Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Lawn Fun, Why I use a $200 mower instead of a $2,000 one

My lawn has always been a mess. Always. I grew up with a yard that was maintained if it was mowed and weeded if all the ragweed was out. I used a riding lawnmower to mow the grass, anything it didn't mow, didn't get cut. I don't think we owned a sprinkler. There was about a two week period where the front yard was much more yellow than green. In my parents' defense, the lot we lived on was huge and extensive lawn care was deeply impractical. It was a lot of fun though, because we had a couple of riding lawnmowers. It was never hard to get a friend or two to give me a hand mowing the lawn, or as we called it go kart racing.
I have a much smaller lawn now. It's roughly 100' by 60'. When we bought the place a few years back the lawn was a mess. My dad was kind enough to give us one of their riding mowers. It got the job done, but, as my old boss used to say, it's like using a sledge to pound a thumb tack.
I could get the whole yard done in about 20 minutes if I put it in one of the fast gears.
Aside from being more tool than I need, I never really liked using the rider though. I don't think it does a particularly good job of cutting. To sharpen the blades you need to either disassemble the mower deck or jack the mower up and get a sharpener under the deck. I don't particularly care for either option.
Also, when I'd mow, I spent a good chunk of my time trying to get that last strip of grass and edging up the spots that I couldn't get with the mower.
If I had to get off the mower, there was about a 4 step process to secure it so the cutoff doesn't trip. This can be a big time waster when you just want to move something out of the way.
Mowing on a rider is loud. The bumps and jolts are a little rough on the body.
When I wasn't mowing I had to maintain it also. That meant changing the oil, keeping gasoline around, and whatever else it might have needed.
What I chose to do is to get a reel mower and use it instead. I really couldn't be happier with it. I bought a Brill Luxus 38. At $200 it's at or around the top price that you can pay for a non-motorized lawn mower. That's around the entry price for a motorized push mower. You can get other reel mowers for less than $100 even.
The reason I started looking into getting a reel mower is I remembered hearing from people who used to use reel mowers. They all said the same thing about them, they did a heck of a job mowing, but they were tough to push. Tough to push isn't a problem.
I looked into how they mow and I then understood why they do such a good job. The way a reel mower works is it has a spinning reel with around five blades on it. There is also a stationary blade that the reel blades spin very close to. The two blades cut much like scissor blades do.
A conventional rotary mower has a single blade that will cut the grass by spinning at high speed. What I've read will happen is that the rotary blade will actually start to rip the grass out after the blade dulls. I liken it to cutting through tall weeds with a machete, whereas the the reel is like using a set of shears.
Because it is a contact free mower--the blades come within a paper's with of each other, it is very quiet. It's also not that bad to push, it only weighs 25 lbs. I find that the only times I really need to work are when I'm going uphill into thick grass. I know this may sound odd, but it's actually peaceful and relaxing to mow. I find myself doing it about every third day.
The lawn has never looked better. The reel is able to cut extremely well at lower heights, I keep mine at about 20 mm.
Another big plus is I can let our pug come out with me while I mow. There's absolutely no way that he can get hurt by the mower. I am in complete control of it. When I stop pushing, the blades stop spinning. I can stop the reel completely with the ball of my foot if I need to with no risk. I can safely stop mowing at any time and grab him before he wanders off on one of his pug adventures. I don't have to worry about 5 hp of unattended force spinning a metal blade.
The one other thing I really like is the way I can mow over things. You don't need to move hoses or worry about the water shutoff. The reel will go right over it and not even touch it.
On the downside there are a few considerations however. It doesn't do a great job cutting dandelions. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. It makes them easier to spot and remove after mowing.
It doesn't work great when the grass is wet. The wheels will slip a little. No biggie there.
Probably the biggest thing you need to worry about is keeping twigs and other stuff out of your yard. Every now and then a twig or a pine cone will get caught in the blades. It'll stop the mower. It's not a big deal to get it out. I find that it keeps me raking stuff out of the yard.
I almost forgot one of the nice bonus advantages, no gas!
If you're looking into getting a new mower, I recommend you seriously consider going with a reel.

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