Reel mowers, or push mowers, are simple lawn mowing devices that are powered by nothing but the push of the operator. Rather than a spinning, horizontal blade like most gas and electric motors, reel motors have several helical blades which spin vertically past a fixed blade called a bed knife. In some reel mowers, these blades actually click against the bedknife as they spin, while in others they pass within a millimeter or two of the blade.
The blades on a reel lawn mowers work like scissors. As the operator pushes the mower, the motion of the wheels is transfered to the blades, spinning them past the bedknife. These blade push the blades of grass against the bedknife, snipping them cleanly. The small clippings of grass are then either scattered on the lawn or else collected in a basket.
The greatest advantage of the reel lawn mower is its simplicity. Although there are some electric reel mowers, most are completely powered by the push of the operator. This makes them light, maintenance free and extremely easy to store and transport. Gas mowers, by contrast, require frequent maintenance and even electric mowers require adjustment and battery replacement.
Reel mowers are also quieter and free of the noxious exhaust that spews from gas rotary mowers. Reel mowers are also better for the lawn. The reel cleanly clips the ends of grass blades, whereas a spinning rotor tears at the grass, leaving a ragged tip. Reel mowers also leave behind a natural layer of mulch, which helps to fertilize the lawn.
Reel mowers do have several drawbacks, making them not ideal for every situation. While rotary lawnmowers can plow over a rough lawn, slicing through tall weeds, grass and yard debris effortless, reel mowers will not touch rapidly growing weeds and will not operate well in poorly maintained yards. Reel lawnmower operators have to stop periodically to pick up sticks or pull out weeds, which slows things down. Push mowers are somewhat slower in general, which makes them less appealing for larger lawns.
Finally, reel mowers do not edge very well, since their wheels are outside of the blade while the wheels of rotary mowers are inset. In spite of these disadvantages, reel mowers are still the mowers of choice for many homeowners because of their elegance, simplicity and environmental friendliness.