How often does a reel mower need to be sharpened?

This question is difficult, if not impossible, to answer.  There are so many factors that influence the sharpness of a reel mower.

Lawn size is the most obvious.  A mower that mows a half acre a week will need sharpening more often than a mower used on a small city lawn.

Lawn condition counts, too. Are you mowing tough weeds or hitting sticks, acorns or other lawn debris? Is your lawn rough and uneven? Are you mowing the grass short, so that the blades are “scalping” the lawn – hitting the ground with the mower blades?  Scalping will dull the blades very quickly.

Plant fibers become stronger and tougher when they are wet. Moisture is detrimental to the steel blades. So if you cannot avoid mowing wet or damp grass you will need to sharpen more often that the average reel mower owner. You can help your mower to stay sharp longer by cleaning the blades after each use.

Manufacturers often mention sharpening frequency in their sales materials. Manufacturer estimates range from once a year to once every eight years.  Each manufacturer may use a different method to arrive at this estimate. Those who have been selling reel mowers for many decades may base their estimates on feedback from their customers, and are probably offering the most accurate estimate.  Manufacturers of new models may be guessing, based on the perceived quality of their blades. One manufacturer may estimate conservatively while another is more optimistic than realistic in their estimate. Read the sales materials carefully. Some reel mower manufacturers say their mower will never have to be sharpened. Instead of sharpening you will replace the reel after a few years. Customers rarely replace a reel because it is the most expensive part of the mower. It is not easy to replace. If it is worn out, chances are the rest of the mower is also worn out.

Mowers with a narrow mowing width tend to appeal more to folks mowing a small lawn. Mowers with a wider mowing width are often chosen by people mowing a large lawn.  So if the manufacturer is selling a reel mower that is usually used to mow a small lawn, their estimate of time before sharpening will probably not apply to an owner using the same mower to mow a larger lawn.

How particular are you about sharpness? Do you enjoy sharpening things? Some customers tell me that they sharpen their mower once a month. Unless the mower is seeing extremely heavy commercial or institutional use, this is probably not necessary. These customers like to sharpen things and they like a really sharp edge. Some reel mower owners say their decades-old mower has never been sharpened, and it works just fine. So personal preference is a key factor in how often you sharpen your mower.

Your reel mower will become more difficult to push when the blades are dull. If you pick a blade of freshly cut grass it should have a nice clean cut straight across the tip. If that tip looks ragged and uneven, it is time to sharpen.

There are things you can do to protect your blades to maximize the time between sharpening.  Spray a bit of WD40, silicone spray or other light lubricant on the reel blades and the cutter bar. The cutter bar is the fixed blade at the bottom of the reel mower, which is sometimes called a bed knife. The lubricant will protect the blades from the moisture that is present even in dry grass. Lubrication will also make mowing easier and quieter.

Check the lawn before you mow.  Remove twigs and other debris with a rake or lawn sweeper.  Be especially on the alert for small pebbles and wire or other metal objects.

After mowing, clean the clippings off the reel and cutter bar.  Manufacturers differ on cleaning instructions. Some say to wash the mower with a hose, some say to use a cloth dampened with water and a mild household detergent. Check your owner’s manual. If you do use water be sure that the mower is thoroughly dried before putting it away.

Reel mowers are gaining in popularity. As a result, it is easier than ever to find a service shop that will sharpen them. Do-it-yourselfers will find that reel mower sharpening kits are easy to use and can save a lot of money.  There are kits that are specific to a particular brand of mower and kits that work on most reel mowers, even mowers that are 50 years old or more. Mascot makes sharpening kits for push reel mowers, gang reel mowers and even power reel mowers. You can see them at


Thinking about buying a reel mower?

Are you thinking about buying your first push reel mower? If you are doing online research, you may have noticed the mixed reviews. People who love their reel mower often say that their manual reel mower is easier to push than a power mower, gives a better cut, is quieter and easier to maintain than a power mower.  Detractors complain that reel mowers are difficult to push, don’t give an even cut and won’t cut weeds.

The happy customers understand how reel mowers work and they chose the right reel mower for their lawns. The unhappy customers usually have unrealistic expectations or has been given misinformation about reel mowers. They may not have chosen the best mower for their needs.

Reel mowers work best, and are easy to push, when used regularly.  Reel mowers cut like a pair of scissors, with the reel blades spinning around and meeting the “cutter bar”, sometimes called the “bedknife”, at the bottom of the mower. Grass which is too tall cannot get caught between the reel blades and the cutter bar, so it does not get properly cut. This is not a limitation for a well-maintained lawn.

Turf management experts at universities all over the United States recommend cutting no more than one third of the length of the grass at a time. Cutting more than that off with any mower puts a strain on the grass. So if your goal is for your lawn to be three inches high after you cut, then you should mow it when it is no higher than about four and a half inches.  A reel mower that is made for cutting at three inches can easily handle that. If you are cutting Bermuda or one of the other bent grasses commonly found in the southern states, you are probably setting your mower to mow to 1.5 inches. In that case, you would want to mow before the lawn exceeded 2.25 inches in height.

The scissors mechanism that works best on regularly mowed lawns also explains why people often say that “reel mowers can’t cut weeds”. Actually, a reel mower can cut almost any non-woody weed, as long as it is not too tall. The problem with weeds is that they tend to grow faster than the grass. So the weeds that tower above the lawn do not get caught between the blades and therefore do not get cut. It is not because they are weeds; it is because they are too tall.

The reel mower scissors cut is a superior cut. You can tell what kind of mower was used to mow a lawn by picking a blade of grass. The grass cut with a reel mower has a nice clean cut straight across the blade.  A rotary mower rips the grass, leaving ragged brown tips. Many Reel Mowers, Etc. customers have noticed that their lawn looks greener and more even when cut with a reel mower.

Choosing the right reel mower for your lawn, and your family, is important.  I will address that subject in other blogs, or you may call me toll free, M-F 8-4 PST at 888 384-1033.for personal assistance.