Mowers And Mowing - Choosing The Right Mower And Maintaining It
In this article I hope to offer a little help in the choice, maintenance and use of mowers. This is a lot like buying a car, or any other consumer durable for that matter, as you are presented with a bewildering choice of makes, many of which can be seen at the GardenAdvice recommended supplier of mowers at mowers-online.co.uk.
A wrong choice will leave you saddled with something which, while it may be adequate for the job in hand, is wrong enough to be damned annoying. Let us see if we can shed a little light on this knotty problem.
Firstly, as I am sure you know, there are two main types of lawnmower available to the home user: cylinder or rotary. There are other types, such as flails, but their use is mostly confined to verge cutting and similar heavy work. Let us begin with a look at rotary machines. Whilst not normally associated with the maintenance of fine turf, such machines do have their advantages. Firstly, they are very simple. What could be more simple than a huge great blade, firmly attached to the crank of an engine, hammering round at a rate of knots, completely mangling anything in its path? No setting up required, just gas and go, as they say. Rotaries are also very versatile. If you have, for arguments sake, a reasonable lawn plus an orchard to look after and your budget doesn't stretch to a mower for each job, then a rotary is what you need. If you buy one with a rear roller and a grass bag, you can take off the bag, raise the cutting height and blast round the orchard to your heart's content. That done, you can re-fit the bag, lower the cutting height and make a reasonable job of the better quality grass areas. Turf experts, myself included, tend to be a little sniffy about rotary mowers, but they have their place and fill it very well. When buying one, the most important criteria, apart from price (and whether it matches the curtains), is tip speed. What, I hear you ask, is he babbling about now? Simply put, tip speed is the speed at which the tip of the blade rotates in relation to its speed over the ground. This simple relationship determines how good a finish the machine gives. Obviously, if the machine is pushed by the operator (not a nice thought) then he or she can walk at different speeds to obtain a different affect. However, a self propelled machine moves at a set pace and therefore tip speed becomes important. Baffle your local lawnmower vendor next time you go mower shopping by asking the question "Oi mate, what's the tip speed on this model then, boyo", or words to that effect. (After all it may not be a boyo, might it). They should be able to answer this question and if they can't then the manufacturer should be able to. This is the sort of question a professional mower buyer would ask, so why should you not let people know what you are talking about. It helps prevent the age old problem of cutting through salesmen's hype. All other things being equal then, let tip speed decide which model you buy.
However, what if a rotary mower does not slake your lust for a
better quality lawn, what then? Well my friends we now move on to my
favourite subject: cylinder mowers. I can be a boring old fart when it
comes to this subject, so stop me if you start to nod off [fall
asleep]. What is the attraction of the cylinder mower? Simple enough:
it gives a superior cut, that is all. Some golf courses are using
rotary mowers on the fairways now, but in my opinion it will be a cold
day in hell before a greenkeeper will let a rotary on to the greens or
tees. Why is this I hear you ask? Again, the answer is simple: a
properly set up cylinder mower cuts, a rotary bashes its way through
the grass. If you want a really outstanding lawn, you must invest in a
decent cylinder mower. Now comes the rub: cost. In my local mower shop,
you can pick up a decent rotary mower for about £500 and that
gets you a good 'un. In contrast, a bottom of the range cylinder mower
will set you back at least "One Large One" [£1000], not cheap.
However all is not lost, as you can get a darn good cylinder mower
secondhand, if you know where to look and what to look for. Some years
ago I worked on an estate where my machinery budget was a little
stretched, to say the least, but I was determined to get a decent
mower, as I was in the middle of getting the lawns looking like a job.
I got an ex council, golf green quality mower for less than a grand
[£1000] and it did the job very adequately. It had a good,
professional quality engine on it, although it looked a little rough,
but nothing that a coat of paint wouldn't put right. The machine was
nowhere near worn out, as most councils have a replacement policy where
by machines are disposed of after a set period of time. The mower
itself thought it was on holiday, as it went from working all day every
day, to doing two days a week with me. It also got two oil changes a
year, regular jet washing, backlapping every time it rained and all the
grease it could eat. In short, it became a pampered little mower for
which it richly repaid me by never breaking down.
Now, maintenance. Thankfully, mowers are, generally speaking, dead simple. They are not encumbered with catalytic converters, computerised engine management systems, nor are their engines hidden under artfully designed plastic covers to keep interfering fingers at bay. Being simple, they also respond to simple maintenance schedules, which can be carried out by any sensible person. First, and most importantly, keep the darn thing clean, especially at the beginning of the season when the grass is usually pretty soggy. I have lost count of the times people have complained that their collecting rotary is not collecting. A quick glance under the deck will doubtless reveal enough stuck on crap to sink a battleship. (A word off caution here: never turn your mower on its side to look under the deck without first removing the spark plug lead. I don't care how many blade brakes or safety devices there are new fingers are not available on the NHS [from hospital]). The removal of said poo will effect a cure. While we are on the subject, if your collecting rotary has a cloth bag and is not collecting efficiently, hold said bag up to the light. Can you see anything? No. I guessed not. The answer to your dilemma is to clean that bag. Now, you are no doubt aware that grass is a swine to get out of cloth. Grass which has been applied by a hundred mile an hour gale is going to be a real swine. If you can't shift it with the regular hose, there are two courses of action. Either soak it for a couple of days in a vat of water containing some washing powder and then hose it, or cart it down to the nearest garage which has a coin operated jet wash and give it major stick. People may think you are mad, but they will get over it. Whatever course of action you decide upon, your machine will be transformed, believe me. If you keep your bag clean in future, you will have no more trouble with naff collection.
Cylinder mowers respond similarly to a good clean. If you look at the path the grass clippings take from blade to box and clean the areas said grass passes, or contacts, you will have a sweeter running, happier machine. Obviously, jet washing the grass box is totally unnecessary, which is another reason to feel smug about being a cylinder mower owner.
Anyhow, back to maintenance. After external cleanliness, take care of the inner mower and give it an oil change. If you only use the mower for a couple of hours a week then an annual oil change is a good idea. It isn't a complicated job, the person who sold you the machine should show you how to do these jobs when you hand over your hard earned wedge [money]. Of course, you could let the dealer change the oil when you put in the mower for its annual service, but why should they get all the fun? Apart from these jobs, there isn't a lot to do to a modern mower, apart from oiling any pivot points on controls, cables, etc, and ensuring it is cutting nicely. With a rotary, this is fairly straight forward. Just check the cutting edge of the blade with eye and hand. If it is a little dull then either give it a rub with a file, attack it gently with an angle grinder if you have one, or remove it and get your dealer to grind it for you. A cautionary note here. Be careful to remove similar amounts of metal from both ends of the blade or you will destroy its balance and you know how nasty unbalanced things can be (just ask 'er indoors [wife]). Seriously though, if your mower is badly out of balance, it will shake itself to bits in a matter of minutes. As a youth, I was mowing a bank with a well known brand of mower when about an inch broke of the end of the blade. By the time I had pulled it up the bank all I had left was the handles. You can bet that that took some explaining. Even a slight imbalance will make the machine unpleasant and tiring to use, so beware. If the blade looks like the dog's been at it, then go bonkers and buy a new one, you know it makes sense. You'll probably save the cost of the blade in petrol anyway, as the motor won't be working half as hard trying to push the blade through the grass.
Those of you who decide to take the cylinder mowing route will
now come up against the issue which I believe puts most people off
cylinder mowers: setting the damn things. If the sales wallah tells you
this is easy it is time to get the old sceptical look out (you know the
one, slightly raised eyebrow, head tilted slightly back, gaze directed
down the old nose etc. Similiar to the look James Bond used to
give Q when he showed him some new backward firing wonder weapon). Get
said salesperson to give you a demonstration of the technique required
and if you are met with inaction and a stony silence then I suggest you
take your "flexible friend" elsewhere. Seriously though, setting a
cylinder mower is a real swine but it can be learned and like all
skills can be improved with practice and imagine the glow of
satisfaction from getting it right.
If your mower proves difficult to set then you may need to get
it re-ground and in extremis, a new bottom blade fitted. This is not
half as drastic as it sounds. All that is involved is the mounting of
your mower onto a special machine which grinds your cylinder until it
is perfectly round in relation to its centre and then grinding the
bottom plate to match. If this sounds horribly technical, get the
fitter at your mower shop to explain it to you. They should be more
than prepared to do this, as they will soon be parting you from a chunk
of your money and they should be prepared to show you what you are
spending it on. If they ask you if you want the cylinder relief ground,
politely refuse, as I have found this is a waste of time. However, it
is worthwhile having it back lapped, as this really puts a good finish
on the cylinder and ensures a stonking cut. I might even show you how
to do it yourself one of these days. It's just another of those jobs
that you can get done, but is much more satisfying to do yourself.
That's about it for my ramblings on the subject of mowers and mowing, so I will shoot off now and let you get on with it. Should you feel the need for further advice on specific aspects of turfcare, please feel free to contact me on email@example.com.
Goodbye and happy lawning,
The Bearded Wonder