How Reel Mowers Work

Taking Care of Reel Mowers

Reel mowers require very little maintenance outside of regular sharpening.
Reel mowers require very little maintenance outside of regular sharpening.
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Manual reel mowers are efficient and environmentally friendly, but it's still a slower option than using a gas mower. For this reason, manual reel mowers are practical only for yards of 8,000 square feet (about 743 square meters) or less [source: Reel Mower Guide]. That's approximately 0.18 acres. You also have to consider whether you're up to mowing the lawn frequently -- generally once a week during summer months. If you let your grass grow too tall, pushing a reel mower through it can prove difficult (or impossible). Let the yard go for a few rainy weeks, and you may wind up borrowing a gas mower or buying a swing blade.

Since the gears in a manual reel mower make the blades turn faster than the wheels, you don't have to run to keep the blade speed up. Still, the person pushing a manual reel mower supplies all the power, and a steady, reasonable pace is required to keep the reel spinning. Other than that, mowing the lawn with a reel mower is much like using a gas-powered push mower. Knowing what kind of grass you have and what mowing height and care that grass requires will help you to mow your lawn properly

Taking care of reel mowers is easy. If properly cared for, reel mowers can last for decades. There are no oil changes or tune-ups required. The only steadfast rules for maintaining a reel mower are:

  • Clean the blades.
  • Wash off excess grass clippings.
  • Keep the mower out of the rain to prevent rusting.

To sharpen the blades, all you need are a grinding stone, grinding paste and some newspaper. The stone is little more than a rough file made of rock, and the paste has the gritty consistency of wet sand. Reel mower sharpening kits typically include both these items. First, use the grinding stone to file out nicks and burrs. Then, apply the grinding paste to the reel blades and cutter bar. By turning the reel backward, the gritty paste files away at the blades, sharpening the edges. The last step is simply to clean off the blades and test the cut on some newspaper to make sure the reel and cutter bar are close enough. If not, just make a few manual adjustments to the blade settings.

Thanks to concerns about pollution and rising gas prices, reel mowers seem to be popular once again. Today, new and used models are readily available at most hardware shops, lawn care stores and online.

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More Great Links


  • American Lawns. "History of the Lawn Mower." 2008. (May 9, 2008)
  • Britannica Online Encyclopedia. "Gear." 2008. (May 9, 2008)
  • EPA New England Regional Laboratory. "Natural Landscaping at EPA's Laboratory." August 2005. (May 9, 2008)
  • The Old Lawnmower Club. "Mower History." (May 9, 2008)
  • Ramsey, Dan and Judy Ramsey. "Adjusting Reel Mowers." 2003. (May 9, 2008)
  • Reel Mower Guide. "Using a Reel Mower." 2004. (May 9, 2008)
  • Wills, Jim. "Grass Cutting Equipment Preparation." The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service. (May 9, 2008)