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Best Reel Mowers

By: Carl Laron on April 12, 2018

Manual reel mowers are 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 about 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 (Est. $175) than any other reel mower, especially among owners posting to sites like Amazon and Home Depot. 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 is extra quiet -- many owners consider this one of its top 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. Fiskars has updated the mower over the years, and the latest enhancements include a reversible grass chute that can direct the grass forwards -- as was the case with previous versions of this mower -- or backwards and downwards, the same as is standard with most reel mowers from other makers.

Professional reviews are scarce, but the crew at Wirecutter puts the Fiskars reel mower, and others, to the test using professional groundskeepers at a local golf course. Ed Grabianowski and Doug Mahoney report that these testers found the mower easy to push. However they note 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 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, including some that are more highly regarded by experts. The mower carries a three-year warranty.

Wirecutter calls the Fiskars a terrific choice, but gives its overall recommendation to the Scotts 2000-20 Classic (Est. $140). That recommendation 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," the editors say.

However, expert testers' love for the Scotts is far from unanimous. In an older free article, Consumer Reports' 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. The comments we saw from users more closely reflect Perratore's conclusions than those at Wirecutter. Overall, the Fiskars just gets better feedback from owners than the Scotts 2000-20.

Maintenance for the Scotts 2000-20 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 2000-20 includes a two-year warranty.

If you only have a pocket-sized yard and don't want to spend more than $100 on a reel, mower, we suggest taking the Great States 415-16 (Est. $80) for a spin. It earns a 4.1 star score at Walmart based on more than 100 reviews, while more than 80 percent of the nearly 750 owners leaving feedback at Amazon give it a positive review, with most saying it works great as long as your grass isn't too long -- regular cutting is a must. It does get hung up on even small twigs, they say, so it's important to clean up your area before mowing. Still, if you want a good, basic reel mower, this is a solid choice at a great price. The warranty is one year.

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