How to Maintain Push Reel Mowers

Keeping a push reel mower in working condition is much easier than maintaining a gasoline-powered mower.

| Aug. 7, 2009

  • Push reel mower
    New, light reel mowers are available, but you can also buy a used machine and restore it.
    ISTOCKPHOTO/TOMASZ NIEWEGLOWSKI
  • Push reel mower parts
    Push reel mowers have fewer parts than gas engine mowers, so they’re easier to maintain.
    BOB RECH

  • Push reel mower
  • Push reel mower parts

In 1962, when I was a teenager, my father gave our neighbor, Mr. Gruder, $10 for a reel mower of my very own. The ash handle shone with age and use, and it had a canvas grass catcher. Mr. Gruder had built the reel mower from parts — the finest custom-made machine of its kind ever built. Pushing it revved up the blades, a cylinder of curved scimitars that sliced each blade of grass to the same height. Mr. Gruder gave me a lesson on how to safely sharpen the blades to razor sharp. “Wear gloves,” he said, as he demonstrated.

For nearly a year, I mowed lawns with my trusty push mower. I wish I still had it. But two years ago, I found a Super Chief reel mower in an antique store. It had a broken handle but a spotless canvas grass catcher. It was just $75 for a piece of American history, stored indoors for 50 years.

Buying a Reel Lawn Mower

A good vintage reel lawn mower handle should be splinter-free, with solid handles baptized in boiled linseed oil. But if a bad handle is the only thing wrong with a used machine and it has a good price, buy it. For $10, I commissioned a high school shop class to make a handle for the Super Chief.

Old machines in good working condition are rare, but worth the hunt because they’re often inexpensive. But are they worth the hours of restoration? To me, yes, but you may be happier with a more recent model — something you won’t have to repair or restore first. The Mercedes of modern reel mowers is the German-made Brill Razorcut 38, and it’s priced accordingly ($250). But you can also find economy models, such as Scotts Classic Reel Mower, priced at a bit more than $100. Tip: The grass-catcher attachment is worth having on all models, as reel mowers don’t mulch clippings.



Maintaining and Sharpening a Reel Mower

You should perform basic maintenance on a reel lawn mower after every third use, and the procedure is perfectly simple. First, put it up on a workbench. If you grovel at its level, it’s easier to be injured by the blades and lose tiny parts in the grass.

If it’s old, the blades probably need to be sharpened, and you need practice to do this right. Moving the wheels forward causes the blade cage to rotate rapidly because of the movement of a series of gears (which might need to be oiled or repacked with grease). Check the rubber wheels. If they’re slick and can’t get traction, the reel won’t turn efficiently. You can temporarily repair this by making grooves in the tires with a three-corner file — until you have time to look for replacement wheels.

shirley shockey
5/10/2018 3:13:34 PM

What kind of oil or grease should I use on my reel hand push lawnmower?


shirley shockey
5/10/2018 3:13:31 PM

What kind of oil or grease should I use on my reel hand push lawnmower?


Alba
9/14/2014 8:35:47 PM

Just bought an old push mower on Craigslist today, for $25! I had so much fun with it today. Works way better than any electric mower and the thing I love about it is that it is SO quiet. All you can hear is a gentle slicing sound. Almost melodic. It's in great condition and has no rust, does need a bit of greasing for smoother pushing though.







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