Pros and cons of reel lawnmowers?

I would like to get an unpowered lawnmower, one of the reel type.

My mower is getting old and will probably have to be replaced soon. I hate buying gasoline, I hate the noise of a mower, and I hate the idea of adding to pollution and waste just to keep stupid ugly grass short enough not to offend the neighbors.

But, if they take a huge amount of muscle, I won’t be able to use one.

Anyone’s experiences would be super.

I used one as a kid at other peoples houses. The manual ones take a lot of effort, and you can’t let the lawn get a long. They did have some with an engine, so not all were manual. They depend on a scissor action to cut, not a fast moving sharp blade. I needed a mower for my small yard and purchased an electric one that charges. It can be stored without it being a fire hasard, I don’t have water in the gas, or a pull rope that stays out. It was a lot better than a gas model for me.

You have to keep the thing sharp, and use it often.

During high growth season, every other day, or even daily’s not too often. If the grass gets too long, it gets very hard to push, and you may find it a lot easier to have a nice stroll around the yard every day, rather than a shoving match once a week.

Likewise, wet grass is miserable to cut with a human-powered mower.

What gotpasswords said. It might be easier to buy a cheapie electric mower if you don’t think you’ll bring the mower in to have the blades sharpened(or do it yourself?) and keep up the mowing VERY often.

Okay, then I think that they’re out. The grass here grows thick and fast and I wouldn’t trust that I’d always be on top of it.

Electric then, maybe. Advice?

I’ve used a reel mower for four years now. Funnily enough, before I bought that mower, I also posed the same question to the SDMB.

Its takes about the same muscle power as pushing a non self-propelled push mower. However, it cuts a narrower swath, so you’ll walk more. My back yard is about 50 feet long and 40 feet wide and I can mow it in about 45 minutes. Its a decent workout. I have to take a couple of breathers on a really warm day, but nothing I can’t handle. It keeps me skinny.


Cheap: I bought my mower at the Home Depot for $35.

Easy to Maintain: It takes me around 60 minutes once a year to keep the blades sharp. Its about a third of the size of a regular push mower, so it doesn’t take up much room in the garage.


No exhaust

Safe: I mow in my bare feet, which I would never do with a rotary blade mower. I know its possible to cut your feet on a reel mower, but I’d have to do some acrobatics to even get a graze on my big toe.

Apparently the reel “scissor action” is better for the grass than a rotary blade.


It doesn’t cut as much height off the grass as a rotary blade mower, so you have to mow more often…I have to mow about twice as often.

If the grass gets too high, it won’t cut properly. The grass will lay down in front of the reel and not feed into the blades.

Even very small twigs will not cut properly in the reel, and will jam it up. A quick shake of the mower usually gets rid of the article, and you can continue.

If there are any bare patches at all, I’ve noticed the grass tends to grow sideways there, and not up. With a rotary blade mower, the blades act as a fan to suck the grass up before it cuts it. You don’t get this with a reel mower. So your bare patches can get bigger and bigger because the grass is growing long over that ground and inhibiting any little grasslings from growing up big and strong. That’s my theory anyway.

A reel mower doesn’t chop the grass into little bits like a rotary blade. I can get a bit of a thatch problem if I don’t rake it up every so often, which is a lot of work. I haven’t found a decent grass catching assembly for a reel mower. My fix for this is to make use of a friend’s rotary blade mower about twice a year to pick up all the thatch and throw it in my compost heap.

All in all, I like my reel mower. If you’re not afraid of a little work it can be a fine yard tool. Then again, I enjoy mowing the lawn, but despise going to the gas station. And I have a hard enough time keeping the oil changed on the toyota to worry about a lawn mower as well.

Good luck with your decision!

On top of the grass height issue, there’s also the smoothness of the ground issue. If you have a level yard, they’re great. If you have a bunch of hills, dips holes, you’re going to drive yourself mad. My last back in Texas was good and flat. As long as I picked up the pine cones and twigs, mowing wasn’t too difficult. The house here in Missouri, on the other hand is much less level and smooth. It’s nearly impossible so last weekend I bought an electric mower.

I love it. It;s quiet enough I can talk to someone while mowing. It’s light so I can easily get up the 75-degree slope in the front. And it doesn’t spew out fumes for me to choke on.

My yard isn’t particularly smooth, so that’s another knock against the reel type.

Can you tell me about your electric mower? I know there are battery types and extension cord types and I think I could use either.

I bought a 24 volt, but it takes 2 batteries instead of one when you have to replace it. Mine ran an hour on a charge, before it slowed down. It has a seamless body housing the blade area so grass doesn’t stick. Even wet grass didn’t stick. I can’t garantee all will do the same.

Looks for the HP and how long it can run, and how many volts it runs on. My batteries started dying about the fifth year. I also fold into a package about the size of a medium suitcase. You can store it inside if you don’t have storage room outside.

I had a gas mower when I lived in New Jersey. When I moved to California, with a smaller lot, I got a reel mower. I’ve had it for ten years, no maintenance except sharpening every so often. I mow once a week, which is plenty. (I mow all year round here.) Even if I miss a week, and the grass gets high, I just have to mow the other way to get the grass down - no big deal.

I’m not exactly Hercules, and I’m not exactly young, but I’ve never had any problems. I’m just about done in the time it would take me to get the power mower started.

I think it all depends on the size of your lot. A big lot, I think a power mower is good just for speed. A small lot, I’d go with a reel.

My 4’9" girlfriend has no problem mowing with an ordinary push lawnmower – not the reel version. She claims it’s a fine workout, but no big deal. Rather uneven terrain, and only mowed maybe biweekly at most, so plenty of longer grass, but it’s fine for keeping up appearances. The noise a gasoline lawnmower makes is far too wretched and much too loud to be considered acceptable to use in most neighborhoods. Godawful noise.

If you value your hearing at all, use ear protection if mowing with an old gashog. I am always shocked that nearly everyone I observe seems to blast away at their lawns weekly or even semiweekly (!) without protection. If you listen to music or fancy having a conversation in your golden years, it’s something to think about.

My electric makes an almost unheard whoosh sound.

I’ve got a reel lawnmower, and I love the thing (tho’ I need to sharpen its blades). 'Course, I’ve got a pretty small, level lawn. You do have to be careful about picking up twigs and such, and it can really suck if the lawn gets too long (as I found out earlier this summer), but other than that I like it. I find that we mow about once a week, but we’re not really that caught up in our lawn’s appearance.

I have used a corded electric, they work OK, the anoying part is having to pick up the cord every pass. Basically, except for shapening the blade, they are maintance free. I am not too sure that a sharp blade is needed as once I put in on backwards and it cut fine (I saw that I put it on backwards after I mowed). The ones I have used lasted well over 10 yrs, requiring brushes around the 15 year mark.

There’s always the option of livestock teathered in the yard.

I bought a corded because they’re cheaper than the ones that run on batteries. Instead of mowing in ever decreasing circles around the outside, you go across the lawn one strip at a time. As you move away from the plug you leave the cord behind you so it’s no real issue.

I love my reel mower! I got a nice one, bought it online (the Brill Luxus at and been using it since last August. Granted, I don’t water my grass. But it’s not hard to push at all. Yeah, you have to keep up with the grass, but it’s better for the lawn, it’s pleasant, you can do it whenever you want without worrying about irritating the neighbors, no gas, no starting it, it’s exercise, and you really feel like you get to take a nice leisurely tour of your property when you’re doing it. I prefer it greatly to any other mower I’ve tried. My lawn is average in size and does have a slope to it (although not an extreme slope.) You can’t be a super-perfectionist and do it, though.

When I had a postage-stamp size yard, I used a reel mower. Granted, you do have to mow often - and the grasscatcher attachment leaves a little to be desired. But, it was worth it for the quiet and the exercise - and people would stop and ask me about it (so it was social too!)

When we moved, our new yard is far too large for the reel mower. I hate gas-fired mowers, so we bought one of the Black/Decker cordless electrics. Our yard is probably just a shade too big for it - if the grass has gotten too tall, it takes two times to mow it (one day for the front, charge, then another for the back). Otherwise, I like it. I’d recommend it to others, particularly with a smaller yard.

I’ve used a corded electric mower in the past. Besides being very tiny (hence more rows required), it worked just fine.