A great alternative to gas-powered rotary mowers, push reel mowers are eco-friendly, quiet, and low maintenance. These simple machines can help reduce your carbon footprint and create a healthier environment for both your family and neighbors, but how do you actually use one?
To use a push reel mower, start by understanding its anatomy and how it works. Then, adjust the cutting height based on the type of grass in your lawn, and start mowing by just pushing it along. With a little practice, you can achieve a manicured lawn with perfect stripes in straight lines and clean edges.
In this guide, I discuss everything you need to know about using a push reel mower (also known as a cylinder mower). I’ll cover the different types available, how to adjust the cutting height, maintain your mower, and even how to maneuver it around your yard to achieve the best results.
Push Reel Mowers And Their Benefits
Most people associate reel mowers with the traditional manual push-along type that has been around for over 150 years, and that’s the version I will be discussing in this article.
However, you may be surprised to learn that nowadays they also come as gas-powered, self-propelled, and even electric models.
Manual cylinder mowers are the most basic type and require you to push the machine forward to cut the grass. Powered reel mowers are equipped with a motor that helps turn the blades, making them easier to use, and may even power the wheels on some high-end models.
Electric models (either corded or batteries) are ideal for small to medium-sized lawns. Gas-powered machines use gasoline for fuel and are typically employed in larger areas where a high-quality finish is needed such as golf courses and sporting fields.
Benefits Of Using A Push Reel Mower
Using a manual push reel mower has several benefits. First, it is much quieter than a gas-powered mower, making it an ideal choice for early morning or late evening mowing, which is often the best time of day to cut the grass.
Second, this type of mower is easy to operate and requires very little maintenance as I will cover later.
Third, they are much more affordable than rotary mowers, making them a great option for gardeners on a budget.
Lastly, they are much cheaper to run as you don’t need any type of fuel apart from your own time and energy!
Anatomy Of A Push Reel Mower
A simple manual push reel mower consists of just a few basic components: a cutting reel, a drive system for the cylinder, a bedknife or cutting blade, and a handle.
The cutting reel cylinder consists of a series of horizontal helix-shaped blades mounted on a cylindrical frame that spins as you push the mower.
Thanks to a series of gears (and sometimes chains) in the drive system these blades spin at a much faster rate than the wheels are moving.
The bedknife is a stationary blade that sits directly beneath the cutting reel and is adjusted so the reel and cutting blades are very close, allowing for a precise cut.
The handle is used to push the mower forward and steer it around your yard.
Some cylinder mowers will also have rollers either at the front or back (sometimes both) that help to position the grass for a better cut and also provide a striped effect as you mow.
How Push Reel Mowers Work
As the blades spin, the grass is cut between the moving helix blades and the stationary cutting blade, very much like a pair of scissors.
For this to work efficiently, the blades must be kept very sharp and adjusted so that there is contact between them along the whole length of the bedknife, an area known as the sheer point.
Adjusting The Cutting Height
Different types of grass require different cutting heights to stay healthy and thrive. For example, cool-season grasses like fescue and bluegrass should be cut at a height of 2-3 inches, while warm-season grasses like Bermuda and zoysia should be cut at a height of 1-2 inches (I previously wrote about the optimal cutting height here).
Adjusting the cutting height on your push reel mower is easy. Most push reel mowers have a lever or knob for each wheel that allows you to adjust the height grass will be cut. Simply turn the lever or knob to the desired setting and you’re ready to mow. Just make sure you set each side the same for an even cut.
Maintaining Your Push Reel Mower
Keeping your cylinder mower in good condition is relatively straightforward and is one of the great benefits of these tools compared to a rotary lawnmower. The best method is to consult your mower’s manual for a rundown of what you need to do, but I’ve listed the most common tasks below for reference.
A basic regime to adopt is every time you use the mower, check for any loose nuts and bolts, and make sure the reel blades turn freely but make contact with the cutting bar. Then make sure the wheels and cylinder area are kept free of grass clippings and other debris by giving them a good brush down after every mowing session.
Keep The Blades Sharp
To keep your mower cutting smoothly, sharpen the blades at least once a year or whenever you notice that they are not mowing the grass efficiently. You should also clean the blades with a wire brush and lubricate them with some light oil regularly.
See the section below for a simple way to do this.
Adjust The Reel To Bedknife Contact
The other thing you may need to do from time to time is adjusting the reel to bedknife contact gap so that it pinches a piece of newspaper along the whole length.
Models vary slightly but all will have some mechanism to move the bar that the bedknife is mounted on to get this just right. Check the manual that came with your model to find out how to do this on your machine.
An Easy Way To Sharpen The Blades On A Reel Mower
Sometimes the edges of the curved reel blades become dulled or have small dents in them and this can affect how well it cuts.
There are two main ways to sharpen these, using a file or back lapping using grinding paste which is the simplest way.
Grinding paste is a bit like liquid sandpaper and has a very gritty nature. You can buy this from any hardware or garden store.
Note that for this to work, the reel-to-bedknife gap will need to be adjusted properly as mentioned in the previous section. Make sure you wear thick gloves to prevent any injuries when working in the blade area.
Simply clean your blades up with a stiff brush and then paint the paste onto the outer edges of the blades, making sure you cover the whole length.
Once all the blades have paste on them pull the mower backward in a straight line for about 40 feet two or three times. Note for this to work you must pull it in reverse.
If you look at the blades they should now have a nice clean edge to them.
Wipe off any excess grinding paste, check the reel to bedknife adjustment again and you’re ready to go!
Maneuvering Your Push Reel Mower
Now that you have got everything set up on your cylinder mower, it’s time to maneuver it around your yard.
Push reel mowers are lightweight and easy to handle, but there are still a few things you should keep in mind to avoid damaging your lawn or the machine.
Before you start mowing, it’s important to clear any obstacles from your yard that could damage the blades or create an uneven cut. This includes rocks, sticks, toys, and other debris.
Cylinder mowers are great for mowing the open areas of your lawn, but they can be a bit trickier when it comes to trimming around the edges. To ensure you get a clean and even cut, use a pair of garden shears or a trimmer to cut any areas your reel mower can’t reach.
To get a straight line, use a fixed object in the distance, such as a tree or fence post, as a guide. Focus on keeping the mower straight and even as you move forward, using the object as a reference point.
If you’re having trouble keeping the mower straight, you could use a piece of string as a guide until you get the hang of it.
By following these tips and techniques, you can soon learn how to use a push reel mower to achieve a perfectly-manicured lawn.
Remember to adjust the cutting height, keep the blades sharp and check the gap with the cutting blade regularly, and soon, with a little practice, you’ll be able to hand mow your lawn like a pro.