How to sharpen the blades on a reel mower

 

cleanairgardening_2066_23722234- sharpeners

Reel mower blades need be sharpened very rarely. Poor blade contact is often misdiagnosed as a queue for sharpening. 95% of the time, mowing problems can be fixed by adjusting the blades so that they are properly spaced.

After several years of use, blades can wear down and get dull. This is usually caused by pebbles that snag on the mowing blades, but driving the reel mower over curbs or just running over rocks can also take the edge off. As the blades get dull, it gets progressively more difficult to use the mower. Sharp blades cut smoothly, while dull blades are much harder to push.

Not only are sharp blades easier to use, but they are also gentler on your shoulder and elbow. There’s less vibration when blades are smooth and unblemished. If your mower is hurting your elbows or making unpleasant sounds while mowing, it may be time to sharpen the blade.

When you sharpen lawnmower blades, please follow proper safety procedures. Be careful to avoid pinching your fingers in the apparatus or cutting your skin on the blades.

One of the easiest ways to sharpen a reel mower is with a backlapping sharpening kit. This type of kit includes sharpening compound and a handle. Here’s how to use a reel mower sharpening kit. Start by attaching the handle to the driving gear on the mower (under the hub cap). Then, apply sharpening compound to all of the blades of the mower using a paint brush. Next, start cranking the mower backwards so that the blades scrape each other down to a smooth edge.

The reverse direction is important, because it minimizes wear of the blades. Turning the reel mower by hand can take a while and requires some serious arm strength. For faster results, it’s possible to turn the mower quickly using an electric drill with the proper attachment.

Some reel mowers can be sharpened with conventional blade sharpening kits. These knife sharpeners aren’t as effective as a backlapping kit, and there’s a possibility of overgrinding the blades and ruining the mower. Sharpening kits are better than knife sharpening tools because they prevent damage and reduce the risk to your fingertips.

If you prefer to use a knife sharpening kit, it’s a good idea to completely disable the machine before sharpening the blades. If the blade is not detachable, then please make sure to pin the blade in place so that it can’t rotate. Some reel mowers have arresting gears that will lock the wheels in place. If your reel mower doesn’t have that feature, then it’s a good idea to put wooden chock blocks in-between the blades to prevent them from spinning freely.

Watch out for your knuckles while sharpening blades. It’s easy to cut yourself while applying force on a tiny area. If you’re clumsy like me, you’ll want to choose a blade sharpener with finger guards. There are also more precise sharpening tools. They give fine control over the angle of the blade, and also deliver a uniform edge. These fixed position blade sharpeners can also be used on loppers, secateurs, tree pruners and other edged tools.

If you have a power drill, a sharpening attachment may be the most convenient way to sharpen reel mower blades. Rotary sharpeners fit onto powerdrills just like drill bits, and they work like polishing brushes. Let the drill do all the work, and your arm will thank you for it.

Another way to sharpen the blades is with metal finishing sandpaper. Using a sheet of sandpaper to do the job is pretty hard work, but there are sandpaper appliqués that do a wonderful job. These sandpaper sharpeners attach to the back blade and brush against the cutting blades as they rotate past. To sharpen the reel mower, all you have to do is attach the sandpaper and give it a push.

After sharpening, putting a light coat of oil on the blade can prevent rust and other corrosion from setting in. Low acidity vegetable oil is a good choice because it wont leave any harmful residue on your lawn, and it will protect the blade from moisture.

When is the wrong time to use a reel mower?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nate 05.21.09 at 3:18 pm

Another much easier way to sharpen a reel mower is to run it backward with sharpening compound. I have an “American Lawn Mower” branded unit and they sell a kit that includes a handle, a small container of gritty compound, and a paintbrush. Take off the wheels and the gears, put the handle on, brush a little gritty compound on each rotating blade, and turn the handle for a few minutes (occasionally tightening the blade down ever so slightly as needed).

It also gives you the opportunity to put some grease in all the gears and the sharpening process also makes sure that the rotating blade and fixed blade are in perfect alignment, so you can set it to “just about but not quite touching” for a perfect cut and minimum resistance.

When I’m done sharpening and greasing, I can push my mower along easily with one finger when it’s not cutting grass, and mowing is easily a one-handed job. The rotating blade freewheels ever so slightly when I stop.

I’ve seen so many people sweating behind a reel mower, but when adjusted properly they are really a joy to use. Almost no noise, very little maintenance, and the cut is just beautiful.

My reel mower actually pushes with significantly less effort than my gasoline mower. But it has to be adjusted properly for that, and so many people tend to overtighten the blade and then need to put lots of effort into pushing.

I only have one complaint about reel mowers. My grass likes to grow a long round stalk if I don’t stay on top of it (ryegrass?). The reel mower just lays those stalks down on the ground and hovers right over them. When the stalks get too long for the reel to catch, I have to dig out the gas mower. Fortunately I only have to do it a couple of times a year.

2 Linda 06.25.11 at 9:38 pm

I just bought a Toro commercial REEL mower which has an 85inch cut(3 reels)
I love the way it cuts,,,, but. I need to sharpen the blades all 18.
nd I think i broke a shear pin???? which makes the blades go round. I dont have the manual or any idea of how to fix tthis. I have called all around and went to Toro websites will no avail.. can you help?

3 steve 06.28.11 at 2:51 pm

@Linda, Look for a lawn mower shop in your phone book or online. Also, you may want to check the Toro site for a dealer locator page.

4 Maureen 03.14.12 at 4:42 pm

I just bought a reel mower and tried to cut the grass but it is not cutting anything. My grass is about 6 inches long more or less. What am I doing wrong? I got a display model from Home Depot. Wonder if display models have blunted edges so customers do not cut their fingers checking it out?

5 steve 03.15.12 at 2:44 pm

Maureen, Test the space between the reel and the cutting bar. The reel should just barely miss the cutting bar. The manual will show you how to adjust the reel. It will take 20 minutes but once done you should be set for the year. And no, I doubt it’s been dulled since it’s a floor model, I doubt they would ever take the time to do that. It likely just needs to be adjusted.

6 CoachCraig 09.12.12 at 8:26 pm

Mayreen, reel mowers don’t like extremely tall grass. You need to mow it with a rotary blade down to 2″ or less. Then your reel mower will work like a charm.

7 Andy 06.07.13 at 8:40 pm

I moved out to Washington with my girlfriend and her mom got that 18″ American Lawn Mower Reel Mower thing. Her son took the height wheels off and I just about cut the grass down to 0″ but I did notice a contact sound with the “cutter bar?” Seeing as it was working I kept going but the yard is small so within a couple of minutes I noticed high pieces of grass that never got hit…and no matter how many times I run them over they will not cut! Now I’ve read the adjusting stuff and adjusted it properly and it barely works. So lost. Feeling dumb.

8 lars 06.08.13 at 4:23 pm

When the grass is super tall, it’s common for the mower to run over really tall blades like a paddleboat instead of cutting every single blade perfectly.

You’ll want to make sure that you didn’t accidentally adjust the blades so that they are too far away from the cutter bar to get a good cut now. With American Lawnmower mowers, you want to hear the clicking contact of the blade against the cutter bar. Adjust it so that you just get slight contact all the way across the cutter bar as the reel turns. If you go too far, the mower will be too hard to push. If you don’t get close enough, the blades will spin freely but won’t cut the grass very well. It’s a little bit of trial and error, but not too difficult. Good luck!

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