Manual mowers are idea for small, level yards with good lawns. They're also healthy in two ways: a free workout, plus no air pollution.
Among manual reel mowers, the 18-inch Fiskars StaySharp Max 6201 (*Est. $230) -- formerly called the Fiskars Momentum -- earns top ranking in reviews plus a 2010 Design Award from Popular Mechanics. The innovative design overcomes many of the disadvantages of classic reel mowers. For one thing, most reviewers agree that the patented drive system makes it much easier to push than other reel mowers. Cutting height can be adjusted with a single lever, to a maximum of 4 inches; most reel mowers can't cut grass that high.
The wheels are inset so the blades are positioned in front of the wheels instead of behind them. This makes it easier to mow close to an edge, and it also eliminates the need to overlap passes. Clippings are discharged forward, rather than back at the user. The adjustable handle is ergonomic, and the blades cut grass without touching each other -- so they may never need sharpening.
Fiskars has added two 17-inch reel mowers to its StaySharp line. We didn't find reviews of them, but they lack some of the advantages of the 18-inch StaySharp Max 6201 and cost about the same. They carry two-year warranties compared with three years for the Max 6201, and Fiskars says they're less powerful, not as easy to push and lack the convenient blade positioning. The middle model, the
The Scotts Green Classic 2000-20 (*Est. $120) earns good reviews, but it has an older design, a maximum cutting height of only 3 inches and blades that need regular sharpening. If a maximum cutting height of 1.8 inches is appropriate for your lawn, consider the lighter, well reviewed 15-inch Brill Razorcut 38 (*Est. $180) or 13-inch Razorcut 33 (*Est. $170). Like the Fiskars Momentum, the Brill mowers incorporate no-contact blades that require infrequent sharpening (every five to 10 years). Handles fold twice for easy storage, and these mowers are light enough to hang up; the Razorcut 38 weighs only 17 pounds, compared with 43.5 pounds for the Fiskars StaySharp Max. The low maximum cutting height is the main drawback.
If you have thicker bent grass such as Bermuda, zoysia or centipede -- typical in hot climates -- experts say you need a seven-blade reel mower such as the 16-inch American Lawn Mower 1705-16 Bent Reel (*Est. $110). These tough grasses are healthiest when cut short, so this mower has a maximum cutting height of 2.25 inches. It weighs about 27 pounds. The Great States 705-16 reel mower (*Est. $110) is essentially the same.