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What is a Reel Mower?

By R. Anacan
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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A reel mower is a lawn mower in which the blades spin perpendicular to the ground. The rotation of the blades in a wheel-like fashion cuts grass much as a scissors would. Many reel mowers are manually-powered although there are engine-powered reel mowers that are used for larger scale applications such as golf courses. Although the reel mower was invented in the early 1800s before the rotary mower, the rotary lawn mower eventually supplanted the reel mower in popularity.

The blade on a rotary mower spins in a fan-like manner parallel to the ground. In contrast to the snipping action of the reel mower, rotary mowers tear the blades of grass as it cuts. Rotary mowers are usually powered by a gasoline or electric engine.

Advantages of manually-powered reel lawn mowers include:
• They are environmentally friendly. The lack of a gasoline or electric engine means no pollution is created during or for the operation of a reel mower.

• They are quieter to use.

• They are easier to maintain than gasoline- or electric-powered mowers. The lack of an engine means the only maintenance that is generally required is periodic sharpening and calibration of the blades and lubrication of the moving parts.

• They are generally smaller in size than a gas- or electric-powered mower, making them easier to store.

• The scissors-like cutting method is better for the grass and provides for a healthier lawn.

• They are typically less expensive than a gas or electric-powered lawn mower.

• They can be safer to use than an engine-powered rotary mower. According to a press release in 2006 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 230,500 people were injured in 2004 as a result of lawn mower related injuries.

Disadvantages of manually-powered reel lawn mowers include:
• They require more physical work to use and can be difficult for some to push, especially if the blades are not sharpened or calibrated correctly.

• It usually takes longer to use than an engine-powered lawn mower.

• They do not cut high grass very well, requiring more frequent mowing to keep a lawn effectively under control.

• They do not cut twigs as well as rotary lawn mowers. Twigs have the tendency to get stuck in the blades and have to be removed to be able to use the mower.

• They are more effective for smaller sized rather than larger sized lawns.

• They cannot be used to shred leaves. Many rotary lawn mower owners use their mowers to make compost from shredded leaves.

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Discussion Comments

By Lostnfound — On Oct 22, 2014

Reel mowers are a lot of work, unless you do have a tiny yard. The upside is they're a great workout and they don't use any gasoline, plus they're quiet. This is good if you are prone to getting the mowing bug early in the morning when your neighbors might still be sleeping.

I bought a rechargeable electric mower last year and I've really enjoyed it. It's not loud and it's much easier to push. Still, if I need a good workout, or want to get rid of some aggression, I'll drag out my reel mower and go to work. Good for releasing frustrations.

By Grivusangel — On Oct 21, 2014

I actually want a reel mower! I have a tiny front yard and the guy my landlady hires to do the lawn is not really bright, and has cut down my flowers more than once. I could probably do the front yard in about 45 minutes or less with a reel mower.

I like them because they are quiet, and in my opinion, are much safer than rotary mowers. Something might get stuck in the blades, but chances are, it won't fly out and hit you in the face. Rotary mowers are apt to sling stuff around.

I might be interested in an electric mower. They're also quiet, and easier to start. But I really think I'd rather have a reel mower.

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