Reel Mowers: The Benefits of Low-Tech Lawncare

As a soon-to-be first-time homeowner, my thoughts are now turning from viewing homes and signing contracts to the bliss of actually living in a new place that I can call my own.

Naturally, the privilege of ownership comes with certain responsibilities, and one of the most exciting empowering necessary of these is tending to your new lawn. But unless (unlike me) you’re blessed with enough wealth to keep a landscaping team on retainer, you’re probably going to end up mowing your lawn yourself. A lot.

Maintaining a lawn doesn’t have to be a miserable affair, though; I’ve mowed lots of lawns in my day, and even now I don’t anticipate it with dread or malice in my heart. Nevertheless, your experiences may go vastly different from mine if you use the wrong tools.

Today I’m going to share the fruits of my recent research into the world of reel mowers. I’m still narrowing down the field of possible candidates, but right now my heart is leading me in a decidedly low-tech direction.

What’s a reel mower?

Reel mowers, also sometimes referred to as “push reel mowers” or “manual mowers” look like a blast from the past, and that’s because they are. Unlike their gas- or electric-powered modern brethren, reel mowers use simple physics and a little bit of muscle to get the job done.

You may be familiar with self-powered mowers, which can be cumbersome, loud, and difficult to operate—not to mention expensive, when you consider the cost of gasoline and maintenance over your years of owning the thing.

Reel mowers, by comparison, are safer, more agile, less expensive to maintain, and can actually result in a healthier lawn, since they make a cleaner cut. For the rest of the benefits, read on.

Cheaper and easier to maintain

Gas engines, no matter how much we dress them up, are still gas engines. They have a lot of moving and easily damaged parts. As a result, they demand a lot of maintenance and general upkeep.

Now. As a point of reference, count the moving parts on a reel mower. Take your time. What you’re probably not seeing is a gas tank, spark plugs, starter cords, or a dozen other small, delicate, or simply annoying parts that will need to be replaced at some point. It’s just a metal frame, a handle, and a couple spinning blades powered by the awesome power of physics (and the human body).

In addition, then, to their already low cost of entry (the most expensive models are around $200, but many others are around the $100 mark), the long-term cost of owning a reel mower is negligible. You’ll never have to replace a mechanical part, and you’ll never have to bring it to a shop for service. The blades will dull over time as any lawnmower blade will, but some of the higher-quality models boast of blades that take a full decade to dull.

A better workout

No two ways about it: reel mowers are a great workout. Modern powered mowers have all kinds of technology onboard to make them easier to push, but they’re still really heavy machines—heavy enough that many of us still feel like we’ve just run a marathon every time we finish our lawncare for the week.

Reel mowers, on the other hand, are much lighter (some of the more advanced models weigh in around 50 pounds), but they’re thoughtfully constructed to be easy to push. Not so easy that your calorie burn will drop to zero, mind you, but they still offer an excellent workout that won’t leave you completely drained afterward.

Safety and peace of mind

I think we all know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who has a lawnmower horror story. It’s all-too-easy to run over a rock and send it through someone’s window at 200 miles per hour. It’s even easier to get our feet in the way of the spinning blades while navigating tight quarters or hills.

Most, if not all, of these dangers are greatly reduced or eliminated with reel mowers. The blades stop moving when you do, and you’d have to be really moving with a purpose to actually do damage to somebody’s errant limb.

No; the truth is that reel mowers are the better choice for people of all ages—whether you’re introducing your son or daughter to the idea of indentured servitude for the first time or you’re just “getting too old for this schtick,” your body (and possibly your neighbors’ windows) will thank you for going low-tech.

Other considerations

To finish up, let’s talk about some of the other factors that can influence your decision to go high- or low-tech for lawncare. The first is lawn size. If your property is on the larger side—some people say a half-acre is the cutoff—you may be better off investing in a powered push mower.

Another factor is that there’s no way for you to bag your clippings as you go. Some reel mowers offer attachable bags like powered mowers do, but customer reviews of these bags range from middling to lousy. But here’s something to consider: leaving your clippings behind is actually good for your lawn. They serve as free fertilizer, so why not leave it behind? Bagging is only usually necessary if you find you’ve let your lawn go for too long. Otherwise, feel free to let them fall where they may.

Finally, consider the terrain you’re working with. Some of the steeper hills out there, or yards that are excessively bumping, are not especially conducive to reel mowers. Take some time to walk your property and get a feel for the terrain and any barriers that may get in the  way.


I’m all for technological progress, but every once in a while we come across an idea that technology really can’t do much to improve upon. Reel mowers are one of those ideas.


Image Credit: Marilyn Cole (via Creative Commons license)


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