What is the Difference Between a Reel and Rotary Lawn Mower?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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Reel and rotary lawn mowers are two basic types of mowers, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. The main difference between the two is the method in which they cut the grass. A reel mower has a cylinder of blades that rotate to push the grass up as it's cut, while rotary mower blades spin horizontal to the grass.

When grass is cut by a reel mower, a series of blades on a cylinder rotate downwards over the lawn, brushing up the grass as it's cut with one blade following the next in quick succession. Incorporating the blades along the axle between the wheels can generate the cylinder's spinning motion. For this reason, reel mowers can work as non-motorized push mowers.

Rotary mowers have a horizontally mounted fan-style blade that spins in a circular motion. The fast sweep of the fan blade over the top of the turf cuts the grass. Rotary mowers are always powered mowers, as it takes an engine to spin the blade with the velocity required to cut grass. Because the blade spins horizontally, rotary mowers are especially suited to lawns that are largely made of weeds, dandelions, and other tall sprouting grasses. Singular tall stems or blades can be missed by reel style mowers that lay them flat, only to have them spring up again.


Weeds aside, most professionals agree that, between a reel and rotary lawn mower, the reel cuts lawn more evenly and much closer than a rotary. Reels can give lawn that "putting green" look, and they also cut cleanly, allowing grass to create a natural seal that protects it against harmful pathogens. Rotary mowers are likened more to tearing grass. When grass is torn rather than cut, it might develop brown tips that can take away from the overall beauty and health of the lawn.

If a lawn is less than 8,000 square feet (743 sq. meters), the choice between a reel and rotary lawn mower might be an easy one. A good manual reel mower is relatively inexpensive and is environmentally friendly. Mowing the lawn frequently will keep the experience enjoyable, as a tall grass requires more effort to push the mower through it. A manual reel mower is a great way for a homeowner to get exercise and keep a yard looking its best.

Among mowers that are powered, both types come in two versions: push or self-propelled. The engine on a simple power mower is only used to spin the blades. This is supposed to make it easier to push the mower over the grass, although the added weight of the engine can make that a challenge. Mowers that are self-propelled, meaning that they move forward and only need the guidance of person doing the mowing, have a different engine and design. This is the most expensive kind of mower, but the easiest to use.

No matter which mower a person chooses, lawns have differing height requirements to look their best. Some lawns are healthier longer, while others are at their best trimmed a little shorter. A healthy lawn will be springy like a mat and won't be damaged by normal wear. Sod can be cut by either a reel or rotary lawn mower, but homeowners should wait the recommended length of time after planting it before its first cut.

Frequent mowing helps reduce weed growth in a lawn while strengthening grass. When mowing the yard, it's best to overlap rows by half, and mow the entire lawn in a back and forth pattern, such as north and south. This can be followed with mowing in perpendicular rows, or east and west. People should avoid mowing in a circular pattern. Reel and rotary blades should be professionally sharpened as a matter of routine to keep a lawn looking its best.

Most home improvement stores will carry both types of mowers, though shoppers will likely find a larger selection of models among rotaries, with perhaps only one or two reel mower choices. This is because rotary mowers have a less expensive design and are therefore more popular. Virtually all commercial mowers are reel mowers.


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Post 4

Yes I think for longer grass you will have to buy a petrol mower. Reel mowers are nice and quiet but only really for those mowing every few days, so as to keep the length of the lawn at a manageable height.

Post 3

If you had ever cut with a reel mower you would understand the size limits. Atlas might hold the sky but even he throws up his hands in defeat after an hour on a reel! Also, the longer your grass, the harder it is to cut. For Rumspringa I bought myself a gas mower and I will never go back!

Post 2

Reel mowers come in different sizes. The narrower the mower, the more passes you have to make. Hence, mowers are rated for cutting a certain square footage, as a larger mower should be used for larger areas to save time by not having to make as many passes.

Post 1

if you buy a reel motor, why can it only cut a certain area, i.e., 6000 or 8000 square feet? You can't run out of gas, so why is the are limited to what it can cut?

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