it just as much then as we do now.

171 Edward July 15, 2013 at 9:32 am

I picked up a Remington 16″ reel mower last year at a clearance sale, mainly with the idea of doing trim and hard to reach nooks. Little did I know that my lawn tractor was on borrowed time. The first mow of the season began with a thick cloud of smoke not 40 yards from my garage. I managed to get it back into the garage and pulled out the Remington.

As the first cut of the season, it was a little difficult and I ended up borrowing a neighbor’s mower for the thickest part, but once it was knocked down, it was pretty smooth going. The biggest thing to remember is lubrication. WD-40 works, but you’ll probably have to reapply more often. Better still is smearing 3-in-1 oil on the blades and the back knife. That will keep your mower from squealing and maintain blade life. But best of all, rather than walking or jogging on a treadmill for several hours per week, I get the very Zen-like experience of walking every square foot of my yard. I see up close what is in my yard, I don’t worry when my 4-year-old comes out and wants to help Daddy and, if I see a weed that looks rather pretty, I can mow around it. I had a lovely buttercup that bloomed full of bright yellow flowers. When it was past peak, I mowed it down. I may give it another life this season, but next spring for sure.

172 Larry Garfield July 16, 2013 at 1:22 am

I’ve not used a reel mower, but I do have an electric power mower that works well for me. The first year I used it bag-less, since I keep hearing that leaving clippings on the lawn is healthy for it.

Well, the result was at the end of the season that I had a lot of dead grass sitting on top of live grass, smothering it. I had to rake up a crapton of dead grass and discover lots of not cut but now-dead or dying grass below it. Not fun at all.

Electric mowers are just as zero-emission as a reel mower. Sure they cost more and have more moving parts, but I can bag the grass and not leave it around to smother my lawn. (Admittedly the bag doesn’t always fill properly if the grass is too long or too wet, so I have to empty it several times or it dumps clumps on the yard, which then need raking as well.)

If reels work for you, great, but in my experience the leave-the-clippings story is a red herring, sorry to say.

173 Eric R. Shelton July 28, 2013 at 11:19 am

I ordered a Fiskars two days ago based in this article. My wife and I just closed on our first house, and suddenly that meant lawn maintenance for the first time since growing up at home. I always hated mowing the lawn with Dad’s old gas mower, so I took a chance with this. The mower got here yesterday, I mowed, had a serene experience, the grass clippings throw forward so my socks and shoes weren’t a mess (the part I’ve always hated most)… I was really grateful for this article! I took immense satisfaction in making my yard look good (for the first time, probably since it’s MY yard now) and can’t wait until I have the best manicured lot on the street.

174 Patrick August 28, 2013 at 9:03 pm

- Love the article! I have used several “garage sale” reel mowers over the past few years ( none of them cost over $20! ) and wouldn’t have it any other way. You can buy a sharpening kit for around $15 to keep the blades sharp, and I fully agree with WD-40 to lube the blades. I mow a 50 x 300 ft. property in about an hour, but prefer to spend 2 hours and include beer. I also have a “leaf sweeper” which I run around the yard to pick up grass clippings, sticks, leaves, etc. My yard looks great, not torn and burned like other yards in the ‘hood.

175 John G. September 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I suspect every person who says reel mowers are lousy, loud, or hard to push is a person who doesn’t know how to adjust the cutter bar. Read the owners manual.

176 Nathan October 5, 2013 at 8:21 am

For you lawn-o-philes, check out http://www.aroundtheyard.com.

You need to mow more often with a reel mower but the grass will be healthier in the long run.

I own the Fiskars and it is the best reel mower of the three I’ve owned by far.

177 metahead October 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm

You just convinced me to buy a reel mower, instead of a gas-powered mower. Like you, I am a first-time homeowner who, until now, had lived in apartments all my life. My real estate agent gave me an electric mower, but it’s annoying to use because I need to drag around my 50-foot extension cord. But with a reel mower, there’s no need for extension cords, gas, spark plugs, or oil. Just plain old manly me. Thanks again!

178 mark January 7, 2014 at 8:41 am

Agree with you totally, reel mowers are definitely the way to go :)

179 Jacob C March 23, 2014 at 11:58 am

What about sickle bar mowers?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tL19qFc6P4

My Grandfather had a reel mower which he used to trim the putting green he kept in his back yard. They’re great for that. In general they’re good for level lawns that will be mowed weekly. But what about men like me who have uneven backyards with thick bermuda or st augustine grass? And I have no desire to mow every weekend. I’d much rather spend the half hour of spare time I occasionally get on the weekends working on the vegetable and herb garden. If it was up to me I’d kill all the grass. (And cut down any trees or bushes that don’t make fruit.) But my wife and neighbors would frown on that. At the same time, I’d rather not buy another gas mower. You usually spend more time getting it running than using it. So what I’d love to have is a human powered sickle bar mower. They existed a century ago. It seems there’s a resurgence of reel mower manufacturing by Fiskars and others. I just hope someone brings back the sickle bar mower for all us lazy men that only mow the lawn once a month.

180 charlie April 1, 2014 at 10:42 pm

I’m really interested in getting and using a reel mower. Your post is a great account of the benefits and cons of using one. Quick question though. Trying to figure out my lawn size and if it’s right for me. You write “Your yard is a half-acre or smaller. Manual reel mowers are suited for small to medium-sized yards. Most experts agree that if you have to mow more than 8,000 square feet, you’re better off using a power push or riding mower.”

I just looked up how many square feet a half an acre would be (our property total is 0.6 acres and the house is 3300 sf so we definitely have less than half an acre) and the conversion chart I found said a half acre would be 21,780 sf. Can you clarify this part of your post for me? Thanks!

181 Chris April 4, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Charlie,

I use the same mower mentioned in this article and have an 8,000 sq ft yard that’s less than a year old. When we bought this home I decided not to use any fuel consuming yard equipment. It makes for less hassle and Lithium Ion technology is great, look up WORX for trimmers and blowers.

We love using the mower and like Brett says, you do fight over who gets to mow. The StaySharp clips through Bermuda just fine and I can mow our yard in about 25-30min walking “briskly.” That’s a vague term but you get the hang of it.

Needless to say, we love our mower. It’s great to just pull it out of the garage and go, then you put it away like a pair of shoes. It’s an odd feeling at first to say the least. I would like to use the grass catcher for the machine but most reviews say it doesn’t work well. I fertilize with Scotts a few times per season and the clippings tend to dry out and not decompose with Bermuda so when it rains later in the year you get plenty of thatch floating around.

Anyways, your yard is plenty small and Brett is referring to the manual when he determines yard size. It’s not recommended using a small mower for larger areas as the task can take a lot of time, cutting 18″ each pass vs. 40+ with riding mowers.

182 Diana April 14, 2014 at 11:36 pm

I just started using a Reel mower that I got for free on the side of the road, because I can’t get my gas powered mower to start. At first it was hard, both because the grass was really long and the blades were dull. But i took it apart at the wheels and re-greased the interesting little one-way gears & sharpened the blade and FINISHED MOWING my yard! I expect my arms are going to look fanTAStic by the end of the summer! I was thrilled about the low-noise, the low-carbon-footprint (just a slice of carrot cake), but I had no idea that it was actually healthier for my grass! What a great article. Thanks

183 Greg April 16, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Thanks so much for the great article. I am going to buy the Fiskars Staysharp Max because of your recommendation. You really ought to get a commission. Your article answered my questions. Thus, I trust your advice. I hope you are still enjoying your lawn mowing.

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