Buyer’s Guide: Reel Mowers

Lawn mower technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, but there are still many reasons to opt for a manual reel mower. Ahead, read our recommendations for navigating and choosing among the available options—and don't miss our top picks!

A Buyer's Guide to Choosing the Best Reel Mower

Photo: istockphoto.com

Quiet in operation, simple to maintain, and largely affordable, reel mowers are a wonderful option to consider for lawn maintenance. Keep reading to learn what to look for in a quality model and to find out why the below are our top-favorite picks among the best reel mower options available.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower
  2. BEST VALUE: Great States 16-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower
  3. HONORABLE MENTION: Gardena 12-Inch Silent Push Reel Lawn Mower

The Reel Difference

Gas- or electric-powered reel mowers have blades that spin horizontally (parallel to the ground). On a reel mower, the cylinder rotates in a forward motion, trapping each piece of grass between the blades and a cutting bar, resulting in a sharp.

Reel mowers are almost always powered manually. The physical pushing of the mower turns the blade cylinder, which in turn cuts the grass. Because they’re push-powered, reel mowers excel when cutting fine, straight-growing grasses but can bog down in thick, wiry grass. Easy-to-cut varieties include perennial rye, Kentucky bluegrass, and fescue. Thicker grasses include Bermuda, St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Japanese lawn grass.

Reel Mower Pros:

  • Helps grass avoid diseases such as “brown patch,” which can leave your lawn pockmarked with areas of dead grass, and “rust,” signified by
    reddish pustules that form on the grass and can rub off on clothing.
  • Affordable, though price varies based on quality and design.
  • Low maintenance requirements.
  • Relatively compact and lightweight.
  • Free of exhaust and fumes.

Reel Mower Cons:

  • Mowing swaths (the width of a single pass with the mower) are often narrow, which means it can take additional passes to mow the yard.
  • Not designed for mowing areas of particularly thick growth.

Focus on Features

Today’s models feature ergonomic handles, sealed bearings, advanced wheel assemblies, and steel blades with a non-stick coating that make mowing much easier. Consider the following features:

  • Blade cutting height: On some reel mowers, the cutting height is pre-set, often at one and a half to two inches. Other models offer an adjustable cutting heigh. Consider your grass type and its optimal growing height. If yours is a tall variety of grass, opt for a reel mower with an adjustable cutting height.
  • Swath width: Standard swath widths on reel mowers range from 15 inches to 20 inches. While a wider swath width means you won’t have to mow as many passes, it also makes the mower more difficult to push, because more grass means more resistance.
  • Number of blades: Reel mowers feature between four and seven blades. More blades leads to a cleaner cut, but more blades also require more push-power to run the mower. For most lawns, mowers with four to five blades work well.

Our Top Picks

Choosing the Best Reel Mower - Fiskars StaySharp Max

Photo: amazon.com

BEST OVERALL: Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower

The Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower boasts StaySharp blades that reduce the need for re-sharpening. This model also includes InertiaDrive, a design that helps the mower power through thicker grasses. Cutting height is adjustable from one to four inches and there’s a directional chute so you can direct clippings to fall in front of the mower or behind. At 51 pounds, it’s a tad on the heavy side. Fiskars provides a limited three-year warranty.

Choosing the Best Reel Mower - Great States 16-Inch T-Handle

Photo: amazon.com

BEST VALUE: Great States 16-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower

For affordability and mowing ease, the Great States 16-Inch 5-Blade Push Reel Lawn Mower is a worthy option. We love its smooth cutting operation and its cushioned T-handle that makes it easy to maneuver around corners. Further, the Great States mower features five heat-treated alloy blades that resist dulling, mows a 16-inch swath, and offers blade height adjustability from one-half inch to two and a half inches. The mower comes with a one-year limited warranty.

Choosing the Best Reel Mower - Fiskars StaySharp Max

Photo: amazon.com

HONORABLE MENTION: Gardena 12-Inch Silent Push Reel Lawn Mower

The Gardena 12-Inch Silent Push Reel Mower stands out for its nostalgic look, super-quiet operation, and ability to cut grass blades with precision. At just 19.6 pounds, the Gardena is able to be hung on a wall for storage, and its collapsible handle allows for hassle-free portability. Cutting height is adjustable from one to three inches, the five-blade cylinder and cutting bar are made from high-quality ground steel, and the blades are non-stick coated for easy cleaning. The mower comes with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty.