How to Use: A Cylinder Mower

Are you sick of not being able to play a proper game of croquet in your garden? Or perhaps you just pine for a beautiful striped finish on your lawn? Maybe you’ve suddenly and unexpectedly been appointed Head Groundskeeper by the All England Lawn Tennis Club and suddenly need something to help keep the courts in order? Whatever the reason might be, however, there are few machines better than a cylinder lawn mower when it comes to producing a truly luxurious finish on fine and ornamental lawns.

Cylinder mowers are celebrated for their ability to deliver a quality of cut far in excess of other lawnmowers. These machines can also cut effectively at lower heights than most non-cylinder mowers, so when preparing sports turf you can achieve the firmer surface finish required if you want balls to bounce or roll rather than just grind to a halt. And in addition to of all of this, cylinder mowers are also the most effective way of producing the iconic striped surface finish familiar from the ornamental lawns of country estates (and other posh places) across Britain and beyond. Thus, whether you’re planning a bowls tournament or just trying to impress the neighbours, there is always a good reason to get a cylinder mower into your life.


The most important way in which cylinder mowers differ from other lawnmowers is their cutting equipment. Most lawnmowers use a rotary cutting blade which cuts with a hacking action; although this is fine for longer grass, it lacks the precision required for maintaining formal lawns. A cylinder mower, by comparison, uses a fixed blade in combination with a reel of razor-sharp cutting blades to cut grass with a scissor-like action. As well as looking tidier than a cut produced by your average rotary lawnmower, the cleaner cut produced by this scissor-like action also heals more quickly to encourage healthy lawn growth. It is this which allows cylinder mowers to achieve a finer finish than most, while the inclusion of a rear roller flattens grass as you mow to produce the crisp striped effect for which these machines are rightly famed.

This combination of reel and roller has been in use since the invention of the first ever lawnmower by Edwin Beard Budding in 1830, so a cylinder mower is ideal for traditionalists. Those with smaller gardens can even use this kind of traditional hand-propelled cylinder mower today if they feel so inclined (albeit with the added benefits of 21st century ergonomic design principles and durable modern materials), with Qualcast’s Panther 30 and Panther 380 providing a magnificently simple way of achieving a great finish on compact lawns. Equally excellent for smaller gardens are modern electric cylinder mowers, which use an electric motor to drive the cutting cylinder rather than relying on muscle power alone. This does make mowing the lawn more efficient and less strenuous, though the size of the area you can cover with an electric machine will be limited by the length of the power cable and the availability of a power source. Nevertheless, for those with compact ornamental lawns an electric cylinder mower such as Allett’s Sandringham 12E or Qualcast’s Elan 32 will make routine maintenance nigh on effortless.

Most cylinder lawnmowers, however, are petrol powered. Typically these machines are self-propelled and feature bigger working widths to enable efficient cutting of larger lawns. Professional users will certainly enjoy the sheer freedom to roam on extensive grounds that this bestows, with the Twin Drive range from New Zealand manufactured Lawnmaster a good alternative to some of the more well-known brands when it comes to commercial applications. But with an increasingly large number of high quality cylinder mowers designed for residential use on the market – such as the Atco Clipper range and Allett’s Classic and Kensington mowers – even relatively inexperienced gardeners will be able to find a user-friendly cylinder mower perfect for their needs.

The correct machine for you will depend on the size and condition of your lawn. As mentioned above, smaller lawns can be easily maintained with a hand-propelled or electric cylinder mower, either of which will deliver an outstanding finish while ensuring ease of use and manoeuvrability enough to work in confined spaces. And for larger lawns there are many and various petrol machines suited to the task, with a bigger cutting width reducing the amount of time it will take to get the job done. Beyond size and power source you will also want to check out the various additional features offered by different manufacturers on their machines. Allett’s Classic and Kensington cylinder mowers, for example, incorporate an innovative “Quick Cartridge” system which allows you to swap out the standard six-blade cutting cylinder for a variety of optional lawn care tools. This includes aerators, de-thatchers, lawn brushes, scarifiers, verticutters and a ten-blade cutting reel, transforming your cylinder mower into a complete lawn care system.

Additional lawn care is, in fact, an important part of using a cylinder mower effectively, as unless your lawn is flat and well maintained it will be difficult to achieve optimal results. Cylinder mowers are designed for the frequent cutting of fine lawns after all, so these machines aren’t suitable for trimming longer, tufty grass. Undulating lawns also pose a problem for cylinder mowers due to the risk of scalping raised areas of lawn with the cutting reel (a narrow cylinder mower is therefore best for rolling lawns as it will allow you to negotiate raised areas with greater precision). Lawns must also be clear of stones and other detritus which could damage your mower blades upon impact, while even sandy lawns can quickly blunt cutting blades.

A cylinder mower is not, as such, a shortcut to a luxurious lawn regardless of the circumstances. Rather, it is a specialist tool for a specialist job; i.e., producing a top quality finish on flat ornamental lawns and sporting pitches. And cylinder mowers are unbeatable when it comes to this, so if a pristine, striped lawn is what you are after then one of these machines is definitely the way to go. To ensure consistently exceptional results, however, there are a few simple rules you need to follow:

The first might seem obvious but its importance can’t be underestimated; keep the blades on your mower sharp at all times! This applies to any lawnmower to some extent but it is even more important with a cylinder mower due to its cutting system (think how difficult it is to make a clean cut when you’re using a blunt pair of scissors then extrapolate that across an entire lawn). This can be a little time-consuming if done manually, but with devices such as Multi-Sharp’s Cylinder Mower Sharpening Tool widely available – allowing you to simply fit the sharpener to the bottom plate of your mower then activate the blades for quick and effective sharpening at the correct angle – routine maintenance doesn’t have to be taxing.

The second tip is to mow frequently. Mowing frequently helps to discourage weeds and produces a tight sward for a neater finish, while also ensuring that your lawn stays healthy. This means that you will generally be cutting at a low height setting for the most part – cylinder mowers are sometimes described as “shaving” lawns rather than mowing in the conventional sense – but removing more than the top third of growing grass can cause damage. As such, if you need to reduce the height of the grass on your lawn it is best to do so gradually over a few cuts, leaving a gap each time so that the grass can adapt.

Finally, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to achieving a crisp striped finish (the proverbial cherry on the lawn care cake). This effect occurs because each side of a blade of grass reflects sunlight differently, so mowing up and down creates the alternating light/dark stripes recognised worldwide as a sign of a quality lawn. To achieve this in your garden you should begin by mowing the perimeter of your lawn, creating a buffer zone for turning. Once this is done you start at one side of your garden then mow up and down towards the other side using the straight lawn edge as a guide, which will help you to achieve a tidy stripe. Then finish off by going over the perimeter once more to neaten up any irregularities leftover from turning at the end of each row. Rectangular lawns are the easiest to mow in this fashion, of course, but with a little ingenuity and a bit of practice you can achieve a great finish on any lawn.