Archive for Monday, June 23, 2008

Manual mowers earn praise for environmental benefits

Natalya Lowther uses a manual reel mower to cut the grass at her home in North Lawrence in this June 2008 photo. Lowther grew up using a manual-style mower, and she said it's cheaper than a gasoline-powered mower and emits no pollutants.

Natalya Lowther uses a manual reel mower to cut the grass at her home in North Lawrence in this June 2008 photo. Lowther grew up using a manual-style mower, and she said it's cheaper than a gasoline-powered mower and emits no pollutants.

June 23, 2008


Clip clip clip clip clip clip.

Drive through Lawrence on a weekend and that's the sound you might hear from the increasing number of people using manual reel mowers to cut their lawns.

Not only is the sound quieter than the traditional whirring and humming of gas-powered mowers, but reel mowers are an option for those looking to stay "green" and save green while taking care of their green.

The old-fashioned mowers don't create any air pollution and are cheaper to buy ($80 to $130 on average) and maintain than their gas- or electric-powered counterparts. The advantages of reel mowers are catching on with some Lawrence residents.

The Home Depot has seen increases in sales for reel mowers at its Lawrence store and nationally. "We didn't anticipate this much increase in demand," said Home Depot spokeswoman Jen King.

The increase is also carrying over to smaller, local stores, such as Cottin's Hardware, where sales for reel mowers are seven times higher this year than in 2007.

Those who opt for the old-fashioned grass cutters cite a variety of reasons.

Joe Douglas, who bought a reel mower last summer, enjoys the "peaceful sound." In addition, Douglas, who conserves gas by riding his bike to work, appreciates having another option for lessening his environmental footprint.

For Lawrence resident Randi Hacker, the benefits of reel mowers mesh with her "long-term commitment to the environment" and give her a chance to get some exercise. Hacker, who trades her neighbor homemade croutons for use of their reel mower, attributes the use of gas-powered mowers to Americans' desire for the easy way.

"Gas mowers reflect a lot about our society. We want the quick fix," said Hacker.

While using a gas-powered mower for an hour or so a week might not seem significant compared with usage of automobiles, their effect remains higher than their size might indicate.

The EPA estimates gas-powered mowers produce 5 percent of the nation's air pollution, with one hour of mowing releasing the same pollution as driving an automobile 350 miles. Looser emissions guidelines than automobiles and frequent gas spills associated with lawn mower usage (17 million gallons annually) account for the disproportionate environmental damage.

The down side

For all the benefits of reel mowers, the disadvantages are acknowledged by users and advocates. Natalya Lowther, who uses reel mowers on her area farm, also owns a riding mower for larger areas and thicker, longer grass that would be difficult to cut with a reel mower.

Cottin's Hardware co-owner Linda Cottin warns customers that reel mowers do not cut as cleanly and take more energy to push. Cottin said that in the past about a third of buyers returned the mowers, but that the store has had no returns this season.

Hacker said she thinks the extra effort and rougher cut are worth the trouble, especially in terms of concern for some of her yard's less-prestigious inhabitants.

"You go slower (using a reel mower)," she said, "giving the toads time to get out of the way."


average 10 years ago

I have a reel mower and use it about half the time. I personally like the halfway compromise of a basic corded electric. Quieter, lighter, and simpler than a gas mower. And, even the Lawrence KPL plant has better emissions controls than a Briggs&Stratton.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years ago

I have a neighbor who uses one of these and their yard looks AWFUL!!!=========It may be an issue with the user not having it adjusted properly or sharpened. Common with any type of lawn mower. I have a neighbor who uses a gas mower and his yard looks awful. I think he has the blade set too low because certain areas of his yard are scalped.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 10 years ago

When I was a kid we used those, and they were fine. The big difference is quality. Ours was made of heavy metal and even had a bagger attachment. The models selling today are rinky-dink.

KaraGourley 10 years ago

I have a neighbor who uses one of these and their yard looks AWFUL!!!

Magpie 10 years ago

@JJE: Nice tale about the scythe. Seems to me that you piddled around with your little knife toy while your ladyfriend labored over your gigantic jungle yard with a gas mower. The EPA is calling you, Jake.

gccs14r 10 years ago

I mow 6,000 square feet every Saturday with a 20" Scotts mower. It works just fine and I don't have to wear eye protection, ear protection, gloves, long pants, or steel-toed boots. I also don't have to keep the dog in the house and I don't disturb the neighbors. The mower has the means to self-sharpen, so I shouldn't have to take it anywhere for maintenance. I gave away my gas mower and string trimmer. It's all good.

stuckinthemiddle 10 years ago

doing yard work for exercise is silly?but working out at a gym is... uh... not silly?damn...anyway: when I had an averaged sized lawn here in town I had a reel mower and it worked great: in the spring you need to cut the grass about every 4 or 5 days but in the summer you can drop off to once a week or less: depending on how much rain we get:also: you need to keep the blades sharp: I use to sharpen mine after every 7 or 8 cuttings:

salad 10 years ago

If you have the planning and time to be able to mow your grass every 4 days, then a reel mower is great. Beyond 5'd need to have lead weighted rollers on the back just to keep the cutting bar from riding up and making the whole thing useless. They have their place, but they're really limited in what they can do, and not at all convenient.

alm77 10 years ago

timetospeak, Try there was a person looking for one on there yesterday. We've had our reel mower for years and I used it without complaint, for the most part (there are those tough little weed things that it just doesn't cut). But when my neighbor moved and asked me to "store" his gas mower, I couldn't resist. The reel mower has been sitting in the garage ever since....

timetospeakup 10 years ago

Yeah, if these are so popular, why can't I sell mine on craigslist for $25? I have one in new condition (from when I rented a townhouse with a tiny yard) that I have listed multiple times, the only people that inquired were just poking fun.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 10 years ago

The technical concept of that kind of mower is superior to rotary blade mowers. Ever see what they use on the fairways and greens at the golf course? The one I used as a child was geared so it cut at a very fast pace.Rotary mowers "hack" your grass, hence the brown tips on the blades. The blades on reel mowers cut like sizzors. If they are sharp, they do a great job. If they are dull and cheap, forget it.

Bossa_Nova 10 years ago

i've got an old 50's version that i still use. i love it. no hassles and i can sharpen it myself. and the exercise is good. with the price of fuel, its saving me money. but indeed, if the grass gets too tall, i'm in trouble.

lawrence_citizen 10 years ago

Watching the toads fly out the grass chute is part of the fun of mowing.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years ago

First, the "not-so-good" news - About every other year, the mower will need to be taken in for sharpening. Make sure you have somebody nearby who can provide this service-I happened to find somebody at a nearby golf course who will do it (many golf course mowers have the same type of blade assembly as pictured above). Cost? $50-100 for sharpening.=========Cottin's Hardware sells a do-it-yourself reel mower sharpening kit for $17.00. It works very well!

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years ago

They work fine as long as the grass isn't too high and the blades are sharp and they are adjusted properly and there are no sticks and you enjoy some sweaty exercise and the stars and planets are aligned. I'm sure my old friend is still using hold up that power cord in the garage.I actually had my weathered scythe, with wooden, s-curved snaith, out the other day in an effort to legalize my yard without firing up the mower. If I could sharpen a reel mower as easily as the scythe, I'd consider getting one again.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years ago

Touche', Magpie. That sweeterrific ladyfriend did a great and laborious, internal combustion engine job on that gigantic, jungle yard. I think I will not be handing her the scythe anytime soon, lest she grimly reap the piddler with that toy!~)

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years ago

A much better idea than the reel mower is lawnicide!~) Grow perrenials, bushes, trees and a garden!Stupid, effing lawns!~) Most people never even step on them except to weed, feed and MOW!

Bone777 10 years ago

blueharley - I saw where you stated that if the grass was too high you should forget it. What I have found is that if you start in the street with the mower and run as fast as you can before getting to the will cut the tall stuff.

BorderRat 10 years ago

Watch out!!! The "Smug Clouds" are about to join up making the perfect storm.

tir 10 years ago

I have used a reel mower for years. It is true that they don't cut as well as gas-powered mowers, and I have to use a pair of old hedge clippers (also manual) to trim some bits here and there. But it's good exercise, and I don't have to put up with the noise and stink of a gas-powered mower. It might not be the best choice for everyone--people with huge lawns or hilly lawns might find it impractical, but I have a little, flat yard and it works fine for me. I haven't seen any toads while mowing, but I have seen some baby rabbits and possums.

sjschlag 10 years ago

I have one of these for my small yard. It misses some of the taller grass stalks, but usually gets the job done fine. No gas to buy means I save $10 every time I mow the lawn. What the reel mower misses, I get with an electric trimmer. now if only they had an electric chipper...

simplifying 10 years ago

I found a long handled clipper that is hand-powered at Sears a couple of years ago and along with my prison yard model manual mower from Great States company, my lawn mowing adventure begins. I work in the early morning when its cool. Passsersby smile and my neighbor sheepishly offers me the use of his gas-powered mower which I politely but firmly refuse. One of the benefits of using the manual reel mower is that I notice my abs are tightening up and my cardio-vascular system is getting stronger. I multitask by listening to the radio from my walkman. A pleasant experience all around.And, the cousins to Agnes the frog are spared her life.

ralphralph 10 years ago

Bought a reel mower out of curiosity. It pushes easily, is quiet, and does a pretty lousy job of cutting. I use it for a few areas that have a slope where the heavier power mower tends to slip and tear up the yard. If you get any kind of 'stemmy' growth, like fescue that's gotten a bit too tall, the reel mower won't cut it. It's kind of fun to push around, and this year, with all the rain, even if it does a lousy job, you'll get to mow again in a few days, and can use the power mower to clean up the stems.p.s. ... I feel like I look much less stupid pushing the old reel mower around than I would dressed like the Lets-Get-Physical-era Olivia Newton John and running on a treadmill or some damn fool thing like that. If only I could find a proper bonnet!

chzypoof1 10 years ago

Using a push mower is like buying a Lexus "hybrid" that gets 14mpg. It makes you feel better about yourself, but it doesn't really improve anything. If that's what you are looking for, feel free. The so called "carbon footprint" of a small, new, tuned gas mower is negligible at best. Please use your "energy" for something else. poof

stuckinthemiddle 10 years ago

Haiku_Cuckoo I believe they use reel mowers on the greens... but they are gas powered...they use them because a reel type blade set up is the finest cut you can long as the blades are kept sharp...

cingham 10 years ago

Poof, what are you smoking?Not that I believe everything the LJW says, but..."The EPA estimates gas-powered mowers produce 5 percent of the nation's air pollution, with one hour of mowing releasing the same pollution as driving an automobile 350 miles. Looser emissions guidelines than automobiles and frequent gas spills associated with lawn mower usage (17 million gallons annually) account for the disproportionate environmental damage."How is that negligible at best?

Janet Lowther 10 years ago

The biggest down side of a reel mower in a small east Lawrence yard is that you have to pick up every single stick. Even 1/8 inch diameter twigs will stop you cold. The mowing didn't take all that long or all that much effort. However, picking up all the sticks shed by the big elm and walnut trees took forever, and eventually caused me to sent the Great States mower on to other yards.

Janet Lowther 10 years ago

BTW: Sheep were used to maintain the lawns in New York's Central Park into the 20th century.Sheep have numerous advantages as lawn mowers: They are quiet (quieter thab power mowers, anyway), they produce "pelletized" fertilizer, they produce valuable fiber, and you can eat them when the mowing season is over.

tir 10 years ago

"Cost? $50-100 for sharpening."Well, I took mine in to Cottins, and got it sharpened for $35. Nice to know that you can get a kit there for $17 and do it yourself, too. Maybe I'll try that for next year.

Calliope877 10 years ago

Wow, they make 'em a lot lighter now than when I was a kid. I remember my mom and dad mowing the lawn with a couple of pushers that looked like over-sized vacuum cleaners (with out the vacuum bag).

Take_a_letter_Maria 10 years ago

sjschlag (Anonymous) says: "No gas to buy means I save $10 every time I mow the lawn."That's either one humongous lawn you have, in which case I wouldn't want to use a reel mower, or one highly inefficient mower you were using (even a lawn mower needs tuning up every once in a while). I think I'll take the third option here though sjschlag is actually Jon Levitz doing his Exageration Man character.

Flap Doodle 10 years ago

cool, marion's talking about you."Marion writes:" (Not) promote other web sites, without our express written approval, or where expressly permitted"."

fu7il3 10 years ago

I've got one that I hardly ever use. If you don't get around to mowing one week, or sometimes more during wet weeks, it is practically worthless.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years ago

I like my lawn to look like a fairway. Those things do not do it for me.=====Hmm. I thought most golf courses used reel mowers.I agree with your "to each his own" lawn mowing philosophy though. As long as my neighbors' yards are well maintained, I don't care what type of mower they use.

notajayhawk 10 years ago

I have one of these, and I love it. It seems quite a bit different than one we had when I was a kid, but the technology hasn't changed much. No gas to buy or gas can to store, no oil, no spark plugs, no effort to get it started, no noise if I feel like getting up early on a weekend morning and doing the lawn, and I sharpen mine myself using my Dremel.It does not do the greatest job, but we have a very tiny yard that faces an alleyway, and we only have to keep it short enough to keep the city off our backs. If/when we move and have a real yard, I will rejoin the power-mower majority - unless by then they have something like that vacuum cleaner that runs around the house all by itself.

gccs14r 10 years ago

Mine weighs about 30 pounds and can be pushed with one hand, even across the body. Wet grass can be cut, because there isn't much mechanism to get clogged up, so there's no waiting for a day after a storm. I do make two passes at right angles to make sure I don't miss anything, but even with that, I can be done with the whole yard in an hour. I trim with shears and edge with a manual edger every 2-3 weeks. The yard looks a lot better than it did when we moved in and it gets better every week.

unite2revolt 10 years ago

I got a manual mower. I have been using it for a little while, I like getting up and mowing at 8:00 on Saturdays when it is still cool. I have a manual weed "eater" that I use to to take care of anything that the mower can't handle. My lawn looks like crap but it looked like crap when I moved in a few months ago, so I hope its not my neighbor complaining above. I bought some grass and fertilizer that I am hoping to put down soon, over the massive bare spots where once there was tons of milkweed and dandelions.

verity 10 years ago

A yard planted to perennials solves all your grass mowing problems. Once it's established, it takes very little care---use drought tolerate plants and you don't even have to water except at the end of very dry, hot summers.And the neighbors and passersby love it.

KansasPerson 10 years ago

Marion -- veal is from calves, isn't it? Are you thinking of mutton? (which I have never tried... but I hear it's big in England)Picturing a bison or two on our tiny lawn just made me laugh.Marion (Marion Lynn) says:Yeah; goat milk.If I don't have to cut it, I don't care!Lol!Sheep:Wool.I don't like veal.Maybe a bison or two?

notajayhawk 10 years ago

Marion (Marion Lynn) says: "One word:""Goats."Two more words:...and sheep.My sister used to rent them (that's a business that ought to be viable around here), three sheep and a goat, the sheep kept the lawn down and the goat ate everything they wouldn't.They don't need gas, oil, spark plugs, or sharpening, and they're even quieter than my reel mower. And much less work - you just have to move the tether every couple of days.

gccs14r 10 years ago

The truck making one pass is lots better than 30,000 cars making individual passes.

webmocker 10 years ago

Cordless Electric WorksI tried a manual reel mower with small yard, but as others have mentioned, it stopped cold on twigs. Also, part of the yard was zoysia (very thick grass) and it didn't handle that well. I now have a Neuton cordless electric that is surprisingly effective. For lawns under about 7000 square feet, it's perfect. Including original purchase price of a new machine, if you ignore the external costs of pollution and hearing damage with the gas mower, both cost about the same. More bucks upfront for the Neuton (about double the equivalent gas mower), but no gas or tune-up costs. Battery is alleged to need replacing every 4-5 years for $90. Biggest downside for Neuton is it has a small cutting swath (14 inches) so it takes half again as long to mow my lawn. Upside is that it is MUCH quieter, lighter, easy to maneuver, and simply a more pleasant machine to use. Black and Decker makes a bigger, somewhat heavier cordless that is also supposed to be good.

simplifying 10 years ago

I noted several persons wishing to sell their manual reel mowers. I would be interested. I am looking for a Great States mower, the 20" width, heavy duty style if you wish to contact me with an offer.Thankyou.

Rationalanimal 10 years ago

Horses, buggies, midwives, outhouses, telegraph, and pony express are all coming back as well. Morons.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.