Reel mowers offer very little noise and no nasty smells. Plus, they are more than just environmentally friendly; they are also easy on the wallet with no gas, electricity or annual servicing costs.
Users compare mowing with a reel mower to an aerobic workout, though many say they enjoy the exercise. Extra work is also required before and after mowing. Sticks and twigs must be picked up beforehand, and the clippings may need to be raked. Plan on mowing every four days to keep grass from getting too high for the reel mower to cut.
Among reel mowers, we found more uniformly positive reviews for the Fiskars StaySharp Max 6201 (Est. $200) than any other reel mower, especially among owners posting to sites like Amazon.com and HomeDepot.com. Reviewers report that it delivers a more powerful cut and is easier to push than its competitors, thanks to a design that puts the large wheels behind the reel.
Because the five blades don't touch each other, the StaySharp Max 6201 is extra quiet -- many owners consider this one of its best perks. This also means the blades don't get dull like they do on standard reel mowers; Fiskars says they should last the life of the mower and only require occasional backlapping (a special way of sharpening reel mowers) if the blades begin to wear.
Professional reviews are scarce, but the crew at TheSweetHome.com puts the Fiskars reel mower, and others, to the test using professional groundskeepers at a local golf course. Ed Grabianowski reports that these testers found the mower easy to push. However they noted that when set to lower heights, the mower could bog down at times. The StaySharp can cut as high as four inches; a simple lever adjusts the mowing height quickly.
That hands on test reflects some of the feedback we saw from users, some of whom say that the StaySharp Max 6201 struggles with grass over six inches or thick weeds. Be that as it may, no reel mower gets more love from users than the Fiskars. It enjoys a 4.3-star rating at HomeDepot.com following nearly 270 reviews. Nearly 1,000 owners report in at Amazon.com, where it rates 4.1 stars. The mower carries a three-year warranty.
The SweetHome.com rates the Fiskars as a terrific choice, but gives its overall recommendation to the Scotts 2000-20S Classic (Est. $135). That choice is based on the quality of the cut. "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," Grabianowski says.
However, expert testers' love for the Scotts is far from unanimous. In a free article, ConsumerReports.org's Ed Perratore agrees that the Scotts reel mower provides the best cut. However, the downside is overall usability. "The Scotts 2000-20 proved the toughest to push, partially due to a fixed handle height and angle that don't offer good leverage," he says.
While user reviews for the Scotts 2000-20S aren't terrible, we saw better feedback for the Fiskars StaySharp Max 6201. The Scotts reel mower earns a 3.8 star rating at HomeDepot.com based on just over 100 owner reviews, and the identical rating at Amazon.com, but this time based on over 1,000 reviews. Owners say that just like other reel mowers, the key to best satisfaction is to not neglect your property as the Scotts cuts best when it's trimming a maintained lawn, not an unruly weed patch.
Maintenance for the Scotts 2000-20S is minimal, but slightly more than the Fiskars StaySharp requires. Scotts recommends sharpening the blades once a season for the best performance, though some users say they require more regular sharpening. The Scotts 2000-20S includes a two-year warranty.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Lawn Mowers: Editors look at the different types of lawn mowers -- electric, gas and reel -- including push and self-propelled models. Top picks and worthy alternates are named.
Best Lawn Mowers: Self-propelled mowers get the best recommendations from experts and users. These are the models that finish in the front of the pack
Best Push Mowers: Push mowers are perfect for smaller properties and smaller budgets. Editors name the best gas-powered push mowers from brands like Lawn Boy, Cub Cadet and Husqvarna.
Best Electric Mowers: Electric mowers are more energy efficient and decidedly quieter than gas models, and might make the most sense for smaller properties. These are the top corded and cordless electric lawn mowers.
Buying Guide: Not sure where to start in finding the perfect lawn mower for your property and your budget? These helpful pointers will help steer you in the right direction.
Our Sources: These are the expert and user reviews we used to select the top lawn mowers, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.