While the blades of a reel mower are designed to retain their sharp cutting edges for long periods of time, they will eventually wear and need sharpening. Luckily, there are several straightforward ways to sharpen a reel mower’s blades. And since it’s likely the only maintenance you’ll ever need to perform on this yard tool, half an hour of upkeep every year is a small price to pay for such an affordable alternative to gas or electric-powered mowers.
After a few years of use, your reel mower blades can grow dull. While this is usually the result of pebbles snagging on the mower’s blades, you can also cause this by steering your reel mower over hard surfaces like curbs, large branches, and rocks.
There’s one key indicator that’ll tell you it’s time to sharpen your reel mower blades. You’ll notice your mower gradually becoming tougher to use. This is because, while sharp blades will cut grass quickly and smoothly, dull blades will have difficulty cutting through your lawn, making the mower more difficult to push.
There are several ways to sharpen a reel mower’s blades. Whichever you choose, make sure you follow basic safety precautions such as securing the reel, not letting your fingers get caught in the cutting mechanism, and not accidentally cutting yourself on the blades. Some of the ways you can sharpen a reel mower include using a back lapping sharpening kit, conventional blade sharpening kits, files, a power drill equipped with a sharpening attachment, or even metal finishing sandpaper.
How to Sharpen a Reel Mower with a File
Using a coarse metal file instead of buying a specialized reel mower sharpening kit is one way you can save money when sharpening your mower’s blades. It’s incredibly easy to do and allows you to hone the cutting edge of each blade with precision. To sharpen the blades with a metal file, you’ll first want to clean the blades and reel with a stiff wire brush or coarse sandpaper. Once clean of debris like grass and dirt, lay the mower on a tabletop or workbench and chock the wheels with a piece of wood so they don’t move.
Secure the blades by inserting a broom handle or piece of rebar perpendicular through the mower’s blades. This will prevent the reel from spinning while you’re sharpening. Next, press the toothed end of a coarse metal file on the bevel edge of the first blade. Angle the file so it’s on the same plane as the beveled edge of the blade.
Now, simply scrape the file on the blade between 3 to 6 times, dragging it down towards the tip of the beveled edge. This will remove the dull metal and restore the sharp edge of the blade.
Continue working your way down the blade until you reach its midpoint, repeating the filing motion. Since the blades twist, you’ll need to stop near the midpoint, remove the object you’re using to prevent blade movement, and reposition the reel. This will ensure you can reach the rest of the first blade. Then, continue filing the blade using the same motion but starting from the other end of the tool.
Once the entire blade is sharpened, reposition the reel so you can perform the same action on the second blade, third, and so on until you’ve sharpened all the reel mower’s blades. Once you’ve finished sharpening, make sure to lubricate them. This will help them resist rust. Either spray lubricant directly on the blades’ edges or onto a rag to wipe down the edges.
Reel Mower Sharpening Compound
Another easy way to sharpen your reel mower is to use a back lapping sharpening kit. These kits come with a handle and sharpening compound. Sharpening compound is a gritty substance that sharpens the beveled edges of the blades as they scrape against each other.
To sharpen your tool with a lapping kit, attach the handle to the driving gear of your reel mower and use a paintbrush to apply the compound to all the blades.
Then, crank the reel backward, so the blades scrape each other down, restoring their sharp edge. While you can reverse the reel manually, it requires some elbow grease. If you want to avoid exerting yourself, you can use an attachment on a power drill to crank the reel more quickly for faster results.
How Do You Adjust a Reel Mower?
One of the most common problems often incorrectly attributed to dull blades is poor blade alignment. Incorrect blade contact can hinder the efficiency of your mower, making you think it’s time to sharpen your tool when all you really need is a simple adjustment. Luckily, with just a few simple steps, you can adjust your reel mower for optimum performance. First, you need to place your reel mower on a tabletop or workbench and chock its wheels from moving.
Then, use your hand to spin the reel to decide what kind of adjustment is needed. If there’s a scraping sound, you’ll need to adjust the blades further from the bed knife. If the reel spins too loosely, you need to move the blades closer to the horizontal cutting bar. Once you’ve determined the kind of adjustment you need to make, put a flathead screwdriver into the screw slots located on the side of the reel.
If you need to move the blades closer, tighten the screws. If you need to move the blades away, loosen them. Make sure you only make slight turns, only a fraction of a turn at most, so you don’t make any over-adjustments.
Next, turn the screws on each side of the cutting bar in the opposite direction you turned the reel screws. Use the same minimal adjustment you used in the step above. Now, spin the reel to see if you need to make any further adjustments. If you do, continue the process until the reel’s blades operate correctly.