The Best Reel Mower for Your (Small) Lawn

The best reel lawn mower for people who want to mow the old-fashioned way is the Scotts Great States 2000-20S 20-Inch Classic Reel Mower, which costs about $130. We researched and tested reel mowers for more than 20 hours, talked to a professor with a Ph.D. in turfgrass science, and went to a golf course to test our top contenders with the help of the grounds crew. The Scotts mower has a good range of mowing height, is easy to adjust, mows a wide swath of grass with each pass, and gives the cleanest cut for the healthiest grass. It easily handled taller grass and cut the grass more thoroughly with each pass of the mower compared to the competition, and it’s light and easy to maneuver. What’s more, it was the only mower that didn’t jam at all during testing.

Last Updated: January 21, 2015
No new reel mowers that meet our criteria have launched yet in 2015. We've checked the major retailers—Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe's, Sears—and these manufacturers: Scotts, Fiskars, Lee Valley, Great States, Husqvarna, Brill, Mascot, Gardena, Blue Hawk, Remington, Weed Eater, Greenworks, Pro Mow, Earthwise, Helix EcoMower, Task Force, Snow Joe, Gilmour, Steele, and American Lawn Mower.
Expand Most Recent Updates
June 30, 2014: Added the Helix EcoMower to the competition section and noted that bahiagrass, like Bermuda, Centipedegrass, St. Augustine, and Zoysia, will give a reel mower a hard time.

Scotts 2000-20 20-Inch Classic Push Reel Lawn Mower
The Scotts Great States 2000-20S reel mower is the best we’ve found, and it’s only $130. It has a comfortable mowing height range, is easy to adjust, and gives the cleanest cut of all those we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $125.

We tested mowers with the grounds crew of a golf course, a bunch of guys who are really serious about mowing. After picking up cut blades to carefully examine how cleanly the mowers cut, bending down to compare the color of the turf after each mower made a pass, and pushing all the mowers around on various lengths of grass, all of the testers said they’d choose the Scotts over the other top contenders. Then I tested the top two mowers by mowing my own lawn with them, and I found the Scotts easy to push while giving a good, consistent mow.

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $199.

Fiskars StaySharp Max
If our main pick is sold out, the $200 Fiskars 18 Inch StaySharp Max Reel Mower is another good choice. It’s smooth and easy to push, but it’s also bulkier than our pick (making it harder to turn around) and more expensive. It does cut grass higher than any other reel mower we tested, though.
If our main pick is sold out or becomes unavailable, we also really like the $200 Fiskars 18 Inch StaySharp Max Reel Mower (6201). It has an innovative design that throws grass forward and raises up to a 4-inch cutting height (higher than any other reel mower). In practice, it didn’t handle tall grass quite as well as the Scotts. And while it was smooth and easy to push, it’s heavier and bulkier, making it more of a chore to turn around. It was a very close decision; both mowers are well-made and do a good job of cutting grass at a wide range of heights. It came down to less-obvious usability factors and overall consistency of cutting—and the fact that the Scotts costs $85 less than the Fiskars.

(If you’re looking for a review of non-reel mowers, stay tuned for next week.)

Table of Contents

Who should get a reel mower? | How we picked and tested | Our pick | Flaws but not dealbreakers | Runner-up | Care and maintenance | Competition | The final cut

Who should get a reel mower?

A reel mower is hand-pushed and not motorized in any way,1 which means it’s not for the even remotely lazy, especially if you have a large lawn. But if you’re really concerned about the health of your lawn or the overall health of the environment, or if you really want to combine a good workout with your lawn care, reel mowers offer some significant benefits.

Compared to gas-powered rotary mowers, reel mowers require minimal maintenance aside from lubricating and occasionally sharpening the blades. With proper use (that is, not running your mower over stones, large sticks, or into curbs), the blades should only need sharpening once every few years. American Lawnmower sells a sharpening kit, or you probably have a blade sharpening service near you that will do it. The blades of a reel mower can slip out of proper adjustment, but this can be fixed by turning a couple of set screws. Reel mowers sidestep all the mess and cost of fuel and oil, not to mention the pollution of the typical inefficient four-stroke lawnmower engine. Gas-powered mowers are also very loud. Many users of reel mowers cite the gentle snipping sound they make as a key benefit.

Compared to electric mowers, a reel mower doesn’t have an inconvenient cord to deal with, or in the case of rechargeable electric mowers, the weight of batteries and the limited mowing time on a single charge. (It’s worth noting that when I abandoned my reel mower several years ago, I got a corded electric mower, and I don’t have any issues dealing with the cord. I suspect you wouldn’t either.)

Reel mowers are also better for the health of the lawn.
Reel mowers are also better for the health of the lawn. The blades “snip” the grass blades like scissors, while rotary mowers shred grass blades (unless the mower blades are kept very sharp). This shredded grass can be discolored and susceptible to disease. Turf professionals at golf courses and baseball stadiums tend to use reel mowers (albeit in large arrays of five or seven mowers pushed by a tractor and powered by hydraulics) for this reason.

I asked Dr. Jason Kruse, assistant professor of turfgrass science at the University of Florida, about the benefits of a reel mower versus a rotary mower. “The scissor-cutting action of the reel mowers results in less damage to the leaf tissue which in turn puts the plants under less stress,” he told me. “They lose less water, are less susceptible to disease, and generally look better when cut with a reel mower.”

The rougher right end of this blade of grass was cut by a gas-powered rotary mower whereas the smoother left end was cut by a reel mower.

The rougher right end of this blade of grass was cut by a gas-powered rotary mower whereas the smoother left end was cut by a reel mower.

The crew at Diamond Hawk Golf Course in Cheektowaga, NY, showed me the difference. Pictured is a blade of grass that had been previously cut with a gas-powered rotary mower, then later cut with one of our reel mowers during testing. The difference in cut quality is obvious—the rotary mower left a crooked, jagged edge, while the reel mower made a clean snip.

That said, while reel mowers offer some unique advantages over gas-powered lawn mowers, in the wrong yard they can be very frustrating. Let’s talk about who should not get a reel mower.

First, anyone with more than a quarter of an acre (roughly 10,000 square feet) is going to find weekly mowing with a reel mower exhausting. Frankly, even a quarter acre seems a bit ambitious, especially in the spring when the grass grows an inch a day.

How much lawn is too much lawn for a reel mower will vary depending on your personal fitness level, type of grass, and how long you let it grow before mowing.
For instance, my lawn is roughly 5,000 square feet, and I found mowing it every four days in the spring tiresome, though in mid-summer, using the reel mower was more bearable since I could mow once a week or so. How much lawn is too much lawn for a reel mower will vary depending on your personal fitness level, type of grass, and how long you let it grow before mowing. But if you ask us, anything more than 10,000 square feet definitely calls for a powered mower. Go gas or electric.

This brings us to the next type of person who should never buy a reel mower: people who like to let the grass go for a while before mowing. Reel mowers are terrible with tall grass. Mostly they just push it down and roll over it, and the grass springs right back up behind the mower. I used to use a reel mower, but I’m not all that dedicated to a pristine lawn. After the third time I had to borrow my dad’s gas mower because I’d let the grass get too long for the reel, I gave up and bought a rotary mower.

If you live in the South and have tougher or taller-growing varieties of grass, or “bentgrass” varieties that flop over and lie close to the ground, reel mowers are going to have a tough time cutting your grass. Bermuda, Centipedegrass, St. Augustine, and Zoysia are all grasses that are tough for reel mowers to handle, and bahiagrass can be a real problem as well.

The last type of person who should avoid reel mowers is someone with a sloped or bumpy lawn. The torque that turns the blades of a reel mowers comes from the wheels as you push them along the ground. On uneven ground, the wheels will lose contact with the ground as they bounce or as the weight shifts on a slope. This means the blades will spin inconsistently, so you’ll leave a lot of uncut grass in your wake. While we’re talking about imperfect lawns, if your lawn tends to have a lot of debris, like sticks or chunks of mulch, that debris is going to stop a reel mower cold. A rotary mower just chews that stuff up, but a reel mower doesn’t work that way. Any debris will get caught in the blades.

How we picked and tested

From front to back, the Fiskars StaySharp Max, Lee Valley 20”, Great States 16”, and Scotts Great States 20”.

From front to back, the Fiskars StaySharp Max, Lee Valley 20”, Great States 16”, and Scotts Great States 20”.

To figure out how to pick the best reel mower, we tried to find professionals who use them every day. Unfortunately, there really aren’t any. Landscaping crews, even ones that specialize in green tools, don’t use reel mowers because they often have to mow huge areas and it would take far too long (they use electric mowers instead). Grounds crews at baseball stadiums and golf courses use reel mowers, but their pro-grade mowers are very different from the ones you’d use to mow your front lawn. Professional reel mowers are large, linked together in “gangs” that are pulled by a tractor, and the blades are driven by hydraulics.

While grounds crews couldn’t recommend a specific homeowner-grade reel mower, we learned a lot about mowers and turf health from them. I talked to Scott Dunbar, superintendent of Diamond Hawk Golf Course in Cheektowaga, NY. He explained that reel mowers can cut much closer to the ground than rotary mowers. At the golf course, reel mowers cut greens and approaches, while gas-powered rotary mowers are used for the rough. But the average homeowner isn’t cutting his or her lawn for use as a putting green. In fact, cutting your lawn too low is terrible for its health. Turf experts suggest never cutting more than a third of the length, and cutting too close to the ground can cause the grass to dry out and become scorched in the summer. This means that minimum cutting height isn’t really a useful measurement, since you’re unlikely to use that setting.

Maximum cutting height, however, turns out to be very important. You want to be able to cut the grass high enough to keep it healthy. Very few reel mowers are able to get above 2.5 inches. We used this as our primary factor in eliminating mowers from contention. If a mower can’t mow high enough to avoid damaging your lawn, it’s no good. I asked Dr. Kruse if maximum cut height was the correct factor to focus on, and he adamantly agreed. “Yes—this is one of the primary complaints I have against the majority of reel mowers that are marketed for home use. Most push-type reel mowers are limited in the range of heights of cuts that they can achieve. This is an important consideration for homeowners as most residential grasses (both cool- and warm-season) have recommended heights of cut that are at the upper limit or even exceed the height of cut that is possible with some of the mowers. While it would be possible to use the mower, the long-term health of the turf could suffer significantly.”

We eliminated about 90 percent of mowers based on insufficient maximum cut height alone.
We eliminated about 90 percent of mowers based on insufficient maximum cut height alone. Once we’d narrowed our choices to the handful of mowers with a maximum cut height of 3 inches or higher, we started looking at other factors. How easy is the mower to adjust? How hard is it to push? How wide is it? How much does it weigh? The list was whittled to the top four by looking at which ones got positive reviews from other publications, like Consumer Reports and Popular Mechanics, and which had the most robust user reviews. The final four: the Lee Valley 20”, Fiskars StaySharp Max, Scotts 2000-20S 20-Inch Classic Push Reel Lawn Mower, and the Great States 415-16 16-Inch Standard Full Feature Push Reel Mower.

At that point, we took our final four mowers to the golf course. There, the grounds crew helped us adjust the blades to the exact same standard they use on their mowers, so that they are able to cleanly slice a piece of paper. Over the next three hours, we pushed all four mowers back and forth on a variety of different height grasses. On hand were course superintendent Dunbar, a member of the grounds crew, a mechanic who maintains the course equipment, and an equipment salesman who happened to be at the course that day. These guys are all turfgrass experts who deal with grass and mowing equipment every day. They really took to the task of comparing these mowers, examining every aspect closely and answering all my questions about turf and cut quality.

We mowed recently cut grass that was already quite low. We mowed tall weedy grass. We mowed everything in between. It was initially quite difficult to choose between the Scotts (made by the American Lawnmower Company and usually marketed under the Scotts Great States name) and the Fiskars (made by the Finnish company known for their orange-handled bladed tools), as they both did an excellent job cutting grass.After a great deal of back and forth, Dunbar and I, along with the rest of the grounds crew, unanimously agreed on a pick.

Our pick

Scotts 2000-20 20-Inch Classic Push Reel Lawn Mower
The Scotts Great States 2000-20S reel mower is the best we’ve found, and it’s only $130. It has a comfortable mowing height range, is easy to adjust, and gives the cleanest cut of all those we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $125.

The $130 Scotts Great States 2000-20S 20-Inch Classic is the reel mower to get. When our lawn experts and I were going back and forth and mowing a bunch of stuff, we noticed that the Scotts would leave a swath of totally cut grass, whereas the Fiskars would leave a bunch of blades sticking up like chimneys after a house fire. You’d have to back up and go over it again to get them all cut. The Fiskars, with its chain drive and single-handle height adjustment, is a bit fancier, but that’s not really what you want in such a simple machine. The Scotts is light, reliable, and didn’t jam once throughout all our testing in multiple locations and conditions, and that’s why it’s the best.

The Scotts in action.

The Scotts in action.

Testers felt the Scotts gave the cleanest cut, leaving each blade of grass snipped evenly across with no ragged edges. Its 20-inch width was much appreciated, allowing more grass to be mowed with each pass. While it wasn’t quite as easy to push as the Fiskars, it wasn’t at all difficult to push, and unlike the Fiskars, it never choked on grass, even at minimum cutting height.

The Scotts’ mow height is adjusted with this simple lever. There are two levers, one for each side of the mower.

The Scotts’ mow height is adjusted with this simple lever. There are two levers, one for each side of the mower.

The Scotts was also easy to adjust: It has two levers, one for each wheel, to set cut height. Adjusting the blades for proper cutting was also easy, on par with the other mowers. It was very easy to assemble, requiring no tools—the bolts that attach the handle have large plastic wing nuts, making it simple to tighten by hand. It was even easy to disassemble, so if you ever needed to take your mower apart so it would fit into a small space, like your car trunk or a small storage area, it’s not much of a hassle. You might need pliers to remove the small C-clips that attach the handle to the body of the mower for disassembly. The handle has an ergonomic curve that testers appreciated (a featured shared by the Fiskars).

scotts_candidAlthough it wasn’t a major factor in our decision, testers liked the way the Scotts looked better than the other mowers (some were put off by the Fiskars’ oddball form).

To get a better idea of how these mowers handle in day-to-day use, I mowed my lawn with them.
While the input from our pro turf guys was impressive,  I was worried I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, that I was too caught up in the cool technical turf stuff the golf crew was telling me and missing the big picture. To get a better idea of how these mowers handle in day-to-day use, I mowed my lawn with them. This really confirmed the Scotts as the pick. The weight and bulk of the Fiskars was a big issue because it was a huge pain to turn at the end of each length of the yard. And I found it less easy to push than the Scotts, even after I readjusted the blades.

fiskars_scott_comparisonYou can see from the above photo that both mowers cut the lawn quite nicely. It’s really impossible to tell the difference between the two areas of lawn. One thing that’s interesting is that the Scotts was cutting at its lowest setting here, 1 inch. When I set the Fiskars to 1 inch, it was actually cutting much lower, practically scalping the lawn, and was nearly impossible to push. I had to set the Fiskars a bit higher to properly mow.

grass_measurementAs I mentioned before, I’m not lawn obsessed. I tend to let it go a while between mowings. The above photo is not the tallest my grass has ever been, but it’s pretty tall. Both the Fiskars and Scotts mowed it without difficulty. At their highest settings (3 inches for the Scotts, 4 inches for Fiskars), they were barely trimming off the top of this grass. So you’ve got plenty of cushion if you prefer a less manicured look for your lawn, and the Fiskars’ extra inch is probably superfluous.

The Scotts is covered by a two-year warranty, and user reviews suggest American Lawnmower issues free replacement parts any time there’s a problem.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Consumer Reports didn’t rank reel mowers—they seem to think they’re a poor choice compared to powered mowers—but among the handful of reel mowers they’ve rated, the Scotts gave the best cut. They felt it was hardest to push, however. It has a solid, if unexceptional, 3.8 out of five stars from more than 900 Amazon user reviews. Most of the complaints about it center on the aluminum handle breaking or a plastic gear in the mechanism stripping out.

Some user reviews complained that the plastic gear could strip out, but a metal gear would damage the plastic wheel. Besides, should anything break, it’s a quick 10-minute fix.

Some user reviews complained that the plastic gear could strip out, but a metal gear would damage the plastic wheel. Besides, should anything break, it’s a quick 10-minute fix.

To get to the bottom of this, I took the wheel off of the Scotts mower to take a look at this plastic gear. As you can see, it’s a pretty robust gear with deep teeth, and it interfaces with the teeth on the inside of the plastic wheel. The wheels turn as you push, and those teeth turn the plastic gear that rotates the blades.

A close reading of the user complaints suggests that users who were using the Scotts on tall or tough Southern grass had the most problems (which we discussed earlier). It’s an issue to be aware of, but under proper use, the gear shouldn’t be a problem. And if it is, it’s a 10-minute repair job to replace it. While it would be nice if both the wheel and the gear were made of metal, that would likely add a lot of money to the price tag and weight to the mower.


Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $199.

Fiskars StaySharp Max
If our main pick is sold out, the $200 Fiskars 18 Inch StaySharp Max Reel Mower is another good choice. It’s smooth and easy to push, but it’s also bulkier than our pick (making it harder to turn around) and more expensive. It does cut grass higher than any other reel mower we tested, though.
If you can’t get the Scotts for whatever reason, we’d recommend the Fiskars 18 Inch StaySharp Max Reel Mower for $200. As previously mentioned, it’s not quite as consistent at cutting as the Scotts and it’s a bit heavier, but it was almost as good. What’s more, the heavier weight actually makes it roll more smoothly once you get it going, and a unique design that pushes clippings forward instead of backwards keeps your shoes clean as you mow. Ultimately, we preferred the consistency and lower price of the Scotts, but you won’t be disappointed with the Fiskars either.

…it sometimes choked on the grass and required several pushes to get rolling again when set at lower grass heights.
Testers described the Fiskars as having a “smooth rolling push,” and “easiest to push.” Consumer Reports rated it as being easiest to push as well. In our tests, however, it sometimes choked on the grass and required several pushes to get rolling again when set at lower grass heights. While the Fiskars uniquely throws the grass clippings forward instead of out the back, testers were mostly unimpressed with this feature. It worked as intended, keeping the grass from falling into your shoes, but no one seemed to think it was that important. The Fiskars also has a more complicated mechanism than other reel mowers, using a chain drive to connect the turning of the wheels to the blades. The Fiskars’ height can be adjusted with a single lever and can adjust between 1 inch and 4 inches, the largest range of any mower we looked at.

The Fiskars only needs one height adjustment lever for both wheels.

The Fiskars only needs one height adjustment lever for both wheels.

Fiskars’ marketing suggests their StaySharp system prevents the blades from ever touching, so they’ll never need sharpening. However, they work just like the blades of other reel mowers—the difference is that the instruction manual directs users to adjust the blades so that they don’t quite touch the bed knife. Other reel mowers can be adjusted this way as well, and the golf course crew told me it’s a matter of preference. The blades will still be dulled eventually by cutting grass or hitting branches and other obstacles.

The Fiskars in action —you can see it throwing grass forward.

The Fiskars in action—you can see it throwing grass forward.

In the photo below you can see where the Scotts’ blade just touches the bed knife.

scotts_bladeIn the next photo you can see the Fiskars’ blade not quite touching the bed knife. The difference is a matter of adjustment.

fiskars_bladeCare and maintenance

One of the advantages of a reel mower is that it doesn’t require much maintenance. After each mow, hose off stray grass and grime and let it dry in the sun.

It’s not a bad idea to wipe down the blades with a rag moistened with household oil once a season to prevent rust.

Even with proper adjustment, the blades will need sharpening after a few seasons.
You also have to pay attention to the blade adjustment, because it can shift over time. With most reel mowers, the spinning blades pass over a stationary bed knife, which is where the cutting happens. If the blades are too far from the bed knife, they won’t cut any grass. If they move too close, they’ll hit the bed knife harder, making the mower difficult to push and rapidly dulling the blades. It’s an easy adjustment, usually involving a couple of set screws. Even with proper adjustment, the blades will need sharpening after a few seasons.


From left to right, the Scotts Great States 20”, Great States 16”, Lee Valley 20”, and Fiskars StaySharp Max.

From left to right, the Scotts Great States 20”, Great States 16”, Lee Valley 20”, and Fiskars StaySharp Max.

The Great States 16” is the only mower that requires unbolting to adjust the mowing height—all the others can be adjusted with levers. It’s also the narrowest mower, so you’d need more passes to mow your entire lawn. It was such a pain to adjust that our golf crew testers hated it before they mowed a single blade of grass with it.

The Lee Valley mower was difficult to push, and the grounds crew felt it provided the poorest quality cut. Worse, it had a tendency to bounce when it encountered even slightly rough terrain, causing inconsistent cutting. While rough ground is a challenge for any reel mower, the Lee Valley bounced all over the place. Popular Mechanics favored it, although they noted it was hard work to mow with and not suited for large lawns.

Husqvarna’s reel mowers only come in a narrow 16-inch size, and while they’ll cut your lawn very short (down to 1/2 inch), their maximum cutting height is far too low. This is the primary problem with several mowers, including models by Brill, Mascot, and Gardena, as well as other models from Scotts and Lee Valley. The Task Force 16”, Blue Hawk 16”, Remington RM3000, Weed Eater 16”, Greenworks 18” and 20”, and Pro Mow 18” all failed to meet our minimum 3-inch max cut height. We didn’t bother testing any of these mowers, since they couldn’t cut high enough to avoid potentially damaging your lawn.

Fiskars makes several variants of the StaySharp Max that are essentially smaller, downgraded versions. We tested their top reel mower, assuming the others will have comparable or worse performance—in fact, none of them can reach the Max’s 4-inch max cut height.

Only one mower met our 3-inch minimum but didn’t make the top four. The Earthwise 18” reel mower only had a handful of user reviews and wasn’t mentioned by Consumer Reports or Popular Mechanics.

The Helix EcoMower  has a nice max cut height and is very light. However, their “Eversharp” tech is like Fiskars’, more a matter of marketing than technology. It’s quite expensive, especially for being a fairly basic mower. Its biggest advantage is actually a drawback–it’s too light. At 21 pounds, it’s a lot lighter than the Scotts 34. Because the torque for driving the blades comes from the wheels turning along the ground, a super light mower is going to slip and cut inconsistently on even the smallest lumps, bumps, and elevation changes in your lawn.

The final cut

The Scotts Great States 2000-20S 20-Inch Classic Reel Mower is a well-made reel mower that offers the highest quality cut and has a maximum cut height of 3 inches, high enough to keep your lawn healthy and avoid cutting too short. It received a positive review from Consumer Reports and outperformed the Fiskars StaySharp Max by a narrow margin during our golf course grounds crew testing session. It continued to shine in our backyard mowing test, where its light weight made it easier to use. It’s a straightforward machine that gets the job done, and it costs about half as much as other top-of-the-line reel mowers (and a lot less than a gas-powered mower).


1. The blades are mounted in a cylinder that rotates as the mower is pushed forward—in fact, they’re sometimes called cylinder mowers. This is different from the more common rotary mower, in which the blades spin around like helicopter blades and are powered by a gas or electric motor. Jump back.

To send this guide via email, fill out the fields below:
Message Sent!
Oops! Please try again

Originally published: June 25, 2014

We actively moderate the comments section to make it relevant and helpful for our readers, and to stay up to date with our latest picks. You can read our moderation policy FAQ here.

  • Andrew Stone

    I used to have the Fiskars and loved it. It made me really enjoyed mowing my lawn. It was quiet and since it didn’t shoot rocks and sticks from the bottom my son could be outside playing while I mowed. I didn’t need to keep a supply of gas and it was easy to use. If I was outside for 10 minutes I could grab the mower do a small section of lawn. I never had to worry about whether it was an appropriate time from the neighbors perspective. Early morning or late evening didn’t matter.

    Unfortunately with almost 2 acres of land it took 7-10 hours to mow the lawn fully. I almost never did it all at once so mowing the lawn was constant thing. I would mow several evenings after work and then several hours over the weekend. When I finished the last section I needed to start the fist section again. With plenty of other projects to deal with I just couldn’t afford the time. I bought a large riding lawnmower and now can finish the job in about an hour. It’s noisy, dirty, needs regular maintenance and is now a job I just tolerate. But I get the whole lawn done and can move on to other things.

    Reading the review reminded me of how much I miss that mower. If I had a half acre or less I would go back to the reel mower without a second thought.

  • DrE

    I could have really used this review a month ago! I ended getting an American off my local Craigslist a couple of weeks ago for $40. The woman told me they got it new from Lowe’s a few years ago for about $130. It works great, but does need some adjustment. I just picked up a reel mower sharpening kit from Home Depot (online only) for $14. I have such a small patch of lawn in front of my house that this is the perfect tool, and yes, it’s a pleasant, quiet experience.

  • gmwebster

    I use mine and save time. No gas to pour, no starting procedure, no stopping the motor and restarting every time I move a stick or plastic bag, no heavy motor to lug around. I pull the thing out of a tight spaced shed with one hand and cut the grass in just a little more time than with a motor. Shave off time for the set up and you end up with less time spent overall. And silence, mostly. If makes a whisking noise but if you really wanted, you could use it at 6am or 9pm and nobody would much notice. Great cut but remember it’s a lot less like mowing and a lot more like shaving the lawn. They do much better on flat surfaces and with fescue grass that stands up nice. Crab grass and sideways growing grasses don’t cut well with reel mowers at all. And if your weeds grow too high, forget it. It will just push them down mostly, not cut. Anyway, try one!

  • David Rogers

    I’ve got a Fiskar’s that I hang in my garage, and I have to echo everything they say. My little lawn is a breeze to cut, and the mower is so smooth you can give it a heave and it will roll away and mow a few feet on its own, but it’s awkward to turn around. I love the front-throwing feature, and adjusting height is the easiest of any mower I’ve ever seen. I’m loving it; I’d think about their recommendation if I were to buy one again, but I don’t see a need for replacement for a long time.
    As for how much lawn you can cover-the few turns you need to make, the more coverage you can handle.

    • Chris

      As a fellow StaySharp owner, agreed on all counts as well. It’s great in a straight line, but a PITA to turn around at the end of the lawn. The one thing I’d add, though, is that the front-throwing design allows you to add a grass catcher, which makes life a _lot_ easier for cleaning up after you mow.

      • David Rogers

        I just leave the clippings :-)

        • Chris

          Do you not find that they dry out and look terrible?

          • jefisher

            Clippings actually make great fertilizer, as long as you mow regularly.

          • freedomdove

            Grass clippings feed the lawn so I leave them there after my roommate mows. He’s still using a mulching gas mower which leaves large clumps of grass (because he waits so long in-between cuttings), so after he’s done I go out with a leaf rake or an old kitchen broom and I break up the clumps of grass to evenly disperse them so they don’t become thatch; therefore, the cut grass is a resource (fertilizer) rather than a waste product (though, even if I bagged the clippings they could still be a resource as material for the compost pile).

            With the broom my touch is fairly light, with a back-and-forth sweeping motion. When using the rake, I turn it over and use the backside of it to break up the clumps, using an “X” pattern for the main motion (though I do sometimes go side to side, depending on the situation). For either tool, I first just graze the top of the lawn where the clumps lay. A heavier hand merely throws the clumps elsewhere instead of breaking them up (sweeping moist or wet grass also throws the clumps). Because my yard is very uneven I do have to get down into the low spots many times, but that wouldn’t be much of an issue on even lawns.

            I work my way up and down the yard in strips, just as someone who’s mowing. In this way I can also fluff up the grass that has been pushed down by the wheels of the mower (the ugly tire tracks all over the yard). So I alternate between grazing the clumps and fluffing up the laid-down grass (this is when I usually use the side-to-side motion with the rake). If I’m using the rake (which I hold more upright and close to me like I do a broom–for my back’s sake), I can always turn it over and use the tines to pick out grass clumps–or whatever else that needs dislodged–from the low spots and bare spots. I try not to let anything sit on the bare spots because if I did then nothing would ever get a good chance to grow there (unless I seeded it).

            Once I got the motion down that worked best for my yard my speed increased. It’s not really that time-consuming and I can always use the upper body workout it gives me. Yes, it probably looks a bit funny to see me out there sweeping the yard but my lawn is probably healthier and it definitely looks better than the neighbor’s yard because they don’t bag and they don’t sweep, and there are always huge clumps of dried grass/plant material all over the lawn. My yard is probably half grass and half ground-cover “weeds” (which aren’t weeds, IMO), but I think it still looks better than the one next-door neighbor.

            I really think my yard likes it when I sweep it; I imagine it’s kinda like getting a nice gentle head massage and hair fluffing after having a motorcycle helmet on for a few hours. :)

            Or you could just mow more regularly, like jefisher mentioned. Lol.

    • powdereddonuts

      Love the Fiskars. My boss just bought one as well.

  • Nello Lucchesi

    Over the past 20+ years, I’ve owned and used several push reel mowers for noise, environmental, and safety reasons.

    This Scotts Great States 2000-20S 20-Inch Classic is my favorite, though I’ve never tried a Fiskar.

    My only problem is that I’m intimidated by adjusting or sharpening the blade. The sharpening kit has a nice explanation but I’m just not so sure that *my* skill with adjusting the blade is going to improve it.

    I’d love to see a writeup on blade adjustment technique.

    • jefisher

      I’m on my 7th year of my Scotts, and sharpening and adjusting every spring really do make a difference. It took me a long while to figure out the adjustment but it makes the biggest difference – more so than sharpening. As the instructions state in the sharpening kit, you want to do in pairs, if you tighten the back you want to loosen the front and vice versa. It only takes the ‘tiniest’ of movements. To test this your adjustment use the paper test – get quite a few strips of newspaper. Set your mower down on the ground and run the paper in. It shouldn’t really move much, but should fit in between the blade and the bed (like the grass will) but just barely. If you have sharpened and adjusted properly, you should be able to simply move the blade section with your hand (be very careful here, turn your hand away from the bed) and the newspaper should just cut like it would with scissors. Do that across the bed to make sure it is all uniform and cutting nicely and adjust the bolts as necessary. It took me awhile to figure out (there is not a great comprehensive guide out there), but it really, really makes all the difference.

  • G Close

    Hmm. I inherited a cheap reel mower with my new place, which has a very small backyard. I thought this would be cool. Not so much. Hard to push, didn’t cut worth a darn, and adjustment required the patience of Job. Mine was very cheaply built junk. I bought a sharpening kit, but then realized that any rock I hit was going to nick the whirling blade, and it wouldn’t work right until it was resharpened. This is way too fussy for my taste. I gave away this reel mower, bought an electric mower, and never looked back. YMMV.

    • tony kaye

      What type & how old was it?

      • G Close

        I *think* it was an American Lawn mower and less than 5 years old. It wasn’t in bad shape, but probably needed adjustment. I think the whole concept falls into “neat, but not very practical for most people.” At least, that’s my opinion based on my experience. I think most people would be better served with a power mower.

        • tony kaye

          Gotcha. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Goodfav Magazine

    Here is another best push lawnmowers 2014

  • bugmenot

    I’ve had the Scotts 20-inch for six years across three houses. I’ve never sharpened or adjusted it, but it works well. This may be the season I get a professional sharpening.

    The upper section of the handle broke off in the fifth season. It might happen earlier for you if you’re a burly person. Near the bolts that attach it to the lower loop, the handle’s metal gets pretty stressed as you twist it around corners, and it snaps. The lady on the phone at (parts at did a great job helping me pick the three upper handle parts I needed, and I think it cost around $30. Beats a new mower.

    The better the quality of your lawn, the better it’ll look after you cut it with a reel mower. Weedy lawns tend to have tall, fast-growing weeds that a reel mower likes to push over. I sometimes pull these up, and I’ve generally changed my opinion of what my lawn should look like. I’m a lot more tolerant of a little scruffiness left by a reel mower on a poor lawn even if a powered mower could’ve obliterated everything.

    Couple tips. If your lawn is banked near a road or sidewalk, mow it across or mow it vertically, pushing the mower down the slope (cut with gravity!) and pulling it back up (no cutting). Mowing uphill is no fun. Pushing from your hip can save your arms from tiring.

    Next, a reel mower can only get within maybe 2″ of walls/rocks/fences because the reel sits inside the frame of the mower and the wheels themselves. You might need a string trimmer for edging. The same limitation means you’ll want at least 4″ of overlap between passes. I overlap by about 50%.

    You may be able to attack tall weeds or side-growing grasses by mowing very slowly and making multiple passes. Mowing slowly may let the plant fold up into the blades instead of being pushed over. Multiple passes will help take more height off of robust weeds; the mower only seems to lop off a fixed amount of big stalks on each pass. If a branch or root gets caught in the blades, just use your shoe to roll the reel back a bit and eject the debris.

    I wipe the blades with WD-40 after each mow, which helps keep the cutting surfaces from flash-rusting in between uses. Not strictly necessary, and any light oil would work.

  • MarylandBill

    I have a Fiskars, and it does a decent job, but there are two things they didn’t cover in this review.

    1. Because it throws grass forward, occasionally when I am going through a thick section, the uncut grass and the cut grass get so thick as to clog the mower. If I was buying again, I think I would go with a rear discharge reel mower (Which Fiskars does make).

    2. The second issue is the small front wheels. They are too small. If your ground has any hollows in it, the wheels can get stuck in them (in part because your are pushing the front wheels forward and down). A conventional large front wheel would be better suited if your yard is rough. Again something I will keep in mind when it comes time to replace the fiskars.

    • tony kaye

      Thanks for the feedback. Forwarded along to our expert!

    • Ed0

      Thanks for the info – while I didn’t find the small wheels to be an issue (and my lawn is terribly uneven) during testing, I can definitely see how thick grass would keep getting cycled back into the blades and clog them up.

  • Douglas Bazzone

    Mowing height is key. I have a 40 yo reel mower and a newer model. Both cut too short for the grass to remain healthy, but cut very cleanly. One point of interest is that I have a lot of tall thin fescue in my small shady yard, which tends to lay down. I am thinking about getting an electric mower just to ‘suck up’ the fecsue so it can be cut.

  • Matt@LivingHorticulturally

    Nice informative article. Great pictures too. I personaly have had real good luck with Husqvarna personally love them.

  • riraho

    I bought a 16″ Remington push reel mower for the small yard we had when we rented. Last year we bought a home with a exponentially bigger yard. That was a struggle to get through all hot summer with a 16″ mower. But I like the reel mower style, so for this coming summer, I bought a 20″ Steele Products mower. It was the cheapest I could find for a 20″. It seems okay, I hope it does a good job, if not just cutting down on the time it took.

  • Thomas E Boland

    I have the Scotts 20″ and have been using it in Florida on a .25 acre lawn of St Augustine. I replaced a lawn service that, to my mind, had to cut too short and wait too long between cuts in order to be economically feasible.

    The Scotts was purchased at a scratch-and-dent warehouse where the stock originally comes from Home Depot. It was in the sealed box for $70. No problems with the condition of the mower except for the box itself.

    After several months (mowing in FL is a year round affair,) several things have become apparent. First, all the things you have read about St Augustine and reel mowers are true, plus the fact that the lawn can get vines all over it if you do not trim them by hand. The reel mower is useless on those vines. Second, you do have to commit to mowing more often than your neighbors. There really isn’t an option on that. Third, you also have to commit to being that crazy neighbor with the push mower.

    One unintended, but fantastic, consequence is that almost every time I cut the front lawn, I have a conversation with a neighbor walking by, usually walking their dog. All I have to do is stop walking and chat. The neighbor doesn’t have to fear being attacked by noise or flying debris, so they walk right up on the sidewalk, where they should be. The dog isn’t scared crazy by the snorting monster of a lawn mower, either.

    Getting back to cutting, in the front yard, I really do need to do two passes, one North-South and another East-West in order to get the “quality” of cut in comparison to a rotary mower. The second pass takes remarkably less time than the first – it adds maybe 10 minutes more to the lawn mowing time. So it’s not that bad. My lawn actually looks much better than most, because it does not look like it has been scalped in the same way that a rotary mower does. I also can do a quick trim of the front for when company comes or the weekend in 10 to 20 minutes with no fumes, noise, preparation, etc.

    I would never pretend to say that the Scotts or any reel mower is the best option under every circumstance for my yard. I would say that so far I like it. If it ever gets to the point that I don’t, I will probably replace it with something like the 56v Ego or the new 80v Kobalt from Lowe’s. No gas for me.

    • Thomas E Boland

      Followup: I ended up getting the the 56v Ego. The Classic started stripping the plastic gear on the inside of the hub when it hit grass that it couldn’t handle. This meant the reel stopped turning. And this was at the highest setting. I still use the Scotts for the front yard when I need to mow more than once a week and I don’t want to drag out the bigger mower. It’s just not up to the job of being my one and only mower. I was willing to push it, but the mower couldn’t take it. :( P.S. The Ego is AWESOME.

  • Matt Spangler

    I was really excited to get a reel lawn mower like the Scott’s 20″ . . . I was looking forward to a similar experience with my grandfather’s heavy reel mower from the 60’s. It wasn’t. While the price is nice, there were three things I didn’t like about this mower.

    First, and most important, it cuts unevenly. I’m not talking about tall dense grass, but average density, medium blade grass. I have used the mower twice, and the first time, some grass was over an inch too tall, and since I know that reel mowers are not designed to cut tall grass, I took my Echo weedeater to get my small lawn down to within a half inch, or less of my mower height. Then I ran the mower over the yard. After going back and forth, diagonally, in both directions . . . still had areas of grass that weren’t getting cut. I tried normal walking speed, a little quicker and a little slower. I tried just pushing down a length, then short strokes. Didn’t matter what I did, the yard only looked “mostly” cut.

    Second, the grass catcher is irrelevant. Not that I don’t want to catch grass, but the reel blades kick the grass on top of itself and the grass collects in the gulley behind the bed knife, not in the grass catcher where it’s supposed to go. Part of this is due to how the plastic base connects to the mower. There is a snap guide that I think holds too tightly to the attachment rod. What happens rather quickly is that the front portion of the catcher bows and bends up as it tries to roll forward. Strange, but I think one big downside of plastic bases on catchers instead of flat metal.

    Lastly, I really think the mower blades are not sharp, or the bed knife isn’t adjusted correctly from the factory, or . . . whatever the reason for five sharp metal blades to not completely cut short grass??? well, I have no answer other than I’m returning this to Home Depot. I should have listened to the old guy greeter who warned me (on our way out of the store with the mower) that more people return this reel mower to that store than any other mower.

  • smaktcat

    very informative, ty.

  • JoeTheMusician

    I had been using a Brill Razorcut 38 for several years. It was fine, but it jammed a lot, was impossible if the grass got more than a few inches tall (and here in the South it grows quickly!), and I had to replace several parts that broke. The last straw was when one of the hooks for the catcher broke and I decided to look into other options.
    I read the review here closely, having had great experience with Sweethome/Wirecutter reviews in the past, but went with the Fiskars Staysharp Max. This evening I unpacked it, assembled it, and had my entire lawn mowed within about 45 minutes total. Brilliant.
    Yes, it is heavy, but I didn’t experience any problems turning it around at the ends of passes. Just tilt it back onto the back wheels, turn, and go!
    I hadn’t realized how much time I had been wasting with the Brill mower both unjamming it (little pieces of mulch or twigs were its nemeses), and mowing over the same patches multiple times.
    The Fiskars on the other hand didn’t jam at all and simply powered through the lawn. I particularly liked how much better it was than the Brill for mowing the edges of the lawn. I seemed to get a very even cut, so far as I can tell.
    I expect based on the review above that the Scott’s mower is good, but I am thrilled with the Fiskars and am kicking myself that I didn’t buy one sooner. Highly recommend!
    One note: the catcher was back-ordered so I won’t have that until next week. The catcher on the Brill was terrible, so I have to imagine the one on the Fiskars will be an improvement on that.

    • tony kaye

      Really terrific to hear! Glad it’s been a solid mower for you. If you have any longer term notes, don’t hesitate to share them!

      • JoeTheMusician

        I’ve now had the catcher for a few weeks. It works great, and I find that it does a good job catching the grass. I’ve seen some negative comments about it and I have to imagine that either their lawn situation is different than mine (perhaps they have more slopes or bumps/dips?) or they are not correctly installing the catcher, which must be adjusted depending on the height one sets.
        One major caveat: I was happy to hand-scoop the grass out of the catcher into another bin (which I then take away to dispose of all the clippings once I’m done). I think that disengaging and reinstalling the catcher would be a bit of a pain, and you will have several loads to empty even on a modest-sized lawn like mine.
        But still: I’m down to under 30 minutes to mow my lawn, with no jams from small pieces of mulch that used to trip up my old mower. I love that the Fiskars can mow much higher, and that it cuts well even at a slow pushing speed (better gearing). It was a very good buy for me, and I got the mower and catcher for under $250 delivered from Home Depot.
        And a final comment: the “no sharpen” blades are plenty sharp. I knicked my finger on one while wiping away grass at the end of mowing. Let’s just say I won’t be doing that bare-handed again.

  • Scott Thomson

    I have the Fiskars, I did sharpen with some valve lapping compound and adjust the blade after the first season, which made a world of difference. I would love to try the Scott’s because my yard is all small chunks, lots of turns. The Fiskar’s is a great mower, but as the review said, its a heavy one. It definitely leaves some of the longer stuff behind, which can be an issue, though my yard is so small I just started carrying some grass shears on the mower so I can snip the crazy stuff while I mow.