Wednesday, June 2, 2010

8 Best Hand Push Reel Lawn Mowers For Big Yards

Best Hand Push Reel Mowers Part 8

After discussing what  makes for a good hand push reel lawn mower, we reviewed contact mowers in Part 2 and Part 3, and no-contact mowers in Part 4, then compared them to each other in Part 5. Here we will rank the best mowers for big yards. It is important to note that even the best mowers are not perfect for all conditions. Each ranked evaluation specifically lists the conditions for which the mower is suited. More information on these mowers is available in the previous sections. All of them are recommended by for their conditions of application.

Big yards (3,500 ft2 to 8,000 ft2) with Northern grasses

Here are the best mowers for large yards, for Northern grasses,  in reverse order:

#6 Promow 18". The Promow 18"  is an 18"cut path mower, which has a 5-bladed reel on ball bearings, two 10" wheels, a tracking roller, and an unusual 1.5" to 2.5" (as specifically told by the company, although the manual says 1.75" to 2.75", and retailer site literature lists 2.5" to 3") cutting height with several adjustments driven by bolts on both sides. A front plate protects flowers and shrubs from the reel. The wheels and gears are all metal, and the mower weighs 38 lbs. It is made in Taiwan in the same factory as the McCulloch below, and is available for about $190. The company recommends that it be back-lapped every year, and sharpened every 6 years. A Promow retailer tells us that this model is popular with prisons because of its weight and reliability.There are very few reviews on the Promow mower, although we had extensive discussions with Promow retailers. To a large degree, McCulloch reviews can also apply to the Promow, which is factored from McCulloch, although with some differences in the specs, none more important than the height of cut, which is high enough to be useful, although it still requires a wrench - not cool. The Promow 18", an all metal mower, is robust and has decent quality control. It is able to withstand rough treatment, and deal with larger lawns and diverse Northern grasses, except for bent grasses, which should be dealt with by the McCullow below instead. Being a contact mowers, it is a bit harder to push, and noisier, than no-contact mowers. This mower deserves to be better known, but it also has its share of weaknesses, all related to distribution. There are very few online retailers, and no information on the Promow site (which still displays a discontinued 20" model). Like McLane and TruCut, Promow relies on brick and mortar retailers for all distribution and support, which leaves customer support from online sales an orphan. Finding a trusted local retailer is essential to future support for this mower. Another weakness: we could not find a back-lapping kit for this mower - make sure to locate the right back-lapping kit through your dealer prior to purchase. Like all contact mowers, this one requires to be back-lapped yearly and sharpened professionally every 5 years.

#5 McCulloch 20" MCM2013. The McCulloch MCM2013 20" cut path mower weighs 36 lbs (shipping weight) with 9 cutting adjustments, ranging from 0.67" to 1.33", using bolts on both sides according to two McCulloch retailers.  The handles rotate around a pivot to adjust to the height of the user. There are two 6" tracking wheels behind the primary 10" wheels. Both wheels and gears are metal. This reel mower appears with 4 blades in the company documentation (we checked with Dixie Sales, the US distributor), but a reviewer specifically mentions 5 blades. The mower is made in Taiwan, and is available for about $130. Reviews are mostly good, although one reviewer complains of poor quality control leading to a DOA mower. While this mower is robust and well engineered, its very low cutting height makes it suitable only for bent grasses, for large yards of any kind. Being a contact mowers, it is a bit harder to push, and noisier, than no-contact mowers. It is hefty, at 36 lbs, and should not be used by frail or sick adults. Of all the mowers we reviewed, this mower is least supported by the manufacturer, who does not even list reel mowers on its web site.The US distributor, Dixie Sales, does a very good job at dealing with inquiries and support, but is limited by the information provided by the manufacturer, which is quite poor. Buying an McCulloch online, while difficult, is reasonably safe in regards to customer support, or - better -  find a trustworthy local dealer to order from. As for the Promow mower, we were not able to find a back-lapping kit for this mower - make sure to locate the right back-lapping kit through your dealer prior to purchase. Like all contact mowers, this one requires to be back-lapped yearly and sharpened professionally every 5 years.

#4 Scotts Classic 2000-20. The Scotts Classic 2000-20 has a 5-bladed ball bearing reel, two 6" rear tracking wheels, a high 1"-3"cutting height with 9 different levels easily adjustable with spring loaded levers, 10" polymer wheels with plastic gears, a powder-coated loop handle with foam grip, and a weight of 30lbs. The height adjustment consists of two locking screws on the side. The handle has gathered quite a few complaints, and underwent a slight redesign last year - we do not know yet if the new design significantly improved reliability. A front plate protects flowers and shrubs from the reel.  Here is a CleanAirGardening video of the Scotts Classic. The Scotts Classic is available for $110, with another $30 for a grass catcher, and is made in China. This mower has an very large number of reviews on the net, most often good, but also pinpointing the weaknesses of this mower: a fragile handle and undersized plastic gears. At the same time, many users - possibly putting less stress on them - really like the Scotts for its smoothness, ease of use, and 20" cut path. This mower is very popular because it is the only widely available lightweight reel mower with a 20" cut path. As such it is valuable. It is at its best in even, horizontal yards, with Northern grasses only, where the grass is not too dense, and the yard itself is not bumping the upper range of the size limit we are considering. Because of the weakness of the handle and gears, any buyer should expect having to buy replacement handles and gears within a short number of years. A challenging yard, with dense grass, some slope, or significant bumps, will likely create a need for replacement parts as early as the end of the first year. Being a contact mower, the Scotts 2000-20 is a bit harder to push, and noisier, than a no-contact mower, needs to be back-lapped yearly by the user and sharpened professionally every 5 years. A back-lapping kit is available.

#3 TruCut H18-5 and H20-5 contact mowers. The TruCut H18-5, an 18" cut path mower, has a 5 bladed reel on ball bearings with a rear roller. The wheels, of unknown diameter, are cast iron with steel pinion gears, and have replaceable tires. The height adjustment ranges from 0.5" to 2.25" and uses thumb screws. It can be found with difficulty on the web for about $165, and has an optional grass catcher for another $60. This mower is made in the USA, and its weight is 35 lbs. The H20-5 has similar specs, except for a 20" cut path, a 37 lb weight, and a price of $210. These mowers are very robust, soundly engineered and carry no excessive weight. They are well adapted to mid-size yards of any shape, even or bumpy, and for all Northern grasses including bent grasses. Their weight is an excellent compromise, very low for an all metal mower. The height of cut remains a bit low, and could be a problem for lawns with special conditions, such as thin strips or inset stones, where you would want higher lawn, and requires religious weekly mowing, as missing a week will make the lawn to high to cut. Height of cut is tool-less, but could be more convenient. Being contact mowers, they are a bit harder to push, and noisier, than no-contact mowers. These mowers could have been our #1 selection, were it not for the following issues: (1) no support from the manufacturer for online sales, and very little phone support; (2) no back-lapping kit; (3) no online reviews (we spent many hours online interviewing retailers); and (4) very little online product information. Like McLane, the manufacturer has a distribution system exclusively based on brick-and-mortar dealers, making online purchases risky as they will depend upon the retailer for support (there are very few online retailers for this mower). Getting a hold of the manufacturer was like pulling teeth, and took us more than 2 weeks and 20 phone calls - although once we established contact getting information was easy. Because they are contact mowers, they require yearly back-lapping by the user, and professional sharpening every 5 years. We strongly recommend that you identify a suitable back-lapping kit prior to purchasing this mower, since neither the manufacturer nor its retailers were able to point us at one. We truly hope that the manufacturer will look into these weaknesses, as we feel that this mower could be a star.

#2 Fiskars Momentum no contact mower. The Fiskars Momentum is an 18" reel mower, with a 5-bladed reel mounted on ball bearings, driven by an all-metal chain drive, with  an unusually shaped loop handle with foam grips, primary wheels positioned behind the reel, and small front tracking wheels. The height of cut varies from 1" to 4" (tallest across all models), and is adjusted through a single no-tools control. None of the driving parts are plastic, but there are several plastic plates on the mower. It is a front-throw mower (like the McLane), where grass clippings are ejected forward, and uses a heavy, large diameter reel to use a fly-wheel effect. One side of the mower allows you to edge a lawn closer than most other mowers. Because the reel is positioned in front of the main wheels, it needs less overlap when mowing. It is a heavy, 44 lb mower, and can be found online for $250.There is no grass catcher available. The Fiskars Momentum is a new introduction on the market, with innovative features, and excellent reviews, often from naive users. It is a powerful and heavy mower, able to deal well with grasses of all kinds, with the exception of bent grasses, due to its 1" minimum height of cut. It can edge better than most mowers on its edging side. Its weight and small wheels make it difficult to handle in bumpy terrain (where its wheels can get stuck) or close to obstructions such as fences, trees, or sheds, where its awkward handle does not make it easy to maneuver. It is best suited to even yards with no complex boundaries, where its weight and good cutting ability can make an excellent impact. Because the Momentum is a no-contact mower, it require very little yearly maintenance, limited to readjusting the blade to bed knife spacing, and professional sharpening every 5 years. While it appears of good quality despite questionable welds, its large number of parts, and its several plastic plates, concern us as far as reliability is concerned, and we fear that its total life cycle might end up being shortened further by the rough demands of large yard use.

#1 Silent Cut 18 for upright grasses and SilentCut 21 no contact mowers. The SilentCut 18 for upright grasses is an 18" cut path mower, powder-coated, with a 6-bladed reel mounted on ball bearings. it has 10" wheels, a rear roller, a Tee shape handle with foam grips, and a height of cut varying from 1" to 2.75", adjustable by moving bolts on both sides. It is all metal. It is a "light contact" mower where the reel barely makes contact with the knife bed. It weighs 42 lbs, and costs $280. There is no protection from the reel for flowers and shrubs. The SilentCut 21 has similar specs, except for a 21" cut path (largest in the industry), height of cut ranging from 1" to 3", weight of 45 lbs, and a price of $290. The SilentCut mowers are the only mowers to be hand sharpened, adjusted and tuned prior to shipping, by its own Amish manufacturers (although the parts are fabricated in China). Customer support through the distributor ReelMowersEtc is excellent. The height of cut is good for most cases, and may forgive the user a few days' lateness in mowing the lawn - but don't wait too long. The height of cut adjustment is painful, requiring a wrench or socket set. These are exceedingly sturdy mowers, heavy and powerful, well suited to larger yards, even or bumpy, with any type of tall grasses except bent grasses, because of their 1" minimum height of cut (bent grasses would be better served by the SilentCut 18 standard or 21 low-mow discussed below, our #1 choices for Southern grasses). Their light reel to bed knife contact does not create significant noise or make them hard to push, beyond their weight. While they can be pushed by older children in most conditions, these mowers is not appropriate to frail or sick users: they need good momentum to be used. The SilentCut 21, in particular, is a lot of mower and needs good strength when used in a large parcel. These robust mowers are likely to last 50 years or more, with few replacement parts needed. Because they are contact mowers, they require yearly back-lapping by the user, and professional sharpening every 5 years. A back-lapping kit is available.
Big yards (3,500 ft2 to 8,000 ft2) with Southern grasses

Here are the best mowers for large yards, for Southern grasses,  in reverse order:

#2 Fiskars Momentum no contact mower. The hefty Momentum, already reviewed above, also works well for Southern grasses. All of our comments still apply to this innovative mower.

#1 SilentCut 18 standard and SilentCut 21. The SilentCut 18 standard is the same as the version for upright grasses, except that it has 9"wheels, a height of cut varying from 0.5" to 2.25", and a weight of 38 lbs. A low-mow version of the SilentCut 21, with a lower cut height range than the standard, exists, and should be the recommended version, in general, for most, if not all, Southern grasses (check our links on height of cut here). All of our comments above still apply to the the SilentCut 18 standard and the SilentCut 21 low-mow, two outstanding mowers at ease with all grasses.

Next we review the best US made hand push reel lawn mowers... So come back soon!

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