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Manual ("reel") lawn mowers

When I was a kid, I loved my gas powered lawn-mover. But now that I'm older and have no health insurance, I worry about lopping off a toe.

So, it makes sense to think about a manual ("reel") lawn mower; the kind that grandma used to have.

Except, as a kid, I remember they were hard to push and hard to get a clean cut with.

So, are manual powers still a pain in the ass? Readers?

Yes, yes, I know, way better carbon footprint. But I've already spent a small fortune on insulation, so I feel I've gotten right with The God(ess)(e)(s) Of My Choice, If Any, on that one. All I care about here is the utility of the mower.

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myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

Pollute the environment with the exhaust, and pollute the neighborhod with noise. Get one with an electric start, so you don't give yourself a heart attack.

Global warming won, get over it. Why save resources for the future? The young people today are spoiled ingrates anyway.

If you can justify the cost, get a riding mower. I can come in handy when you need to make a beer run and your wife took your car keys.

“Rules are not necessarily sacred,
principles are.”
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

why buy a lawnmover, when you can just pave over the whole thing and paint it green?

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

I live in a very polluted area, so there are actually days when residents are asked not to mow our lawns, because of it.

So, yea smaller footprint.

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

CognitiveDissonance's picture
Submitted by CognitiveDissonance on

Lambert, my neighbor across the street has an old push mower and he swears by it. According to him, as long as you keep the blades sharpened, it does a job every bit as good as a powered mower and isn't so hard to push. And judging by how immaculate his lawn always looks, he must be right.

Submitted by jawbone on

sharp cut. I've had them blades sharpened -- I made sure I never let the grass get too long between cuttings. I still have one -- lovely, forest green color.

Can the type of grass affect how well a reel mower cuts?

I don't know what's wrong, so I picked up an electric mulching mower -- from off the curb, fixed a blade guide, and love it (dark green plastic housing, so not too bad too look at -- the cord is just a hassle, but one I can live with). It's not that satisfying, beautiful scissory sound, but the grass is even, and the cuttings go back on the lawn as cut up mulch.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Because you're older. One hopes this means you are also wiser and more cautious, therefore less likely to lop off a toe than in the past. Your greater worry now should be about hurting your back.

Unless you're a ballerina or an Olympic sprinter, you don't need toes. Tough enough and you can forego the doctor visit; just bandage the stump and throw the mangled digit into a jar of left-over shellac thinner for a fine conversation piece. :-)

Hurt your back, however, and you are well and truly fucked for some good long time with or without healthcare insurance; maybe permanently. Along with the daily exercises you do to keep up your trunk muscle strength (simple preventive care, yes of course you have time) you need to start thinking even more carefully than before about good mechanics and avoiding motions with torque. A push mower will tempt you in the wrong direction on both.

Buy a gas mower, the lightest you can find; unless you have some great huge savanna to care for, the key issue is ease of use and that means the least amount of weight to wrestle. You don't need a bag; if you keep your blade sharp and mow often, you will cut the grass into very small bits that simply decompose and provide your lawn with just the right set of self-selected nutrients; think of it as recycling in place. If you insist on picking up the clippings, use a rake; excellent exercise for your trunk muscles, and better for the lawn to be raked regularly than not.

If your eco-sense bothers you, get an electric mower. The modern ones work fine so long as you don’t run over the cord (you are wiser, and more cautious; shouldn’t be a problem).

Better yet, by far, is to rip out that nasty artificial Australopithecine reminder of Pleistocene greensward and put in your own little Walden of drought-tolerant natives. The birds, bees and other flying creatures will be grateful, and you can make a strong statement to the neighbors about wasting water (water for lawns is the single largest agricultural usage of fresh water in America) and polluting the environment with fertilizers and pesticides. The most effective activism is that which confronts.

Plus, you don’t have to spend any more time on the great lawnmower puzzlement! And you can keep all your toes! Do the right thing and benefits come cascading down, like the gentle rain from heaven.

How are the floors and walls looking? You'd better get those tomatoes in soon if you want anything by frost. Not to be a nag, no not me.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

Never used a bladed mower myself, but my father shudders at the mention of them. Even when we had little money and a little yard and he was a younger man, we had a gas mower. Backs are irreplacable.

orionATL's picture
Submitted by orionATL on

we have an aging gas mower.

but last year my wife, all around good citizen, quaker-raised, activist in many good causes (read "proudly liberal"),

and especially concerned about the environment

put her foot down.

she had read about the pollution generated by gas-powered lawn mowers, which is quite considerable. for some reason they don't come several thousand dollars worth of emission controls on them.

"i am going to buy a battery powered lawn mover", she said

since she mows the lawn,

what could i say,


"it won't have enough power".

guys say things like that.

does she listen to me?

she goes to home depot, by herself, and brings back a huge box with a battery powered lawn mover in it - "homelite" i think it was, but i'd have to go upstairs and outside to check.

of course, i wait to see my surmise confirmed.



after the intial charging,

the mower mows the lawn (fescue) just fine.

no stalling, no tearing, no skips.

Zero's picture
Submitted by Zero on

I got a Scott's push mower a few years ago. It was the widest model I could find locally. I bought it when my previous gasoline mower was crapping out. I still use it once in a while. Not too hard to push and I like the extra work out.

My experience is don't let your grass get too long between cuts. To get a really good cut on bermuda grass I would cut my lawn first in one direction and then in the other (90 degrees). So I ended up cutting my lawn twice to get it OCD approved smooth. It probably works better in one cut on less virulent forms off turf grass.

Oh yeah, checking the blade adjustment and keeping it sharp helps too.

LuigiDaMan's picture
Submitted by LuigiDaMan on

We cut about half of our seven acres, the rest our goats take care of. We use a very old John Deere, the kind you buy from Deere, not the cheapies you get from Lowe's. It's 28 years old.

I use a small gas powered mower for trimming and hard to reach areas. And I've had more than one person "donate" their push mower to me when they find they can no longer take it.

My thoughts: The push mower is a huge pain. I'm not sure it is a worthy "back to mother earth" gesture. If you have more than a postage stamp-sized yard to cut, and you keep it very short (and therefore mow a lot) -- I would say you might learn to stand it.

But, no. I would not recommend it. Too much work for too little cutting. Get an electric or stick with the small gas mower and, for gawd's sake, wear shows when you cut the grass. Your hippie days are over!

kc's picture
Submitted by kc on

your yard has hills or is bumpy.

We bought one once - and I stress once. It was like pushing a mac truck around, but then we have thick St. Augustine grass.

Submitted by brucedixon on

If your lawn is an urban postage stamp you can get away with a push mower. Also you did not say whether your property was on level ground.

Assuming you don't have a vast estate that justifies a riding mower, some gas powered models are self-propelled, meaning that they need only a start and the merest push. You probably could use the exercise, so don't get one of these.

Better yet, tear up the grass, put in some crops, and mulch everything around them so you have no grass or weeds to worry about at all.

Then your only problem will be whether you dare eat those beets or tomatoes or whatever that have been grown in soil contaminated with lawn chemicals for years or decades past.

Bruce Dixon

Pat J's picture
Submitted by Pat J on

Have you thought of getting a goat?

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

I can live w/out a toe. At least, I guess I think that way, because I wear open toed slide in sandals with no ankle support, when I mow the lawn.

Plus, I always use the cheapest mower I can find, or one that gets donated around amongst my circle of friends.

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

Submitted by hipparchia on

like bio said, natives. drought-tolerant or rain resistant, whichever your climate calls for.

wildflowers for the birds and the bees ;) or all edibles, since food and gardening are a theme here [and one of which i approve]. or do like my neighbor did -- monkey grass [does it grow where you are?]. she mows it once a year whether it needs it or not.

keep your toes and back safe, save the water table, don't huff and puff out all that carbon dioxide from the exertion of mowing.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

No, I'm not kidding.
You might not have one in your area, but they're great. They mow and fertilize in kinda a continuous cycle.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on


Can't though. My daughter has an irrational fear of goats after a misfortune at the zoo.

Bill Clinton for First Dude!!!

LostClown's picture
Submitted by LostClown on

Zero nailed it. We have a push mover and it is perfect. But you need to know about blade adjustment and everything, which is a little extra time to make sure everything runs smoothly. (And I just really like sharpening the blades. ANd my knives, and my neighbours....I have strange hobbies.)

Go Hillary or Go Green!

OxyCon's picture
Submitted by OxyCon on

...then just do what my neighbor does. Let it grow about a foot high, then break out the old, crappy power mower, set the deck height as low as you can get it and scalp the lawn so that the grass goes dormant. Wait about a month and repeat. This way you only have to cut the grass (read weeds) about four or five times a year. Of course, your yard will look like hell, but think of all the gas you'll be saving!
Me, I feed the stuff so I have to cut it every six days. But man does it look nice.
I have a small yard and I use a mulching mower. I haven't bagged clippings in fifteen years. I've also had two electric mulching mowers that did a terrific job, but I got tired of managing the cord and there was a time when they were actually cheaper than gas powered mowers. Not anymore.

BAC's picture
Submitted by BAC on

and seems to like it. I bought an electric start this summer, and it works fine.


murphy's picture
Submitted by murphy on

And just think, you would then have More Painting To Do!

murphy's picture
Submitted by murphy on

Lambert, I posted a ridiculously long comment to VastLeft's amazing post "Candidate on the Edge." It may have gotten caught in moderation or the spam-filter. If it's around maybe I could edit it and repost it or revise it for a stand-alone?
That post and comment-thread was really quite stupendous. highly recommended.

Sorry for thread-jacking!

Imelda Blahnik's picture
Submitted by Imelda Blahnik on

I have a push mower, and since I haven't had the blades sharpened in, oh, years, certain types of grass simply refuse to be cut. The tall, rye-like (or wheat-like) things; they bend as the mower rolls over them and then pop back up, unharmed. I have an urban postage stamp lawn (Providence) so sometimes I just go around and pluck the tall ones out by hand after having done the rest of the lawn.

What usually happens is that I wait too long, the grass gets too tall, and I am forced to get out the electric weed-whacker.

Yes, I live in Providence, where even the grass gets whacked.

I've been out of the country for almost five months, and while I hope the subletters have cut the grass, I'm not sure if they have. Which means upon my return next week my neighbors may have arranged to have me whacked.

I'm really thinking about getting a gas mower, though it just seems like overkill given the size of my lawn. What I really should do is rip out the lawn and put in plants.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

It's the way we always did it...might want to check the lawn first for big sticks and rocks. But it's great exercise. We got our lawn mower sharpened once a year and that worked fine--'bout an acre to mow minus some trees and bushes. Good balanced hand lawn mowers are easier to push than some of the big gas ones--they are lighter and you can control where they go more easily.
I'm sure if you go out and ask the neighbors--unsharpened or not--that they will let you mow part of their lawn to try out their mowers. The "right" mower's a personal fit.

"Doctor, my husband thinks he's a lawn mower."
"How long has this been going on?"
"Three months."
"Three months?? Why didn't you bring him in before?"
"The neighbors just returned him this morning."

Re perhaps affordable health insurance: ME. offers some health insurance--I'm not sure when the next sign-up period is. The Writer's Union offers health insurance in some places:
Also sometimes small groups can get group rates: would the Correntewire group count?

desert dawg's picture
Submitted by desert dawg on

built like a tank, and it's "manual assist". That is, it moves like a powered mower when you push on it, but stops dead when you take your hand off the clutch (like a dead man's brake. )

gizzardboy's picture
Submitted by gizzardboy on

I hope everybody who was suggesting a goat was joking. In my experience with them, there is no common domesticated animal that is more of a pain-in-the-ass! They don't want to stay where they are supposed to and they will find ways to get out. Would you like goats playing King-of-the-Mountain on top of your car? They will.

I remember fencing in a nice lush pasture and putting the goats in it. I then went to mix my deer repellant paint for trees I wanted to save. When I came back a few minutes later, they had already girdled several trees. It turned out the paint didn't work anyway.

If you want to go with livestock to keep the grass cut, you might consider that Unity pony of which you often write.