How To Mow A Lawn With A Self Propelled Reel Mower

The self propelled reel mower has not undergone a lot of changes since they were first introduced almost 200 years ago. The only difference between now and then is the fact that it has become lighter, manufactured from more modern materials,  and come in different cutting widths.

I’ll also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of push reel mowers vs electric or gas powered mowers.

vintage self propelled reel mower ad
The self propelled reel mower has hardly changed in 200 years

I’ve used push mowers for many years (but also use a petrol mower for some areas of lawn), and I really enjoy using them. It’s a bit of a labor of love really.

The very first self-propelled push reel mower was invented back in 1830 in a place called Thrupp, in Gloucestershire, England by a gentleman called Edwin Bunning. Bunning’s invention was really to mow sports pitches like the ones used for cricket and lawn bowls. It was designed to take the place of the scythe, and the design has remained relatively the same over 190 years later.

The push lawnmower has long witnessed the introduction of electric and petrol models. These models are aimed at displacing the push mower as an old-fashioned, labor-intensive way to cut your lawn, but the benefits which they possess has made homeowners continue using it to mow their lawns. There is a growing band of lawn owners who love their human-powered mowers and balk at the idea of replacing it with a more modern machine. I’m one of them!

Push along lawn mowers are perfectly suited for small lawn care, with their ability to actually cut the grass in fine pieces, rather than have them torn apart like an electric or petrol model would. Blade sharpness is critical for any lawnmower to do a decent job, but with a push mower, it’s essential.

How To Mow A Lawn With A Self Propelled Reel Mower – First Steps

How To Mow A Lawn With A Self Propelled Reel Mower
A reel mower can cut amazingly well, with little maintenance.

The following best practices explain how to mow a lawn with a push mower:

1. Blade Sharpness: Even with blunt blades, a powered mower can manage to mow most lawns, even if it has bashed, bruised and ripped the grass to pieces rather than cut it. The push mower is a lot less forgiving in these circumstances, it will treat you harshly if you don’t do the basics. Sharp blades make mowing a breeze, but you need to keep on top of it. Think of it this way. A well-maintained reel mower cuts like a set of really sharp scissors.

I favor a normal sharpening stone for blade sharpening, they are cheap and last for years. I’ve used files and even angle grinders to sharpen blades when in a hurry, but there is really nothing better than stroking the blades with a stone once every month or so. It’s quick and easy, don’t let this be the reason you build up a bad relationship with your push mower.

You can also just apply an abrasive sharpening paste which can be an easier solution, I like my stones though 🙂

2. Lubrication: Keeping your push mower well lubricated is another ‘chore’ that is oft overlooked. Push along mowers are really simple in design, with only a few moving parts. Blade height adjusters and bearing lubrication are probably the only things you really need to consider when lubricating your mower. Some 3 in 1 oil will do the job perfectly. I always lubricate at the same time I sharpen the blades, so once a month really. I give the mower a quick once-over before the new growing season starts, but that’s about it, and it serves me well, like a trusty dog!

3.Clear Sticks, Branches And Other Debris:  This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people chip or blunt the blades of their mower just by failing to do a quick scan of the lawn first. Stones cause a huge amount of blade damage, but even twigs and sticks getting caught in the mechanisms can require the partial dismantling of a reel mower.

manual reel mower
A manual reel mower after a good morning’s work.

4. Begin Mowing: The moment you begin pushing, the reel of your push mower would start spinning automatically to snip the grass. It is expected that you must have decided on a mowing pattern before you launch out. The two most common patterns are:

  • Rows: This is the most common and widely used mowing pattern. For the sake of explanation, let us assume that you are mowing a lawn which measures 16 foot by 16 foot. You would have to do 14 turns to the left and a further 16 turns to the right. This sums up the total number of turns to 30. They are all right angle turns.
  • Spirals: This mowing pattern follows the Rows pattern closely in terms of popularity and how it is commonly used. It requires that you make the same number of 30 turns like the Rows pattern. The difference lies in the fact that it makes all its turns in the same direction.

Additionally, it’s important to not always mow in a uniform, repetitive direction when using any lawn mower. If you always mow the lawn the same way, the grass will start to bend in that direction, making it harder to get a good professional cut. If you’d like a little more in-depth advice, check out my article ‘How to mow a lawn professionally‘, which will give you all the tips and tricks you need for a really good job.

5. Trim The Edges Properly: Regardless of the mowing pattern which you employ, ensure that you trim the edges of your lawn very well. This helps to establish the perimeter of your lawn and guide your mowing process. Your work would look professional once you employ this best practice. Just make sure that you choose a mowing pattern and stick to it.

6. Double Check: So long as you aim towards the uncut grass and work steadily, you would be able to get a majority of the entire job done. This should not stop you from double checking for any spots which you may have missed. Simply go back over the uncut grass and have them cut before parking your push mower after cleaning it.

Advantages And Disadvantages of A Self Propelled Push Reel Mower Over An Electric or Petrol Mower:

Push mowers do have their own advantages and disadvantages when compared to mowers powered by electric or gas. Some would never see an advantage in a manual lawn mower, but a well-maintained one is a pleasure to use. But, unless I’m preaching to the converted, let’s look at some basic pros and cons of self-propelled reel mowers over their powered counterparts


1. Eco-Friendly: A push mower is eco-friendly since it does not create pollutants which result from the use of petrol. Its green appeal is one of the reasons why it is commonly used. It also saves you the headache of getting into the black books of your neighbors following the noise pollution created with an electric mower.

2. Initial Purchase Cost: A good gas or electric powered mower will set you back some money, for gas, expect to pay several hundred dollars to get a decent unit. The push mower, on the other hand, is a lot cheaper, and other than some basic maintenance costs, it will treat you well if you treat it well too.

2. Ongoing Savings: The push mower is cost-effective in several ways. In addition to, purchase costs, you do not spend money buying petrol, in addition, to spark plugs and tune-ups with a push model. It is also important to note that the blades of a push mower require less sharpening than that of the other models over time. A simple sharpening stone, run over the blades once a month or so will keep it cutting beautifully for many years

3. Human Powered: It is run by your effort. This makes it a good form of exercise and highly favored by people who are fitness conscious. Being active and moving more is something that everyone can do, but few people take the time these days. Walk the stairs or use a lift, most choose the lift. Walk to the shops or jump in the car, the car is usually a sure bet.

It’s the same for mowing the lawn. Push or powered, you’ll find few other than a hard core of people who are prepared to actually create work for themselves, but that work is rewarding and enjoyable. I love to mow the lawn with my push mower, get a little sweaty, then sit on the patio with a cool drink looking at the fruits of my labors.

4. Easy On The Ears: Gas mowers are noisy things, you even have to wear ear defenders with some models. The self-propelled reel lawnmower, on the other hand, is quiet, other than that mesmerizing and calming whirring sound as the blade spins under your power.

5. Almost Maintenance Free: Other than a little greasing and oiling, and an occasional blade sharpen, the reel mower needs to regular maintenance. I can’t even count the time I’ve spent trying to get a gas mower started, stripping the thing down, reassembling…most annoying. The reel mower gets to work in seconds.

old self propelled reel lawnmower
Even an old mower will cut well if you take care of it.


1. Can Be Hard Work: The fact that a push mower only runs based on your effort makes it hard work. You are made to pay for the savings you make on the cost of fuelling with your physical energy. If you have a large lawn, this may prove to be too much to handle.

2. Can Be Slower: While you are still mowing with a push mower, the person who uses a mower powered by electric or petrol could be through and had a shower. But bear in mind that the manual mower is lighter, easy to lift, doesn’t need time spent of fuelling or taking out the spark plug to try to get the thing going. Sometimes the apparently slower mower can actually save you time over the years.

3. More Regular Mowing: You will need to mow regularly. Failure to do this would leave you with tall blades of grass which a push mower finds difficult to cut. I’ve certainly left things a little too late in the past, and had to call on the petrol mower to get me out of trouble. I always feel a bit of a failure when the gas-powered lawnmower comes out of the shed. If  I’d only got out there a few days earlier, my push along mower would have made light work of the lawn.

Summing It Up: Self Propelled Push Mowers Versus Powered Lawn Mowing

I think I’ve made it clear that I am a definite advocate of the push mower, reserving the right to use a powered mower, either gas or electric when the need arises. I really don’t think, unless you have a really tiny lawn that push vs powered needs to be a mutually exclusive decision. Using the analogy that George W Bush made about humans and fish co-existing, in one of his more amusing cock-ups (hard to pick a favorite among so many), I believe that push mowers and powered lawnmowers can co-exist in harmony.

Push mowers are wonderful to make use of because of the savings which they bring in addition to their eco-friendliness. Mowing with them allows you to employ either of a “Rows” or “Spiral” mowing method. Despite some of its disadvantages when compared to the electric or petrol-powered models, you can cut your lawn and have it look like the work of a professional as you follow best practices.

This reel mower video offers some great insights and advice:

I sincerely hope that this article has been insightful for you. Buying a self-propelled reel mower is a low-cost purchase, and if it helps keep you fit, cuts down on noise, pollution and reduces the use of fossil fuels, it’s definitely a good thing to do. I urge you to purchase one, you’ll love it (but mow often!) If you’re still on the fence, check out my article on the reel mower vs rotary mower where I look at the pros and cons of both mower types.

Happy Mowing


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