Once upon a time you couldn’t mow wet grass, or grass on slopes or under bushes. Now there are power mowers that do all these things with much less work than before.
When shopping for a power mower make sure it has the horsepower and cutting width for your needs without being larger and more powerful than you can really use. For example, a ride-on mower only comes into its own in a large area or in gardens where snow accumulates.
A self-propelled mower is one where the engine drives the mower and also the wheels so you only have to steer it. These are suitable for large areas and sloping gardens where pushing a mower uphill alone would be difficult.
These mowers cut grass clippings so finely (around 6cm in length) that the particles decompose into humus or mulch, fertilising the lawn each time you mow. These mowers have multi-pitch blades, which, in effect, cut the grass once as usual, then suck the clippings upwards and cut them again while still airborne until the clippings which fall back are shredded to minute particles.
Although perhaps not as versatile as the rotary mowers, this type has blades which work in a scissor-like way, giving a very fine, bowling green, type of finish.
Sharp mower blades are essential for effective mowing. Nicks and cuts in the blade can often be seen where rocks and sticks have connected with the blade but these do not affect cutting ability. If the blade is not sharp, however, it mashes the grass instead of cutting, leaving a brownish tinge on the cut surface. To check the blade, first disconnect the spark plug lead and tape it out of the way to prevent accidental starting. Block the blade with a piece of wood and a G-clamp then remove it with a wrench, putting penetrating oil on the nut to loosen it. When the blade is free, file it smooth and balance the blade by filing extra off the heavy side, Rest the blade on a pencil to check it is in balance.
If the blade is too worn to be sharpened, replace it with the correct mower blade. While the blade is out, clean the mower housing underneath to remove caked-on clippings.
Spark plugs. Remove the spark plugs using a spark plug wrench and check the electrodes. If they are dirty, clean with a wire brush, and blow off all residue. If they are pitted or cracked, replace with the appropriate plugs. Set the gap on the plug using a gauge, to the gap specified in your owner’s manual. Replace the plug, clean and oil the threads then hand tighten the plug. Tighten with a wrench about a third of a turn Do not over tighten.
As with your car, a 4-stroke mower requires clean oil to run smoothly. If the oil is dirty, drain it while hot and replace with a suitable motor mower oil. While you’re at it, lubricate moving parts on top of the mower through oiler points if provided, and spray with a spray lubricant onto throttle and cable. 2-stroke mowers run on an oil-petrol mix and do not have a separate oil sump.
Clean the air filter with warm water and household detergent then coat with light-weight oil and squeeze out the excess. Dry type filters can be vacuum cleaned. Air dry the filter, reassemble and put in new oil.
As well as the petrol driven type, there are electric mowers. These are quieter to run and create no fumes. The disadvantages are the limits created by the power cord, and the need for care in the direction you mow to avoid crossing the cord. On suitable sized lawns, they are the quickest and quietest way to mow.
Once you have mowed the bulk of the lawn you need a tool to trim the edges alongside paths and garden beds. A power edger can save a lot of work because it does not need any pushing or traction, so can be used on hard and soft surfaces. If you do not have a concrete or masonry mower strip dividing lawn from garden beds it is necessary to clip the edges each time you mow to prevent grass runners from invading the garden beds. Ideal for this is a power edger, which has no blades but uses a length of line like fishing line, whirling at high speed to cut the grass with a whipping motion. These are sold as complete units or as attachments for a power drill and the line can be replaced as necessary.
Materials you’ll need:
- Block of wood
- Penetrating oil
- Lightweight motor oil
- Spray lubricant
Tools you’ll need:
- Power mower
- Power edger
- Sharpening file
- Wire brush
- Adjustable wrench
- Vacuum cleaner if required
- Spark plug wrench and socket
- Spark plug gap-setting tool