Thursday, August 21, 2008

Reel Mowers Revisited

I now have had the opportunity to use my Scott's Elite mower exclusively for a couple of months and I have to say that my opinion of this unit has only gone up. It simply works beautifully and for me, anyway, has made lawn care somewhat addictive.

One tip that I want to share is that I did make one adjustment to the unit's factory settings, which was to raise the cutting height to its maximum. While you cannot really do this on the fly with this mower as you can with the Sunlawn's, it really is not all that difficult to do and takes about five minutes to change, but what a change!

The mower is much easier to push and the difference in cutting height is not all that great. In fact, I believe that many of the people who have found these types of mowers too difficult to push probably never tried the mowers in the highest cutting position.

After adjusting the height to its maximum, it was much easier to cut tall grass, while cutting grass which was just at the verge of needing to be be cut, was almost too easy, as there was very little resistance at all. I am sure a physicist could explain this with an equation, but basically, the larger the mower's width and the higher the grass, the more effort it takes to push a reel mower and small differences in the dimensions and settings might make a significant difference in terms of the pushing effort required.

For where I live, which is the hot and sunny Mid-Atlantic region, the highest setting is plenty short to be presentable and is probably close to the optimal cutting height for the Ryes and Blue Grasses used in this region.

With respect to some of the other issues regarding reel mowers, I continue to find most of the criticisms overblown. My yard is larger than recommended, it is uneven in places and has different types of grasses. None of these factors has been much of a hindrance.

Some critics have raised the question of small sticks getting caught in the mower. The Elite is more susceptible to this than the Sunlawn, but it really hasn't been a big deal. You either roll the reel back slightly or just plow through it if the stick is small enough.

Reel Mowers are not great at cutting tall weeds or breaking sticks into mulch or leveling uneven soil, but most of these practices are not essential, or even antithetical, to safe, proper lawn care. If there are weeds that don't get cut, I simply yank them out.(or if they are dandelions, they eventually fall over on their own.) Yes, it takes a little more time, but the yard ends up looking better. Reel mowers are actually better for mowing near obstructions such as rocks or stumps, as they tend to cut the ground around these objects without hitting them, unlike gas mowers which often break or lose their sharpness due to hitting stumps and exposed concrete and the like.

About the only other issue has to do with the sharpening of the blades. I have mowed a lot of grass with this Scott's Elite and the blades still seem perfectly serviceable. I have, however, bought a blade-sharpening kit for this unit and it appears to be much easier to do than I expected. Although I haven't used the kit yet, I have read the manual.(rtfm, right?) Basically, you apply a sharpening compound to the blades and then either roll the mower backwards, or take one of the wheels off and crank the reels backwards for a few minutes to make the reel edges sharp again, but after a couple of months of using this mower, I don't feel that it is necessary yet.

There have lately been a slew of articles, including one in the New York Times, which have dealt with the inability of many small gas-powered engines to run well on fuel blends which contain ethanol, which is basically all of them in the U.S. now. Apparently, small engine machine shops have been inundated the entire country all over, with malfunctioning gas mowers.

This probably explains why my gas mower has died three times in the last 9 months and probably is now headed for the recycling heap. I recently tried high octane gasoline to see if that might turn its sputtering into starting, but to no avail. The only other thing to try is some type of fuel additive, and if that doesn't work, then I am giving up on my gas-powered mower. I wouldn't even bother trying, except for the challenge to see if I can get thing running again.

Nevertheless, with the possible exception of grinding fall leaves, which I haven't had to do yet, I honestly cannot envision a situation where a simple gas-power mower is superior to the tried and true reel mower given my personal lawn mowing needs. Although I have actually seen some good looking gas mowers on sale recently for around $100, I just don't miss the noise and the smell and the wrenching my arm out starting the thing, even if the newer ones actually do work with ethanol blends.

No comments: