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About two years ago, we asked what you thought about manual reel mowers, and the response was a pretty solid Hot.  But back then we were only asking about non-powered reel mowers, and in the meantime we’ve been seeing a lot more gas-powered reel mowers on the market.  Naturally we wonder if these burly-engined counterparts are as hot as their manual cousins.

Toolmongers who weighed in on the original post liked reel mowers because they tend to cut the grass like scissors, instead of hacking at it the way rotary mowers do, giving a cleaner cut and promoting a healthier lawn.  In this area, the powered reel mowers behave exactly like the manual ones.

However, the other major Hot factor mentioned in the comments was the fact that with no engine, manual reel mowers are 100% environmentally friendly and considerably lighter — that can’t be said of the gas-powered rigs.

So, which point wins out?  Does the clean scissor cut, enhanced by the power of the engine, put gas-powered reel mowers in the Hot category?  Or do the added weight and emissions shuffle this mower over into the Not section?  Let us know in comments.

Powered Reel Mowers [McLane]
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16 Responses to Hot or Not? Gas-Powered Reel Mowers

  1. Mike47 says:

    Long before the environmentalists started having their way with small engines, the reel mower was essentially made obsolete by the far simpler rotary mower, which could be made less expensively and marketed to a wider cross-section of American society. Today, in the West at least, the powered reel mower is extremely hard to find, and very pricey if you do find one. The entire gas mower market in Kalifornia is being attacked by engine rgulations and slowly undermined by electrics, marketed as “green” by the enviros. The light manual mowers are experiencing a comeback, to allow greenies to feel good as they mow.

  2. PutnamEco says:

    Hot: If you need precision lawn mowing (think golf greens) A much finer cut than a rotary mower. Not if your grass gets to tall,

    Locke mowers rule


  3. Adam says:

    Hot, ever seen the Stephen King classis “Lawnmower Man”? Besides the wicked arch-villan look of them, they take some of the work out of the reel mowers to do larger areas. Instead of the typical postage stamp, cookie cutter lawn that most reel mowers were destined to be used for.

  4. Dan Lyke says:

    I’ve got a Brill battery powered electric reel mower, and it could be a great mower, but the switch mechanism makes it kind of annoying. I keep meaning to figure out how I can mount a good alternative switch on it.

    The reel mower bit means the parts move slowly, so it’s quiet. No hearing protection needed, no neighbors complain if I get an early weekend start and mow the lawn at 7AM on a Saturday, no nasty smelling 2 cycle fumes.

    Yep, I’ve got a postage stamp lawn, small enough that I could use a corded electric rotary mower, but except for the switch mechanism, I really like my Brill.

  5. kif says:

    Hot. I had a Bermuda grass lawn when I lived in Alabama. These lawns are supposed to be cut to half inch length, and a reel mower is the only way to go. I had about a one-third acre lawn that I cut with a manual 16″ reel mower, and it was no fun. Lawns grow there from February through November, and the hotter it gets the better that type of turf grows.

    Also, a reel mower leaves a fine cut, where a rotary hacks the grass. The browned tips of a rotary cut grass takes away from the appearance of the lawn as a whole.

  6. JKB says:

    I’d have to say Not. Putting a motor on a reel mower doesn’t really give you that much advantage. The reel still needs relatively short grass and will balk at soft grass.

    When using a manual reel mower, I thought it could benefit from two improvements. One, a flywheel to even out the spin and let you more easily trim where you must go in and pull back. The other, is a second reel mounted forward and half height of the main reel to trim tall grass down to size for the main reel to cut. The last might be accomplished by using a larger diameter wheel. Both ideas would benefit from larger diameter wheels, say 16″ bike wheels, with a bit of offset gearing to drive the flywheel and reels.

  7. paganwonder says:

    JKB that sounds like an ‘Instructable’ that would be fun to see- or at least Flickr- go for it!

  8. arby says:

    I grew up with both gas and manual reel mowers. I hate them. If you let the grass get too long or wet, they clog up way too easily.

  9. Bob says:

    I grew up with a gas-powered Craftsman reel mower, and…at risk of being gross…I hated what happened when I inadvertently came across field mouse nests with it.

    As a grownup, I’ve got a small yard and a Black & Decker electric rotary mower which does the job just fine. That replaced the Scotts reel mower which never did cut the grass…but I always did have better things to do than mow the lawn anyway, so undoubtedly I didn’t mow often enough to accommodate the reel mower’s weaknesses.

  10. Paul says:

    If you cant ride on it, is ti really a mower? Ha

    I’d have no hope in my yard without a rotary mower for the steep hills and a riding mower for the expanse.

  11. Chris says:

    Bob: I assume it looked something like the reel mower equivalent of the wood-chipper scene in “Fargo”. Would that be about right? :-p

    …asks the guy who ran over a rabbit’s nest with the mower this week, although it didn’t kill any of the (fairly well-developed) babies. (Second time in three years that’s happened, BTW, and we live in a neighbourhood with very little “wild” around.)


  12. bob says:

    I’m Bob; who is he?

  13. Rob ib NY says:

    When I was a kid, in1958, the only powered mower type there was is the horizontal shafted gas powered reel mower, they has a steel bottomed canvas walled grass catcher that was suspended from the handle, it was the coolest thing to use, it had a power drive mechanism that propelled the thing. I can remember my Dad converting it to a riding mower using some galvanized pipe and wooden seat, it still cut great, but it didn’t turn well, I’ve been looking for one from back in the day for years.

  14. Ed. says:

    I also remember growing up in the late ’50s my grandfather having a powered reel mower. They seemed quite common back then. He was meticulous about his Bermuda yard and it looked fantastic! I’ve always heard the only “proper” way to mow a Bermuda yard is with a reel mower, but I wouldn’t even think about using a manual reel mower since I keep mine at a 3″ height, and I haven’t found a powered one I could afford yet!! Just glad I don’t live in Kalifornia where anything powered by a small engine will sooner or later be outlawed!

  15. Alan Perry says:

    Gas or reel, come on for easy lawn care it takes a lot to beat a Flymo. It is a pity they are not available here in the States.
    This mower floats on air and pathways stepping stones etc. are no problem. Can be used to cleanup pathways there is no need for a blower machine.

  16. thomas sherman says:

    go to facebook and ‘goggle’ my name tom d sherman then hit noise reduction. there you’ll find instructions on how to make a reel mower faster than a gas. follwing is the introduction to those instructions: “to understand the principle of my invention: using a reel mower take a rope and tie it around the roller or roller rod. then pull the other end tight and tie it around the handle.. this can raise the cutting height 5-9 inches and permits the mower to cut grass 8-12 inches high.. using a turnbuckle or cam in this system allows one to vary the cutting height
    following are the detailed instructions on how to modify a reel mower for $5 to make it faster than a gas mower and cut grass as high as a foot..”

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