I have an old reel lawn mower that clearly needed some TLC. (Rather than cut my grass, it ripped clumps of it out by the roots!)
When they work, these greener mowers have their appeal. They don’t need gas to run, and they provide their operators with a decent amount of exercise, too.
While you can buy new models, many older reel mowers—including mine—still have a lot of life left in them. You need only put in a little elbow grease to get them running smoothly again.
Then, it’s just a matter of regular maintenance, which is determined by how often and how much area you mow.
I’d never worked on one of these, but mine obviously needed to be cleaned up and oiled, and the blades honed. To find the owner’s manual, I entered the brand and model number online. From there, I followed the instructions for sharpening the cutting blades.
It’s worth noting that there’s more than one way to hone a reel mower’s blades. One involves using either a power drill or a specially designed hand crank to run the reel backwards. (The hand cranks are usually sold with grinding compound and applicator brushes via reel mower sharpening kits that cost between $20 and $40.)
Although this method is said to be easier and less time-consuming, I wanted to go “by the book” for my first try, so that’s what you see in this video.
Step by Step
I’d need a flathead screwdriver, a $4.69 tube of valve grinding compound from my local auto parts store and some old rags.
First, I removed both tires, along with the left and right drive gears. Next, I removed the small metal pawls from inside the right and left reel shafts. Then I reoriented the direction of the pawls and switched the positions of the left and right drive gears. (This enables the mower’s blades to run in the opposite direction when the mower is pushed.)
Finally, I slathered grinding compound along the edge of each of the cutting blades and pushed the reel mower up and down my street. As the grit-covered blades made contact with the mower’s stationery bar, they became more honed.
To finish, I wiped off the excess grinding compound, removed both wheels, repositioned the pawls and drive gears as I’d originally found them, and replaced the wheels again. And now? My reel lawn mower is much easier to push and it actually works like it’s supposed to.