Lawn Mower Basics


Lawn mowing as we know it can be traced back to mid 19th century England when an inventor named Edwin Budding (whose other inventive achievements include the adjustable spanner), saw the need for a more cunning and less labour intensive way of cutting the grass, which at the time was limited to the heavy and cumbersome Scythe. His solution was essentially a push along rotating blade array, the precursor to the modern cylinder mower. It was obviously a winning idea, as the principle has stayed the same to this day, albeit with the obvious embellishments like electric or petrol engine power, or most recently robotic control. However, the greatest diversion from Budding’s original cylinder blade design of course has to be the rotary blade mechanism, and choosing between one or the other is the first decision you must make when deciding which is the best lawn mower for you.

Should I buy Electric or Petrol?

A question that you’ll probably want to answer before delving too deeply into looking at the many hundreds of lawn mowers on the market is ‘should I buy a petrol or electric mower?’ Once you’ve come to an informed decision on this then you can focus your attention better, only choosing between the petrol or electric mowers available, rather than looking at everything, and probably getting overwhelmed in the process!

So, knowing that it’s an important question to answer, what do we need to consider? Well, it really comes down to five key areas

  • The size of your lawn
  • Your physical strength
  • The frequency with which you are prepared to cut your lawn
  • Cost
  • Maintenance

Electric Lawn Mowers

With electric mowers, generally the rule of thumb is that they’re only really suitable for lawns of under 300-400 metres square, not least because you’ll struggle to find a cord long enough to stretch much further (unless it’s battery powered of course), but also because their power output will struggle to cut through a full weeks worth of late spring grass growth in one session, meaning that you’ll need to cover a large area twice in one week. A petrol driven mower on the other hand will make short work of just about anything you throw at it.

Electric mowers are generally lighter than their petrol equivalents, making them much more suitable for the weak or elderly. The other added benefit in this respect is that electric mowers do not have a pull-cable starter that most petrol mowers do, which can be quite an exhausting activity in itself before you’ve even started with the main event.

Advantages

  • Lightweight – typically less than 10kg for most small models. Battery powered lawn mowers tend to be 5 or so kilos heavier. Being lightweight offers the distinct advantage of the mower being easy to operate without inviting user fatigue, and also makes putting it away for storage easier. For example if you wish to lift it onto a shelf in your garage
  • Low maintenance. An electric motor doesn’t require priming, there is no oil to be changed, and there is no concern over damage to the motor as a result of neglect or poor maintenance
  • Low cost. Many of the most popular electric lawn mowers retail for less than £100, whereas petrol lawn mowers more or less start at this price and only get more expensive

Disdavantages

  • Limited and cutting width makes cutting large areas very arduous. The restriction of the power cable also means that larger areas are usually not viable
  • Smaller size means that grass collection box is usually small, around the 30 litre mark. Again this makes cutting larger lawns a slower job as you must keep stopping to empty out the cut grass.
  • Thicker and longer grass has a tendency to cause the motor to stall, as its limited power struggles against the obstruction of the grass

Petrol Lawn Mowers

Petrol mowers are invariably more expensive than electric mowers, as well as heavier and noisier, possibly a consideration if you have sensitive pets or neighbours. Another more pressing consideration that you should make when making the choice between petrol and electric is how far you are prepared to go in terms of maintaining your mower. With an electric mower your technical know how and ability need not stretch much further than oiling all the moving parts, whereas a petrol mower can be slightly more tricky, with filter changes, oil changes and possibly spark plugs to replace. None of this is rocket science of course, but if you know that you have no interest in performing such tasks, either be prepared to pay someone else to do it, or settle for an electric mower instead if you possibly can.

Advantages

  • Powerful and able to cut lawns of any size with ease
  • Large cutting width typically of 40cm or more able to cut grass quickly and efficiently
  • Large grass collection containers, typically 40 or 50 litres. Less stopping and starting is required during a mowing session

Disdavantages

  • Heavy – typically 25kg or more. Not an issue if the mower is ‘self propelled’ but potentially difficult to push around for some.
  • Maintenance required. Things like filters, spark plugs, and oil must be changed or maintained annually, and old fuel should be drained at the end of the season. Care must be taken not to put the mower on it’s side during cleaning or risk flooding the engine cylinder with oil, which could cause issues getting it started again immediately
  • Expensive- as mentioned above petrol lawn mowers are often at least twice as expensive as electric lawn mowers

Electric or Petrol Lawn Mower?

So if we were to draw a conclusion here, or were to try and answer the ‘which is better’ question, it would quite simply be, there is no ‘better’ choice, only a better choice to suit your specific needs and requirements. A petrol mower is all well and good for it’s power and cordless versatility, but it’s next to useless in a tiny inner city garden where all you’re likely to is upset your neighbours and local wildlife. Likewise an electric mower is clean, quiet and light, but you can forget about using one to tackle a large garden and you don’t particularly enjoy cutting the grass.

Cylinder Mowers

Qualcast Concorde 32 Electric Cylinder LawnmowerCylinder mowers use an array of blades arranged, as the name suggests in a cylinder shape, typically with the wheels that the mower rides on positioned either side. As the blades rotate they form a scissor action against a fixed plate. The grass is then swept backwards into a collection box if fitted, and some models features rollers if lawn stripes are desired.

As mentioned above, the cylinder mower offers the older of the two cutting mechanism designs, but unless you have a genuine reason or preference for them over rotary mowers then our advice would be to give them a wide berth. Whilst it’s true that cylinder mowers can offer superior results if properly maintained and sharpened, a well sharpened rotary mower blade will give almost as good results, with the added advantage of being far easier to maintain. Having said that, one perk that some of the best cylinder mowers do have is the option of a removable cassette that can be swapped out for other tools such as a scarifier or raking tool. This offers the perk of several tools in one, which may be cost-effective as long as you are prepared to invest the time and effort required for frequent adjustment and maintenance of the cylinder blade.

Rotary Mowers

Rotary mowers are by far the most common on the market today, whether petrol, electric, hover, or ride on, the rotary blade is the proven cutting method for all of them. Far simpler than the cylinder mower, the rotary mechanism is simply a rotating blade that points downwards toward the grass, and ‘chops’ rather than ‘scissors’ the grass. Much of our focus on this site involves evaluating the features of some of the best rotary mowers on the market today

 

Other Important Safety And Performance Features

All modern lawnmowers should feature a ‘dead mans’ lever, that is a lever that must be gripped as the user operates the mower, as releasing it will cut the engine or motor. This is an important safety feature that prevents misuse or injury to the user. Some more expensive petrol driven mowers feature a clutch which means the engine can be disengaged from driving the blade rather than turned off completely, this avoids having to pull the engine start cord repeatedly throughout a mowing session.

There are almost countless other options available when it comes to selecting a lawnmower, and some factors will appeal more than others depending on the size of your garden, whether you want stripes on you lawn, what your physical strength is like and so on. Have a look through some of our articles and lawnmower reviews for further tips and advice, and check out our reviews section at the top of this page.

Other Garden Power Tools and More!

Remember, we don’t just do lawn mowers! On this site we have a whole wealth of expertise on variety of different garden tools and garden related topics, check out the categories at the top of the page for more information.

We’ve got reviews and advice on choosing the best strimmers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, chainsaws and much much more. After all, if the lawn is the focal point of your garden, then the trees, hedges and flower beds are the frame. Each is important and deserves proper care and attention. Aside from the tools of the trade, we’ve also got loads of helpful information in our blog to help you get the most from your garden. Here in the UK we only seem to get a few decent months of garden friendly weather each year, so it’s important to make the most of it!

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