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Yes! These Reel Mowers Can Get the Job Done

Although it’s not uncommon to see robotic lawn mowers scurrying around your neighborhood, the reel mowers your grandparents used have managed to avoid becoming obsolete; in fact, recent research suggests that the reel mower market is expected to steadily grow between now and 2027. Reel mowers have so much staying power because their mechanics have improved alongside innovations in their electric– and gas-powered siblings, and you can rely on them to deliver clean, consistent results in a variety of situations. However, you may be surprised at the sheer number of options, and sifting through them to find the right one can feel like a greater task than the mowing you had in mind. Keep reading to learn how reel mowers work and what to consider before buying one. To help you choose the right reel mower for your yard, we’ve found the best models for every budget, lawn, and landscaper.

Best Reel Mowers

The Expert: I am a trained furniture designer and woodworker and apply this experience as a product reviewer for BestReviews and SFGate, among other digital outlets. For my first job, I worked as an apprentice to the landscaper and repairman for Hunt House, which was built in 1641 and is one of the oldest homes in Massachusetts. However, to do the reel mower justice, I reached out to two landscaping experts in order to get the most accurate and helpful information.

How Does a Reel Mower Work?

First and foremost, reel mowers are entirely mechanical, unlike their gas and electric siblings, which rely on a source of power other than the user to function properly. In terms of basic mechanics, little has changed in the reel mower since it was first patented in England in 1830 by Edwin Budding, who’s credited with inventing the adjustable spanner wrench as well. Modern-day reel mowers, just like those of the 19th century, are powered by a simple transfer of force at a few crucial points. First, the user applies force by gripping and pushing the handlebar forward. That applied force is then carried down the handle to the axel, which subsequently turns the wheels. As the axel turns, it catches and spins a pair of meshing gears. Critically, one of the meshing gears is smaller than the other, known as the pinion gear, which exponentially increases the torque of the attached spinning blades as rotational force is passed from the axel via the larger gear. As the cylinder of blades spins, it collects the grass and carries it to the stationary cutter bar at the back of the mower, which then neatly shears it.

What to Consider When Shopping for a Reel Mower

Is a Reel Mower the Right Mower for Your Space?

Because a reel mower runs on human power, using one can be more time-consuming than mowing with a gas or electric alternative, especially if you frequently have to cover a large area. Reel mowers are ideal for smaller, level grassy areas that you can mow on a regular schedule. That said, no matter how small your lawn is, if it’s steep or uneven, pushing a reel mower may be too difficult. In these situations, it’s better to opt for a lightweight electric mower that’s easy to maneuver.

Do You Like to Keep Your Grass Long or Short?

Reel mowers are great for cutting short grass, which means you have to tend to your lawn fairly frequently, especially during peak growth months. If the grass is too long, it will likely fold over and pass through the reel mower without being cut because there isn’t enough space between the blades of the reel, which results in an uneven product that looks bad.

How Wide a Mower Do You Need?

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to reel mowers. The wider the mower is, the more difficult it will be to push due its weight. Furthermore, wide mowers, such as those with a cutting width of at least 16 inches, have large turning circles, which can make them a pain to maneuver around trees and other obstacles. On the other hand, the wider the mower, the fewer passes you’ll have to take to cover your entire lawn. Also, wider mowers can handle taller grass better than their narrower counterparts because the wider, larger reel generates more torque and therefore more cutting power.

Number of Blades

Reel mowers come in a variety of blade counts, with some equipped with as few as four blades and others boasting up to 10. The higher the number of blades, the finer and shorter you will be able to cut the grass. However, mowers with lots of blades need to be pushed quickly to maintain momentum, otherwise they’ll bog down and become stolid. Another thing to consider is the fact that each blade will need maintenance from time to time, so more blades means more maintenance.

The Environment

There are two important environmental aspects to consider before purchasing a reel mower. First, if you’re looking for an environmentally friendly way to care for your lawn, there’s no better option than a reel mower. Gas-powered lawn mowers have some of the most inefficient engines on the market, with some older models emitting the same amount of greenhouse gasses in one hour as a new car does over the course of 350 miles. While electric mowers help alleviate some of the environmental concerns, they create more noise than reel mowers. Importantly, both electric and gas mowers are rotary mowers and, as such, tear the grass rather than slice it, which results in an uneven cut and may lower the quality of regrowth.

The other environmental consideration to keep in mind is the actual environment that surrounds your lawn. If you’re under a canopy of trees or near an area with sand, which can damage the blades, you may want to consider one of the alternatives to a reel mower. Debris such as twigs and acorns can damage the blades on a reel mower.

How We Evaluated These Reel Mowers

To find the best reel mowers for your outdoor space, I researched the most highly rated products across various brands and spoke with landscaping professionals at Lowe’s and WW Building Supply, the local hardware store my family frequented where I grew up. I made sure to include mowers with a variety of features at different price points, sizes, and designs. The selections I included are based on my personal experience with reel mowers as well as customer reviews and product specs. Each mower on my list, regardless of price, is durable and functional.

Best All-Around Reel Mower

Scotts Outdoor Power Tools 415-16S 16-inch Elite Push Reel Lawn Mower

Scotts Outdoor Power Tools

  • The adjustable cutting height can go as low .5 in.
  • No-tool assembly doesn’t come at the expense of quality design
  • Maximum cutting height is only 1.75 in., not nearly as impressive as the minimum

Key Specs

  • Weight: 25.4 lb.
  • Number of Blades: 5
  • Cutting Width: 14 in.

This reel mower from Scotts provides an excellent value for your money and doesn’t skimp where it really counts. Thanks to its tool-free assembly, this mower is easier to set up and use than the average food delivery app, and you can get up and running in no time. Although this mower isn’t expensive, it still offers heat-treated alloy blades, which increase durability and reduce the frequency of regular maintenance.

Best High-End Reel Mower

Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Push Lawn Mower

  • Integrated grass chute directs clippings and debris away from your feet
  • With a maximum cutting height of 4 in., this mower can handle taller grass
  • Although the addition of the front wheels makes it slightly easier to push, they also make it more cumbersome

Key Specs

  • Weight: 51.7 lb.
  • Number of Blades: 5
  • Cutting Width: 18 in.

Although the StaySharp Max may not look all that innovative, it’s chock-full of unique technology that’s designed to help you get the job done faster. This is the mower I use at home in Vermont, and I can attest to the fact that the patented InertiaDrive system, which harnesses the momentum of the reel, deals with weeds and the random stick with ease. Plus, the blade edges are ground down to a fine edge that holds its sharpness quite well.

Best Value Reel Mower

Sun Joe MJ500M 16-Inch Manual Reel Mower

  • Includes a large grass clippings collector
  • Lightweight build makes it easy to push for such a wide mower
  • Some reviewers felt that the handle was poor quality and ultimately made the mower harder to push than necessary

Key Specs

  • Weight: 22 lb.
  • Number of Blades: 5
  • Cutting Width: 16 in.

If you’re on a tight budget and have a small, level surface to mow, the Sun Joe MJ500M is a great choice. In addition to the removable clipping collector, there are four height adjustments on this mower, which is superb for the price point. Another great feature of this mower is the rust-proof coating on all the metal surfaces; this is especially useful if you often mow your lawn in the morning when it’s wet with dew.

Best Budget Reel Mower

Great States 415-16 16-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower

  • 10-in. wheels allow this mower to handle rougher, debris-ridden terrain
  • Foam grip on handles allow for longer mowing without discomfort
  • Minimum cutting height of 1 inch will be a limiting factor for anyone who likes short grass

Key Specs

  • Weight: 25 lb.
  • Number of Blades: 5
  • Cutting Width: 16 in.

Large wheels and a lightweight build make the Great States mower easy to push. A number of reviewers reported that this mower was significantly faster than the brand’s previous models because of how it gains controllable momentum. One user even reported cutting 6,000 square feet in half an hour.

Best Large Reel Mower

Scotts Outdoor Power Tools 200-20S 20-Inch 5-Blade Classic Push Reel Lawn Mower

Scotts Outdoor Power Tools

  • Quad wheel system adds stability on uneven terrain
  • Maximum cutting height of 3 in. and one-touch adjustability make this mower easy to use on a variety of grass types
  • While having such a wide cutting width can help you get more done in less time, it requires more effect to push and control

Key Specs

  • Weight: 34 lb.
  • Number of Blades: 5
  • Cutting Width: 20 in.

This mower has highly polished ball bearings, which ensure that the reel spins quickly and smoothly through tough, thick grass. Although this mower is big, it’s intentionally designed to increase efficiency, and if you’re up to the task of pushing it around, it can be a great way to minimize the amount of extra time a push mower demands.

Best Mid-Sized Reel Mower

Scotts Outdoor Power Tools 304-14S 14-Inch 5-Blade Rush Reel Lawn Mower

Scotts Outdoor Power Tools

  • Easy to store thanks to its small size
  • Assembly takes less than 10 minutes
  • With a cutting height range of only .75 in., this mower’s adjustability is limited

Key Specs

  • Weight: 18.8 lb.
  • Number of Blades: 5
  • Cutting Width: 14 in.

The 304-14S from Scotts offers the best of both worlds in terms of cutting width and ease of use. In exchange for a wider cutting width, you get increased maneuverability and don’t need to exert as much energy to use the mower. Plus, you still get a hefty set of 8.5-inch wheels, which will come in handy in early spring when your lawn is scattered with twigs and other debris from the winter.

Best Small Reel Mower

DuroStar 10-in Reel Lawn Mower

  • At 13 lb., this mower is easy to push
  • Height is adjustable with simple turn of a knob
  • The reel cover is designed in a way that requires more maintenance than the protection it provides is worth

Key Specs

  • Weight: 13 lb.
  • Number of Blades: 5
  • Cutting Width: 10 in.

Although this reel mower is the smallest on our list, it packs a big punch. The heat-treated blades are sure to minimize maintenance time, and the rear tracker wheels add stability when mowing uneven terrain. Also, the wheels have chunky tread that’s designed for rough landscaping jobs.

Best Electric Reel Mower

Scotts Outdoor Power Tools 2020-16S 20-Volt 16-Inch Electric Cordless Reel Lawn Mower

Scotts Outdoor Power Tools

  • Can be used with or without the onboard battery
  • Includes grass catcher, battery, and rapid charger
  • Pricey in comparison to others on this list

Key Specs

  • Weight: 37.5 lb.
  • Number of Blades: 5.
  • Cutting Width: 16 in.

The 2020-16S from Scotts stands out from the crowd in that it gives the user the option to enlist the help of a battery. The battery helps power the reel, which in turn increases the machine’s efficiency and ease of use. Also, the handle is removable so you can easily store the mower without entirely taking it apart.

Our Expert Will Briskin Shares a Few Reel Mower Tips and Lawn-Mowing Secrets

PM: How do I know if my lawn is too big for a reel mower?

W.B.: If your lawn approaches or exceeds 6,000 sq. ft., you should consider an electric or gas-powered mower. It takes me about one hour to mow roughly 3,000 sq. ft., although I’m not terribly concerned with speed when I use the reel mower. For comparison, a 24-inch gas powered push mower could easily complete more than double what the reel mower can in the same time.

PM: How should I dispose of my grass clippings?

W.B.: One of the insider secrets of the landscaping trade is the fact that leaving your clippings on your lawn can actually be beneficial for its overall health. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of leaving your clippings on your lawn after every other mow. While it doesn’t look the best, the clippings should blow away within a day or two. On the occasions where you mow and collect the clippings, I recommend using them for compost.

PM: Is using a reel mower better exercise than using a gas or electric mower?

W.B.: If you’re leaning toward a reel mower, you’re in luck! Manual mowers require more effort to move and control than gas and electric mowers, and therefore burn more calories. One study, published by Harvard Health, found that a 155-pound individual burns almost 200 calories per half hour mowing the lawn, and that number increases to 231 for individuals who weigh around 185 pounds.

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