Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Grass (Cutter) Is Always Greener...

I have a conundrum. Won't you please help me, oh wise and sage internets?

You see, I find myself searching for a device capable of ridding my property of excess grass. In the past, I've had a riding mower courtesy of Dad G., since we lived next door to each other and all that. I've been cutting a 1 acre lot for 15 years, and in the past couple of years had been cutting my parents' yard, too - for a total of about 3 acres.

One of the things I looked for in Freedom House was a small yard. TheBoy and BabyGirl G. are beyond the "running around in the yard" stage. If they feel an overwhelming need to exercise, they go for a bike ride, grab their scooters, or strap on roller blades. The days of the Power Wheels electric vehicle roaming the back 40 are long behind us.

So, rather than 1-3 acres, I find myself with 0.2. I prefer this greatly.

What this means, and the genesis of this request, is that I'm genuinely puzzled as to what I should acquire for my grass cutting needs. It boils down to one of three options:

Option 1: Standard push mower.

Pros are that I'm familiar with the operation of a standard push mower.
Cons are that I need to have gas/oil/etc. on hand and store an internal combustion engine for the winter.

Option 2: Reel mower.

Pros are that it requires absolutely no additional tools other than a method of sharpening.
Cons are that the lawn must be mowed frequently and the blades resharpened often.

Option 3: Electric mower.

Pros are that it doesn't require gas/oil/etc. like a gas mower.
Cons are that it's not as powerful as a gas mower, and you can run over the cord and electrocute yourself.

Now, granted, my experience with a reel mower comes from a friend who owned one about 20 years ago - however, it's not like the technology has changed for a reel mower. He said it cut grass well, but that it needed frequent sharpening, and didn't work if the grass got too long.That means if we go away for a weekend, or have a rainy spell, or just get lazy for a week, we have to go out and buy something else to cover. The reel mower is the least expensive option - Amazon offered a 20" model with a grass catcher for $95, shipped.

The electric is tempting except for the cord. If I hand over lawn mowing duties to TheBoy, I'm afraid of him electrocuting himself if he runs over the cord. I would assume - and here I mean hope - that there's some sort of shutoff that would prevent him from letting all the electrons out of the house. Barring that, I hope nothing catches fire. However, the bonus of being able to unplug it after the last mow of the season, toss it in the basement in a corner, and forget about it until spring thaw is rather tempting... Electric is middle-of-the-pack, price-wise: Amazon offered a 20" model with a bagger for $130, shipped.

The gas mower leaves me feeling "meh". It's a lot of work to properly care for a gasoline engine, and in this case, there's just not a lot of return on investment. The gas mower is also the most expensive, with the plain model starting at $150, and going up to $250 or so with a bagger attachment. Plus it's the noisiest out of the three options. On the other hand, though, if the grass gets a little too tall, it'll cut through it like a champ.

So, thoughts/comments/etc. are appreciated. If you have experience - good or bad - with reel mowers or electric (I have conservatively 32 years of experience with a gas-powered push mower), I'd welcome the input. Bear in mind that a 13 year old boy with the attention span of a rabid chipmunk will be running whatever rig we get, so safety is paramount (reel mower has the edge there).

No matter what we get, lawn care is going to take a LOT less time, and that is a good thing...

That is all.


Brad_in_MA said...

How about a goat? You can curry it when the growing season is done.

MonteG said...

Have you looked into an electric with a battery? I inherited a corded electric with my house, and dealing with the cord was always a bit of a pain. I didn't feel like it was particularly dangerous, though. Just start near where you have the cord piled up and work away from there. Your mileage may vary, depending on the shape of your yard. It wasn't horrible, but I think I'd look into battery-powered, if I were in the market for a new one.

Anonymous said...

I opted to get an 18' Fiskars reel mower, and haven't regretted it. Sharp sharp sharp, wonderful cut, and not a bear to maintain. Bonus, related to your noise post earlier: Quiet. As in, 6:00am mowing and the neighbors don't know it quiet.


David aka True Blue Sam said...

Is your garage attached to the house? If it is, gas cans in the garage are a risky thing. We have used electrics for difficult mowing situations close to the house for years, and we really like them. The cord has been run over only once, and no-one was electrocuted. I am more afraid of gasoline's fire hazard than of the danger of whacking an electric cord.

HossIsBoss said...

I got myself a little Gas push mower at a pawn shop for $50. Works great, and if it dies, oh well, I'll go get another one. We're going on year three with the thing, and all I've had to do was occasionally sharpen the blade, drain the gas and run it out in late fall, and change the oil every spring. It folds up nicely and stores where I store the snowblower in winter.

My $0.02! Congrats on the new digs and job, BTW!

Joshua said...

Second an electric mower with a battery if possible and in budget. While the cords have never been a real problem they can get annoying and are just something to work around if you have lots of fixtures in yard.

While some older models are not the most powerful things out there, the one we had required either slooooow cutting or a double pass if we let a week or so go by, newer ones are pretty darn efficient and speedy ya just can't overmow their pace same with any mower I suppose.

Only downside is might be abit more to fix or find someone ta work on em?

Dave H said...

I've had all three, but I went back to the gas mower. My current one is a Toro self-propelled. (The guy at the dealership said they all are. If I wanted one that wasn't, it was a special order. I wish I had. I don't use the propulsion, but the drivetrain makes it harder to push.)

My experience with a corded electric is similar to MonteG's. Running over and cutting the cord is mostly a nuisance, not a shock hazard. If your house is up to code the outdoor outlets have a GFCI that will kill the power if you do something silly. But wrangling that damned cord around the copious flower beds, shrubs, and trees my wife left in the yard made it take twice as long to mow.

My yard is too uneven for a reel mower so it wasn't very practical. I gave it to my fiancee, who has a postage stamp yard in the city, and she loves it. But while I had it, it cut beautifully on the few level places in my yard. Golf courses use reel mowers for that reason.

I'm not very diligent about winterizing my gas mower. In my case that means fold over the handle and park it in the shed when I get the snowblower out. If I think of it I put a little Sea Foam in the gas first. It's started every Spring for the last 4 years I've had it.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I'm one of those odd guys who likes gas powered.

It's not that much work if you store it properly. The one I have now is a hand-me-down from my grandfather. It's about 23 and is still running like a champ. Only had to put plugs in it once in the 12 years I've had it.

As long as you drain the gas out and run it dry, it stores well and the plugs don't rust. It's a mulching mower with a deadman pullbar so there is no grass attachment and the mower won't run if the pull bar isn't depressed. As long as The Boy(tm) doesn't do something unwise like stick his fingers under the deck while it is operation, he should be fine.

Formynder said...

My only experience with an electric mower was at my grandfather's house, and it was a royal pain in the rear. The cord can get tangled in just about anything, especially if you have flower gardens or shrubs in the middle of your mowing area.

Gas powered lawn mowers really don't take all that much in the way of maintenance. The first time you start it up after the winter hiatus can take a bit of work, but after that it's easy. And storing a single can of gas in the garage isn't that much of a fire hazard.

Anonymous said...

I had both electric and gas (self propelled). We managed to burn the motors on two electrics & killed 3 extension cords before we came to our senses and went gas. The again, you can only grow St Augustine in South Florida which is the equivalent of that material that they make plastic handcuffs out of.

Then we got really smart and got a guy that comes every so often and does our landscaping :)

Phssthpok said...

Tear out the grass and plant something that will feed you.

Never understood the concept of continuously spending all that time, money, and effort on something that does nothing more than sit there and 'look good'. (Unless of course it just happens to be your particular flavor of 'zen' relaxation...then by all means, go for it)

Yougling kids playing rough-and-tumble, or Smokey and the power-wheels Bandit? Fine.. it's a playground, not a yard. it serves a purpose.

Keeping grass 'just' because you don't want to look at dirt?...Tear it out and replace it with something useful.

Hell..put in a small orchard of fruit trees,and use clover as ground cover(and flowers for bees)in between. With any luck the combination will bring a bambi or two within bow range of the front porch! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Go big and get one of those robo-mowers. There's about a dozen different kinds now.

Dirk said...

My son, who will be 13 in June, has the same attention-span level as yours. He's been successfully using a reel mower on our rather small front yard - the only part with grass - for a couple years now. It's true they don't work too well on really high grass, but if it's just moderately high, it's not bad.

In our area, we get weeds that send up a fairly high stalk - the reel mower just won't touch that. Still, a few minutes with some clippers takes care of that easily. If there's any twigs or anything from overhead trees, they have to be picked up beforehand, or they'll stop it dead. It's not very good at getting close to edges - if there's any grass right up against a fence or something, you'll have to trim.

I don't know that we've ever sharpened it in 2 years or so, but it seems to be working just fine. I think it's a Scott's brand, but not sure. Cost south of $100, but no bag, which is fine, as our soil could use the extra organic matter.

I like the quiet aspect, and the fact that it makes him work a little harder at it - burn off some of that excess energy!

I'd consider the electric, too, but won't get another gas lawn tool. The ethanol they add to gas most everywhere causes issues with the carburetor, as it leaves deposits behind.

Anonymous said...

0.2 acres?
myself, if I had that small of a yard i'd hire it out. lots more freedom that way, and if you get a decent service they shouldn't charge much for that small of a yard.
If you gotta do it yourself though...

I'd get a cordless battery mower.

If your yard is reasonably flat, then a reel mower, but that is more work.

I fail to see why you think a gas mower is that hard to maintain...last tank or so, use Stabil or other gas stabilizer, then turn off the gas and run the carb bowl empty.

Change the oil in the fall, and put it away for the winter. How hard is that?

Sharpen the blade(s) twice a year or as needed....15 minutes total time...all you need is a wrench and file or grinder.

Borepatch said...

Option 4: Ask The Boy which one he wants, because it will be his job. I started mowing the grass at that age (as likely did you), as sis both #1 Son and #2 Son.

A warning: my grass in Maryland (Silver Spring) grew *fast* in the spring, often requiring cutting twice a week. And summer there is brutal - take the worst hot/humid day you'd get in Massachusetts and make it go on for 2 months.

Out of mercy to The Buy (or out of self preservation), get the boring old gas model.

Geodkyt said...

Gas. Either get a "disposable" one at a pawn shop or CraigsList, and throw it away when it breaks, or buy one new without powered drive, run it for 3-4 times as many years, and throw it away when it finally dies.

Keep the blades reasonably sharp, check the oil and change before chunky, and run out the gas every fall, and you really shouldn't have any significant issues for several years, even neglecting basic PCMS like you were a Somali pirate with an AK.

David said...

They say there are no dumb questions...

When I was 12 my father was tinkering with the lawn mower. I walked up and asked him "How does the mower work?"

My father did not touch the lawn mower after that day until I went away to college 7 years later. His thinking was - If I was old enough to be curious, I was old enough to push the damned thing.

That old second hand gas mower that dad payed $10 for was my introduction to engines, gasoline, oil, mechanical devices and high speed spinning blades of death on wheels. I learned to pull start, push to mow, change oil, drain gas, sharpen blades, clean filters, scrape the mower deck, repair sprinkler heads, replace broken wheels and pull ropes, mount and use two different aftermarket grass catchers that were not designed for that mower but were on sale.

Get the gas mower!

My Dad tried to give me that mower when I got out of college - I didn't take it. As far as I know he trained three grandsons with it, and it is still sitting out back of his garage with an inverted washtub protecting the engine from the elements because none of them wanted it either.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"The ethanol they add to gas most everywhere causes issues with the carburetor, as it leaves deposits behind."

I'll second that. My (second-hand, but free) mower started having issues starting or (especially) restarting (even after I figured out that the cable for the blasted "deadman" switch had stretched). I tried everything, and finally got it to work reliably by switching to non-alcoholic gas. That's all I will put in it, now.

Stretch said...

No experience with a reel mower but LOTS with both gas and electric.
With corded electric start close to outlet and work your way to the perimeter.
With gas buy quality and avoid ethanol like Hippies avoid soap.

DJ9 said...

Have a corded electric that is on its 25th year, with only a blade sharpening every 3-5 years as maintenance; I'm pretty sure we paid less than $90 for it, and another $10 for a single, high-quality, long, heavy-duty cord. It has spent 22 of the off-season years in unheated garages in North Dakota, with no problems at all.

As Stretch said, above, I mow a path along the house, flip the cord once into the mowed path, then work outward into the yard from the first cut. The cord stays in the previously cut path unless you jerk on it, and the quick step-over during the turn at the end of each cut is hardly a problem, even for my half-century-old body/legs.

Sevesteen said...

If the yard isn't huge, battery electric. More pleasant to use just from the lower noise level, less maintenance overall. I've got a standard lead acid model for a small yard, Dad has a fancy lithium ion model to do where his rider won't reach, he loves it.

MattB said...

Electric for a small yard like yours is the way to go. Home Depot or Lowes has them for less than Amazon. I have one that I got at Home Depot and it is easy and convenient to use.