Best Reel Mowers Ranked – Reviewed by Quality and Budget
A good reel mower can last for over thirty years if it is maintained well. Keeping this in mind, you want to pick the one you will like using for possibly the rest of your life. You also want great value.
We understand that most people simply don't know much about reel mowers. Here we will help to demystify them for you a bit. We did a lot of market research and picked the best reel mowers in four categories. We also compare the benefits and drawbacks of both reel mowers and powered mowers, in case you haven't quite decided on one or the other yet. We touch on what it takes to keep them performing at their best for as long as possible and answer two questions that people keep asking us about reel mowers.
Read on and see what you can learn!
Individual Reel Mower Reviews - Which Are Best
Best Overall: Fiskar's StaySharp Max Reel Mower
This mower features Fiskar's patented InertiaDrive gear system. This feature converts motion from the wheels into torque and rotation more efficiently than any other reel mower we have seen. To cut to the chase, it is easier to push than any other reel mower.
The clipping chute is adjustable. It can be positioned so cut grass is directed behind the mower and down or forward and to the side. We would recommend using the forward/side position for longer grass, so the long clippings can be run over again during subsequent passes, thereby mulching everything up.
We like the way the wheels are inset. This allows you to mow right up against foundations, fence lines and driveways without leaving a wide swath of uncut grass. This can save you time on trimming and edging. This feature and the InertiaDrive system are the main reasons we consider this model to be the overall best.
This is a great high-end mower if you want the best of the best. You can read more about this mower in our full review here.
Runner Up: Scotts 2000-20 20-Inch Classic Push Reel Lawn Mower
We had a hard time deciding between this and Fiskar's entry here for the coveted title of "Best Overall." Fiskar's is easier to push but a bit stiff while turning. This one is just a little harder to push, but it turns easily because of its dual-wheel tracking system. Turning is an occasional thing, but pushing is constant. So the award went to Fiskar.
You should still consider this model for its quick height adjustment feature and wide 20" cutting width. It also costs about $50 less.
This may be your best choice if you want a top of the line reel mower and are fine with the trade off between ease of turning and ease of pushing.
Here are a few pros and cons to consider before making a decision...
Easiest To Operate: Great States 415-16
This is a simple and straightforward reel mower. There are no complicated adjustments or special systems. You simply push and it cuts.
The cutting height adjustment is self-explanatory. There's no need for a step-by-step instructional manual, but you still get one. Each wheel has to be set for height independently because of the simple design, but the overall simplicity of the mower more than makes up for the few extra seconds you have to spend on this adjustment.
At less than $100, the price is really nice.
You will like this model if you want a really simple mower that works great without all the bells and whistles.
Budget Pick: American Lawn Mower 1204-14
You can get this one for less than $50. It is not the best one out there, of course, but it works better than any other in its price range.
First off, I have to say that we are pretty amazed that a reel mower of this price has such great wheels! The deep treads give great traction for less, if any, slippage on wet grass.
That being said, we were kind of disappointed with the 14" cut. That means more time and effort to get the mowing done. This may not worry you if you have a smaller yard, but look for a wider cut if your lawn is bigger than about a quarter of an acre.
If you are on a budget and you want a good reel mower that retails for less than $75, take a good look at this one.
Reel Mowers Vs Power Mowers
Each type of mower has advantages and disadvantages that become apparent when compared to the other. Most of a reel mower's advantages have to do with its lack of an engine. Gas mowers, on the other hand, excel when a lot of power is needed.
Pros And Cons Of Reel Mowers
Reel mowers are quiet, even more so than electric mowers. There is no loud whir of a fast-spinning blade. The only sounds you will hear when mowing are the wispy cycling of the reel. Some people say that they can actually hear the grass being sliced.
Another advantage of this type of mower is their relatively simple upkeep. We will go into more detail about maintaining reel mowers below.
The biggest disadvantage here is the lack of power. The power to the cutting reel comes through a series of gears that are turned by the mower's wheels. You supply all of the energy by pushing the mower, as opposed to a gas mower that generates its own cutting energy. Long or thick grass can be a real chore to cut. Mowing up hills can also present a problem because you are basically lifting a mower up an inclined plane while also supplying power to the reel.
If your lawn is relatively flat and you are able to mow at least every week to ten days, a reel mower may be a great way to save money on gas and maintenance, not to mention environment-damaging emissions. But also consider your physical abilities. Can you put a little extra effort into pushing a reel mower? If so, go for it!
The Pros And Cons Of Powered Mowers
First, let's take a look at the advantages that powered mowers offer.
Both electric and gas models generate the power that the blade needs to spin. This means that, despite being heavier than reel mowers, they are usually easier to push because you are not supplying the energy the blade needs to spin. The trade off to this advantage is the cost of gasoline and electricity.
Powered mowers do better on wet grass, which is heavier and requires more energy to cut. Long grass is usually not a problem for them either, while reel mowers may demand more of your energy to plow through all that extra fiber. With a powered mower, you can simply push slower to allow the machine extra time to efficiently cut. You may need to cut long grass in two passes with a reel mower, one high and one at the finish height you want.
The main disadvantage of powered mowers is the engine itself. Due to the engine, they require much more routine maintenance than reel mowers. And with all those moving parts, catastrophic failure is always a possibility regardless of how well you take care of them.
The EPA estimates that about 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled as a result of refueling push mowers every year.
A typical gas mower puts out about as much pollution as 40 idling late model cars while its running. Electric mowers aren't as bad, but much of the electricity needed to charge them is produced by coal and other potentially harmful sources that cause pollution. Reel mowers do not pollute the air.
Which One Is For You?
If your yard has a typical suburban lawn, that is to say pretty flat and less than a half of an acre, a reel mower may be a great choice for you.
On the other hand, if you have a hilly or sloping lawn, or you usually have to cut very long or wet grass, you may be better off with either an electric or gas mower.
Maintenance And Care Tips
We've talked a bit about how easy it is to maintain reel mowers, so let's look a little deeper at what is involved with their upkeep so you can see what you are getting into.
Keep The Blades Sharp
Not only does that keep the effort required to mow to a minimum, but it keeps your lawn healthier. Cut your grass with sharp blades instead of mashing it with dull ones.
To sharpen the blades, You fist file down any dings caused by hard sticks and rocks. Then, you simply run a file lightly along the blades, being careful to follow the original bevel. It is better to use many light passes with the file as opposed to a few harsh ones. This gives you a much better edge.
How often you have to sharpen the blades depends on how often you mow, how big and thick your lawn is and how many rocks and sticks you mow along with your grass. Two or three times a year is good in most cases.
Lubricate Moving Parts
All moving parts must be lubricated at least once per season. Luckily, there are not many moving parts on a reel mower.
If your mower has grease ports, lubing is as easy as connecting a grease gun to the ports and squeezing some grease into them.
If there are no ports, you will have to take the wheel hubs off and pack the gears with grease. In this case, follow the instructions that come with the mower carefully. Multipurpose oil is great for lubing the axles if they don't have a grease port.
Other than spraying it down with a hose to rinse away grass clippings after every use, that's pretty much all of the routine maintenance a reel mower needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can A Reel Mower Cut Weeds?
That depends on how big the weeds are and how sharp the blades are. Sharper blades will slice through fibrous weed stalks easier than dull blades will. Regardless of how sharp the blades are, reel mowers will not cut tall weeds. They will push them down and run over them.
Can A Reel Mower Be Used To Cut Wet Grass?
The blades will cut wet grass with just a little extra effort on your part. But keep in mind that the wheel have to turn for the reel to spin. If the wheels lose traction on wet grass, they will skid along and nothing will turn. If this is a concern for you, get a model with tires that have a deep or knobby tread.