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!