How to Sharpen Reel Mower Blades

By Ben Wilson

Published 10 months ago

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Just about every tool that you buy will need maintenance of some sort. Blades for manual reel mowers are no different. The good thing is that they are relatively low maintenance when compared to other tools. You’ll typically need to sharpen your steel reel mower blades about once a year. While flame-hardened blades can last up to 10 years without sharpening. So make sure to check what sort of reel mower blades you have before you get started. 

If you’re buying a new reel mower, then it’s a good idea to go for flame-hardened steel blades as they are stronger and last longer. However you’ll still need to ensure that you clean the mower after each use and maintain it by adjusting the blades where necessary. 

Reel mowers are affordable, eco-friendly and a great choice for any avid gardener. To keep your steel bladed reel mower in tip-top condition just takes 30 minutes once a year. It’s important that you take this time, so that you get the most use out of your reel mower. If looked after properly your reel mower will last for decades.

Why Your Reel Mower is Hard to Push

 

If you’re finding it hard to push your mower, or it’s not cutting your grass effectively then the blades may be dull or blunt. To get the most out of your mower, make sure to avoid branches, rocks, and bashing into hard surfaces as this will make your blades become blunt and make your mower hard to use. Another reason that your reel mower might be working less optimally could be due to poor blade alignment, which I’ll get into later on in this article. 

Mowing your lawn every week or more will cause your blades to become blunt faster. The less you use your mower, the sharper they will remain. But make sure to watch out for moisture in your shed. Store your mower in a dry garage or shed to keep it in good working order. Also make sure that each time you mow your lawn you take 5 minutes to:

  • Wipe off excess grass
  • Clean the blades
  • Dry the blades 
  • Keep mower out of the rain

Pushing your mower over hard ground can also cause the blades to become blunt. So make sure to keep your reel mower in a location close to your lawn, or carry it there. Rather than pushing it over paving stones, which will cause the blades to become dull much faster. 

3 Reel Mower Safety Precautions

 

Before we get to sharpening your manual reel mower blades, let’s cover a few safety precautions. 

  • Wear safety gloves to protect your hands while sharpening the blades. 
  • Secure the reel
  • Be careful while dealing with the cutting mechanism

There are a few ways that you can sharpen your blades such as using a conventional blade sharpening kit (with a grinding stone/ file and paste), coarse metal file, metal finishing sandpaper or a power drill with a sharpening attachment.

How to Sharpen a Reel Mower with a File?

 

If you don’t have a specialized reel mower sharpening kit, then you can use a coarse metal file. Which should save you some money and is super easy to do. Before you get started you’ll want to clean your blades.

Cleaning Your Mower Blades

 

If you’ve just used your mower, spray the underside with a garden hose. If you have some mower cleaner or soap then apply this with a brush and then rinse thoroughly. Either leave your reel mower upright to drip dry or dry with a shammy or old towel. Grab some coarse sandpaper or a wire brush and make sure there is no debris lurking on the blades.

PRO TIP: You can use cooking spray (oil) to remove grass from the blades. This lubricates the blades and can prevent grass sticking there in the future. However, you’ll not want to do this just before you sharpen the blades.

Sharpen Reel Mower Blades (with File) in 6 Steps

 

Now that the blades are clean, it’s time to sharpen them. Simply follow the following 6 steps:

Step 1Secure Wheels – Place reel mower on a solid surface like a workbench or a table top. Secure wheels with a block of wood to keep them in place. 

Step 2Secure Mower Blades – Jam a broom handle through the mower blades to stop them moving

Step 3Positioning –  Angle your file so that it matches the angle of the beveled edge of your blade and push the toothed end of your file down. 

Step 4Filing – Firmly scraping the file toward the beveled edge, pull your file downward [Repeat 6 times] and continue down the blade until you have filed the full length. 

Step 5Repositioning – remove the broom handle (or whatever you are using to secure the blade) and reposition it so that you can file the full length of all of the blades. The blades are organized in a spiral, so you’ll need to reposition several times and repeat step 4 until all of the blades have been filed. 

Step 6 Lubricate – Once you’ve completed all of the blades and are happy with the finish, you’ll want to lubricate the blades so that they move smoothly and don’t get rusted. You can either spray the lubricant on directly or use a rag. 

How to Sharpen a Reel Mower with

a Sharpening Kit

 

A conventional back lapping blade sharpening kit will normally come with a grinding stone, a handle (to attach to the driving gear) and grinding paste. The gritty paste is also known as “Sharpening Compound.” 

The grinding stone (also known as a file) is a stone made of hard rock and the grinding paste should be a gritty consistency. All you’ll need to get in addition to these two items is some old newspaper or rags and lubricant. 

Sharpen Reel Mower with a Sharpening Kit  in 7 steps

PRO TIP: To make the sharpening process (step 5) easier and faster, you can get a special attachment for your power drill.

Follow these simple 7 steps to sharpen your reel mower with a sharpening kit:

Step 1Secure Wheels – Place reel mower on a solid surface like a workbench or a table top. Secure wheels with a block of wood to keep them in place. 

Step 2 Grinding Stone – Carefully use the grinding stone to file down any rough areas. 

Step 3 –  Attach Handle – to the driving gear of your reel mower 

Step 4 Apply Paste – Apply grinding paste to the blades with a paint brush

Step 5Sharpening – Turn the reel backward with the handle so that the paste can file the blades and sharpen the beveled edges. 

Step 6 Clean & Test – Clean the blades with your newspaper, an old rag or towel then test the sharpness with a piece of newspaper or a blade of grass. If you are not satisfied, repeat steps 4 & 5.

Step 7 Lubricate – Once you’ve completed all of the blades and are happy with the finish, you’ll want to lubricate the blades so that they move smoothly and don’t get rusted. You can either spray the lubricant on directly or use a rag. 

Adjust Reel Mower Blades in 4 Steps

PRO TIP: To make the sharpening process (step 5) easier and faster, you can get a special attachment for your power drill.

Problems mowing can also be due to your blades being out of alignment. Other than the blades becoming blunt due to use, mis-aligned blades are a common reason that reel mowers stop working efficiently. The good news is that it’s really easy to adjust the blades so that it can work smoothly. 

Follow these steps to adjust reel mower blades to optimize your mowers performance:

Step 1Secure Wheels – Place reel mower on a solid surface like a workbench or a table top. Secure wheels with a block of wood to keep them in place. 

Step 2 Spin the reel – and listen for any scraping sounds. If you hear scraping then the blades are too close. Alternatively check to see if they are spinning too loosely. 

Step 3Adjust blades – Use a flathead screwdriver and place it in the slots at the side of the wheel – gently turn clockwise to tighten the screw to move the blade closer. To move them away, turn screwdriver anticlockwise a fraction. 

Step 4 Test – Spin the reel to see if you need to adjust the blades further. If so, repeat step 3 as necessary.

Remember – Loose = Move blades closer to the cutting bar. Scraping = Move blades away from the cutting bar.

The Bottom Line

The two most common reasons that a manual reel mower stops working efficiently are either dull blades or blades that are out of alignment. Taking time to ensure that your mower blades are both aligned and sharp will ensure that your mower works optimally. Make sure to keep your mower clean and free from debris so that it’ll keep running for years to come. 

If you enjoyed this article, please share on social media, or with someone who will find it useful. Thank you!

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