The Best Reel Mower

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A reel mower is your best option for a small lawn. Not only does it make your lawn look nicer because it cuts the grass rather than tearing it like rotary mowers do, but it is also incredibly easy to use and requires no maintenance except an occasional sharpening and a bit of lubrication to keep it running smoothly.

For this buying guide we’ve curated a list of the best reel mowers for a small lawn, and you’ll find general buying advice at the bottom too. There are plenty of great reel mowers to choose from, so this was a tough decision-making process for us.

Our top picks

We’ve carefully selected the best reel mowers within their respective categories, and evaluated the following factors: Performance, adjustment options, build quality, and ease of use.

RatingModel
Best overallFiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower
Best on a budgetAmerican Lawn Mower Company 1415-16
Best high-capacityScotts Classic 2000-20S Reel Mower

Best overall: Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower

Fiskars Stay Sharp Max Reel Mower
Editor’s choice

Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower

The Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower may seem a bit gimmicky, but we were actually surprised by how good it is.

Pros

  • Very easy to push.
  • Relatively quiet.
  • 18-inch blade width makes for fewer passes than smaller models.
  • Evenly distributes grass clippings across your lawn.

Cons

  • Relatively heavy.
  • Not suitable for hills and uneven ground.
  • Design is a bit clumsy.

We were excited once Fiskars launched their new StaySharp Max Reel Mower. Not only does it look very appealing, but it also functions surprisingly well. All reel mowers have one thing in common: You will get a bit of an exercise, and of course this model is no exception. However, the design makes for a more pleasant experience which has been noted by some of the most trustworthy sources such as Wirecutter and Bob Vila.

Besides being surprisingly easy to use, the StaySharp Max Reel Mower is also efficient with a blade width of 18 inches and features a cutting system that ensures an even distribution of the grass clippings. You could opt for a grass catcher if you want to, but we believe the grass clippings add valuable nutrition to your lawn and reduce the need of synthetic fertilizers.

Unfortunately, the user friendly design also makes the Fiskars reel mower a bit clumsy. It doesn’t maneuver well on hills or across uneven ground, and it doesn’t do well with corners either. With that being said, we still believe it’s one of the best reel mowers the market has to offer.

Best on a budget: American Lawn Mower Company 1415-16

American Lawn Mower Company 1415-16 reel mower
Best value

American Lawn Mower Company 1415-16

This classic reel mower from American Lawn Mower Company is an affordable and light option for a small yard.

Pros

  • 16-inch cutting width.
  • Compact design.
  • Very easy to use.
  • Maneuvers well on small hills.

Cons

  • Only one height setting for the handle.
  • No grass catcher available.
  • Handle grips seem a bit flimsy.

This budget friendly reel mower from the American Lawn Mower Company is all about simplicity. It doesn’t come with a bunch of features, but on the other hand we don’t really miss anything. For a small yard, this reel mower gets the job done. What more could you possibly want from such an affordable reel mower?

We believe that this reel mower is your best option if your lawn is small and you want to get as close to each corner as possible. It doesn’t have a lot of gags and gimmicks to weigh it down, and due to the minimalistic design you can get very close to edges and corners. You may still need a string trimmer if you want your edges and corners to look as nice as possible, but there’s a lot less grass to trim once this reel mower has passed once.

Although we think this is a great choice overall, we do miss a few options. For example, we would’ve appreciated the option to raise or lower the handle, and we would also like the ability to attach a grass catcher. The handle grips, although comfortable, seem a bit flimsy and we don’t think they’ll last as long as the mower itself.

Best high-capacity: Scotts Classic 2000-20S Reel Mower

Scotts Classic Reel Mower

Scotts Classic 2000-20S Reel Mower

The Classic Scotts reel mower has a wide 20-inch cutting path, and leaves your lawn nice and evenly cut.

Pros

  • Large 20-inch cutting width.
  • Nice and durable design.
  • Easily adjustable cutting height.
  • Makes a very clean cut.

Cons

  • Doesn’t do well with uneven terrain.
  • Grass clippings may collect on a small diverter bar behind the blades.
  • Handle bar seems a bit flimsy.

The Scotts Classic 2000-20S Reel Mower is our top pick for a larger lawn. It features a 20-inch cutting width, which is more than most reel mowers, and you need fewer passes to mow your entire lawn.

The design seems nice and durable with one exception: The handle bar seems a bit flimsy, and we are worried that this part might break on us before any of the moving parts.

The reel mower is easy to use and doesn’t require extensive assembly, so you’ll get started in a matter of minutes after receiving the unit.

A few buyers reported that it doesn’t do well with uneven terrain, but we think this is common for most reel mowers. All in all, for a small to medium-sized lawn we believe this is your best option.

Best features to look for in manual reel mowers

A manual reel mower is a relatively simple outdoor tool for small, flat lawns. It’s surprisingly easy to use, and doesn’t require as much maintenance as motorized lawn mowers. For this general buying guide we’re explaining the main criteria that we look for during an evaluation of a specific reel mower model.

1. Performance

When it comes to performance, two things are worth considering:

  • Cutting width
  • Blade count

Normally, the cutting width varies from 16 to 20 inches, and determines how many passes are needed to mow your lawn. A small cutting width simply means more passes, whereas a large cutting width means fewer passes. It’s also worth noting that cutting width also defines the maneuverability – a wide reel mower is perhaps not as easy to use in narrow passages and gardens with a lot of edges and corners.

The blade count defines the number of blades on your reel mower. Most commonly you’ll have 4 or 5 blades, but some reel mowers have up to 7 blades as well. Generally, 5 blades is more than enough for regular users. If you want to cut your grass as low as possible, more blades are needed in order to achieve a proper, uniform cut.

2. Adjustment options

Most reel mowers have a short span between the lowest and highest cutting height adjustment, and they can usually be adjusted in small increments from one inch and up to three inches. They work best on lawns that are kept at a certain height, as tall grass could block the blades and make it difficult to mow the entire lawn properly.

If you want to keep your lawn at a certain height, ensure that the lawn mower you’re buying has the desired cutting height option.

3. Build quality

Reel mowers are under a great amount of stress while used, and it’s important to opt for one that’s properly built. Surprisingly, the weak spot is often the handle, which in some models is notorious for breaking or loosening after only one season.

Upon evaluation of the build quality, we recommend that you look for any weak spots along the joints, and check if bolts and knots are of a proper thickness. The tires could also be of a low quality, so make sure you check if they’re wobbly or seem sturdy enough to function properly.

Finally, we recommend that you take a look at the metal housing and the blades. Is the metal properly coated all over? Are the blades sharp and durable? If so, you’re probably looking at a proper reel mower.

4. Ease of use

Ease of use is important. You’re going to get a bit of an exercise every time you mow your lawn, so it’s important that you consider these factors:

  • Weight
  • Handling
  • Maneuverability

When it comes to weight, your new reel mower shouldn’t be too heavy nor should it be too lightweight. You want a reel mower that has a proper grip and doesn’t slide across your lawn, as it doesn’t function properly if it slides across the lawn. If you want to reduce weight, opt for one with a smaller cutting width.

You want a nice, cushioned handle with a comfortable grip. Opt for a reel mower with a sturdy handle, that you can easily pull and push without issues. It’s definitely a plus if the handle is height adjustable, but this is not always the case with reel mowers.

Most reel mowers have a rather simplistic design, making them easy to turn and maneuver in tight spaces. If maneuverability is of great importance to you, opt for a reel mower with as small a footprint as possible. Don’t go for one with supporting wheels and other features, as it makes the maneuverability difficult in narrow spaces.

Do reel mowers cut better?

Yes, reel mowers cut better. And in contrast to rotary mowers, they do actually cut the grass blades instead of ripping them. This is a very important difference, and one of the reasons why you’ll often see professionals use motorized reel mowers to manage a large turf. For instance, golf courses are carefully managed with a reel mower.

Technically, the blades of a reel mower work exactly like scissors. They rotate vertically and slide against a fixed metal bar, where the blades of grass are then snipped off with a nice, even cut. This results in a dense, healthy lawn, but requires frequent maintenance and a bit of practice to master.

Below we’ll look at some of the pros and cons of reel mowers, in order to determine what makes them better than rotary mowers.

Pros

  • Very easy to use. Once assembled you simply adjust the height that you want to cut your lawn, and you’re ready to go.
  • Doesn’t require any gas, recharging, or power cords. Just push it across your lawn, and the blades will work their magic.
  • No more fumes or noise. Manual reel mowers are generally very quiet, and a pleasure to work with.
  • Safe. You don’t have to worry about debris getting flung off while you’re mowing the lawn, and it stops immediately once you stop pushing it.
  • Satisfying to watch the blades of grass while they’re cut off. Granted, this doesn’t make it better than other mowers, but the way the grass clippings are finely cut and then flung off the blades make it a satisfying sight.
  • You can add a grass catcher if you want. Adding a grass catcher enables you to collect the grass clippings, resulting in a completely green and uniform lawn.
  • Less maintenance. Gone are the days where you’d have to take your mower apart and inspect the motor, blades, and wheels. Simply add a bit of lubricant once in a while, and sharpen the blades when needed (once every few years).
  • Your lawn will look better than ever. It may take a while to achieve this, but a reel mower will result in a dense, uniform lawn with a beautiful, green appearance.

Cons

  • Doesn’t work well if your lawn is wet. If your lawn is wet, the grass clippings will clump together and cause a blockage. You’ll have to wait until the lawn is completely dry, which means no mowing in the mornings or evenings where dew tends to occur.
  • Manual labor is required. Some people like it, some people don’t. The reel mower runs on manual labor, and you’ll have to push it across your lawn regardless of the weather.
  • You must keep to a mowing schedule. Reel mowers don’t do well with tall grass, and you’ll have to stay consistent with your mowing.
  • Uneven lawns are a challenge. Reel mowers are designed to work best on flat lawns, so if your lawn is uneven it may not function properly.
  • Not for large lawns. You’ll spend approximately 15 to 20 minutes per 1,000 square feet of lawn, so you’re looking at a whole afternoon of mowing if your lawn is bigger than a few thousand square feet.
  • Twigs, leaves, and small debris blocks your reel mower. If you have a few trees or bushes in your garden, this could quickly become a problem. You need to keep your lawn clean and free from anything that could cause the blades to stop running.

This video could also be helpful:

Do reel mowers need sharpening?

This is one of the very few disadvantages of reel mowers. They do need sharpening, otherwise the blades become dull and won’t cut through the lawn.

The good news is that you’ll only have to sharpen the blades once every one to eight years, depending on your manufacturer’s recommendations. It’s normally an easy task that requires a cheap sharpening kit with a lapping compound, which will then sharpen the blades upon friction. You’ll have to consult the instructions manual for your reel mower to see how it’s done, but this is the most common sharpening method.

Sharpening the blades is required to maintain a nice, clean cut. Otherwise your reel mower could stop working, or it would start ripping the grass instead of actually cutting it.

Do reel mowers work on tall grass?

Unfortunately, reel mowers won’t work on tall grass. The blades are generally designed to cut through blades of grass and not the stems. Once your grass grows to a certain height, your reel mower can’t cut it.

This means that you’ll have to stick with your schedule, and mow the lawn once or twice every week to maintain a manageable height.

On a positive note, once the grass has been frequently mown for a couple of months, you’ll get a nice and dense lawn that feels soft and uniform.

If you go on a vacation or happen to be unable to mow your lawn for a couple of weeks, there’s probably not much you can do besides renting a rotary mower or calling a professional to mow it for you. After the lawn has been cut back to the desired height, you can continue to use your reel mower and mow the lawn yourself.

Do reel mowers work on hills and uneven ground?

Reel mowers are generally designed for flat lawns. That means no dips, no hills and no uneven spots. The blade relies on the wheels to maintain a proper cutting height, and if one wheel runs into a hole or uneven spot your blade won’t work as intended.

They do work on small hills though, as long as you make sure that the blade is at an even angle with the surface of your lawn.

For uneven ground, we recommend opting for a rotary mower or a string trimmer. String trimmers are generally suitable for very uneven ground, but will only cover small areas. 

Do reel mowers mulch?

Yes, reel mowers distribute fine trimmings evenly over your lawn, and as such it acts like a natural mulch that will slowly decay and enrich the soil underneath. Mulching also helps your soil retain its moisture, which is beneficial during the hot summer months. The layer formed by the mulch will also prevent weeds from establishing in the exposed soil, which in return means less work for you.

Basically, this means that you don’t have to apply any fertilizer and you don’t have to dump the grass clippings in a bin or compost heap. Instead, they’ll become beneficial to your lawn and improve its overall health.