If your yard is small enough to mow with a push mower instead of a riding model, do yourself a ginormous favor and replace it with a reel mower next time it wears out.
There’s a common misconception that reel mowers are hard to use, require extra elbow grease, take longer, etc., etc., etc. This is absolutely true of reel mowers with dull blades. If you don’t maintain your tools, they’re not going to function properly. You can say the same thing of gas-powered mowers, chainsaws, sling blades, utility knives and kitchen shears. Dull blade = useless tool.
If, on the other hand, you knock the grass clippings off the blades and hit ’em with a shot of WD-40 after every use (a two-minute job) and sharpen the blades a couple of times a year (a 30-minute job), you’ll find reel mowers have multiple advantages over their gas-powered counterparts:
1. They’re easier to use. A reel mower weighs substantially less than a gas-powered or even an electric mower, because you’re not hauling an engine around with it. You don’t have to spend five minutes trying to start the damned thing (anybody who’s used anything with a two-stroke engine knows what I’m talking about), you don’t have to worry about putting gas and oil in it, and if it chokes on some random object in its path, you just nudge the blades backwards, pull out the offending object and keep going. Trust me on this: We are laaaaaazy. If this mower required us to expend more effort to accomplish the same task, we’d have gone back to the gas-powered kind years ago.
2. They’re cheaper, both upfront and over the long haul. A good reel mower will set you back $100 at most hardware stores and requires no gas, oil or electricity to use, so you save on both the mower itself and the operating costs. If you can find a Troy-Bilt, buy it; Ron swears the one we have now is the best we’ve ever owned.
3. They’re safer. Reel mowers don’t throw debris at high speeds, the blades stop turning when the mower stops moving, and the blades won’t cut backwards, so there’s virtually no risk of maiming yourself or the kids while you’re working.
4. They’re quiet. Instead of a whining engine, you’ll just hear the swish of the blades cutting grass and the occasional clatter of moving parts when you hit a bump. Much nicer.
5. They’re better for the environment. No gas or oil means no pollution and no fossil-fuel use.
I wouldn’t recommend a reel mower to handle more than a quarter-acre, and if you’re one of those people who likes to wait for the city to tell you when to cut the grass, a reel mower probably isn’t for you, but for a typical suburban lawn, they’re a cheap solution that helps the environment without demanding any real sacrifice at all.