Buy Lawn Mowers: Tips On Buying A Reel Or Rotary Mower


Summary: When buying a lawn mower many homeowners have several lawn mower types and models to choose from: push, gas-powered engine, diesel engine, electric, battery, riding and zero turn but they all come down to 2 basic types – reel or rotary, what is best for your needs.

Question: We want to handle mowing our lawn but need to select a small lawn mower, what is the best type – rotary or reel? Michelle, Jackson, Mississippi

Answer: Michelle, you like many homeowners want to mow their lawn and it is for this reason, interest in mowers, lawn care advice and lawn fertilizing grows every year. As people take more pride in their lawns, they look for quicker and easier ways of mowing the lawn.

To meet this need, manufacturers continue to work on creating the best lawn mower for the money, to the point where there is a reliable machine to fit the lawn and pocketbook of most people.

Power Mowers: Reel and Rotary

A gas powered or diesel lawn mower basically come in two flavors: the reel mowers and the rotary mowers. The reel push mower is the conventional machine, in which a reel of five or more curved blades revolves against a straight-edged bed knife, which governs the height at which the grass is cut.

The action of the reel blades against the bed knife is like that of a pair of shears or scissors.

In the rotary mover, the blades are similar to those of an electric fan and revolve at high speed parallel to the ground. Their cutting action is like that of a scythe or sickle.

The blades of a reel mower usually should be sharpened by an expert, but those of rotary mowers can be sharpened by the owner with a file or grindstone.


It is generally agreed that the reel type mower does a finer, smoother job than the rotary and that for the best lawns, where the finest possible appearance is desired, a high-grade reel type mower is the first choice.

This is why you see them used in mowing golf courses. It’s necessary to mow more often with these machines, however, because they don’t perform well on long grass. Some of the “bargain” models have only four-bladed reels and do not give such a fine finish to the grass as do the better grade machines, which have up to seven blade reels.

Versatile Rotary Lawn Mower

The rotary type mower has the advantage of versatility.

It can be used on any length grass and even on coarse weeds. It is also excellent for mowing paths, play areas and other parts of the home grounds where the grass is more or less rough.

Another advantage of the rotary is that the vacuum created by the whirling blades tends to pick up the flat crabgrass and cut it, though this feature is sometimes a little overrated. The rotary mower does leave the grass more or less in windrows, however, and even in the hands of a careful operator it does not give such a smooth finish as the reel type – although after day or two’s growth the difference may be negligible.

Even with all the power equipment used to maintain the yard hand mowers still are widely used.

Don’t think that by buying a lawn mower with an “engine”, you can throw away the old “arm-strong variety.” Hang onto it, for many lawns still have a few places more easily mowed by hand.

When manufacturers put five blades on the reel of the hand mower, they made it a better machine, seven is even nicer depending on the grass type. Most of the new push reel type lawn mowers are streamlined, boasting weight material and handles to say nothing of fancy paint jobs.

Choosing the right size power mower often is a problem. In general a 21-inch lawn mower deck is ample for a 100 by 100-foot lawn. A 24-inch lawn mower will do a quicker job or care for a larger area.

As far as horse-power is concerned, most have a minimum of 5.5 HP, more than enough to handle the needs of mowing a lawn. Most hand machines have an 18-inch cut, and can be wider but requires more “push effort” but less trips back and forth mowing the lawn.

Ordinary operation costs are low for most power mowers. A gallon of gas goes a long way in getting the turf mowed. Most of the engines use very little crankcase oil, but this oil should be changed occasionally as part of any lawn mower maintenance program.

Also, very little grease and oil are needed to service a mower nowadays with sealed bearings. Most mower blades need sharpening once a year, usually during the winter. Some owners have their machines checked over each year by the dealer. This is excellent practice for people not mechanically inclined.

Lawn Mower Maintenance A Requirement

The importance of mower maintenance – taking good care of your mower cannot be overemphasized. Neglect will sooner or later lead to trouble.

The first thing a power mower owner should do is thoroughly study the instructions that come with the machine. Should the Owner’s Manual become lost, ask your dealer for another, write the manufacturer or do a search on the web as many are now in PDF form for easy downloading.

A most important way to give a mower good care is to be sure it cuts only grass. Keep stones, sand, bones, twigs, broken glass, wire, chips, tin cans, toys off the lawn. And, of course, don’t run the mower up against obstructions. In brief, for the good of your mower, keep a clean lawn.

To operate properly, all engines must have clean air, and your mowers engine is no exception.

Examine the air cleaner regularly and service it as recommended by the manufacturer. And don’t guess at it; do it right! This small engine is air-cooled, so check it carefully each time it is used and remove all grass and other material that may prevent proper cooling.

In fact, clean the whole machine each time it is put away. Check nuts and bolts frequently to see that they are tight. It is a good thing to fill the gas tank with clean gasoline after each using to prevent condensation in the fuel tank. Lubricate according to directions, and the mower is all set for the next job.

Buying A Quality Mower

When purchasing, choose a popular quality brand of lawn mower with a well-known make of engine. Mowers from companies like the following:

  • American Lawn Machines
  • Black & Decker
  • Earthwise
  • Honda
  • Husqvarna
  • Lawn Boy
  • MTD
  • Neutron
  • Scotts
  • Simplicity
  • Solaris
  • Toro
  • Weed Eater
  • WORX

Buy from an experienced dealer who has been in business a long time and will continue to be for some time to come. This kind of dealer is equipped to give good service, and surely some service will be needed in time.

Before purchasing, it may be well to check on the cost of sharpening and other service. Much can be learned by going online studying the websites, and reading reviews on various makes and inquiring of neighbor owners.

You may want to check on the attachments that can be added, such as a snow plow. Of course if you already have a garden tractor, it is easy to get a mower attachment for most makes. At any rate, don’t push that old hand mower too long!

Image: Old Mower David Locke1