I'm looking for a lawn mower to use on an allotment, where there is poor security and no source of mains power. Additionally, the group is trying to reduce it's carbon footprint so would prefer not to use machinery powered by fossil fuels. This suggests a person powered mower would be the best.

However, the grass gets infrequently cut so if often too long for a cylinder mower, and is full of stones which will easily knock the ledger bar on a cylinder mower out of alignment. This will all contribute to it working inefficently.

Additionally, it will mainly be used to cut narrow grass paths between beds so there will not be much space to swing a scythe in. Also it would be best if all members of the group are able to cut the grass, and few might be confident using a scythe.

For these conditions a rotary mower would be best, such as the type found on most domestic electric mowers. A rotary mower can also be used as a mulching mower, increasing the health of the lawn which would be a benefit for a permaculture allotment.

My question is, does a rotary mower exist on the market ( anywhere in the world ) that is not powered by a motor. If not, what are the limiting factors that prevent such a model from being developed. I would assume the power required to reach an operating rpm is too great to be generated by hand.

Cheers in advance.

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    You've got to get the blade moving fast, and that'll require quite a gear up from walking pace: hard to push. Might get away with a cleverly mounted fishing line type edger machine, but uniform hight is going to be a problem. Metal edged carbon fibre blades? -Never seen any of these, but it might be doable. May 20, 2017 at 17:28
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    @WayfaringStranger as you reduce the weight of the blade you also reduce its momentum, which would affect its ability to cope with shock loading so mowing a thick tuft of grass could easily stall it. I can see many limitations
    – Nic
    May 20, 2017 at 19:23
  • If you want a lawn you have to cut minimally once per week. To cut when high will drastically stress your grass and you'll not have a lawn worth mentioning. How large is your lawn, why do you not mow once per week and please don't get me going on reduction of carbon footprint. Reel pushmowers are great if you know how to sharpen and mow twice per week. Hopefully you are bagging your clippings with such long grass...or you could hire some goats? Cool season grasses? Shorter than 3"? There are a lot of question/answers that explain exactly what management is necessary.
    – stormy
    May 20, 2017 at 23:30
  • @pnuts Scythes were never used to 'mow' lawns.
    – stormy
    May 20, 2017 at 23:31
  • @Nic Interesting technical challenge. May 20, 2017 at 23:40

7 Answers 7


In my landscaping experience, rotary motors require high RPMs since its just the one blade. It has to create a fan blade type action to raise the grass as it cuts the top off. Manual power just can't accomplish that. Cylinder mowers have more blades in direct contact with the grass, which is how they are able to cut without a larger power source. My suggestion is to by an electric mower and some batteries/solar cells to charge the batteries when not in use. Depending on the size of the lot, you may need a couple batteries so you can swap them out to finish without having to wait on the sun. There should be plenty of time between mowing for the sun to recharge the batteries. Hope this helps!


I have no clue how large an area this allotment is nor how neat and tidy you want it to be. But rather than grass, why not remove the grass and replace it with an inexpensive and sturdy ground cover that only grows a few inches tall? Lawns made of grass are a fairly recent development in the history of landscapes. For many centuries, ground covers were the norm. There are different ones suitable for various conditions. The only situation where they wouldn't work is dry shade and then, even grass won't grow.


I would consider use a sickle scythe. This is quite a technique to learn, but once you have then you're good. It is a good way to cut high grass.

From what I know, it is usable on high grass and works well as long as it is well sharpen. To keep it so, it must not be used on small wooden stems which would grow if you wait really too long between cuttings.


You're a fine use-case for a scythe (well, the poor security would have me taking it home, not leaving it there.) But you might need to make use of a rake depending on your stone situation (the size and projection from the surface of them - if you try to cut them it's not good for the blade.)

An antique in poor condition is not the scythe you want. I would suggest a new scythe, a peening jig, and a stone and cup.

Else you will get into much more complicated (and noisy and messy...) approaches like a battery-operated string trimmer or mower (and some solar panels to charge it up, or you bring the batteries from home and have the solar panels there, or contract with a renewable energy supplier if you have electric provider choice.)

  • You're right, but i just added an edit to the OP to explain its for mowing narrow paths so hard to swing a scythe.
    – Nic
    May 23, 2017 at 10:02

Since it seems like you are not finding exactly what you are looking for, I would suggest a battery-electric mower. Greenworks sells at least one model, as do some others. I have other cordless electric landscaping tools from Greenworks, and they are more than adequate for almost any "homeowner" duty.

I know that there are beefier battery electric mowers and landscaping tools out there. A colleague of mine set up a whole crew in his landscaping business with commercial grade battery electric push and walk behind mowers, leaf blowers, line trimmers, and chain saws. He says they work every bit as well as their gas counterparts without the noise and pollution of typical equipment.


Do it like my grand-farther and use a Scythe. This will fast and cheap. Just cut it before you use the lawn The grass will be not short enough for golfing but good enough for running around.


Yes, people powered mowers have been around before powered mowers. They still exist, can be purchased online, in-stores...big box hardware, walmart, amazon, ebay, craigslist. They are called reel mowers. Attached is a sample image. They need to be maintained much like a powered mower. Blades sharpened, gears lubed, etc. No gas, no electricity, but might not be easy for a weaker person to push and have it cut. However, with sharp blades and maintained lubrication, this can be overcome.

enter image description here

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    Just a hint: the question was explicitly about rotary mowers, the asker is well aware that cylinder mowers as in your sample picture exist, but has explained why they won’t meet the requirements of the specific use case.
    – Stephie
    Mar 28, 2019 at 7:53
  • They are adjustable for height. So technically it WOULD meet the requirement for this use. Just as any other device could be, it has to be adjusted based on conditions. Using a hedge trimmer would work...oh wait, that means it might have a blade bent, uh, ok, would rocks not cause damage to anything used in this type of location? A reel mower can also be purchased that has larger wheels, therefore a higher height from the ground, therefore less damage from rocks.
    – Jeff Cates
    Mar 29, 2019 at 15:29

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