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I have a small lawn and no outside storage, so I have recently acquired a manual reel lawn mower. I suspect that this mower is more sensitive to poor mowing practices that a typical gas mower but I am not experienced enough to know what best practices I should follow or if there are different things to pay attention to than when using a gas mower.

What best practices should I follow when using this mower?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I have an acre and a half, about half of which is lawn, and have used nothing but reel mowers on it for a decade or so. My tips:

  • don't try to mow when it's wet, and don't let it get too long - both long grass and wet grass (or heaven forbid, long wet grass) will be a real struggle. These rules fight each other when it rains every day, causing the grass to grow. At some point you have to get a little obsessed about getting out and mowing when you can
  • don't feel you have to mow the whole lawn when you mow. The great thing about a reel mower is that it's always ready to go. You can do two minutes if you want, no big deal. This lets you cope with different parts of the lawn growing at different speeds, or just pop out and take care of something with no real prep effort. We work at home and can do 5 minutes of mowing here and there while waiting for code to compile or the like
  • if you don't clear twigs and pine cones before you mow, they are likely to jam the blade. This means the whole thing stops dead and typically the handle ends up in your stomach. You'll soon learn by aversion to pick up twigs and pinecones if you're just walking across the lawn for some other purpose
  • you need less safety equipment than a rotary power mower. You don't need ear protection, for example. But you should wear shoes. We let the kids do the lawn starting much younger than we would have let them touch a gas mower. But we had to insist on shoes.
  • if you run with it (which is fun) it will let out a lovely spray of grass clippings towards you, not off to the side like a rotary mower. Choose your clothes accordingly, or don't run with it (see what you learn when you let the kids do it?)
  • it can get dull and you will feel the difference when it does. Owning two makes it easier to notice. We have a sharpening kit that you bolt on to the mower and it works. While you're sharpening it, make sure everything is moving freely
  • long grass can wrap around the wheel axles and slow you down. Take a minute to clear it away and you'll be happier
  • If yours doesn't come with a padded handle, go to the hardware store and buy a slip-on foam thingy to pad it. A plain metal handle is uncomfortable.

We got ours from Lee Valley. They've been reliable and I would never buy a gas mower. Gas mowers need maintenance too, and back when we had one I couldn't do everything on one tank of gas, and it would run out at some awkward half-mowed stage. And we're a twenty minute round-trip drive to the gas station and back. The reel mowers are lighter than the gas ones (since there's no engine to lug around) which matters on our hilly property, they're safer, cheaper to run, and just more convenient for the way we live.

One last tip: people will think you've bought it because you're a little eccentric. It gets boring explaining that it's actually easier than the power mower, so just prepare to be thought eccentric or a lawn-nut.

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  • keep it sharp
  • mow frequently (they really struggle in tall grass)
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When I had a reel mower, I found it best to pick up twigs that had fallen from the trees before I started, otherwise it was frustrating to have to keep stopping when they jammed in the reel. It was still much more pleasant than using a gas mower for a small yard, though - hope you enjoy yours!

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