It's officially summer when lawn mower engines roar to life and the air is filled with smells of burning fossil fuel and fresh-cut grass. Despite their popularity, power mowers are loud, dangerous, and dirty. There is an alternative: the push reel lawn mower.
Why Choose a Reel Lawn Mower?
Most people only think about manual reel lawn mowers when they think about weekends spent in their grandpa's backyard. These remarkable machines have been around for nearly 200 years, but modern models are still strikingly similar to the original lawn mower invented by Edwin Budding in 1827. Sometimes the old ways are best - push reel lawn mowers have a lot to offer that their engine-powered cousins can't.
They're Eco Friendly
A Swedish study found that running a gas-powered lawn mower for one hour spews out nearly as much pollution as driving a car for 100 miles. According to the study, this is because the small engines on lawn equipment usually don't have any kind of emissions-reduction system (e.g. catalytic converters, etc). Also, it's estimated that more than 17 millions gallons of fuel are spilled each year while refueling lawn and garden equipment.
None of this is an issue with a 100% human-powered reel mower. There are no hazardous chemicals to spill, and no emissions of any kind. If being green is a priority, a reel mower is an excellent choice.
They're Good for Your Health
We constantly hear how we need to be more active and get more exercise. Switching to a reel mower provides an excellent way to get your heart pumping while you work on a chore you would be doing anyway. Think of your reel mower as an exercise machine than also happens to cut the grass; using one will strengthen your legs and back while providing great cardiovascular exercise.
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They're Less Expensive
A top-of-the-line push reel mower generally costs less than a gasoline-powered model and costs much less to operate. There is no need to buy gas, oil, or expensive engine parts. Other than the occasional sharpening, which you can easily do yourself, reel mowers require very little maintenance. Some newer designs, like the Fiskars StaySharp series, are even built-in a way that allows the blades need to be sharpened less frequently than most other models. With relatively little maintenance, it will provide many years of service.
They Provide a Healthier, Better-Looking Lawn
Have you ever wondered why the grass on golf courses and professional baseball fields always looks perfectly manicured and even? One reason is that many golf courses and baseball fields are trimmed using large reel lawn mowers, typically attached to a tractor. A rotary power mower is essentially a pair of gas-powered machetes that hack and tear violently through the grass. A reel mower is more like a pair of scissors the cleanly and evenly snips the grass.
Since the cuts from a rotary mower are more jagged, it leaves the grass more vulnerable to drying out, insect attacks, and diseases. The clean, even cuts from a reel lawn mower allow the grass to heal more quickly after mowing and helps to prevent health problems. Also, the lawn clippings from most reel mowers are usually not collected during mowing. This natural mulch helps to nourish and fertilize the lawn.
Small gas engines can be incredibly loud. A typical lawn mower engine produces noise at close to 100 decibels; it takes less than an hour of exposure to that level of noise to cause hearing damage. You'll never have to worry about your hearing with a reel mowers. The only sound they make is a pleasant clipping sound as the blades snip through the grass. They are quiet enough that you can mow the lawn early in the morning or late in the evening without worrying that you'll upset the neighbors or wake sleeping children.
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According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 235,000 adults and 17,000 children were injured by lawn mowers in 2010. Injuries include cuts, burns, broken bones, and even amputation. In fact, lawn mower accidents are the leading cause of major amputations for children under 10.
While reel mowers still pose some danger, they are still a much safer option. There is no hot engine to cause burns, and there are no engine-driven machetes to chop up fingers and toes. Running over an object like a rock with a reel mower will simply cause it to jam, while a power mower would turn the object into a 200 mile-per-hour projectile weapon. Also, since they are quiet, you'll be able to hear any playing potential hazards (such as playing children) while you mow.
While manual reel mowers have many great advantages, but they don't fit in every situation. If your lawn has difficult terrain or the wrong kinds of plants, an engine-powered model may be a better choice.
Reel lawn mowers are best suited for yards smaller than about 8000 to 10,000 square feet, and are generally best for trimming an already well-maintained lawn. Larger yards may take too much time to mow, and overgrown weeds and debris can jam the blades. Reel mowers don't work well on xeriscaped yards, sandy terrain (e.g. beachfront property), or excessively bumpy area or irregular you may have trouble getting an even cut or getting enough traction to turn the blades.
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Mowing Thick Species of Grass
Some types of thick grass are more difficult to cut with a reel mower, but they are often difficult to mow with power mowers as well. Thick grasses like St. Augustine, Bermuda, Japanese Lawn Grass, Korean Lawn Grass, and Zoysia are tough and grow into a thick carpet that can bind up blades and make mowing a chore.
If you choose a manual mower that has adjustable ground clearance and adjustable blade spacing, it is still possible to mow these grasses. Use a high ground clearance to avoid cutting through the thickest part of the grass, and try slightly widening the blade gap. Also, try overlapping mowing in narrower strips, overlapping over previously mowed areas.
Make the Switch
For most people who live in suburban areas with moderate-sized yards, switching to a manual reel mower is an excellent decision. You won't have to worry about storing gas & oil, hearing damage, projectile rocks & toys, or pollution. All of the benefits aside, there is something satisfying about working up a sweat while mowing the lawn with a machine powered by your own two legs.