Do You Need a Power Lawnmower?

Richard L. Parish  |  12/3/2004 7:17:32 PM

Figure 1. Self-propelled lawnmower with large rear wheels.

Figure 2. Non-self-propelled (push) rotary lawnmower.

Figure 3. Manual reel mower.

Many people buy self-propelled lawnmowers, but pushing a mower can be good exercise. If you have a small lawn, you should consider a push mower. A manual reel mower can be a good choice for small lawns.

Powered Self-propelled Mowers
Most top-of-the line power mowers are self-propelled (Figure 1). This increases the cost of the mower, but it can make the mower easier to use. Be aware that not all self-propulsion systems work well; some are unable to pull the mower along, and you end up pushing harder than you would with a non-self-propelled mower. Models with large, powered rear wheels generally have plenty of traction, but some front-drive models also pull adequately. You should try out a model before buying it.

Powered Push Mowers
Non-self-propelled (push) mowers are lighter and less expensive (Figure 2). They usually require more effort than a self-propelled model, but a light-weight model should not require too much force. Pushing one on a small lawn can be good exercise. If the mower has large wheels on the rear, it will push considerably easier. Not only are these mowers less expensive to buy than self-propelled models, they are less expensive to maintain.

Manual Push Mowers
Manual reel mowers (Figure 3) are making somewhat of a comeback. Testing has shown that the push effort for a good manual reel mower is no greater than the push effort for a powered but non-self-propelled rotary mower. The width of a manual reel mower, however, will normally be less than a rotary (16-18 inches versus 20-22 inches).

There are major differences in quality among manual reel mowers. A good manual reel mower will have a very slight clearance between the reel blades and the bed knife when properly adjusted, thus eliminating blade drag. Excessive clearance will cause a deterioration in quality of cut. With low-quality reel mowers, the blades may drag on the bed knife, increasing push effort, noise and wear. The cost of a good manual reel mower may exceed the cost of a powered discount store rotary mower.

It is tempting to think that maintenance costs will be less for a reel mower since there is no engine to maintain, but this is not necessarily true. Reel mowers must be professionally sharpened and back-lapped, and this should be done reasonably often. The cost of frequent professional sharpening can easily exceed the cost of maintaining a small engine. Some manual reel mowers allow catching clippings, but you can’t mulch with a reel mower. Reel mowers are designed for high-quality turfgrass. They will not handle tall grass or coarse weeds.

If you have a small lawn and are willing to get a little exercise while mowing, a good manual push mower can be a good alternative to a powered mower. For somewhat larger lawns, a non-self-propelled power rotary can be a good choice. Selecting a model with tall rear wheels can reduce push effort. For larger lawns or minimum effort, you will need to spend enough to get a self-propelled rotary mower.

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