celebrating the reel mower

the mowing season is coming to an end, reminding me that i had meant to write a post celebrating the reel mower. this is not to be confused with a real mower. a reel mower is the sort of mower that you might see on “leave it to beaver” episodes or similar shows of the era. they require no gasoline, instead relying on the power of the push to turn the curved blades which cut the grass as they pass over the bed knife.

for a lot of us if we have ever tried using a reel mower it’s been a very old rusty mower badly in need of sharpening – and so we have a bad impression. there have been a number of improvements made on reel mowers over the years mostly from european manufactures. when we first moved to detroit the mower at the rental we stayed at was stolen and the landlord didn’t bother to replace it, we were on our own, and rather than purchase a gas guzzling mower, i decided to purchase a reel mower. as with most things in my life, i did much research and ended up purchasing a brill 33. the 33 is how wide it is – they also make the more expensive brill 38 which is slightly wider. at the time i was working americorps, and making very little money, so the cost of the 33 was a lot for me, and i had a small yard. with a larger yard, and a bit more money, i would go with the 38 now.

one of the major reason for deciding to go with the brill was that unlike most models, it doesn’t need to be sharpened every year. sharpening reels is something best left to professionals and sharpening costs about 50 bucks a year. the brill only needs sharpened once every seven years.

at our old house we had a shady yard where the grass just barely grew and was not much work for the brill, in moving to the new house we encountered a yard in full sun and lush grass that someone had obviously tried to establish, a major departure from the weeds we were used to mowing.

one thing in the brill reviews that was not clear was what do you do after seven years, and how the blades should be sharpened at that time. it appeared that you had to trash the thing at that point.

our 10 year old mower was literally not cutting it anymore and i was about ready to throw it away and replace it with a gas mower, but i’m persistent and hate the idea of using gasoline if i don’t need to. research revealed that some inventive souls had come up with this sharpening device.

this is actually designed for the 38, but with a hacksaw you can easily alter the size to fit the 33.

it’s very easy to use, you simply lower the bed knife to the lowest position, clamp it on, and then adjust the bed knife so the reels are just barely coming into contact with the abrasive material on the sharpener. then you run the mower on pavement as though you were mowing. walk it back and forth for about 15 minutes until you see the blades all evenly shiny. you may have to adjust the bed knife as you go.

once the blades are sharp, it’s time to adjust the distance between the reel and bed knife. this is achieved using a gap gauge tool which at some point i threw out. i don’t think the manual for the mower ever bothered explaining what it was and i just ended up tossing it, since it looks like little more than a little piece mylar. i had to shell out ten bucks to replace the gaping tool, but was worth it. with the reels sharp and the gap proper, i’ve been semi happily mowing the lawn all summer. only semi happy cause i hate mowing the lawn no matter what, and it’s still not as good as it was when it came from the factory, but i figure i have been able to extend the mowing life by a couple of years. other than this the only maintenance that needs to be done is an occasional dose of oil on the reels and bed knife.

why are reel mowers so great? they use no gas, so they cost less to operate and contribute less greenhouse gas. they are quiet, so you can mow early or late and not bother the neighbors. you can even mow with a five day infant strapped to you and have them nap the whole time. they are light and easy to maneuver, and don’t put off lots of heat.

often when people see me using a reel mower, i think they feel bad for me that i don’t have a gasoline mower, but frankly i much prefer using a reel mower to mow the lawn even now that i’m mowing a lot and a half.

i would prefer not to be mowing the lawn at all, and so i’m doing everything in my power to rid my yard of lawn, but it will take some years for that to happen – and even then i’ll likely leave a little patch of grass for picnics, laying in the grass, taking the shoes off, and the kid running around.


3 responses to “celebrating the reel mower

  1. Pingback: solarizing and cover cropping new beds | little house on the urban prairie

  2. We got a reel mower when we bought our city house with corresponding small city yard. It’s been great for 11 years now, and now that we have not one but two little people running around, I like that this will be their normal way to mow a yard. Congrats on the new addition–it makes life more complicated but orders of magnitude more wonderful.

  3. Pingback: planting strawberries | little house on the urban prairie

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