It might seem that the answer to the question "How do I use a push mower?", has an important clue contained in the proposition. Push. Just push. Such an answer, however, does not begin to address the many questions that can arise. What kinds of push mowers are there? What types of lawns are the various kinds best suited to? What is required to keep a push mower well-maintained? What are the most appropriate safety precautions to take?
One question that we do not need to consider is whether there are any uses for a push mower besides mowing grass. With powered mowers, that would be an entirely different question, as anyone who is familiar with David Lynch’s 1999 movie "The Straight Story", which features a 240-mile journey by lawn tractor, knows. It stretches the imagination to see push mowers, though, doing anything other than mowing grass.
Perhaps lawn tractors are the domain of sports grounds, roadside verges, and large suburban and rural houses. Nevertheless, there is a greater range of choice regarding types of push mower with a corresponding range of considerations to take into account.
Historically, grass was either maintained by grazing animals or else it was cut by scythe. This implement, still familiar through its association with the mythical Grim Reaper, has the disadvantage that there is nothing to counter its stroke other than the grass itself, so it needs to be very sharp in order to be effective. Cylinder mowers pinch the blades of grass between the rotating blade and a static one, so the effect is more like that of a pair of scissors. They were invented early in the nineteenth century though it was not until nearer the turn of the twentieth century that the domestic lawnmower became widespread.
With the growth of suburban housing through the interwar years, demand had grown and petrol driven models became a common sight and sound in the most affluent areas of the country. The development of compact petrol motors also ushered in the rotary mower. Like a scythe, the rotary blade has nothing pushing back, relying instead on the energy of the blades to make the cut.
Types of Push Mowers
Effectively, those are the two types of lawnmower still in use today. Although electric is far more common than petrol motors now, the blade actions are essentially unchanged. The major innovation, connected to the rotary blade, has been the hover mower, which uses the blades to generate the down force that lifts the machine a few inches above the ground, allowing it to float as the operator pushes it.
Mechanical Push Mowers
As far as non-motorised mowers are concerned, cylindrical blades are the only type available. These mowers are generally equipped with large and heavy wheels that gain traction on the grass, enabling them to drive the cylinder either by gears or by chain. They are normally fitted with a grass box, which either sits in front of the blades, or more rarely, above and behind. The whirling blades fling the cut grass in the direction of the box, which needs to be emptied periodically either onto a compost heap or into a garden waste container. Some people, though, advocate dispensing with the grass box and leaving the clippings on the cut lawn to mulch.
Another feature that cylinder mowers generally have is a set of rollers along the length of the cut. These flatten the grass in the direction of the cut, and with careful directing, can create a distinctive striping with grass lanes alternately flattened in one direction and the other.
Several advantages have been claimed for push mowers, most of them health related. The main one relates to the health of the grass, and it is as good for motorised cylinder mowers as it is for mechanical ones. Because the blades slice the grass rather than ripping and tearing at it, cylinder mowers leave the roots intact. When it comes to the person pushing the mower, the gentle exercise involved in driving a mechanical model is regarded as both physically beneficial and mentally relaxing.
Another health benefit is more one of omission: They are safer than powered models because their moving parts only move when the mower is directly being used. They cannot be left idling, and they cannot "run away". At a more mundane level, the relative simplicity of mechanical mowers generally makes them cheaper and easier to maintain. Finally, from an environmental point of view, they are quiet and do not pollute. On the other hand, mechanical mowers are not very effective on uneven surfaces or in particularly thick grass although it is possible to adjust them to address the latter issue.
Petrol Engine Push Mowers
Some types of petrol mowers get drive power from their engine and only require pushing for guidance or turning or perhaps a bit of extra help up a slope. They tend to be top of the range machines, and it is more common for the blades to be powered but not the wheels. Using a mower of this type generally involves operating a throttle. One advantage that petrol mowers have are that they are more effective than mechanical models at tackling long and tough grass. Another, when compared to electric models, is that there is no vast length of cable to manage.
Petrol mowers require more attention to maintenance than other types, so there is a trade-off to be evaluated between effectiveness and expenditure. For some people though, the maintenance of a petrol engine is as absorbing and relaxing as another person’s push mowing. For a recently bought second-hand model, it is a good idea to go online and look for a user’s handbook or manual. A near match can contain good advice even if the specific model cannot be found. Care should be taken though, when interpreting specific instructions or values.
Electric Push Mowers
The most common mower on British lawns in the present day, however, is an electric model of one kind or another. As with petrol mowers, electric mowers may be self-propelled, or they may require pushing. The majority are mains powered and require a constant cable connection. There are a few battery-powered models, which have the obvious advantage that the danger of cutting the cable with the mower blades is eliminated.
Electric cylinder mowers are best suited to flat lawns and give a close cut and fine finish. With a roller in addition to the blades, they can improve that finish with Wimbledon-style stripes. With more ingenuity, it is even possible to create other patterns, such as concentric circles. Some electric cylinder lawnmowers have flexible options, such as cylinders with extra blades, for a closer cut, or a scarifying tool to attack lawn moss.
Electric rotary mowers cannot generally match the cylinder type for close cutting but compensate by being better suited to longer grass. What that means in practical terms is that the grass can be left for longer between mowings. This is an advantage to many because all the vagaries of nature, such as uneven surfaces, variable light and shade, poor drainage, add up to a lawn that is better kept at a height of an inch or more.
Hover mowers are rotary mowers without wheels and often do not have a clipping box. Their principal advantage is that they are very simple to operate since they can be pushed with minimum effort and do not need to keep to a straight line.
Push Mower Maintenance
First of all, there are aspects to good mower maintenance that are common to all types. Simply put, keep them clean and dry. Since cut grass tends to clump and cling, this is not necessarily a straightforward task, and cleaning off a compacted accumulation of clippings can require sustained effort. Before using a mower, check its guards and covers to ensure correct fitting and proper condition. Replace any worn or damaged parts and tighten any loose fixings. Oiling or greasing is best done at a time other than immediately before use. That allows the lubricative and protective properties of the agents time to do their work.
With an electric mower, check the cable for defects. With any powered mower, it is particularly important to check for loose cutting blades. Under power, the capacity for a loose blade to fly at speed from the mower and cause injury is significantly greater than from a mechanical mower. When replacing worn or damaged blades, take care to maintain the mower’s balance. Often, that will mean replacing all blades rather than the damaged blade alone.
With petrol mowers, in addition to keeping them dry when not in use, it is advisable to drain the fuel from the tank, especially out of season. In season, the reason is that it minimises any fire hazard; out of season, there is the additional consideration that petrol tends to deteriorate after a month or so. Routine maintenance also includes changing the engine oil at intervals recommended by the manufacturer, checking the starter cord for wear, cleaning or changing the air filter, and changing the spark plug.
Lawn Mowing Safety Tips
According to RoSPA, over 6,000 people per year are victims of lawnmower-related accidents that are sufficiently serious to warrant a visit to hospital. It can be inferred that many more accidents occur that are not so serious. The first piece of advice then, is to ensure that the person operating the mower is wearing protective footwear. Also, irrespective of the type of mower being operated, check the area to be mown for objects that might damage or be thrown by the machine. Mowing is best carried out in daylight or else in good artificial light. Wet conditions should be avoided.
When motorised push mowers are being operated, not only should the operator’s safety be considered, but care should also be taken to ensure that no other people, especially children, are nearby. Lawnmowers can throw out sticks and stones in the normal course of operation, even if the machine is otherwise well-maintained. Do not allow children to operate or play with the lawnmower.
If it should be necessary to mow banks and slopes, take care to maintain footing. Where possible, mow across the slope, rather than up and down, and take particular care while turning around. This is most especially true with petrol mowers.
Specific Tips for Petrol Mowers
Never pick up or carry the lawnmower while the engine is running; wait until every component has stopped moving before touching anything. Fuel should be stored in properly designed containers, and it should be added outdoors and away from naked flames. This should be done, additionally, before starting the engine. Never attempt to remove the fuel tank cap when the engine is running.
If fuel should be spilled, do not start the engine. Move the machine away from spillage and allow the vapours to dissipate. Stop the engine before clearing blockages and whenever leaving the mower. Lastly, allow the engine to cool before storing in any enclosure.
Disposing of Grass Cuttings
Some people are content to leave clippings on the cut surface where they can break down and feed the soil. Others include grass clippings in their compost routine. By themselves though, grass clippings do not make ideal composting. They need to be blended with more woody materials, such as bush clippings, for the best results. For people without the room or the time to compost, disposal with the household waste may be an option. Local authorities can normally advise about the disposal of garden waste and recommend storage materials.
Buying Push Mowers on eBay
Although modern mowers are designed with an eye to compact storage and carriage, they remain bulky items. New items, which are normally supplied in their original carton, can be transported by courier services at reasonable rates. There are eBay shops that sell push mowers, and there are always private sellers offering individual items. With private sellers and large items, it is often a good idea to look for an opportunity that is close enough geographically for you to collect the goods in person.
As well as mowers, eBay sellers can provide an array of peripheral products. Suitable clothing and footwear is the obvious example. For instance, you might want to search for a pair of utility trousers and combat boots. Garden gloves are another item worth considering. Maintenance components, such as mower blades, are available too. The general advice on such things is to type the name of the item you are looking for into the search window on eBay’s home page.
Mowing the lawn is a quintessentially British pastime, an activity that now circles the globe and is enjoyed by millions. Or rather, perhaps it would be more true to say that the lawns are enjoyed by millions, the mowing of them possibly less so.
Nevertheless, with proper attention paid to safety precautions and equipment maintenance, there is no reason why keeping the lawn in regular trim with a push mower should be a chore. The key thing, as with so many things in life, is preparation. Select a mower that is appropriate to the size and condition of the lawn. Keep it dry, clean, and well-lubricated in order to ensure that it performs at peak efficiency for the duration of its working life. Making sure that the surface to be cut is clear of people, impediments, and potential hazards is important, and choose the right weather conditions for the task. If a buyer has taken the aforementioned guidelines into consideration, finding and using a push mower can become a stress free task.