The 9 Best Reel Lawn Mowers
You may be surprised by the variety of reel lawn mowers on the market. Consider their key features to find the best reel mower for your lawn.
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Buying a Reel Mower
A traditional rotary lawn mower uses a flat, spinning blade that cuts grass the way a machete chops tall grass in a field. By contrast, a reel mower (sometimes called a cylinder mower) functions more like a pair of scissors. Blades of grass are caught and cut between the spinning reel (the curved metal that resembles a strand of DNA) and a fixed horizontal blade called the cutting bar.
The resulting clean, precise snip makes for healthier, more attractive lawns. That’s why reel mowers are frequently the machines of choice for golf courses. Reel mowers also require more lawn prep before mowing. Manual and electric models in particular don’t have the force required to cut small sticks and twigs that a rotary mower can easily grind up.
If you’re considering a reel mower purchase, here are some key factors to keep in mind:
Power source. Many people associate reel mowers with manual, push-driven mowers. While these make up the vast majority of reel mowers targeted at residential homeowners, there are also gas-powered, corded electric and cordless electric reel mowers.
Cutting width. Wider reels make big jobs go faster, but make navigating tight spaces more difficult. Keep in mind that on manual reel mowers, the wheelbase is larger than the reel width. You’ll need to overlap your passes slightly and may need a touch-up pass with a trimmer for the edges.
Cutting height. Almost every mower has an adjustable cutting height, but not all have the same range. If you prefer a short or longer lawn, be sure to check the mower’s maximum and minimum height. Reel mowers are most effective when cutting lawns two inches tall or less.
Weight/maneuverability. Lighter mowers are more mobile, but also more likely to react to bumps and divots. That bouncing can result in an uneven cut. The average weight for a manual reel mower is around 20 pounds.
Accessories. Some reel mowers have everything from cup holders to bagging accessories.
Sharpening the blades. Reel mowers need to be sharpened occasionally. For homeowners with smaller yards, a sharpening every year or so might be fine. But if you’re planning on keeping a larger yard trimmed especially short, you may need to sharpen the mower blades a few times each season. You can take the mower to a mower service center for sharpening or DIY it. Always check what kind of sharpening the mower manufacturer recommends.
Best All-Around Reel Mower
For the best balance between price and performance, turn to a familiar brand: the Scotts 15-16S Reel Mower. With a 16-in. reel width and a cutting height of 1/2- to 2-1/2-inches, this model is sized just right to tackle large and small yards and a wide range of cutting heights. There are no frills and no shortcuts in quality. It’s simply a well-built mower at a competitive price.
Best Budget Reel Mower
If you want a well-built budget mower, check out the Sun Joe MJ500M Reel Mower. This 16-in.-wide mower cuts from 7/8- to 1-3/4 inches. It comes with a clipping collector bag and is covered by a two-year warranty.
Note: If you’re willing to spend some time at garage, yard and tag sales, you can often find manual reel mowers at a great price. You’ll often have to clean the machine and sharpen the blades, but it’s a great way to save some money.
Best Manual Reel Mower for Small Lawns
For small lawns, go with a narrow reel width. The Scotts 304-14S Reel Mower has a 14-inch reel that navigates tight turns well. It tucks away for storage in your garage or shed, and at 18 pounds it’s easy to move around. The blade height adjusts from 1- to 1-3/4-inches.
Best Manual Reel Mower for Big Lawns
The extra-wide 20-inch reel on the Scotts 2010-20SG Reel Mower reduces the number of passes required. The larger your yard, the more of a difference it makes. This is probably the only manual reel mower you want if you’re tackling a yard that approaches a half acre in size. It ships with a grass catcher bag and is covered by a three-year warranty.
Best Manual Reel Mower for Longer Grass
Friskars takes a slightly different approach to its mower design with the Friskars StaySharp 362080-1001 Reel Mower. This machine has a cutting range of 1-1/2- to 3-in., so it’s set up to tackle longer grass right out of the box.
Friskars prides itself on ergonomic design. It claims this model is 30 percent easier to push than other reel mowers and can clip through twigs that would jam up a normal reel mower. Friskars also says this 17-inch-wide mower uses precision-ground, hardened steel blades, reducing friction and wear so the blades don’t need to be sharpened as often.
All the above factors combine to make it a great manual reel mower if you prefer to let your grass grow long.
Best Gas-Powered Reel Mower
Looking to bring a professional touch to your lawn? The California Trimmer RL207H-GX120 Gas-Powered Reel Mower can take your grass down to 1/4-inch height for a putting green look. The 188cc Honda GX120 engine powers this self-propelled mower, so all you do is walk along and steer.
The 20-inch cutting width makes short work of even large spaces, and the generous two-bushel grass catcher collects the clippings. Homeowners desiring short, crisp lawns with that professionally-tendered appearance like gas-powered reel mowers. These mowers are built with a precision that makes their prices on par with a high-end rotary push mower.
Best Reel Mower Splurge
If you really want to go all out on a reel mower, a Swardman custom mower is the luxury choice for you. Swardman is a Czech company that builds gas- and battery-powered reel mowers to order. There are a number of Swardman dealers around the U.S., that can help you customize a machine with everything from leather grips and LED lighting to cup and phone holders.
Best Corded Electric Reel Mower
Although the Sun Joe MJ506E Reel Mower may look like a traditional rotary lawn mower, it’s actually a redesigned reel system with the distinctive scissoring cut. It has a 16-inch reel width, an adjustable cut height from one- to 2.6-inches and a 14.6-gallon clipping bag. The MJ506E plugs into any 120-volt outlet and comes with a two-year warranty.
Best Cordless Electric Reel Mower
Scotts, an industry-leading manual reel mower manufacturer, is also leading the way into battery-powered reel mowers. The Scotts 2020 16-S Reel Mower uses an included 20-volt battery and a brushless motor to power its 16-inch reel base.
One special feature we like: The mower can be used without the battery as a typical manual reel mower. A grass catcher bag and battery charger are included.