Making the cut
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about reel mowers that elicited a huge response, and lots of questions from readers about how to sharpen the blades themselves. Since I’m a newbie to reel mowers, I wasn’t sure, so I called Emily Routly, a customer service representative for Lee Valley Tools, which has been selling reel mowers for years. She told me about two products the company sells for sharpening and offered some good general tips, such as:
Before you purchase a reel mower, make sure the blades can in fact be sharpened. Routly says some models are designed with blades that must be replaced when they’re dull.
Sharpen the blades of your reel mower after it comes out of the box, because they may not be ready to cut. Routly says mowers from Lee Valley, for example, are shipped with the blades painted to prevent rusting during shipping.
Use a soft cloth to keep blades clean and dry between use. If you’re fussy about your tools, wipe them down with oil to prevent rust.
Keep a good edge on your blades, says Routly, and not only will mowing be easier, you’ll minimize tip browning because the blades will shear the grass rather than tear it.
Lee Valley has two options for sharpening blades: A hand mower sharpening kit includes a lapping compound — a slightly abrasive gel — that is applied to the edges of the blades after one of the wheels has been removed. When the blades pass across the cutting bar, they’re honed. The kit sells for $25.50. Additional lapping compound is available separately for $6.50. The other product is a 20-inch strip of aluminum with an abrasive finish that clamps to the bottom plate of the mower. Again, as the blades pass across it, they’re automatically sharpened. The strip can be trimmed to fit mowers as narrow as 10 inches. Three strips come with the sharpener, which costs $26.50, and a replacement pack of two strips costs $7.50.