Reel lawn mower purchasing advice: how to choose the right product

  • The most important facts in brief
  • The manual lawnmower or cylinder mower has a rotating reel instead of a sickle.
  • Compared to the sickle mower, the hand lawn mower cuts grass blades particularly short and precisely.
  • The manual lawn mower must be used regularly because it cannot cut long grass properly.
  • In addition to purely muscle-powered reel mowers, there are also those with a motor.

The perfect lawn cut

The hand lawn mower, also called a cylinder mower, is something for perfectionists. Such a mower is necessary for the creation of a typical, extremely accurate English lawn. The characteristic striped pattern of football pitches is also produced with cylinder mowers. However, the greenkeepers here use large ride-on mowers. Hand lawn mowers for private use are – as the name suggests – operated only with the user’s own muscle power.

A hand lawnmower is used to keep a short lawn short. It does less well with long grass. Many garden owners have it in the garden shed as a complementary tool to the classic rotary mower. The exclusive use of a hand lawnmower is only recommended for smaller areas. However, there are also electric reel mowers that are suitable for larger gardens.

Manual lawnmowers cut the lawn in a different way than the usual rotary mower. In the latter, two rotating blades cut the blades of grass. A reel mower, on the other hand, has a rotating roller with several blades that curve into each other. As soon as the manual lawnmower is set in motion, the reel rotates past a fixed counter-blade and shortens the grass. By adjusting the counter blade, the cutting height can be changed. Basically, a cylinder mower cuts the lawn like a pair of scissors.

The counterblade is clearly visible in front of the red coloured spindle.
The counterblade is clearly visible in front of the red coloured spindle.

The cutting method of the hand lawn mower is particularly gentle on the lawn. A rotary mower often causes the cut ends to fray. This gives the blades of grass unsightly brown tips, especially in summer. The very clean cut of a cylinder mower, on the other hand, is beneficial to the further growth of the lawn, as the cuts heal quickly. A manual lawn mower is usually operated manually and is therefore particularly quiet. Neighbours are unlikely to complain about this mower. In addition, the motorless devices are very light and manoeuvrable. This is an advantage in small gardens. The fact that a motor is usually dispensed with is also reflected in the price: cylinder mowers are comparatively inexpensive.

The cylinder mower is designed to cut the lawn very short. It cannot cope with long grass. Especially in summer, the manual lawn mower must therefore be used at least once a week. After a longer absence – for example after a holiday – the cylinder mower may not be able to cope with the lawn. Therefore, it may make sense to also own a conventional mower. Since the reel and the counter-blade are very precisely matched, a manual lawn mower only works on level surfaces. Before using the mower, it is necessary to clear the lawn of branches, stones and other obstacles: even a small branch can bend the blades and thus significantly reduce the mower’s performance.

Pro points

  • Particularly clean cut
  • Very short cut possible
  • Low noise level
  • Good value for money


  • Unsuitable for long lawns
  • Sensitive blades
  • Can only be used on flat surfaces

What is important when buying a hand lawn mower?

Whether or not it is worth buying a hand lawn mower depends mainly on two factors. Firstly, it is important how large the garden is. Since most models are hand-operated, mowing a large area is a tedious and sometimes exhausting task. Secondly, the design of the lawn plays a role. A manual or reel mower trims the lawn very short. The device is therefore aimed at anyone who wants to create an ornamental lawn. Those who do not attach importance to this do not need a hand lawn mower.

Cutting width – depending on the size of the garden

The cutting width is the most important parameter when buying a hand lawn mower. The wider the blade roller, the more area it can cover. Therefore, as the size of the garden area increases, so does the cutting width required to mow the lawn efficiently. The standard width for hand lawn mowers is 30 centimetres. Mowers with such a width are suitable for smaller areas of up to 150 square metres. However, garden owners who are prepared to walk several lanes can also use them for larger areas. One advantage of this cutting width is the manoeuvrability that comes with it. This makes it easier to manoeuvre in smaller gardens. Wide hand lawnmowers, on the other hand, are bulkier and less manoeuvrable. You should also consider how much space is available to store the garden tool. Common cutting widths of cylinder lawn mowers are:

Cutting widthArea
Up to 30 centimetresUp to 150 square metres
30 to 40 centimetresUp to 250 square metres
40 to 50 centimetresUp to 400 square metres
From 50 centimetresFrom 400 square metres
Common cutting widths and the corresponding area sizes.

Cutting height – how short should it be?

Anyone thinking about buying a hand lawn mower wants to cut their lawn particularly accurately. It is therefore important that the cutting height can be adjusted. Some inexpensive models only have a fixed cutting height and are therefore inflexible. However, with most machines the cutting height can be adjusted in one way or another. As a rule, this is a multi-stage height adjustment. Such devices have four different levels between 15 and 35 millimetres. Those who value absolute precision should choose a manual lawnmower with infinitely variable cutting height adjustment. With these high-quality models, the cutting height can be adjusted to the millimetre.

To avoid blunting, the knives must be sharpened after a few years.

Type of drive – manual or electric?

Most commercially available hand lawn mowers are moved using your own muscle power. Although it is usually necessary to walk several paths to achieve the desired lawn length, pushing a manual lawn mower is not particularly strenuous. Anyone who basically enjoys gardening will not be bothered by this effort.

However, those who are physically limited or have a very large garden should think about buying a power-driven device. With these devices, the spindle is driven automatically. Here you have the choice between a corded device and a version with a rechargeable battery. A battery-powered mower is both more flexible and more manoeuvrable and is recommended for a very large garden where power sources are not accessible everywhere. A corded unit has the advantage that it has more power, so fewer lanes need to be walked to achieve the desired shortness of the lawn. Large, petrol-powered reel mowers are only used on golf courses and sports fields and are rather unsuitable for private use.

If you want an English lawn, you need a cylinder mower.
If you want an English lawn, you need a cylinder mower.

The type of drive has a decisive influence on the weight of the lawn mower. The classic, motorless devices weigh between six and ten kilograms. In comparison, motorised cylinder mowers are real heavyweights: they sometimes weigh more than 20 kilograms. This high weight can make the device difficult to handle and store.

Other features

In addition to the working width and the cutting depth, it is important to pay attention to other equipment details. After all, the machine should be easy to operate and do its job effectively. Among other things, the quality of the wheels and the sharpness of the blades play a role here. Look out for the following features:

Handles and bars

As with the rotary lawnmower, ergonomics also play a major role here. The physical strain at work can be significantly reduced by choosing an ergonomic lawn mower. Such a mower has, for example, a height-adjustable guide bar. With this it is possible to adjust the height of the handle to your own body size. A handle with a sheath is also more comfortable to hold. If the handle can be folded in or down, users can store the mower after use to save space.

Knife and knife roller

The blades of a hand lawnmower are usually made of hardened steel. It is often difficult to determine how sharp they are before buying. In general, it can be said that lower-priced mowers have fewer high-quality blades. The buyer can neglect the number of blades attached to the roller. Almost all hand lawn mowers have five of them. A larger number of blades does indeed promise better cutting quality, but as a rule only large devices for gardening businesses have more blades.

Catch basket

While motorised lawn mowers are equipped with catch baskets as standard, this is not always the case with manual lawn mowers. If there is no catcher box, the clippings must be collected after mowing. A basket, on the other hand, is simply emptied at a suitable point. Depending on the size of the garden and the capacity of the catcher bag, interruptions are to be expected in order to remove the clippings. The larger the catcher bag, the less frequent these stops are. However, a large catcher bag does not only make the work easier: it also makes the mower harder to move.


Most hand lawnmowers have two wheels that are made of plastic. The heavier the lawn mower, the larger and wider the wheels need to be to keep it manoeuvrable. A well-developed tyre tread makes it easier to push across the lawn. Some electric-powered cylinder mowers have an assisting wheel drive. This can be helpful for very large areas and gardens with slopes.

Notes on use

If you are switching from a sickle to a hand lawn mower, there are a few things to bear in mind. The reel of manual lawnmowers is particularly sensitive, so the lawn must be inspected for foreign objects before use. In addition, the blades of the reel require more care and maintenance than a rotary mower.

What you need to consider when mowing

Since manual lawn mowers cannot cope with rough terrain, you need to prepare your lawn accordingly before use. Any foreign objects that could get in the way of the mower must be removed from the lawn. This includes stones and branches in particular, but a molehill is also an insurmountable obstacle. Either mow around it or level it. Be sure to avoid collisions with trunks, fences or garden walls, as the reels can easily be bent by them.

Like the rotary mower, the cylinder mower is best used on dry lawns. Wet lawns are less easy to cut and can gum up the blade roller, which means extra work in the end. A hand lawnmower cuts the grass so finely that the clippings do not necessarily have to be collected, but can be left on the lawn as mulch. However, this only works with dry grass. Wet clippings should be collected and composted.

Watch your feet!

Manual lawnmowers usually do not have a motor and therefore do not have a safety cut-out like rotary mowers do. Therefore, extra care is needed because as soon as the mower is moved, the blade roller cuts. So keep your hands and feet away from the reel and always wear sturdy shoes when mowing.

Care and maintenance of a manual lawn mower

In order for a cylinder mower to function optimally, a few care measures are necessary. No clippings should be left on the sensitive blades. Therefore, users should clean the reel with a hard brush after each lawn cutting. It is advisable to regularly treat the cutting edges as well as the axle of the spindle with oil or lubricant. After three to four years, the spindle must be resharpened. Since special tools are needed for this, the work should be done by a specialist company. Larger hardware stores offer this service.