Monthly Archive: September 2015

Choosing a mower: the world of walk-behinds offers many options (Final part)

High-powered high wheelers

The usual solution resorted to by home owners facing an acre or more, or even upwards of half an acre, is the riding mower or lawn tractor. With cutting widths ranging from 30 to 50 inches, these machines can lop a third to more than half off your mowing time. For people who want the faster cutting speed but still prefer to walk, there are two other types of machines to consider. Both will let you cut a wider swath while still enjoying the exercise afforded by a walk-behind mower.

The first of these are what I call the high-powered high wheelers. These machines are superior to, and should not be confused with, the less expensive highwheeled models mentioned earlier. These mowers also take advantage of the flotation and hole-hopping ability of large wheels, but because their engines and their balance points are located over their rear-wheel axles, they turn and pivot easily, a capability enhanced by swiveling, caster-type wheels in front of the deck. In addition, the large models of this type are powered with 8-, 8.5-, and 9-horsepower engines that are far more ruggedly constructed than consumer-grade mowers, so they can safely and efficiently handle extensive rough-cutting chores. This versatility makes them ideal for rural owners who have not only lawns but other areas that need a mowing once or twice a season to keep the place neat and the alders out. (more…)

Choosing a mower: the world of walk-behinds offers many options (Part 2)

Small rotary mowers

Small rotary mowerWe’ve already touched on the main reasons why the little rotary mower has become Our National Lawn Mower–modest price, adjustable cutting heights, ability to handle rough patches and grass that has been allowed to grow too tall. If these are the virtues you want and if your lawn is small enough that a 22-inch swath (the largest on this class of mower) is sufficient to let you mow your lawn in what you consider a reasonable amount of time, then the small rotary mower remains a sensible choice.

Note that there are two types of rotary mowers–push and self-propelled. On push rotary mowers, the blade is mounted on an extension of the crankshaft. That’s it. Self-propulsion in mowers this small has always seemed to me a questionable proposition, adding weight, complexity, and expense to an admirably simple machine. The push mower has next to nothing to break or readjust. If the engine runs, the mower works. (In fact, a 1990 Consumer Reports survey showed that self-propelled mowers go into the shop for repairs 40 percent more often than push models.)

As far as effort is concerned, you have to walk around behind either type of mower. The lighter weight of most push mowers requires little additional energy in straight mowing, and it allows you to maneuver the machine easily around obstacles. If you disengage power to the wheels of a self-propelled mower to maneuver in tight corners, the machine becomes heavy and unwieldy. By and large, self-propelled mowers are heavier and bulkier than push mowers. Then, too, with a push mower, you can walk as fast or as slowly as you want without having to shift gears or adjust the throttle.

Because push mowers are so simple there are no significant differences in design from one make to another. Every company offers a mulching mower, often with bagging or side-discharge options. There are, however, differences in size and power that may seem small on paper but will matter to you in terms of how good a fit the mower is for you physically and how well it will do the work you want it to do.

Weights vary from around 50 to 90 pounds. If you want a mower you can whisk around easily, you’ll want to choose a lighter rather than a heavier model, realizing there will be a tradeoff in durability. The wider the cutting width, the shorter the cutting time. The difference in mowing times between a 20- and a 22-inch width, however, will not be immense.For dramatic reduction of mowing time, you need a dramatically wider mower, though cutting width is not the whole story. A 20-inch mower with a 5-horsepower engine, for instance, may have the power needed to slice through heavy stuff at a faster pace than a 3.5-horsepower mower with a 22-inch swath.

And then there are the subjective matters of fit”: Can you adjust the handle to a height suitable for you? Are the handle and controls manageable for the size and strength of your hands? Is this machine going to prove friendly to you the user, or become an enemy you hate to go out and face every week? (more…)