A long winter is a fact of life. But you don't have to hibernate along with your tulips—take advantage of the down-time to tune up your electric lawnmower, so you're set to go when the grass is green and growing. An annual tuneup is not only important to the health and appearance of your grass, it increases the longevity of your mower. "A mower lasts twice as long if you maintain it," says Wesley Gray, owner of Small Appliance Repair Service in Scarborough, Ontario. Gray has been servicing lawnmowers since he first started working, about 30 years ago, at what was then his father's business. "A dull blade, and debris in the motor's air vents, for example, cause unnecessary wear on the motor," he says. Following is his checklist for a do-it-yourself tuneup.
Your lawnmower should be unplugged before you work on it'and the plug is a good place to start your inspection. Make sure the prongs are straight and secure. Prongs can be straightened with pliers; if they're loose replace the plug. Then check the length of your cord for nicks or cuts. (Never use an extension cord longer than 100 feet/30 metres'the motor runs harder and could burn out.) The section of cord that runs from the switchbox on the handle down into the motor frequently gets pinched when mowers are stored. If you have a tear in the wire's casing, wrap the area with electrical tape. (If the inner wires are severed, replace the cord.)
Next, clear out the air-vent slots for the motor. Remove the housing over the motor and brush away any grass or debris; for a more thorough job, use a vacuum cleaner. 'Sometimes you'll see what looks like a bird's nest sitting in there,' Gray says. Without air to cool it, the motor may overheat and burn out. Before you put the housing back on, place three or four drops of 3-in-1 oil in the small opening on the top of the motor.
Electric lawnmowers have two carbon blocks, called brushes, that act as electrical conductors for the motor. The length of the carbon brushes should be longer than their width. "They wear down with use, like pencil leads," Gray says."If they're more short than wide, it's time to replace them." Some slide out quite easily; others require disassembly. Consult your owner's manual for specifics. New brushes are available at lawnmower service shops.
Time to turn the machine on its side to check the blade. If it's bent or cracked, replace it; otherwise, you need to sharpen it. "If the blade is dull, it hacks at the grass instead of slicing it," Gray says, 'and it makes the motor run harder.' First remove the blade — there's usually a nut or bolt that holds it in place. To sharpen, use a hand file or sharpening stone (available at hardware stores) and start with five strokes on each side of the blade, filing from the centre of the blade out to the edge. 'You're not trying to put a knife edge on the blade,' says Gray. "The point is to file down any nicks so there's a straight line across the cutting edge. If you need to file more than one-quarter of the blade's width to do this, it's time to replace the blade." It's a good idea to always have a replacement blade on hand, and you can use it as a guide for sharpening your old one. Take the used one with you to a hardware store or a repair shop so you get the right size.
Before reinstalling the blade, check to see that it's filed the same amount on each side. Place the tip of a screwdriver through the bolt hole in the blade. Hold the blade at eye level. If it tilts to one side, file the leaning edge more, until it doesn't tilt. Reinstall the blade and ensure the bolt is tight. Give the blade a spin with your hand to make sure nothing obstructs its rotation, and also listen for grinding or squeaking noises'this could indicate a problem with the bearings or obstruction in the motor, which means a trip to a repair shop.
The wheels on most lawnmowers are adjustable to control the height of the grass. For the first cut of the season, set at the highest level so you avoid stones and other debris left over from winter that might not be visible. Be sure all four wheels are at the same height, or you'll get a ragged cut.
Make sure all nuts, bolts and screws on the lawnmower are fastened tightly. Working from the top down, check the fasteners holding the switchbox together and to the handle, those securing the handle to the body, any holding the housing down, the grass catcher and those on the wheels. Check all fasteners periodically over the season'the vibration of a lawnmower during use may cause some to come loose.