For division of household chores, Fin holds that mowing is "not her job". So, when it comes to trimming grass, we're a very traditional 60's style house – that's the guys job. Not that I mind, I rather like mowing, and… Well, Fin does a lot more around the house than I do. Like tons. Proportionally, I'm but a small blip on the radar when it comes to things moving around here.
Unfortunately, mowing proves to be yet another area where technology and I don't get along. As on many other Saturday's, I pulled out our mostly trusty old gas mower, starting mowing, and…. bzzzttt fart dead. As fate would have it, we discussed reel mowers a few days ago and narrowly talked ourselves out of purchasing a sub-$100 Scotts model. Perhaps the universe heard and zapped some sludge into our push mower's carb.
Since a hardware trip was required anyhow (carb cleaner + oil change + spark plugs), I figured I'd venture off into the truly hardcore green movement. I donned a green shirt, green shorts, and went out to reduce our lawn cutting emissions to 0. When Fin and I purchased the push mower, years ago, we'd talked about working toward "green".
But reel mowers? Nahhh, that's too hardcore. Give up powered mowers? Oh hell no. I'll keep my powered lawn mower and use pig farts if required.
Nowadays? Hell yeah, we're hardcore. I head to Depot, grab the required materials for our gas guzzler and brave the head shaking looks of many, proudly walking our Scotts reel mower out. And yes, someone DID ask, "why are you getting THAT?" Why? I'm hardcore.
Back at home, it's time to discover just how long this experiment will last. As a child, I recall a small reel mower tucked in the back of the garage. I mowed with it a couple times, I don't recall much about it except… it sucked, a lot. Tough to move, and it cut next to nothing. Unpacking, I keep careful track of everything, remembering my childhood experience and doubting my resolve against mowing a yard with human power only.
Scotts does a fairly decent job packaging everything. The box and mower matched nicely with my clothes – green… Just to let you know you're doing the "environmentally correct" thing. The package advertises tool less assembly. No lies. Build time took less than 5 minutes.
Unfortunately, Home Depot hadn't seen fit to put these on display. (After all, who the hell is CRAZY enough to purchase this thing? If they do have some on display, pay careful attention to which models, there are significant differences beyond cutting deck size.) First Impression? Houston, we have a problem. This thing is SMALL. Built for an 8 year old child small. While sturdy, the general appearance doesn't say "screw you combustion engines, I'm a MAN and I can best the powers of industrialization through shear brute strength, Hu-fucking-Rah".
I walk inside and inform Fin that I can't be seen pushing around an 8-year old's toy outside. Still, I must admit it's built well and looks like it could do some damage, and Fin thinks we should get an overall impression and decide if the reel mower experiment is worth continuing or not. Really, what better time to test out the most manual of mowers than in the high heat of a Midwest insta-sweat summer day.
How'd it do? Perspective first: I've used everything from a riding lawn mower, to a fancy electric, to a standard non-self-propelled push mower on our yard. Obviously, we're not talking riding lawn mower ease here. Our yard hasn't been cut in too long, so we've got some high grass and a few nice tall weeds. Our grass is generally a mixture of multiple types, mostly thin bladed.
Overall, this mower was substantially easier to push than our gas guzzler push mower, but not as easy as working with something motorized and self propelled. I was moderately surprised by the cut, a nice even and natural look. I didn't have any trouble with weeds popping up or high patches left uncut. I found the cut exceedingly easy when keeping a slow, steady pace – attempting to speed up or slow down resulted in the blades stopping. Also, you'll need to cut in straight lines -> turns don't work well. However, it's VERY easy to backup, and restart cut paths. I quickly found a natural rhythm forming and managed to cut most of the grass before I stopped to discuss it's abilities with Fin.
Fin broke her no-mowing rule to try cutting a couple paths. Her immediate reaction was positive, though she agreed with me on the rather funny picture of a rather tall guy marching around the yard with mini-mower. Her thought was to take it back and get one with a slightly larger / adjustable handle.
I packed it up and returned it to Home Depot and was pleasantly surprised that they didn't give me any hassle at all on the return. The clerk asked if it hadn't worked for me. I told her it seemed like a great idea, but I needed to find something a bit more adjustable for my height. "Well, I don't know if you noticed this, but you're REALLY tall," she replied back. Heh. Glad to see at least some places still keep a strong view toward customer service.
TL;DR? Let's summarize.
First, for real mowers in general:
- So Green, you'll make Prius owners realize their farts really do stink
- No worry over getting gas, charging batteries, or maintaining engines
- Easier to push than heavier non-self-propelled push mowers
- Leaves a very natural, even, nice cut
- Much quieter than anything gas operated (potentially louder than electric)
- Quiet operation allows for early morning work while its not boiling hot outside
- Materials research is cool -> modern reel mowers use composites that are lighter and more resilient than those of yesteryear
- Significant evidence your yard will look better
- Multiple weird looks from even your "sustainable" friends
- Significantly more work than riding mower, not as easy as a self propelled
- Requires more yard care, need to pickup branches and leaves, instead of mulching over
- Smaller cutting deck means a lot more passes required
- If you're maintaining acreage, this isn't realistic (I'd argue push mowers aren't either though…)
Second, thoughts specific to the Scotts 14":
- Solid construction, very lightweight, but wheel plastic did seem slightly cheap. Handlebar padding didn't stay put well / slid on handlebars.
- Rear discharge means grass gets thrown directly against your legs/feet.
- Cut height isn't easily adjustable and limited to 1 3/4" at the highest.
- Handlebar is very small, larger individuals will feel a bit compressed moving this around.
- It WILL work for taller people, but the handle adjusts up, meaning you'll walk practically on top of it, and get grass blasted against your legs.
- Awesome value for the money, I could see this unit lasting for years with only blade sharpening required.
For what it's worth, I'd recommend the Scotts 14" for cutting smaller areas. Scotts moves to a slightly more open handle design in the 18" series, but the 16" and 14" use a T-style design. If you have wide shoulders or are taller, I would NOT recommend the 14" or 16" for that reason. If you keep a well maintained yard without trees, these mowers are actually easier to use. And that's coming from a rather large fan of gas powered yard tools.
We're doing some research before getting another reel mower, but this time, it'll be less experiment and more tool.