Manual Push Reel Mower Vs Electric Rotary Mower – An Old Dude’s Experience

Having recently bought a manual push reel mower as a replacement for my electric rotary mower, and having used it for a couple of months over the summer, I thought it might be nice to do a little review and share my experiences of a manual push reel mower versus an electric rotary mower.

This isn't going to be a technical article, where i discuss the manufacturer's technical specifications in detail. I write that sort of stuff on many subjects for the homesteader or homeowner. This is a personal view, having used the electric rotary mower for around 6 years, and the push reel mower for a couple of months.

Manual push reel mower versus electric rotary mower

Early days you might say, and only one season of manual mowing, but I definitely feel that I've had long enough to get a feel for the process, and come to a conclusion on what is going to be my go-to lawn mower of choice in the future.

I'll also be posting some pics, not stock images, but pictures from my own garden, with my own lawnmowers.  So don't expect professional quality photos, I'm 'keeping it real' this time.

Having spent 6 years living in Australia on a 4 1/2 acre smallholding, with sheep, ducks, chickens and a cow called Celia, we returned to England at the end of 2010, to a much smaller property in the heart of the West Dorset countryside.

It's an idyllic location, surrounded by woodland, rolling hills right on the doorstep, and a beautiful coastline just 10 minutes from home.

When we first moved here, the rear garden was a mess. Kinda had glimpses of wild permaculture but much messier and far less productive. We had the sloping garden landscaped a few years later, and now have a large patio for eating and socializing, a lawned area, and a nice vegetable plot and perennial food garden at the bottom. Here's a picture to give you some insight. This is after a mow with the push mower, just need the edger to tidy things up.

Lawn mowed with my push mower

In case you're wondering, that lovely little fella's name is Jasper!

As you can seen, we're more urban homesteaders these days, but growing plenty of food to eat fresh, and preserve where possible. I've become a big fermenting and preserving geek these days, but that's slightly off topic.

As you can see, the grassed area is quite small. I'd personally have got rid of if altogether and planted it up with more food plantings, but my wife is a little bit of a traditionalist, and likes to have some lawn. Who was I to argue?

We bought an electric rotary mower when we first moved back to England, having had rotary petrol/gas push and self-propelled mowers when we had our acreage, and of course, a ride on mower that cost a lot and took forever to mow the pasture. That was when I learned how to do decent fencing and built paddocks where I could rotate animals. They kept the grass in check nicely.

But, we didn't have room to bring everything back, so an electric Flymo rotary mower was purchased. The Flymo is 'supposed' to hover above the ground, with the spinning blade creating a downdraft. This type of mower has been around for years in one incarnation or another.

We've used it a lot, my wife actually did the bulk of the mowing. I'd see her red faced and sweating in the garden, dragging this 'hover mower' backwards and forwards over the lawn. Even when I took over, at 6' 3" tall and 190 lbs, it was NOT easy work.

The thing definitely did not hover on a bed of air just above the grass. One had to push and pull it backwards and forwards, or use a lot of effort to move it from side to side in a large arc.

Plus.... you had to have a power point to plug the thing in. Luckily we ended up with an outside electrical socket in the end, but spent 2-3 years with extension leads draped over all manner of obstacles, just to get power to the mower.

Here's a couple of pictures of the Flymo lawn mower and my new Bosch AHM 38G manual push reel mower which I bought from Amazon for £56 GBP. In my article on reel mowers versus rotary mowers HERE, I've linked to some popular alternatives if you live in the USA.

I'll be discussing both styles of mower in a video I'll place later in this article, but if you have zero idea of the difference, this article will give you some background knowledge.

Let's a take a quick peek at the two mowers involved in this 'head to head'.

As you can see, the push mower was put away without being washed off, I blame my wife for this. Ideally, a quick rinse with the garden hose will stop grass from drying out and matting on the thing, but I forgive here this time.

As you can see, there is very little to the mower. The large wheels drive the rotating blades which aren't actually sharp. I've seen people filing and grinding away at these thinking they are the things that do the actual cutting.

That's not strictly true, as you'll see in the next but one picture. The rotating blades lift and fan the grass to an upright position, where it is then pressed and squashed against the main cutting blade and sliced off. It's more like a pair of super sharp scissors slicing the grass off.

My Bosch AHM 38G Manual Push Reel Mower

My bosch manual push reel mower

Well used and ready for action. Note: I haven't mown the lawn for 2 weeks....erghhhh!

Cutting System On A Reel Mower

Cutting occurs at the intersection where thee rotating blades meet the fixed single blade. This fixed blade (the green part on my picture) can be kept sharp by adding some grinding paste to the edge of it, and to the edges of the rotating reel blades. This should be done before the season starts and again mid-cutting season.

Apply the paste and push the mower in a concrete or paved area. The grinding compound will keep the blades honed and sharp.

Reel mower cutting blades

The grass is cut where the rotating 'blades' meet the main cutter, just near my finger...ouch!

My 2011 Flymo Electric Rotary Mower

Not too much to say about this one. The electric motor drives the blade and a fan, which you'll see in the next few pictures. When the grass collector box is in place, the fan blows a downdraught onto the grass, which is supposed to agitate the lawn to allow the grass to stand up and be cut by the blade.

The draught blows the grass back up into the grass collector via the hole you can see on the bottom left of this photo below.

The downdraught is also supposed to create a hovercraft like lift  for the mower, allowing it to float across the lawn. I can say with much certainty that this doesn't work too well, and it's actually quite and effort to mow a lawn with this type of mower, especially if you miss a week and the grass gets a little longer.

Of course, the push mower also struggles with long grass, but I have certainly found that it still cuts well, I just need to do a couple more runs over the lawn to get it down to a reasonable length. Not too much hassle, and still nothing like the effort of the rotary mower.

Flymo rotary mower grass collection box

The electric Flymo rotary mower with grass box installed. This fills REALLY quickly.

Keeping rotary mowers clean and free from dried and compacted grass clippings is always a hassle. Unless you are one of those fastidious people who really goes to town on it after every mow, I always find that the underneath of the deck gets clogged up, resulting in the need for a screwdriver to scrape it all out, usually in big chunks.

I've not experienced any such build up with the manual lawn mower, there just don't seem to be the places for grass to collect. Time will tell, but I definitely find the general housekeeping on the manual mower much easier.

The blade on the picture below is around a year old, and it's looking knackered already. We don't have a lawn with stones or twigs to cause damage to the blade, but it just looks tired and in need of replacement. See all the compacted grass on the bottom of the bed?


Electric rotary mower blade

A tired looking mower and blade. This was only replaced last year but isn't looking great.

Finally, a quick look at the drive unit of the electric mower. The motor/fan is atop, just below my finger, the cutting blade is below. To be honest, I've run this for some time without the grass collector. Although the capacity doesn't look to bad, the grass is not compressed in any way into the collection box, and seems to need to be endlessly emptied, even on our small lawn.

The reel mower does come with a grass box that can be fixed onto the back, but I haven't used it. I like the clippings to lay on the lawn and be broken down as fertilizer. Surprisingly, this only takes a few days.

Rotary mower motor shaft and fan

The electric motor drive shaft which operates the blade and a fan.

As you can see, the rotary electric mower has a blade that rotates around a central shaft on the electric motor, which is positioned under the grass collection housing. The only way to change the cut height on this type of mower is to remove the blade via a central bolt, and add or remove a number of spacing shims.

Many rotary mowers that run on wheels (both gas and electric powered mowers) have a simple height adjustment mechanism on the front and/or rear wheels, to lift or lower the deck and blade height. The reel mower I am using has this too, on the roller mechanism. It's simple to operate too.

cut height adjuster on Bosch mower

Simple cutting height adjuster. The brass box would site on the hook to the left of my finger if I was using it.

I tend to not cut my grass too low, preferring to cut more frequently. This was a pain the in a** with the electric mower, but the reel mower takes under 5 minutes to run across this bit of lawn. And it's so light I can lift it with one hand, as can my wife, who always huffed and puffed just to get the electric mower out of the bottom shed. Credit to her though, there are 3 steps up from the bottom terrace where the shed, and our food garden are.

The Results Speak For Themselves

I've always loved a striped lawn, reminds me of the village cricket pitches from when I was a kid. I always thought one needed a fancy mower or a heavy roller to get that effect, but my £50 ($75) mower did this. Yeah, I know, as a homesteader aesthetics should not be my primary focus, but I have to admit I do like the look of it, and my wife does too. Keeping her happy makes me happy too. Learning how to mow a lawn properly, for a professional look is actually quite rewarding.

One can never get this effect with a rotary mower, or at least, I've never been able to, whether it be an electric or gas-powered model.

Striped lawn after mowing with the push mower

The day of the mow. I love the striped effect the reel mower gives with it's integral roller.

My Opinion And Final Conclusion

Even though the rotary mower appears to have a clear advantage over the manual push mower. Electricity, a motor, a relatively modern look with moulded plastic in a vibrant orange color (the Flymo brand colors), at the end of the day, I bought the manual push mower because we have a small lawn, the electric lawnmower was heavy, slow, cut relatively poorly (often squashed the grass rather than cutting it cleanly) and was just a lot of hard work to actually use.

I know this seems totally counter-intuitive, especially in an age where tech and gadgets appear to offer us time and energy saving alternatives to manual work.

But in this case, it just isn't so. The old images in my head of someone struggling like hell to even get the push mower moving in a forward direction and bruising the grass, let alone cutting it, were ill-founded. Sure, there are pros and cons to reel mowers, but I find the positives well outweigh the limitations.

The Bosch reel mower works really, really well. Much better than either myself or my wife expected. It's uncanny!

Now, of course, I totally understand that there is some ongoing maintenance that is needed to keep things working well. But again, the reality is not as complicated or time-consuming as the perception.

A little oil applied to the moving parts ever month or two. Some mower grinding paste applied to the main fixed cutting blade and to the edges of the revolving blade,  a couple of times each season, and you're done. It really is that simple.

You can however, buy a cheap kit that requires you to removed the wheels and using a cranking handle to turn the revolving barrel, after applying the grinding paste. This also involves some adjustment to make the tolerances between blades really tight, to ensure good friction as the grinding occurs. I'll be writing a complete article on how to sharpen a reel mower soon.

And giving the thing a quick wash or brush off every now and then, The grass does tend to stick to any mower like sh*t to a blanket, and this can speed up rusting is you leave the mower with wet grass stuck to it all the time.

But, and this is my final word, if you don't have a massive lawn, and you're happy to run a mower over it quickly and easily a couple of times a week during the growing season, a push mower really is a very viable alternative.

This is gonna sound off, but I used to hate mowing. My wife struggled for the last 4-5 years to do it. Since getting the new mower, I'm out there all the time, I REALLY like using it. I love the sound of the rotary blades whirring and the cleanly gut grass flying out of the top.

It's virtually effortless, fun, exciting! Not words I would have used about mowing grass in the past. Who'd have thought after 49 years on this planet that I would finally enjoy some lawn care?

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