How to Use a Cylinder Mower

Are you sick of not being able to play a proper game of croquet in your garden? Or maybe as a homeowner, you just pine for a beautiful DIY striped finish on your lawn? Maybe you’ve suddenly and unexpectedly been appointed Head Groundskeeper of a local sports club, and need something to help keep the golf courses or bowling greens in order. 

Whatever the reason might be, there are few machines better than a cylinder lawnmower when it comes to producing a truly luxurious finish on fine and ornamental lawns.


What is a cylinder mower?

Cylinder mowers–sometimes called reel mowers–are celebrated for their ability to deliver a cut quality far superior to other lawnmowers. These machines can also cut effectively at lower heights than most rotary mowers and other 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 grind to a halt. 

Additionally, cylinder mowers are the most effective way to produce the iconic striped surface finish made popular by the ornamental lawns of country estates across Britain and beyond. For this reason, whether you’re planning a bowls tournament or just trying to impress the neighbours, there’s always a good excuse to add a cylinder mower to your collection of gardening tools.

How do cylinder mowers work?

The most important way in which cylinder mowers differ from other lawnmowers is their grass cutting equipment. 

Most lawnmowers use a rotary cutting blade that cuts with a hacking motion. Although this is fine for long grass blades, 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 at the front of the mower that cuts grass with a scissor-like motion. As well as looking tidier than a cut produced by your average rotary mower, the cleaner cut produced by this scissor-like motion also heals more quickly to encourage healthy lawn growth. It’s this that 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 known.

What are the best cylinder mowers?

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 Husqvarna’s 64 Hi-Cut Hand Propelled Cylinder Mower, which provides 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 the muscle power needed for a push mower. 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.

Most cylinder lawnmowers, however, are petrol powered. Typically, these machines are self-propelled and feature bigger working widths to enable efficient cutting of large lawns. Professional users will enjoy the sheer freedom to roam on extensive grounds that this allows.

But with an increasingly large number of high-quality cylinder mowers designed for residential use on the market–such as the Atco Clipper range–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. 

For large 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’ll also want to check out the various additional features offered by different manufacturers on their machines. 

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. After all, cylinder mowers are designed for the frequent cutting of fine lawns, so these machines aren’t suitable for trimming longer, tufty grass. 

Undulating lawns also pose a problem for cylinder blades 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.

How to use a cylinder lawnmower

A cylinder mower is not, as such, a shortcut to a luxurious lawn regardless of the circumstances. Rather, it’s a specialist tool for a specialist job (i.e., producing a top-quality finish on flat ornamental lawns and sporting pitches). That said, cylinder mowers are unbeatable when it comes to this, so if a pristine, striped lawn is what you’re after, then one of these machines is definitely the way to go. 

But to ensure consistently exceptional results, there are a few simple rules you’ll need to follow:

The first step 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’s 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–which allows 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 your lawn frequently. Mowing frequently helps discourage weeds and produces a tight sward for a neater finish, while also ensuring that your lawn stays healthy during the growing season and beyond. This means that you’ll generally adjust the height of cut setting to low for the most part– cylinder mowers are sometimes described as “shaving” lawns rather than mowing in the conventional sense–as removing more than the top third of growing grass can cause damage. As such, if you need to make a height adjustment to your lawn, it’s 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, 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. Finally, finish off by going over the perimeter once more to neaten up any irregularities left over 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.

To explore our variety of high-quality cylinder lawnmowers, click here.