Hand propelled push lawn mowers have sunk out of sight almost. Even the tiniest patch of lawn comes in from a rotary trim from an electric lawn mower and anyone with a medium sized garden or larger is likely to opt for a petrol mower.
Why are we all so enslaved to automatic dependency upon powered machinery?
How necessary is it really to have and use a powered lawn mower for most of us? Would we be better off using a well-setup push lawn mower?
I’ve resisted this question now for some years as I have a largish lawn with quite a few awkward corners and slopes. I’ve always just assumed that a powered lawn mower was a necessity.
In the early days, I used to manage with an electric mower on an extension cable. Even with a power trip device it used to make me a bit nervous in case I sliced the power line while executing a tricky turn, or lost control of it on the slippery path beneath the apple tree.
When I could afford it I upgraded to a petrol mower and stuck with that – even though I hate the noise and smell. I continued like that even when the power assist died so that I had to push it everywhere. I decided that at least I was getting a fair bit of exercise while running about the lawn.
A few weeks ago I pulled out the old push lawn mower to tidy up a few bits that had been left undone when a shower interrupted work on a previous day. A friend who knows about these things turned up and quickly pointed out that the loud noise made by the push lawn mower was owing to the fact that one of the blades was badly set – perhaps from a knock – causing the mower to be inefficient. He quickly helped me straighten it out and we went on to sharpen the cutting edges with a grindstone, too.
Now this cheap little mower does a reasonably good job, quietly, fairly quickly and best of all with no unpleasant fumes. I’m a convert!
Here are some of the advantages of using the manual lawn mower that I have noticed.
I can mow the lawn in around the same kind of time that it took with the motor mower. It is a lot quieter and there is no unpleasant smell.
I get a similar amount of exercise as compared to the using the petrol mower, which is not self-propelled. The hand mower is generally easier to push but is more likely to be harder when the grass is longish.
A push lawn mower will be unlikely to compete on time if compared toa self-propelled petrol mower. However, you will probably save time on maintenance and refuelling takes no time at all, so unless you have a very extensive lawn, there may be not much difference.
The finish is nicer – the grass looks less chopped and there are no bare patches where I have inadvertently hit a molehill or other bump. It’s easier to see ahead to avoid this kind of problem because the machine is small and light.
You may well get a good finish with a powered cylinder mower, of course. Here, I’m upgrading from a rotary petrol mower.
Machine's vary in the quality of the cut; the push mower that I use is not very sophisticated and yet it still does a nicer cut than my petrol mower.
I can leave the clippings on the lawn more easily because they do not come out in big clumps. (This is a good way to keep the lawn well fertilised and in any case grass in the compost heap tends to end up a slimy mess, unless you take time to mix it well.) There is a light scattering of clipped grass which is barely noticeable, provided that I mow the lawn often enough.
Last but not least, the push lawn mower is cheaper. There are no costs to speak of beyond a bit of oil for lubrication and possibly an occasional service. Manual lawn mowers are also relatively cheap to buy.
Needless to say, the carbon cost is lower. The carbon cost of petrol and electric mowers may be minuscule, compared to all the other ways we have of emitting carbon dioxide and other fossil fuels. Nevertheless, it's a small personal advance in my attempts to cut my carbon emissions and I'm sure other people will feel the same way!
So far, I’m very impressed by the benefits of a hand-mowing machine. This is old technology - but a quality modern representative of it is a well-tuned and sleek piece of equipment.
I had not realised just how important it is with such a machine that it be set up correctly and precisely. The powered version is far less demanding in the sense that a relatively blunt blade will smash down the grass just by sheer force.
However, the maintenance required to keep a hand lawn mower in trim is not beyond the average user with the normal quota of home tools. Now that I know what to do, I just check the blades for wear and sharpness and check that the clearance is adjusted for optimum cut. This usually takes around five minutes.
You need the grass to be reasonably dry to get an effective cut. I’ve used the petrol mower in light rain and after moderate rain once or twice. While this is not ideal, it is an option. Clearly, it is not an option for electric mowers because of the danger of electrocution.
Longer grass is hard work. Mowing with a manual lawn mower is far easier if the grass is already fairly short. You need to do repeated passes to cut longer grass. I find that I’m tending to cut the grass a little more often now that I’m just using the push lawn mower. I might well be taking slightly more time out of my week – but it’s more enjoyable and the results are better.
Fine-tuning is a need rather than just an option. The blades work much like scissors, so the distance between the rotary blades and the lower blade is crucial. Too big a gap and you get no cut. Too little and the blades knock together. Ideally, the distance should be very slight so that the surfaces just “kiss” together.
Will I use the powered lawn mower again?
Almost certainly. I’ll keep it in the shed for a season to see whether it pays its way in autumn or early spring when it’s hard to find a dry day to mow the grass.
For the moment, I’m happy pottering along with my relatively quiet little old manual machine. I can stop when I like without having to think: “Will it start again?” I can do a bit one day and carry on the next – because it’s s easy to get out and put away. And I can even hear if the telephone rings!
Oh, yes – and I don’t have to get in the car and drive in search of petrol. Now there’s a benefit!