10 Observations on a Full Season of Push Reel Lawn Mowing

by Tim Fulton on October 24, 2008

Image: Dan4th

This is a post from the EcoRenovator forums by co-founder MetroMPG, who let me republish his post here on the blog. Thanks, Darin!

This year I mowed the grass at my parents’ place exclusively with one of those push-type reel mowers. It’s not a tiny lawn, either – let’s say it took me about half an hour to do.

To complete the human-powered theme, I also ditched the power trimmer for a set of long-handled shears.

Previously, I’d been using their plug-in (AC) electric mower & weed whacker. But I gave that mower to my brother because my nephew (10 years old) started cutting the grass at his house this year and found their gas lawnmower too heavy to handle.

So here are my observations:

1. It takes longer. Why? Because the reel mower doesn’t cut perfectly. The problem seems to be that the wheels push the grass down, and it doesn’t spring up again before the next pass, so the blades miss it. So I find I have to do multiple passes, or the lawn has racing stripes.

I didn’t mind that it took extra time. I viewed the extra walking as getting in some exercise (I sit on my butt in front of a computer all day).

2. It’s liberating. It helps you get over any OCD tendencies you may have about a flawless lawn (see point #1).

3. It’s easier to push. The reel mower is lighter than even a small electric mower.

4. It’s more sensitive to dull blades. You can get away with a dull power mower because the sheer speed & violence of the spinning blade will hack the grass to bits, even if it’s dull. Not a reel push mower. It needs to be sharpened once or twice a season for acceptable results. I bought a kit. It takes about 10 minutes to sharpen.

5. It’s nice & quiet. So much quieter. Feel the urge to cut the grass in the middle of the night without waking anyone up? Me neither. I never really noticed how much noise lawnmowers make in the neighbourhood until spending the summer behind a quiet mower.

6. It doesn’t mulch. Autumn presents problems. It doesn’t grind up & spit out the leaves the way a power mower does. More raking required.

7. You can mow barefoot. The blades stop when you stop. Sure, you can mow barefoot with a power mower too. Even with the bar-mounted shut-off lever, how comfy does that feel?

8. You can’t let the grass get too long. Reel mowers don’t do well in really long grass (mine just doesn’t cut the long blades). So you’ve got to stay on top of things, unlike a power mower, which can attack a small hay field you’ve left too long.

9. It intrigues people. When was the last time you had a total stranger pull into your driveway to talk to you about your lawn mower? Or your brother in-law say “hey, let me mow some!” A push mower is a conversation piece – people will want to know what you think of it – and in a way, it’s kind of fun.

10. “Zen and the art of lawn maintenance”. It’s more relaxing. Once you accept its weaknesses, the combination of the light weight and snick-snick-snick quietness make for a more enjoyable experience. A reel mower can transform the chore of cutting the grass into an almost meditative experience.


1 Ray the Money Man October 24, 2008 at 6:03 pm

This brought back great childhood memories. I don’t have a lawn now but when I do it will be a push mower for me.

Great post!

2 aaron October 24, 2008 at 6:44 pm

Interesting observations. I, too, used a reel mower for an entire season.

I would add that every little stick will stop you dead in your tracks.

I also found that if the grass gets high, it will take an extra trip or two to get through it.

3 Sol October 24, 2008 at 8:19 pm

I love my reel mower. I hate yard work.

We moved to this suburban nightmare a year ago and I bought a whole set of yard care things: a mower, a leaf blower, electric shears. But I am SO SICK of hearing my neighbors cut their lawn! I’m sick of the “perfection” of a manicured yard!

So I switched. I have a push mower and a push broom and regular shears. That’s all I need. And you know what’s best about it? Not only is it quiet and environmentally friendly, it PISSES OFF THE NEIGHBORS that I’m not like them.

4 Awesome Mom October 25, 2008 at 12:06 am

We have one and I love it. It is nice that my husband can go out and mow the lawn with the kids running around in it.

5 igo October 25, 2008 at 9:15 am

I would use one of these if I had a small yard. My current apartment has not grass at all! Mulch/flowers in the front brick patio in the back

6 paul October 27, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Good observations but there are some really high end push reel mowers now including Brill, that are electric and have electric blades. This makes it clean and better than classic reel models. According to http://www.lawnmowersworld.com, these new reel mowers also do mulching and are not that expensive.

7 wordpress October 30, 2008 at 2:40 am

Great posts… I ve come to similar conclusions after six years of using a reel mower (and _have_ to get one of those sharpening kits!)

8 AdvertiseSpace October 30, 2008 at 4:32 pm

you forgot, ‘great workout’

I love my push mower, but don’t grass anymore as I stonned my backyard.

I miss mowing…

Nah, not really

9 Mallory October 30, 2008 at 7:47 pm

I have a push mower like that. It’s good, because you don’t have to worry about the cable reaching the powerpoint, or mowing over it, or what will happen if it gets damp. (I shocked the bejeezes out of myself once with an outside light, and I don’t really trust outside electrical appliances anymore).

10 Scott November 10, 2008 at 1:35 am

Oh…the painful childhood memories come flooding back!!!

Because these tool of torture do not do well in taller grass as noted in the post, I had to mow our lawn every Saturday to make it easier on myself when I was a kid.

I came to hate that thing, but strangely find myself considering buying one as an adult…I obviously was pretty badly scarred!!!

11 Sean April 25, 2009 at 10:11 pm

I’m interested in one, but don’t know how to find a good one, or even what features are desirable. Can anyone help?

12 Benjamin Jones April 25, 2009 at 10:14 pm


I would try to find one you can push around before buying. Like anything else, build quality is important. Sharp blades, also, but you can sharpen yourself.

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