Updated July 2014
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Manual reel mowers a great choice for exercise and the environment

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.

We found more reviews for the Fiskars StaySharp Max 6201 (Est. $200) than any other reel mower, and most say it's the best on the market. 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.

The StaySharp can cut as high as four inches. A simple lever adjusts the mowing height quickly. Users say it struggles with grass over six inches or thick weeds. "The mower will not cut tall lawn blades and weeds but instead bends them over and they pop back up as the mower passes over them," explains an owner at CleanAirGardening.com." Otherwise, "the mower cuts extremely well and the mower blades are sharp," the same owner adds.

The NaturCut Ideal 40 (Est. $160) is another good pick, although it isn't reviewed as often as the StaySharp Max. It's lightweight, has adjustable and collapsible handles and takes up little space when stored. It also has a minimal-contact cutting system to prevent dulling of the blades. Reviewers say the blades can last up to 10 years without sharpening. Owners say the mower is easy to use and is one of the few reel mowers that can handle Bermuda grass. Some say it struggles with long grass and weeds, but that is a common complaint of most reel mowers.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Lawn Mowers: What's the best lawn mower? Self-propelled are the most popular among users. Editors choose the best models based on expert comparisons and owner reviews.

Push Mowers: What's the best push lawn mower? Editors evaluate owner reviews and professional tests of popular models from brands like Husqvarna, Toro and Honda.

Electric Mowers: What's the best electric mower? Editors choose the best corded and cordless electric mowers based on expert evaluations and owner reviews.

Buying Guide: Where should you start when buying a new lawn mower? Editors offer tips from experts and owners to help you select the right mower for your needs.

Our Sources: Links to 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.

Fiskars Staysharp Max Reel Mower, 18-Inch
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New: $249.99 $169.50   
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