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Lawn Mowers Self-Propelled versus Push—What is the Difference?

Walk-behind rotary mowers come in two basic types: self-propelled and push.  Over recent years there have been many innovations for the push mower.  For example, some manufacturers now offer ground speed controls that allow you to mow at the pace you desire.

Self-Propelled Mowers

Both electric corded and cordless units are suitable for small to average-size lawns (2,500 square feet or less), but  corded units are limited by the nearest outlet and maximum cord length (usually 100 feet).  The 12 amp motors of these machines produce adequate power to cut thick turf, but if you let your lawn get too tall, you will need to borrow a gasoline-powered mower.

Some self-propelled models come with a handle that flips front to back so you can mow without turning at the end of a row, which keeps the power cord to one side of the mower and out of harm’s way.  Many self-propelled mowers also offer various bagging options, including side and rear.

Electric mowers are available in widths up to 19 inches, weigh less than 50-pounds, mulch clippings adequately, and are equipped with a safety shutoff when you release the bail.

Cordless mowers give homeowners greater range than corded mowers, but you have to remember to charge them before mowing day.  Other than the fact that the batteries will need to be replaced every 5 to 8 years, and the blade will need regular sharpening, these units require very little maintenance or repair.  Typical run times are 30 to 45 minutes.

Reel (Push) Mowers

There are far fewer models of rotary push mowers (gasoline-powered but not self-propelled) available, but they are still popular among budget-minded homeowners who have flat yards and do not intend to lug clippings.  Push mowers are 10 to 30 pounds lighter than self-propelled mowers and in some cases cost $200 less for an otherwise identical unit.

Manual push mowers have changed little over the years except that they are lighter, weighing 16 to 32 pounds, and are now available in a several widths (14 to 20 inches with four, five, or seven blades and 8 to 10 inch wheels).  Manual push reel mowers are best suited to homeowners with small lawns (under 2,000-square feet).  Reel mowers cut grass like scissors instead of tearing it like a rotary mower, which, according to agronomists, is better for the grass.

Push reel mowers cut grass into fine pieces that lie on the lawn (assuming you do not cut too much at one time), or can be used with a collection bag.  Drawbacks of these mowers are that they have limited height adjustability, and sharpening the blades is more difficult than sharpening most rotary mower blades.

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