OK folks, and by ”folks” we mean boys. Let’s be honest: how many of you really, truly need a big, stinky, gas-guzzling lawn mower, let alone one of those ride-on numbers? If you live in the city or even in suburbia, most could get by with, nay, benefit from trading in the motorised kind and greening the gardening duties with a good, old-fashioned push or reel mower. The air would be cleaner, the weekends would be quieter, we would be fitter and best of all, your lawn would be healthier and more beautiful, too.
We caught up with expert blade sharpener and mechanical engineer, Andrew Hutchinson of Sharp My Knife. He took a beaten up old specimen and honed it into a lean, green, grass-cutting machine—all the while dispensing good advice.
Gas vs. electric
Hutchinson explained that in gas and electric mowers, the blades spin around, like the blades of a helicopter. In a reel mower, the blades act more like a pair of scissors, with the blades of the scroll spinning over and over, slicing against a stationary blade. Visualise this if you will: enlarged and in slow motion: as the rotating blade of a motorised mower spins around, it knocks the grass over as it cuts, causing tearing or fraying at the top of the grass. A reel mower creates a pinch and slice action as the scroll blade comes into guillotine-like contact with the stationary blade, thus producing a clean cut with no tearing. Keep in mind, these blades are not designed to be as sharp as a knife, so achieving a good, clean cut is partially up to you. Consistent force or the operator’s pushing technique, the proper angle, and proper clearance all come into play.
How the grass benefits
To a blade of grass, a torn end is a dried out end. This is one of the other ways a reel mower is the greener way to go. A lawn cut with a well-maintained reel mower (more from Hutchinson on that in a moment) retains more moisture and requires less watering. Something to consider as municipalities all over North America institute water restrictions. Also, many motorized mowers contain clipping collection features and that too, is a waste of water. Those precious grass clippings contain water and nitrogen and leaving them on the lawn allows the moisture and nutrients to go back to where they came from. This means less dead, dry or brown patches and less fertilizing too. It also means that your healthy lawn, just like a healthy head of hair, will grow faster. So, expect to cut the grass a little more often, but hey, that just means more fitness opportunities, fresh air and sunshine, right?
And then there’s the spectre of disease. A ragged blade of grass is slower to heal and therefore more vulnerable to letting disease in. Keeping grass cleanly cut with a sharp mower creates a nice cut end that heals in record time.