Can You Run Mower Without Blade? – don’t do it!
Many people ask me about starting their mower engine without the blade, so much so, I wrote a post explaining all.
Many small engines are designed specifically for mowers and as such require the extra mass of a moving blade to help rotate the crankshaft on the compression stroke past top dead center (TDC). Starting such an engine without the blade may cause personal injury and damage the engine.
In this post, you’ll learn why most mower engines require a blade to run correctly. If you need video help, check out “Replacing mower blade video”.
Most mower engines won’t start without a blade attached.
Small Engine Types
There are two common engine configurations, the Vertical crankshaft, and the Horizontal crankshaft layout. Vertical and Horizontal crankshaft is self-explanatory. The orientation of the crank will naturally lend itself more suitable to one task over another.
It’s not possible to turn a Horizontal shaft engine vertically and simply call it a Vertical engine. These engines have been designed to operate in their particular configuration. For example, most small engine oil systems are splash lube, it relies on splash paddles hitting a puddle of oil at the base of the engine. You can see the problem here. But the differences go deeper than that, as we’ll see shortly.
Horizontal small engines are designed to suit many applications, unlike vertical engines. The Horizontal engine is more common generally. They are best suited to driving power washers, water pumps, cement mixers, tillers, snowblowers, etc. They are not designed specifically for anyone single purpose and as such will run just as well with or without an attachment on the crankshaft.
Mower engines on the other hand are a little different. They are known as vertical shaft engines. Vertical shaft engines by their layout are perfectly adapted to sitting on top of a mower deck with a blade fastened to the crankshaft underneath.
Most of these types of engines are designed to have a blade fitted, meaning, the mass of the rotating blade is factored into the overall design of the motor. I say most mowers because some manufacturers employ a feature like Toro’s Spin Stop. They use a separate control lever to engage the blade. This feature allows the engine to run without the blade spinning, useful for propelling the mower across graveled areas.
Higher-end Honda mowers also sport this feature. If your mower has this feature then your engine will comfortably run without a blade attached. Likewise, tractor mower engines will run happily without blades attached, since they aren’t designed to have a blade fitted directly to the crankshaft.
Why Does Mower Need Blade To Start
Before explaining why a mower requires a blade, it’s helpful to know a little about the four strokes of an engine cycle. Once understood, the purpose of sufficient mass to rotate the engine becomes clear.
Stroke 1 Induction – As the piston travels down the cylinder the intake valve opens. Gas and air mixture enter the cylinder.
As the piston nears the bottom of the cylinder the intake valve closes.
Stroke 2 Compression – The piston meets resistance as it travels back up the cylinder, all valves are closed. Gas and air mixture is forced towards the combustion chamber at the top of the cylinder by the piston.
(It’s momentum, helped by the mass of rotating crankshaft, flywheel and blade that powers this stroke).
Stroke 3 Power – As the piston passes the very top of the cylinder travel (TDC), the plug fires and the explosion drives the piston downwards towards the bottom of the cylinder.
This of course also drives the blade which cuts the grass.
Stroke 4 Exhaust – This is the last of the four strokes of a complete cycle. The piston begins to travel back up the cylinder and the exhaust valve opens to allow spent gases to exit through the muffler.
As the piston reaches the top of the cylinder, the exhaust valve closes and the whole cycle begins again.
Mower Engine Needs A Rotating Mass
Flywheel Adds Mass
All small engines (vertical and horizontal) require a rotating mass to drive the piston when it’s not under power. This is especially true on the compression stroke, where the piston meets lots of resistance as it squashes the fuel mix into the combustion chamber.
To help the engine achieve sufficient rotational momentum, it employs weight in the form of a crankshaft, flywheel and of course, the blade is factored when the engine is designed for a mower.
If a moving object has sufficient mass (weight), it will carry momentum. Without the required mass rotating at a sufficient speed (mower blade spins at over 200 mph at the tip), the resistance the piston meets on the compression stroke would simply overcome the rotational force on the crankshaft and the engine loses its momentum. Firing the plug now easily causes the engine to reverse track, aka kickback.
Spinning Blade Adds Mass
Running Mower Without Blade Is Dangerous
Attempting to start a mower without a blade is dangerous, the lack of crankshaft momentum causes the engine to kick back. Kickback occurs when you pull the starter cord to start the engine and the cord is snapped from your hand sharply. The cord often whips you as it snaps back and sometimes breaks the pull handle. This can be a painful experience and is more commonly associated with a broken shear-key.
You can read more about a shear-key here.
Running Mower Without Blade Risks Engine Damage
Running the mower engine without the blade risks damaging the crankshaft or shear-key. Blades aren’t universal, a mower engine is designed to run with a specific blade, by specific I mean not only correct length and width but also mass and lift.
As an engine approaches top dead center, and if it isn’t carrying sufficient momentum. As the plug fires, it causes the crankshaft to rotate in the wrong direction, snapping the cord from your hand as it does so. If you need video help, check out “Fitting mower shear-key video”, which covers the complete process from diagnosis to replacing, or check out a post I wrote here “Replacing a shear-key”.
Hey, I’m John, and I’m a Red Seal Qualified Service Technician with over twenty-five years experience.
I’ve worked on all types of mechanical equipment, from cars to grass machinery, and this site is where I share fluff-free hacks, tips, and insider know-how.
And the best part. it’s free!
Definitions : Reel and Rotary
A Reel Mower is a mower in which the blades spin vertically (north to south) and use a scissoring action to cut the blades of grass. A reel mower should have between three and seven blades, depending on the model type.
- Golf courses are most often cut with reel mowers which are pulled by a tractor.
- A Reel mower pushed by people does not cut very high grass as well or as easily.
- However, once the lawn is under control, the scissor-like cut of a reel mower is healthier for the lawn.
A Reel mower snips the grass, cutting each blade like a pair of scissors. It’s a precise, clean cut that makes for a healthier and more attractive lawn.
A Rotary Mower is a mower in which the blade spins horizontally (east to west) and uses a sucking and tearing action to cut the blades of grass. Rotary mowers usually have one blade which rotates very fast. The rotary mower design is simple and adapts very well to small engines. Rotary mowers can cut a wide variety of grass conditions. Rotary mowers are usually powered by gas engines or electric engines.
Over the course of a cutting season, leaving lawn clippings as you mow is equivalent to a free application of fertilizer.
Mulching (“Grasscycling”) means laying a “blanket” of organic matter over the lawn which helps to retain moisture and add nutrients. With the cutting action of a reel mower you can leave reel clippings on the lawn. A reel mower creates a fine spray of clippings that act as a mulch and decompose quickly, releasing nitrogen into the lawn. Over the course of a cutting season, that mulch is equivalent to a free application of fertilizer.
Many states (24 at this writing) and Washington, D.C., have passed laws banning the disposal of yard waste, including grass clippings in landfills. According to the Composting Council, yard trimmings are the second largest component of municipal solid waste (18 percent or 35 million tons).The Professional Lawn Care Association of America is promoting Grasscycling. This term means either composting or mulching the clippings where they are produced.
Earthwise 16″ Bent Reel Mower
165.00 FREE shipping
This reel mower is specifically designed to cut low-growing, creeping grasses.
Earthwise 18″ Quiet Cut Reel Mower
189.00 35 shipping
The Earthwise 18-inch Quiet Cut Reel Mower features a non-contact quiet reel system for quieter and smoother operation.
Scotts 20″ Classic Reel Mower
169.00 30 shipping
This large reel mower cuts as wide as a traditional gas powered mower but without the harm to the environment and loud noise.
Hudson Star Classic Cut Mower Reel Mower
2190.00 FREE shipping
Hudson Star Greensmowers have lower cutting heights than most reel mowers and will mow low enough for a putting green.
Earthwise 20″ Cordless Electric Lawn Mower
139.00 31.99 shipping
The Earthwise 14″ Corded electric mower delivers the performance of a rotary lawn mower without gas, oil or pollution.
PPM has enthusiatically developed an outreach page for gas mower emmissions and related research. Find:
Reel Mower vs. Rotary Mowers
But one of the most unique distinctions between lawn mowers is whether the mower uses reel or rotary blades.
And no I’m not talking about manual push reel mowers. I’m talking about the REAL, gas-powered reel mowers like the one below:
So, which is better rotary or reel? Let’s find out!
Which is better a Rotary or Reel mower?
To determine which mower is better, we have to weigh the differences of each machine. As well as the pros and cons.
First up is the rotary mower:
What is a Rotary Mower?
A rotary mower is your standard everyday lawn mower. It’s likely what you immediately think of when you hear the word “lawn mower”. Rotary mowers use a blade that rotates parallel to the lawn they are cutting.
How do rotary mowers work?
Rotary mowers work by rotating at incredibly high speeds. This high speed creates a lift, forming a vacuum, which causes the grass to be sucked upwards. Meanwhile, the blade rotates quickly around (at about 200mph or 3000 rpm) and slices the grass at the blade height.
This suction along with the quickly spinning blade or blades is what cuts grass efficiently.
The Purpose of Rotary Mowers
Rotary mowers are all-purpose mowers that can cut just about any type of lawn. They are better for cutting grass on uneven ground, or on lawns where sticks and rocks are present. Further, rotary mowers are best for cutting grass at taller grass.
Pros of Reel Mowers: Can cut tall grass easily, and the blades are cheap and easy to sharpen. Are not easily affected by sticks or even rocks. To get your lawn ready for a reel mower, use these yard clean up tips.
Cons of Reel Mowers: Can not cut grass as low as a rotary mower, and does not cut as evenly as a reel mower can. Does not cut grass as cleanly.
What is a REAL reel mower?
Look, I was shocked when I found this one out myself. Reel mowers aren’t just rinky-dink pieces of metal that serve better as a lawn decoration than actually keeping grass cut.
No, there are also commercial grade high-end top-of-the-line reel mowers that offer some unique features that the traditional rotary mower can not. We will get to those features in a moment. But first…
How do reel mowers work?
Unlike a rotary mower which uses 1, 2, or even 3 quickly rotating blades that spin parallel to the ground, a reel mower uses 4, 5, 7 or even 11 blades on a single reel.
Get this, some top-end commercial reel mowers, like the TORO 121″ Reelmaster 7000 Mower, can have as many as 5 reels. With 11 blades on each reel. That’s 55 blades!
I would hate to be the one that has to sharpen the blades on a mower like that!
So, what the heck is so special about these “reel” mowers anyhow?
The Purpose of Reel Mowers
Here’s the deal, a reel mower isn’t for your average homeowner’s lawn. No, these precision-grade machines are for those who want a PERFECT lawn. And I mean perfect.
As far as use on residential properties, about the only people that use a high-end reel mower, are hobbyist homeowners who love perfecting their lawns.
However, when it comes to commercial properties like baseball stadiums, golf courses, soccer fields, and the like. A reel mower offers a far superior cut, with sharper stripes and a tighter cut.
Pros of Reel Mowers: Reel mowers are excellent at cutting grass low and tight to the ground, best of all they can provide a nice even cut on the lawn. They also offer a sharper, cleaner cut on the grass which avoids grass discoloration.
Cons of Reel Mowers: Easily jammed up by sticks and rocks. Further, they can not cut tall grass well either. Sharpening the blades is not a DIY project. The lower cut may lead to a lawn more likely to become brown in the summer heat. Grass needs to be cut more frequently (twice a week or more).
Which is Better Reel or Rotary Mower?
Well, to be honest. Each mower has its place.
Rotary mowers will probably always be the front-runner choice for most lawn care pros and homeowners. Simply put they are more versatile and easier for the average user to operate and troubleshoot.
However, reel mowers do seem to be growing in popularity among homeowners. The thing is while they offer a superior cut, unless you frivolously maintain your lawn, or pay top dollar to have your lawn perfectly manicured by lawn care pros. You will have more issues than it’s worth to operate a reel mower.
Should I invest in a reel mower for my lawn care company?
While in theory, a reel cutting service may appeal to some residential clients, very few are going to want to pay for 2 or 3 cuts a week.
In my experience, the only practical application for reel mowers is for lawn care companies that specifically service large commercial properties that are willing to pay top dollar to have their lawns perfectly manicured.
Or if you are specifically targeting VERY wealthy clients that want a perfectly maintained lawn and are willing to fork out
Reel Mowers are practical for cutting sports fields, and especially golf courses. So unless you have large commercial clients I would not recommend investing in a reel mower for your lawn care business. The bottom line is it’s not the type of equipment you want if you are just getting started.
In the words of one lawn care pro:
Rotary vs. Reel At the End of the Day
While there are certainly some amazing advantages to using a reel mower on certain properties, overall the rotary mower will always be a more practical solution for a lawn care company.
While they can be a fun hobby for your own lawn, the commercial use of a reel mower for a profitable lawn care company is strictly limited to VERY high-end residential clients and commercial clients that want a perfect lawn.
If you are looking for more great lawn care business tips, check out our lawn care pros section.
The Best Hybrid Mowers for Green Gardeners: Electric Reel Mowers
Want to green that lawn care but these cons outweigh the pros of both electric rotary push mowers and reel mowers?
Ivy at Shakyard and one reader named Indie both feel this way. In fact, Indie brought up a great question about it on a recent post about reel mowers.
“We bought a reel mower recently and it won’t cut some of the weeds. Since our “lawn” is almost entirely weeds, this is a problem. Any ideas? We plan to reseed the lawn, probably in the Fall, but in the meantime our lawn looks cruddy.”
Have you ever heard that complaint or, even worse, found yourself in the same boat?
An electric reel mower may be the answer to your green lawn care prayers.
What everyone considering a reel mower should know, is that many reel mowers are not rated to cut tall weeds or thicker varieties of common grasses — like Zoysia, St. Augustine, and Bermuda.
Where regular reel mowers fail is where the electric reel mower powers through.
It seems to me that there are only 2 real options when it comes to buying an electric reel mower, the Sunlawn 2007 EM-2 and the 2008 Brill Accu 38.
08 Brill Razorcut Accu 38
The Brill (pictured above) seems like it’d be the way to go.
- 24V cordless electric motor
- multipurpose 24-volt NiCad PowerAccu battery
- mows up to 2,500 sq. ft. on a full charge (30 minutes), battery gives approximately 500 charging cycles.
- weighs 29 pounds (no need for self-propulsion with the light weight of this cordless electric lawn mower, as it is lighter than even most unpowered reel mower!)
- flame hardened non-contact blade system outlasts any other reel push mower and rarely needs sharpening
- sealed, maintenance free ball bearings
- cordless electric mower operates as standard manual push mower as well
Did you catch that last one? Yeah, if your battery dies the mower is the only electric reel mower that can be used equally well as a regular push mower once the battery juice is used up.
David Temple from PeoplePoweredMachines told me via email that it is not suggested for bermuda grass (but Zoysia and St. Augustine should be fine when used as a POWERED reel mower).
You can purchase the Brill Razorcut Accu 38 from PeoplePoweredMachines (with free shipping). That price does not include the grass catcher.
07 Sunlawn EM-2
Even though the Brill Razorcut Accu 38 seems to be a smidge better of a choice, it doesn’t appear to be by much.
- Weight 35.2 pounds
- Cutting width 16 inches
- Cutting height.4 – 2.25 inches, easily adjustable
- Contact-free blade design for exceptional ease of pushing
- Precision ground, flame hardened, bearing mounted blades
- Expected reel mower blade life without sharpening 7 to 10 years
- Utilizes 2 commonly available 12V 7Ah SLA batteries — which can be purchased at Radio Shack (approximately 300 charges and will power the mower for 75 minutes each)
- 6 hours to full recharge
Wired Magazine reviewed the EM-2 against 3 other electric push mowers last summer and found it to be the best of all 4. Even though it officially cuts up to 2.25” high, their review said it plowed down 4”!
It’s also really important to note that the Sunlawn EM-2 is the ONLY electric reel mower I’ve found that is rated to cut the hardy (and annoying) Bermuda grass.
You can also buy the Sunlawn EM-2 from PeoplePowered Machines (with free shipping) and includes 2 batteries and the grass catcher!
So Which One Is The Best Electric Reel Mower?
The Sunlawn EM-2 has 7 blades, the Brill Razorcut Accu has 5.
The EM-2 can only be used as a powered reel mower, the Razorcut Accu can be used as either powered or manual.
The EM-2 currently comes with 2 batteries and a grass catcher for 379, the Razorcut Accu comes with 1 battery and no grass catcher for 429.
The EM-2 is alleged to have a choking problem — although it is probably being caused by walking too fast, mowing grass that’s too tall, or mowing at too low of a height–nevertheless, here is the video:
If you’ve tried a reel mower without much success, would you consider trying an electric powered reel mower? If you were considering a reel mower for the first time, would you spend a little extra to have the comfort of the extra power from the electric motor?
I think every little step toward living green is an awesome one… but eco-snobbery sucks! My goal is to help newbies learn the most important steps toward living green — individually and collectively. Personally, I strive to have as little impact as possible on Planet Earth while I’m here.
The Best Lawn Mowers of 2023
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases made through the links below may earn us and our publishing partners a commission.
The Honda HRX217VKA is powerful, heavy and ideal for larger lawns. Read
Ego Power LM2135SP
This mower is powerful, comfortable, and a joy to use. It performed extremely well mulching and driving itself uphill. Read
Honda has produced superior power equipment for many years and this mower, which operates with rear-wheel drive, is no exception. Read
Kobalt KM 5080-06
The electric Kobalt KM 5080-06 was flexible and easy to operate, and can run bagged or bagless. Read
The Hart HLPM061US performed well across terrains and has a simple to use speed control. Read
Until just a few short years ago, gas lawn mowers were king. As more consumers are seeking eco-friendly cars, homes, and, yes, power equipment, advanced battery technology answers the call.
Today, consumers can drive an electric car, thrive in a solar-powered home and maintain their property with battery-powered equipment. But are the new electric push lawn mowers as good as the old internal combustion mowers? We decided to find out.
We tested gasoline, electric-corded, and battery-powered lawn mowers from the leading brands. We were eager to see if the battery-powered mowers could handle a large yard as well as the tried-and-true gasoline models. We weren’t disappointed. The Honda HRX217VKA (available at Amazon) came out on top as Best Overall, edging out its predecessor and our previous winner, the Honda HRN216VKA.
For the non-gasoline mowers, the Ego Power LM2135SP (available at Walmart) is our choice for Best Electric Lawn Mower. This mower set-up was quick, and it handled our testing well. The Ego Power also includes features not found on similar electric models.
The Honda HRX217VKA was a pleasure to use.
Quiet and powerful, the Honda HRX217VKA 21-inch NeXite lawn mower is the one to have for larger spaces. It is not designed for small yards, and you won’t be darting in and out of flower beds and shrubbery.
It is a pleasure to use. We had tested Honda mowers before and were familiar with their operation and overall product quality. The HRX217VKA did not disappoint. Easy to assemble and set up right out of the box, it started on the first pull of the cord.
Right away you can feel the heft of this mower with its innovative NeXite deck and powerful motor. It’s heavier than most mowers, but it feels planted on the lawn and tracks perfectly. It’s a mower for large lawns, and it makes the most difficult cuts a breeze.
With its 200cc motor and Select Drive Control, this mower easily cuts, bags and mulches the heaviest grass with ease. The Select Drive Control is almost intuitive as it lets you adjust the walking speed with a variety of settings.
The controls on the mower are large and easy to use. You can set the mower to bag or mulch or anywhere in between. Its user-friendly platform is clearly marked. You will use this lawn mower for years and years to come.
The Ego Power LM2135SP is the best electric lawn mower we’ve tested.
Until a few years ago, those who preferred not to buy an internal combustion mower had little choice. But advanced battery technology has finally arrived and the benefits can readily be seen in the Ego Power LM2135SP, a 21-inch self-propelled electric mower. This cordless mower with a cutting width of 21 inches utilizes a 56-volt lithium ion battery to power through up to 60 minutes of lawn cutting.
The Ego Power is powerful, comfortable, and a joy to use. Even though the battery only lasted about an hour, the mower performed extremely well mulching and driving itself uphill. It has plenty of torque and is capable of doing anything a gasoline-powered mower can do. It is clean, easy to use, and efficient.
The set-up on this mower was the easiest of the bunch. The handle slides and folds across the mower with ease, making storage a snap. Adjusting it to a personal height takes seconds.
A quick 50-minute charge on the battery and you’re ready to go. The battery charger even has a cooling fan that improves charging times and keeps the battery cool.
Like some of our other mowers, the Ego Power has twin blades that improve mulching and keep the trips to empty the rear bag to a minimum. Cutting height is achieved with one easy-to-access lever.
Operation is straightforward, and the composite deck makes the mower light and easy to maneuver around yard obstacles. Simply depress the power button, pull the green handle and the blades begin to spin. Dual buttons on the handle make engaging the self-propel feature safe and comfortable.
The Ego Power comes with LED headlights for convenience, and it was the only mower we tested that could propel itself when the blades were not spinning. This was a nice feature that eliminated pushing the mower back to the garage.
Other Lawn Mowers We Tested
Previously our pick for best lawn mower, the Honda HRN216VKA is a 21-inch self-propelled gas mower that’s a great choice for any yard. Honda has produced superior power equipment for many years, and this mower, which operates with rear-wheel drive, is no exception. It can handle the toughest lawns with ease and won’t take up much room in the garage.
The set-up was easy and the mower started on the first pull. Its smooth engine is quieter than the other gasoline mowers, and it has more than enough power to cut and mulch the grass even while going uphill.
The Honda has a stacked and offset blade design that produces smaller clippings, which allows for better mulching and bagging. This means more efficient cutting and fewer stops to empty the grass bag. The bagging and mulching options can be easily and safely selected, once the mower is off, by using one lever on the mowing deck.
The innovative self-propel system is comfortable on the hands, provides adequate speed control, and can even be adjusted for those who are taller or shorter. Folding the handle for storage can be done quickly. This Honda lawn mower even has a gas shut-off valve for off-season storage.
The Kobalt 80V 21-inch electric mower is a great choice for anyone that wants an affordable, flexible, compact mower that is easy to maneuver and doesn’t require extension cords or gas cans. The mower is strong enough to chop through thick grass, and offers a highly adjustable cutting height.
At 66 pounds it is very easy to operate, with the ability to go bagged or bagless, and you can fold up the push handle for compact storage.
The main draw here is the 80V battery system, which gives you an hour of runtime in our testing, enough to cut about 7,500 square feet on a full charge. It also works in a variety of other Kobalt tools, and spares will run you right around 150. Charging the battery takes around 45 minutes when it’s dead, and it just pops into the battery slot and the mower can turn on with a press of a button if the safety key is inserted—much easier than having to use a traditional pull start.
Overall if you need a nice, basic mower to get the job done and want to go cordless, this is an excellent choice. It cuts clean lines, it’s easy to use, it can handle most lawns with ease, and the light weight makes it much easier to move up and around slopes and hills.
Especially if you’re planning to invest in a range of electric tools, this is a good system to buy into.
This Hart lawnmower was a pleasant surprise.
After removing it from the box and charging the batteries, we fired it up and took it out to the thick, lush grass.
It performed beautifully; its powerful electric motor cut through the lawn with ease and even increased its revolutions when we cut thicker grass. This mower easily handles a larger lawn.
The Hart mower moved with power and confidence through the lawn, and the simple-to-use speed control was right there at your fingertips. While our winning Honda gas mower has a sophisticated Select Drive System, the Hart’s simple slide bar works as well or better.
This excellent lawnmower has the power and convenience of mowers costing much more.
The Toro is a worthy competitor to the top-ranking mowers on this list.
This Toro lawn mower has the largest cutting area at 22 inches, and it is powerful and comfortable to use, thanks to its Personal Pace self-propel system.
To engage the self-propel, simply push the lever forward a bit and the mower begins to move forward, push it a little more and the mower moves faster. After a couple of rows of cutting, you will see how easy it is to regulate speed. This system is not as intuitive as some of the others, but it still works quite well.
Another great feature: The Toro has Briggs and Stratton’s check-don’t-change oil system that never requires an oil change.
Storage is also a snap as the handle folds down and the mower can be stored vertically.
At just 58 pounds, this mower makes cutting small lawns a lot of fun. The rear discharge chute allows you trim close to trees, beds, and shrubbery. I found myself zipping around obstacles using only one hand.
This is a simple machine with one battery in the center. Charging time is quick, and once the battery is in you’re on your way.
This is not a lawn mower for the back 40. With a 20-inch cut and a small electric motor, it is just not capable of handling larger lawns. But for most mid to small yards, this mower can clean up the area in no time.
Light and easy to store, this is the perfect mower to keep a lawn looking great.
The 21-inch Ryobi RY401150 40-volt brushless mower set up quickly and easily right out of the box. It includes double blades and cuts clean and clear.
This mower comes with two batteries that can be installed in the top of the machine. One notable drawback is that only one battery powers the mower at a time—cut your grass for approximately 30 minutes and when the first battery is depleted, you stop and move a switch to engage the second battery. Ryobi says that the batteries will last for 70 minutes, but stopping to change batteries seems counterproductive.
Otherwise, the mower performed well and completed all of the tests. It has a one-lever height adjustment and is light enough to maneuver around obstacles. It has plenty of power and handled the hill with little strain.
While both the Ego Power and Ryobi were solid performers on the electric front, the Ryobi was let down by its self-propel controls. The controls are located under the bar, but the lever is vague and unresponsive. Because the lever is designed for thumbs only, you need to push the lever in an awkward manner to get the mower up to speed.
For a corded mower, the Greenworks 25022 lawn mower performed quite well. The set-up was easy, and once it was plugged in, it started right up.
Of course, before you use the mower there is the time-consuming task of unearthing your extension cord, unraveling it, and finding a suitable outdoor plug. Once plugged in, the mower embraces its purpose with ease.
It has a powerful 12-amp electric motor that may not conquer larger lawns, but is perfect for smaller yards and trimming duties. Not to mention it offers clean and even mowing.
Not being self-propelled, it takes some effort to push the lawn mower and cord uphill and then navigate a path back so as to not cut your cord.
Its small size makes storage a breeze.
The 14-inch Sun Joe MJ401E lawn mower is the easiest to store. Its diminutive size makes it the perfect lawn mower for small yards and trimming duties. It’s light enough to pick up and move, and it comes with an easy-to-use bagging system.
Still, this is not a lawn mower for cutting the typical suburban lawn, as its lightweight, short wheel base and small wheels make it a little unstable over roots and ruts.
Of all of the lawnmowers tested, the Sun Joe provided the most difficulty when it came time to adjust the height of the blades. The mower utilizes solid axles, front and rear, and the axles are located in a three-notch system under the mower. To change the height of the cut, you need to pull the spring-loaded axles from their positions and move them up or down. It’s a challenging exercise.
The Sun Joe is corded, so cutting area is limited. To its credit, it’s powerful enough when running, but the limited scope means you will have a hard time tackling an entire yard.
The Craftsman M220 is one of the more cumbersome mowers we’ve tested. Set up was more involved—to adjust it to my height I had to first kneel on the floor and remove two fasteners from the bottom of the handle and then pull the handle out of the body. Another two fasteners at the base of the handle allowed me to set the handle angle. The better mowers have release buttons and adjusting levers that allow the operator to make these adjustments quickly and safely while standing.
The mower started on the first pull and seemed to have enough power to tackle any lawn. However, the two levers on top of the handle—one to start and one for speed of self-propulsion—are difficult to operate. Both are difficult to grab if your hands are small to medium, and the levers are too far from the handle for comfortable operation. They’re also not intuitively placed; you have to look each time you make a pass.
The biggest disadvantage of this mower is that it is equipped with front-wheel drive. When self-propelled mowers first came out many years ago, a front-drive system was easy for manufacturers to design and implement and the homeowner didn’t have to push dead weight. The design worked for many years because there was nothing else. But over the years rear-drive systems were developed and it produced a more balanced, more comfortable cutting experience.
When cutting a lawn, the operator naturally has some weight on the handle. Add to this the weight of the grass in the bag off the back of the mower and you have a very light front end. Because the weight of the mower is not over the wheels, the front wheels tend to spin and grasp through each pass. This results in uneven lines, a hard to control mower (especially on a bumpy terrain), premature wearing out of the plastic front wheels, and difficulty trying to trim around obstacles. This antiquated front drive system really lets this mower down.
- Controls are cumbersome
- Front Drive System limits control and comfort
- Not nimble around obstacles
How We Tested Lawn Mowers
We spent the summer mowing a half-acre New England lawn, over and over again.
Kevin Kavanaugh is a retired public school teacher and a product tester for Reviewed. Kevin has been cutting lawns for just about 50 years. He has always been intrigued by all things mechanical, be it watches, power equipment, vintage bicycles, or classic cars.
Ray Lane is a retired supermarket store manager, avid golfer, and product tester for Reviewed. His lawn is the envy of Cumberland, Rhode Island, and he has used several push mowers over the years. At 83 years of age, his input on the mowers was critical, specifically when evaluating ease of starting, maneuverability, and safety.
We tested lawn mowers on both flat land and hills to test maneuverability and power.
After ordering from retailers like Lowe’s and The Home Depot, we assembled each mower and took note of the ease of the set up and how quickly we could adjust the handle to our preference. We then added gasoline, a battery, or an electrical cord to get the mower ready. We evaluated at the ease of setting the cutting height, first testing a high cutting height and then a lower one.
We took each mower on a few passes of an uncut half-acre lawn, measuring approximately 22,000 square feet, noting how it cut at a high height and a lower height while we monitored both the bagging and mulching features. Then we took each mower up and down a grassy hill to see how they performed. Our final test was testing storage capability.
What You Should Know About Lawn Mowers
Self-propelled lawn mowers can take some of the effort out of walk-behind mowing.
There are two basic types of walk-behind mowers: push and self-propelled.
The push type of mower is usually smaller, lighter, and easier to store. They are used primarily for smaller, level lawns. They are perfect for cleaning up areas that larger riding lawn mowers may miss. They can be run by gasoline, cords, or battery.
Self-propelled lawn mowers usually have a larger cutting diameter and can move on their own through operator controls. These mowers can also be powered by gasoline, cords, or battery. Since they take the brunt of the pushing away, self-propelled mowers are perfect for larger lawns up to a half-acre, and they can easily handle hills and sloped lawns. These self-propelled mowers aren’t fully robotic lawn mowers so you still have to do some work guiding them around your yard.
What Is A Self-propelled Lawn Mower?
The first self-propelled lawn mowers started to appear in the late-1960s. As suburbia grew and lawns got larger, pushing a heavy steel mower around on a summer afternoon wasn’t what most people wanted to be doing.
The first self-propelled mowers had primitive front-wheel drive systems that worked well enough, but the mowers often moved along too slowly. Sure, you weren’t pushing but you were caught in a slow-moving lawn-cutting procession. Early mowers either moved too slowly or too fast to match a natural walking speed.
Today’s mowers offer a much better propulsion system. The Honda NeXite Variable Speed 4-in-1 Gas Walk Behind Self-propelled Mower with Select Drive Control, for example, allows a variety of walking speed settings. Owners can literally dial in their preferred walking speed so that they become one with the mower, not being pulled and not having to push.
The Ego Power Select Cut 56-Volt Brushless 21-in Self-propelled Cordless Electric Lawn Mower even allows the operator to drive out to the lawn without the blades turning. That is a great feature.
Today’s self-propelled mowers reduce operator fatigue and make cutting the grass easier than years ago. Self-propelled mowers make cutting on hills safer and more efficient. And with modern speed options they make a summertime chore a little more enjoyable.
Gasoline, Corded Electric, or Battery—Which Lawn Mower is Right for You?
Battery-powered lawn mowers can be powerful and efficient.
Gasoline-powered lawnmowers have kept lawns manicured for decades. They are powerful, reliable, and affordable, and come with features such as self-propelled movement, mulching features, and self-cleaning availability. They are powerful enough for large lawn care jobs and can tackle any lawn from a quarter- to half-acre acre. Any lawn bigger than that would necessitate a riding mower.
But gas-powered mowers emit dangerous carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, require yearly maintenance, and require the storage of gasoline and oil. This may not be suitable for some consumers.
Corded electric mowers have been around for years and were historically the choice of consumers who had smaller lawns and didn’t need the more powerful gasoline mower. While powerful enough to get most cutting or trimming jobs done, the one obvious drawback to a corded mower is the electrical cord.
For any yard worthy of mowing, a long electrical extension cord is required to power the mower. This can be a minor annoyance, such as having to keep the cord free from getting tangled in trees and bushes, to a major annoyance when you drive over it and cut it into small pieces.
However, corded electric mowers require no gas, oil, or maintenance and, other than a blade sharpening from time to time, can perform reliably for years.
Battery-powered cars, power equipment, and tools have been around for a long time. The electric motors were strong and reliable enough, but the battery was not. Just a few years ago, an electric car could expect to go only 100 miles on a charge, and power tools and equipment didn’t last long either. In the past few years, battery technology has improved by leaps and bounds.
Electric cars can expect hundreds of miles on a charge and power tools and equipment can last a full day. This lithium battery technology found its way to lawnmowers and it has created a viable option for those consumers who don’t want gas and don’t want a cord. These battery-powered mowers are powerful, efficient, lightweight, and green. Many now use brushless electric motors, which are more efficient, produce more torque, and are longer lasting than the older electric motors with brushes.
How often should I mow my lawn?
Cutting the lawn too often and only cutting it when it gets overgrown are both unhealthy for a lush, beautiful lawn. The rule of thumb in the lawn-care industry is to keep the grass between 3 inches and 3.5 inches in length. This allows the grass to be long enough to thrive in hot, summer weather.
When cutting grass, never take more than a third of the blade at once. In other words, never cut more than an inch or so. Not only does this cause clumping of grass on the lawn or in the mower bag, but it takes too many nutrients and moisture from the grass itself.
After the late winter fertilizer treatments and the often heavy rains, lawns start to come to life. You’ll find that the grass will need cutting every 4 to 5 days in order to remove just enough length. As the summer wanes on and the temperature rises, the grass will grow a bit slower and a once week cutting is adequate.
It is also important to keep the blades of your lawnmower good and sharp. Since the lawnmower blades are often made of steel, they will develop a dull edge after a season of cutting. A dull edge on a blade will tear the grass and not cut it. This may result in browning of the tips of the grass and put more stress on the mower as well.
While you are under the deck checking those blades—and always disconnect the spark plug wire before going under the mower—be sure there is no old clumped up grass clinging to the mower deck.
Meet the testers
Director, Content Development
TJ is the Director of Content Development at Reviewed. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled “Cranberry Capitol of the World,” which is, in fact, a real thing.
Kevin Kavanaugh is a retired public school teacher and a product tester for Reviewed. Kevin has been cutting lawns for just about 50 years. He has always been intrigued by all things mechanical, be it watches, power equipment, vintage bicycles, or classic cars.
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