How to Sharpen Reel Mower Blades?

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 incredibly easy ways to sharpen a reel mower’s blades and since it’s likely the only maintenance that you’ll ever need to perform on this simple but efficient yard tool, a half hour of upkeep every year or so is a very small price to pay for such an affordable and healthy alternative to gas or electric-powered mowers. After a few years of use, the blades of your reel mower can wear and grow dull.

While this is unavoidable and usually caused by getting pebbles snagged on the mower’s blades, it can also be caused by steering your reel mower over hard surfaces like curbs, large branches, and rocks. The key indicator that will tell you that it’s time to sharpen your reel mower blades is that 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 grass and cause the mower to be more difficult to push.

There are several ways to sharpen a reel mower’s blades. Whichever you choose, make sure that 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 that 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, and 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 that you can save money when sharpening your mower’s blades. It’s incredibly easy to do and allows you to perfectly 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 that 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 on one side of the mower. Angle the file so that it is on the same plane as the angle of 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 stop near the midpoint, remove the object that you’re using to prevent blade movement, and reposition the reel so that you can reach the rest of the first blade. Continue filing the blade using the same motion but starting from the other end of the tool.

Once the entire blade is sharpened, simply reposition the reel so that you can perform the same action on the second blade, third blade, and so on, until all of the reel mower’s blades have been sharpened. Once you’ve finished sharpening all of the blades lubricate them so that they resist rust. Either spray lubricant directly on the blades’ edges or onto a rag that you can use to wipe down the edges of the blades.

Sharpening a Reel Mower

Reel Mower Sharpening Compound

Another way to sharpen your reel mower, and one of the easiest, is to use a back lapping sharpening kit. These kits come with a handle and sharpening compound. Sharpening compound is a gritty substance that is applied to the blades and 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 paint brush to apply the sharpening compound to all of the blades.

Then you just need to crank the reel backwards so that the blades scrape each other down, restoring their sharp edge. While turning the reel in reverse can be done by hand, 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 that can be incorrectly attributed to dull blades is poor blade alignment. Incorrect blade contact can hinder the efficiency of your mower causing you to think it’s time to sharpen your tool when all that’s really needed 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 is 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 the screws. Make sure that you only make slight turns, only a fraction of a turn at most, so that you don’t make any over-adjustments. Next, you will turn the screws of each side of the cutting bar in the opposite direction that you turned the reel screws. Turn these screws using the same minimal adjustment that you used in the step above. Now, spin the reel to see if you need to make any further adjustments. If you do, simply continue the process until the reel’s blades operate correctly.

About the Author

Bob Robinson has been a tool enthusiast and lawn care expert for the past 11 years. First working with John Deere to reduce their impact on the environment, whilst building his love for writing in his spare time. Now, Bob runs the editorial team at BestofMachinery and tends to his garden in his spare time.

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