Five Tips for Buying a Mower
The business end of this hand pushed reel mower is solid, sharp, and easy to use, with five heat-treated, knife-sharp tempered alloy steel blades that can be adjusted for varying grass heights from 1/2 to 2-1/4 inches. With its 10-inch wheels, radial tires, 18-inch cutting width, and 2-inch welded shrub bar, this mower should enable you to cross whatever terrain and reach whatever hard-to-access rogue patches of grass you desire. Plus, the soft foam cushion on the handlebar is a nice -- and much appreciated -- touch. However, assembly can be a headache, even though the only tool you need is a wrench. The instructions could be clearer, and the handle parts could fit together better. This product is backed by a limited 2-year warranty.
Choosing a lawn mower is a matter of sifting through a bewildering array of types, power ratings, and fuel sources. Let’s break it down a little to make the process easier.
What types of walk-behind mowers are there?
There are four basic choices: push reel, electric, cordless, and gas. All have strengths and weaknesses.
- Push reel mowers are powered by you. They’re quiet, they don’t need cords or recharging, and they don’t pollute. But on large lawns, you might not want the workout you get when using a push reel mower. They also tend to be less effective on grass taller than two inches.
- Electric mowers need to be plugged into an outlet to power them, which means you’re constrained by the location of power outlets, the length of your power cord, and any obstacles that may snag the cord. If you have a small yard but don’t want the forced exercise of using a push reel mower, an electric mower may be for you.
- Cordless mowers are powered by a rechargeable battery. You don’t have to deal with the hassles of keeping a cord plugged in, but battery life becomes a constraint. Depending on the battery capacity, the size of your yard, and the height of your grass, you may not be able to complete your mowing job on one charge.
- Gas mowers offer the most power, which is best if you’ll be mowing tall, dense grass or if your yard is larger than 2,000 square feet. But you will have to keep gas and oil on hand as well as keep the engine serviced.
What do all the power measurements mean?
All that matters to you is whether the lawn mower’s blade will spin fast enough to cut your grass. Unfortunately, mowers are rated in far more technical terms.
For gas mowers, there are three power measurements you may see:
- horsepower (hp) refers to the amount of power the engine can produce;
- torque is the amount of horsepower that is transferred to the blade;
- cc (cubic centimeters) is another to measure an engine’s power based on the displacement volume of its cylinders.
There also are two types of engines: two-stroke (also referred to as two-cycle) and four-stroke (or four-cycle). Conventional wisdom is that two-stroke engines offer more power but also more pollution.
For electric and cordless mowers, power often is measured in volts, amps, or watts. To satisfy your inner techie, here’s how to calculate the horsepower:
27. Multiply the volts by the amps to get the wattage.
28. Divide the wattage by 746 to get the horsepower.
More horsepower doesn’t always mean more cutting power. That’s why, starting in 2007, most lawnmower manufacturers began rating walk-behind lawn mowers in torque power or cc’s--not horsepower. If torque isn’t available for a gas mower, higher cc figures usually mean higher torque (and more fuel used per stroke, incidentally).
However, you don’t want to buy a mower based on the power measurement alone. Make sure it has the features, warranty, and quality of reviews you’re seeking.
What features should I look for?
- Cutting Deck
This refers to the blade housing. The wider the cutting deck, the fewer passes it will take to mow a given area. However, consider how many obstacles there are in your yard. The wider the deck, the tougher it may be to fit the mower into tight spaces.
- Mulching and Bagging
Want to collect your clippings? Choose a mower with a rear- or side-bag option. Want to leave clippings on the lawn as fertilizer? Get a mower that mulches. A "3-in-1" mower will mulch, bag, or side-discharge.
Larger wheels mean easier handling, especially over rough terrain. If you can, go with at least 7-inch-diameter wheels in the rear--larger if your yard is hilly or uneven. Some higher-end mowers have front wheels on casters, which gives you an extremely tight turning radius.
- Height Adjustment
Most mowers allow you to adjust the distance between the blade and the ground. Think about how much range you really need.
Many newer rotary machines are available with a lever or bar that must be depressed to keep the mower running (some models include a handy blade-brake that lets you release the lever without killing the engine).
Also, look for models with a rubber flap at the back to block objects thrown from the blades. You should always wear safety goggles when mowing and follow all the manufacturer’s safety instructions regardless of the mower you’re using.
If you’re buying a cordless mower, think about how long it will run on a single charge. Most batteries take several hours to recharge, so you want to make sure it’s going to get the job done before it runs out of juice. As a rule of thumb, a typical 24-volt mower will run up to one-and-a-half hours and cut up to a third of an acre; a 36-volt mower will go for three hours and cut up to a half an acre.
- Cord holder
A cord holder is useful for keeping the cord of your electric mower out of the way when you make turns.
Gas mowers are available either with recoil (pull-cord) or electric starters. Newer recoil motors start much quicker than those you remember from summers past. However, go with electric if you can afford it: your mower will start with the push of a button or the turn of a key.
- Self-propelled or push?
A self-propelled mower moves forward without you having to push it. All you have to do is steer. If you have a relatively flat lawn, save a few bucks by skipping this feature. However, if your landscape has a slope or an irregular contour, a self-propelled model may be the best choice. Rear-wheel drive tends to offer better traction.
- Variable Speed
If you want a self-propelled mower, look for models with variable speed. This feature allows you to make adjustments within a continuous range so you can find the exact speed that’s comfortable for you.
- Cleaning the mower after usage;
- Keeping the blade sharp;
- Keeping the engine tuned up (gas mowers); and
- Keeping the battery charged (cordless mowers).
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