Pros and Cons of a Push-Reel Mower

Like many people around the country last week, we mowed our lawn for the first time this season.  The difference between us and our neighbors, however, is I talked on the phone while I did it.

We have a push-reel mower.

Last summer, I sold my husband’s shiny, red, super-charged, front-wheel-drive, 9 billion horsepower, mulching power mower for this little green machine powered by ye ole chevrolegs.

Now I love this thing, and truth be told, Rick hates it.  He teases me all the time about how I’m saving approximately 6 gallons of gas a year.  If that.  And, pretty much, he leaves the mowing to me now, where before it used to be solely his domain.  I think he’s embarrassed.  But I like it anyway.

In case you have been considering getting one yourself, here are the pros and cons (yes, there are some) of a push-reel mower…

The top five things I love about the push-reel mower:

  1. It’s quiet.  I really did talk on the phone while I was mowing the lawn last week.  My mom asked me, what that sound was, and I said, “Oh, I’m mowing the lawn.”  Then we both laughed.  I was talking on the phone while mowing the lawn.  Preposterous!  I could mow at six in the morning or ten at night and the neighbors would never know.  It’s the stealth mower.  I actually like the sound it makes.
  2. It uses no fuel or oil and takes little to no maintenance.  By the time my neighbor is done checking his oil and fuel and pumping and priming, reconnecting the spark plug and whatever else, I’m ¾ the way done mowing my lawn.  One time, no joke, with the old power mower I stood outside for like 15 minutes trying to start the thing before I realized the spark plug was disconnected (hubby did this for safety’s sake).  The neighbor had to come over and point it out. 
  3. It’s lightweight.  All the power it uses comes from your legs and arms pushing this machine; it’s easy to maneuver and I can easily lift it up the couple of steps to our front yard and takes up very little space in the garage.  With the old machine, I could barely get it up the steps, and had to go up all backwards and strategic.  It was super heavy and could chop off my arm – the little label on the side said so.
  4. There is NO string pulling to start it up.
  5. There is no exhaust.  No stinky fumes makes me feel all green and hip and environmentally conscious.  And also the lack of fumes keeps me from feeling sick.  I know six gallons (or whatever) of gas per year is not much, but I don’t mind mowing the lawn now, because I don’t get a headache from the noise/fume combo.

Five things I don’t love:

  1. You can’t mow over sticks.  The power mower mulched and could chop up a stick or a twig that had fallen from the tree in the front yard, but the push mower can’t.  I send the boys out in the yard before I mow with the mission to pick up all the sticks.  If I accidentally mow over a stick, I have to stop to get it out of the mower, because it will jam the blades.
  2. Sharpening the blades will be a challenge.  Not many places know how to sharpen the blades of a push-reel mower anymore, and those who do charge a lot for it – almost as much as the mower cost.  Since the blades will stay sharp a long time though, we at least have a while to learn how to do it ourselves.
  3. It doesn’t always get every piece of grass in one pass.  Because of this, it is really important to overlap or mow two ways.  Otherwise your lawn looks like it’s received a haircut from a barber half in the bag.
  4. The neighbors look at us funny.  When I first bought the mower, I thought people would think we were so cool – all hip and eco-friendly.  Turns out, they either think we are crazy or too poor for a “real” mower.  Hmm… this must be why Rick is embarrassed to use it.
  5. You can’t be a lazy lawn keeper.  If your grass gets too long, the push mower is a real bear to use.  In fact, there was a time last summer, when we first got the mower, that we had to borrow our neighbor’s power mower because we had waited a couple of weeks too long to mow and the push mower, literally, couldn’t cut it.  Lesson learned.

I feel like the push mower and the power mower take about the same amount of physical effort to use.  The push mower is all pushing, which isn’t that much work (hey if I can handle that giant cart thingy at Target I can handle the mower).  The power mower took more effort for me in the starting, holding down the lever thing, and then holding it back from running my flowers down (since it pulled itself).  I think the trade-off of putting the kids on stick patrol and enduring funny looks is a pretty good one.  Plus, I can catch up with my mom on the phone while I’m at it.  😉

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , | 42 Comments

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42 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of a Push-Reel Mower

  1. Cynthia in Denver

    I LOVE my push mower!! My neighbors think I’m eccentruc for using one!! My only other con to using it is that everyone who passes by says the same thing, “Looks like you’ve got your work cut ou for you!”. They also said that when 10 yards of dirt showed up, when we were taking down trees and shrubs, when we were … jeez! Doesn’t ANYONE besides us know how to do manual labor anymore?

    Anyway, the Ace Toolbox store on Holly, south of Dry Creek has an old retired guy sharpen the blades of push mowers. He did a wiz bang job on mine. $50.

  2. Grace-Ann

    I love our reel mower too! We have an extremely small yard which helps. But, like you I love the lack of noise and no maintenance. For the last 8-9 years we haven’t had to winterize, un-winterize, tune-up, or store a strange fire-hazard mix of oil and gas in our garage!

  3. Chris

    We bought a reel mower when we bought our house last year. We both love it. Granted…we bought the Cadillac of reel mowers – the Fiskars StaySharp Max. We affectionately refer to it as the Lawn Ninja 🙂

    We paired it with a Black and Decker battery powered string trimmer. I love not having to store two types of fuel, store oil, mix fuel, winterize engines, wear earplugs, etc. And while you may not be saving a ton of fuel, these little engines don’t have emissions equipment and are very dirty!

    I would not go back to gasoline unless I had a massive or very hilly yard.

  4. gauchoman2002

    Kudos to you for using a push mower. I actually had my Dad’s old Sears Craftsman push mower that was 40 years old and I used it to mow the tiny lawn at my last house. My new house has far too big of a lawn though for a push mower. Plus I’ve already been labeled as the “weird” person in the neighborhood due to my veggie gardening and composting and such and a push mower woud probably just make it evern worse.

    • mary mcdonald

      I think they’re great, but I keep having the problem of going along fine, then suddenly coming to a dead stop, with the front wheels not turning at all. When I walk around it and pull it backwards, the wheels turn fine, but are locked going forward. Have you any idea what the problem is – so I can fix it? Every one I have ever had does it. Maddening. Many thanks.

      • I’d try spinning the reel itself backward a turn or two. Possible you got a stick or debris of some kind stuck in there?

  5. mamatwitch

    I just saw a push mower sharpening kit on amazon, I had one of these when I was a kid, I thought it was fun to use lol

  6. Good for you! I bought one 3 years on the cheap and it didn’t work very well – took it back. My fault for not buying quality. Just mowed for the for the first time this season and I reeked of exhaust afterward. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll look into them again.

  7. hellesbelles86

    I think push mowers are great. We had one when I was a kid for our small back yard and it did a good job unless the grass got too long and then it was a lot of work, but very good exercise. If it weren’t for the fact that we mow as much as 5 acres, I would definitely be on board, but as it is, 5 acres takes us at least an hour on the riding mower, I can’t imagine what it would take with a push mower 😉

  8. Thank you for this, I have been considering one of these mowers myself and this helps the decision!

  9. Additional pro: it’s better for your grass. Why do you think they use them on the greens of fancy golf courses? I’d be pushing for one except for at the moment we have way too much grass (more than I really want, but it’s a democracy around here!).

  10. Laura H.

    I’m lucky that I’m with a steelworker/blacksmith. He takes the blades to work and makes them nice and sharp for me at the beginning of the season. 🙂

    Don’t forget that a push mower also *cuts* the grass, while a gas engine lawn mower rips it to shreds.

    I luuurve my push mower. Best $40 craigslist investment I’ve made.

    Also, when you argue to your husband about saving 6 gallons of gas a year, remind him how awesome small engines are to work on ($#&%^#^%).

  11. Laura H.

    P.S. We use our rabbits to cut the stuff in the garden for us. They “mow” the grass, and covert it into wonderful worth-it’s-weight-in-gold manure and meat for us.


  12. hmk71

    I love my push along mower for all the reasons you said. I swapped when I realised that I was actually doing most of the lawn mowing anyway, so why on earth was I lugging a great monster of a machine around?
    It’s been so wet here the last couple of weeks that the grass seems to be growing as I watch it. It’s nice to be able to whizz out and cut it when ever it’s dry enough for long enough.

    Whenever I get a comment as I mow the front lawn (it doesn’t need it that often because it’s, ahem!, mostly clover and dandelions), my standard response is that my mower is cheaper than a gym membership. It’s easier than going into all the real reasons I have it and seems to be socially acceptable. I’m also regarded as the eccentric on the street, and for my children’s sake I probably don’t need to cultivate that more than necessary!

    My push along has a grass catcher on the back because our small garden means the cut grass was getting walked through the house and so I can compost it or give it to the poultry to pick through. I know the cut grass mulch is good for the lawn, but birds and compost win on this one!

  13. Who knew this would get 500 comments? I love our push mower, too– and the boys just started a lawn mowin business with it! Can I add your post to their promotional literature? =)
    P.S. the Ace hardward at Colfax and Monaco (or a tiny bit west of there on Colfax) does a great job of sharpening.

    • Thanks Annie – and yeah, I’m surprised too! Please feel free to let your guys use my post or pics in anyway!

  14. Mike Twizz

    Well, when a gallon of gas is burned, it turns into 19 pounds of CO2. If everyone saved 6 gallons of gas a year, then that’s 133 Billion pounds of CO2 that’s been delayed. Personally I hate smelling like the lawn mower after mowing. Whatchoo think bout that Rick??

    • Tom

      I’ve got to call shenanigans on 1 gallon of gas (6 pounds) converting into 19 pounds of anything. But still, avoiding pollution is good!

      • Patrick

        The weight comes from the oxygen that the carbon from the gas bonds with. Might want to brush up on your chem before you call shenanigans on anybody.

    • The law of conservative of mass.

  15. I love my little push mower! I’m a bit afraid of the power kind, and have never used one, so for my little lawn, a push mower is perfect. Except for the sticks, like you mentionned. I used to rake the lawn before mowing, but that was was too tedious, so now I just go for it, and dislodge the sticks as necessary.

  16. Our yard is so funky and willy-nilly with spots of grass and veggies all mixed up that we can only use a little, portable push mower. Yay for push mowers! We’re urban homesteaders in the southern part of CO.

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  23. I like what you guys tend to be up too. This kind of clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the good works guys I’ve included you guys to my own blogroll.

  24. thanks for this review. i’m thinking about a push mower for our home, and this was a very helpful review!

  25. We were out using our brand new push mower and a guy nearly crashed his bike giving us so many vigorous thumbs ups. People are coming around.

  26. take a belt wind it around the roller and the hole in the handle. when you cinch it it will raise your citting height to about 6″. you now don’t have to mowe 2x/week. the best kind of belt is a cam tie down but event pants will work.

  27. tomsherman

    webmaster please make these corrections to my existing post

    change citting to CUTTING put BELT after the word pants tomsnherma change to tom sherman

  28. tomsherman

    I would like to add two more advantages of mowers that can cut 3-6″ high. there is no need to pick up sticks, pine cones & etc as one can cut over them. (if you want you can rake these items after you’ve cut atop them). number two it goes faster than a gas powered mower since there is less friction as it only skims or tops the lawn. this mower can cut a bigger yard then a gas walk behind ./////a word of caution my belt invention works best with wider say 20″ mowers as its weight keeps it from bouncing. on narrower mowers one will have to add weight on the roller bar or cut higher and slower than intended

    • thomas sherman

      since 2014 i’ve improved my reel mower modification. go to facebook type “tom d sherman” and go to my “noise reduction” page. there you will find instructions how in 10 minutes or less one can modify a reel mower using a cam and two cords to eliminate the reels major disadvantages.*

      all one does is remove the roller and then ties a cord to the bottom of the cam and the other to the roller rod. then tie a second cord to the top of the handle and run that through the cam. pulling this second cord raises and lowers the mower body to determine the cutting height. the handle and mower body move as one like a wheelbarrow. the handle does not move relative to the mower.


  29. sthenryii

    How difficult is it to push a push mower? I ask because I’m your stereotypical 90 lb weakling, and part of the reason mowing is my husband’s job is that he’s the only one in our house who’s capable of pushing the mower. I feel bad about that because he hates mowing (awful grass allergy) and would like to find a way to divide this more equitably.

  30. Have you ever considered maybe getting a quiet cordless electric mower as it will collect all the grass for you?

  31. Txtallstar6209

    Good article for me since I’m seriously thinking about buying one. The only negative critcism is I’d like to know if, one, the reel mower comes with the blades ready to use; and, two, how do you exactly sharpening the blades.

  32. James Boles

    What’s cool about these lawn mowers that you’ve shared, is that they are not just powered by gas. Some are actually electrically powered. I’m in need of a lawn mower, and it might be nice to get one now because there may be sales. Because this is the season to buy lawn maintenance tools. I just hope to find a lawn mower that works best for me.

  33. Great read! For another (maybe less positive) take on reel mowers, here’s my two-cents:

    Definitely feel you about the neighbors thinking you’re crazy – haha

  34. If you want to buy a cheap lawn mower, I think push reel lawn mower is the best.It has lots of cool features.It’s perfect for a small lawn.This tool is very easy to maintenance.If you have a big lawn or yard you need to try gas lawn mower or riding a lawn mower.

  35. Kathryn

    My neighbors sit outside to watch me mow with my reel mower and to laugh at me. The small town I live in is all about chemicals and automatic sprinklers. I hope one day, they will realize I have something good here.

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