On a somewhat regular basis, I use a reel mower on my lawn. I think it does a pretty good job with most of the lawn, however, there are certain stubborn grasses that seem to just scoff at my attempts to cut them. Because of this, I've sharpened the mower's blades but to no particularly substantial improvement. When this failed, we switched to a manual weed whacker and it does an ok job, but when I gotta redo 1/4 of the lawn with it, it becomes tedious.

For reasons of personal preference, we don't like to use gas or electric equipment. We've got 2 toddlers that often are in the yard when we're cutting, plus our dog whom is not known for his good decision making.

Besides using a gas or electric mower, is there a better means to ensure this grass is cut, ideally on the first pass?

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3 Answers 3


Reel mowers (known as cylinder mowers in the UK) do a very good job of cutting proper lawn grasses which have not been left to get too long, but they are renowned for one problem - they will not cut through longer, flowering stems or taller clumps of thicker stemmed grasses, all they usually do is flatten them. The grasses you have a problem with don't appear to be lawn grasses - the area that is visible in your photograph shows a mix of weeds and rough or field grass with maybe some lawn grasses. Field type grasses tend to grow faster than proper lawn grasses, so it can be hard to keep the grass short enough to successfully mow with this type of mower. For areas such as yours, I would always use an electric rotary hover mower because they cut through anything, even if the surface isn't flat and has bumps, but as I understand it, this type of mower is rarely used in the USA - I think this is likely because grassed areas there are much larger than in the UK, making electric mowers somewhat impractical, but I'm not entirely sure why rotary hover mowers seem uncommon there. I'm also pretty sure an electric reel mower wouldn't deal well with your grass either, not unless you cut it very frequently so the grasses do not have time to produce long stems, but it would certainly be easier to use than the manual reel mower you currently have, making much more frequent mowing more achievable.

  • Yeah, they're kind of pushing into the area because it's been very difficult to cut them effectively. I feel like over the past 2 years I've lived here they've taken greater control over the lawn. Jul 6, 2021 at 13:32

The only easy option you have is to put bigger wheels on it to bring up the blade height.

  • Any good reel mower is adjustable up to at least two inches (in the US), but the taller the cut, the harder it is to cut tougher grass. I've never heard of putting different wheels on a mower to raise the height.
    – Jurp
    Jul 5, 2021 at 23:28
  • If you need to be higher than 2 inches the geometry of adding larger wheels is a way to raise the height. Personally I have never seen it done either but math man math. Jul 5, 2021 at 23:32
  • Enlarging the wheels gives more torque, but also slows the blades down and gives them more to cut on each stroke. There's no free lunch. Jul 6, 2021 at 16:34

You don't.

Push mowers are very finicky about height of grass. You must cut much more often than power mowers.

Why is that? Because a reel mower gets its cutting energy from the rotation of the wheels. That depends on wheel traction in grass (itself quite limited). There is an absolute maximum amount of "energy per linear inch" that can be obtained due to wheel traction.

Can't you just increase wheel diameter 20%? That will increase blade torque 20%. Yes, but it will also increase distance traveled 20%, increasing amount of grass to cut 20%, which will of course require 20% more torque to cut through, netting a zero sum gain. There is no way to improve on this: we are stuck with a fixed amount of energy per linear inch.

The ancient masters were every bit as smart as us, but with far fewer distractions. They had the ratios dialed in about as well as they could be. There is little room for improvement here.

Since we can't get more energy per inch to cut, we can only cut grass that is short enough to be cut by the energy available. We cannot abide increasing height of grass, because that will simply take more energy than is possible to obtain by wheel traction.

And you perfectly well know what happens then; the mower jams and skids, and does not cut at all.

So, you cannot wait until the city sends you a notice anymore :) You must cut much more often, with no excuses, and no procrastination, or you will fall behind and have to hand-scythe the whole yard just to cut it. BT, DT.

If you want to sustain that personal preference, you need to sustain the personal discipline.

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