How To Operate A Lawnmower – A Step-By-Step Guide

So you’ve just bought yourself a shiny new gas-powered lawnmower and now you are eager to get started transforming that patch of unkempt grass into a beautifully manicured lawn! But if you’ve never used one before, you will first need to work out how to actually operate it.

To operate a gas-powered lawnmower you will first need to familiarize yourself with the basic controls and operating techniques. These can usually be found in the operating manual that comes with the machine. Pay particular attention to any safety notices and warnings.

However, user manuals will typically only give you the basic information you need, so I’ve created this step-by-step guide to cover everything else. 

Part 1: The Parts Of A Lawnmower

Knowing where everything is and what each bit does on your lawnmower will really help when working out how to operate it. 

Every model is different of course, but this list covers the most common components all push-along gas-powered mowers will have in some form or other.

  1. Engine: This is the powerhouse of your mower, and it drives the blade either directly or through a system of belts and pulleys. On a self-propelled mower, the motor also provides power to turn the wheels.
  2. Fuel tank: This is where you pour the gasoline that powers your mower.
  3. Air filter:  Usually attached to the side of the engine under a cover, the air filter stops dust and other debris from getting into the engine through the air intake.
  4. Blade: This is the part of the mower that cuts the grass. The blade should always be sharp and clean to ensure that it cuts the grass evenly. 
  5. Mower deck: The deck is the metal housing (or sometimes heavy-duty plastic) on which all the other parts are mounted. It also covers and protects the blade and directs the grass clippings out of the mower. 
  6. Wheels: The wheels are what make your mower mobile. They’re attached to the deck in each corner and will usually have an adjustment lever to determine the height of the cut. 
  7. Handle: The handle is where you hold onto the mower to push it forward. This is where you will find the bail lever (also known as the clutch handle or dead man’s lever) on modern machines. If you have a self-propelled model you will also find the drive control lever located here.
  8. Starter cord: This is the cord that you pull on to start the engine. It usually sits on top of the motor and has a T-shaped handle for an easy grip.

Part 2: Adjusting The Height Of The Blade

Before you start the engine up and begin mowing, you will need to adjust the height of the blade. This is a crucial aspect of lawn care and should be adjusted depending on the current length of grass and the season it’s being mowed. 

If this is the first time the grass has been mowed for a while, don’t start off trying to cut it short straight away as it could damage the grass. In general, try to never cut off more than one-third of the grass height every time you mow.

Most lawnmowers have levers that let you adjust the deck height. Move the deck up or down, depending on the height of the grass you’re mowing; the lower the lever is on the deck, the shorter your grass will be cut. If you are unsure whether you should mow your lawn short or long, you can check out this article I wrote. 

Part 3: Safety Tips For Operating A Lawnmower

Lawnmowers should be used with caution as they have sharp blades moving at high speeds. Here are some basic tips for your safety while operating a lawn mower: 

  1. Wear protective gear: Wear protective gear, such as glasses, earplugs, long pants, and sturdy shoes with slip-resistant soles. 
  2. Look out for obstacles: Remove any obstacles from your lawn before mowing to avoid hitting them and damaging your lawnmower. 
  3. Keep children and pets away: Keep children and pets away from the area you’re mowing, and never allow them to ride on the mower. 
  4. Turn off the engine before making any adjustments: Before adjusting the blade height or cleaning your mower, turn off the engine and wait for the blade to stop spinning.

Proper lawnmower safety is a bit long of a topic to fully cover here, but if you want to learn more you can do so here

Part 4: Starting Your Gas-Powered Mower

Now it’s time to look at how to start the engine.

The first thing to do before starting your mower is to check the fuel to make sure that there’s enough gas in the tank. If your model has a gas tap (usually located near the fuel tank) then also make sure it’s set to the ‘On’ position.

You should also fill up your oil tank if you haven’t done so already (unless your mower has a 2-stroke engine, in which case the oil should be pre-mixed with the fuel). 

Next, it’s time to prime the engine. If your mower has a primer bulb on the side of the engine, press it three to four times to pump fuel into the carburetor. If you don’t have a primer, your model probably has an automatic choke so you can skip this step.

Now it’s time to pull in the clutch lever so that you can start the engine. Most modern lawnmowers have a clutch or bail lever that you need to pull into the handle grip and hold it there while mowing. This is a safety feature and if you let go the motor will cut out straight away. 

Finally, you just need to give the starter cord a good pull. This causes the engine to turn over and fire up but may take several tries and a little bit of effort, especially if the machine has been in storage over the winter. If you are having trouble pulling the cord, you can check out this article for useful tips

With the engine running you’re now ready to start mowing.

Part 5: Mowing Your Grass

Now it’s time to actually start cutting the grass and with a manual push mower, you simply just start walking forward pushing the machine in the direction you want to go.

If you have a self-propelled lawnmower, then pull up the drive control lever (or push it down depending on your model) to engage the transmission and the mower will start to move forward on its own.

If you want to leave your grass looking well-manicured, try to mow it in stripes by going backward and forward in a striped pattern (you can find more tips on how you can make your lawn look great here). 

If you’re not too bothered and just want to leave the grass looking neat and tidy then mow it in whichever pattern works best for your yard.


As you can see, operating a gas-powered lawnmower is fairly straightforward if you follow the right steps and take note of any safety precautions.

Once you get the hang of it then you will be mowing like a pro and your yard will look great in no time!

Peter Toth

Hi! I'm Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I've created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!

Recent Posts