Why This is the Best Manual Mower

An expert opinion on manual mowers

By Daniel Woodley at DIY Gardening

It’s been six years since we swapped our old electric rotary mower for a manual cylinder mower, and the difference is obvious; we can cut the grass lower, the finish is much neater and we get lawn stripes.

We went through four different manual mowers before finding the best one, and we’ve learned a few things along the way as these type of mowers aren’t for everyone or every lawn.

My name is Daniel Woodley and welcome to DIY Gardening’s guide to the best manual mowers – updated for 2021.

Danny Woodley

Daniel Woodley

Never Owned a Manual Cylinder Mower Before? Read This First

Manual mowers provide the neatest and sharpest cut, they beat any other type of mower hands down when it comes to the finished cut, but there are a few things you should know before you buy one.

They don’t work very well on long grass – This is something I learned quickly after ditching my old rotary mower, which worked well on all grass lengths; manual mowers are best suited to short grass where you’re looking for the neatest cut possible. If you’re someone who lets your grass grow tall before cutting it, don’t buy one of these mowers. Long grass clogs the cylinder and causes the mower to skid, which leads to missed sections of grass.

They don’t cope well with twigs, fir cones or acorns – Manual mowers are more delicate than other types of mower, and in my garden, I have to rake up the small fir cones before I cut the lawn; otherwise, they get jammed between the blade and the bar. The same goes for twigs and acorns. While rotary and Flymo mowers just chuck these out, they will jam any manual mower and if your mower is petrol or electric, they will damage the blade setup which isn’t as forgiving as the ones on rotary/Flymo mowers..

Stones are a big problem – Years ago I had a Flymo, and while stones would damage the blade, it still worked and would cut anything it came across. Manual cylinder mowers have a very narrow gap between the blade and the cutting bar (see photos) and if this gap is widened by stones or other hard objects, the grass will pass straight through the gap and won’t be cut at all.

Uneven surfaces – I have large trees in my lawn, and the roots cause bulges in the grass; cylinder mowers are more likely to scalp the lawn when it’s uneven like this.

Wet grass – My old mower was a robust device that would churn and rip through anything, even it was wet. My manual mower can’t be used on wet lawns as it skids and slips all the time.

Manual Cylinder Mowers Are Best Suited To These Types of Gardens:

The ideal lawn for manual mowers is one that’s:

  • Owned by someone who doesn’t mind cutting it more frequently (cylinder mowers work best on short grass).
  • Is fairly flat.
  • Doesn’t have lots of twigs, acorns, fir cones etc., in it.
  • Is free of stones and other hard objects.

Why Are Manual Cylinder Mowers So Popular?

The way cylinder mowers trim the grass is, no pun intended, a cut above the rest.

Take a look at the image below.

The two blades of grass shown at the top of the image were cut with a manual mower, while the two at the bottom were cut with a powered rotary mower.

You can clearly see that the cylinder mower cuts the blades as sharp as a pair of scissors while the rotary mower tears the grass blade.

(Click to expand)

Image shows how well cylinder mowers cut the grass compared to a rotary mower

Photos of Our Mower

Below are a few photos of our manual mower; as you can see, the grass gets caught between the blade and the cutting bar, which results in a very crisp and straight cut but is also less forgiving to hard objects:

A close up photo of our cylinder mower

Comparing This Mower to Other Manual Cylinder Mowers

We tried several manual mowers before sticking with this one, here’s why:

  • This model was the sturdiest of them all, and it’s obvious that this product will not break easily.
  • Other manufacturers, especially Bosch, were very plasticky and flimsy.
  • It cuts grass down to 12mm; many others don’t cut this low.
  • The cutting width is 40cm; we saw many other cheaper products with 30cm cutting widths.
  • The handle folded in half (see photos), which meant it could be stored in a small space; this was important as we have limited space here. Other brands didn’t have foldable or telescopic handles.
  • The grass collector can be removed, handy if you want to leave the cuttings on the grass.
  • The reviews on Amazon were generally excellent, and it had a higher rating than any other cylinder mower.
  • The BBC’s Gardeners’ World website rated this as the best cylinder mower in 2020.

A Few Things That Could be Better

Here at DIY Gardening, we provide genuine product reviews based on our experience, and there are a few gripes we want to share with you about this manual mower:

  • It’s two and a half times the price of a comparable Bosch mower.
  • It doesn’t come with a grass catcher; you have to buy this separately (cheaper alternatives actually come with a catcher as standard).
  • As with most catchers on cylinder mowers, this grass catcher doesn’t collect all of the cuttings as they get thrown up in the air behind the mower.
  • It’s heavy (9.4kg), much more so than the plasticky alternatives such as Charles Bentley (6.4kg).
  • While the lowest cutting height of 12mm is perfect, the highest setting is 42mm. We would like to have seen a slightly higher setting for those heatwaves when it’s best to cut the grass a little higher.

Reliability Over the Long Term

So far, our Gardena manual lawnmower has been trouble-free (14 months since purchase), and we haven’t needed to make any adjustments either.

I’ve explored the reviews on Amazon, and currently, 86% of reviewers gave this mower a rating of 4 or 5 stars.

I read all three of the 1-star reviews, and the first was written by someone who was clearly using it on either very long grass or twigs and other debris that will clog the reel as it wasn’t designed to cut through these.

The remaining two 1-star reviews referred to an issue with the locking mechanism on the handle. One of the 1-star reviewers stated that if this issue were resolved, it would be “the ultimate manual lawnmower”.

I am unable to replicate the issue on my mower, and the lock feels secure and solid. The issue is possibly caused by the operator not fully tightening the nut in the centre of the handle; if it’s loose, the pushing action could damage the locking mechanism.

Photos of Our Lawn

Our lawn is far from perfect, it’s in a very shaded garden, there are large tree roots we have to work around and it’s far too small, but we think we’ve got a good finish with this manual mower:

(click to expand)

Our lawn
Closeup of our lawn
Shaded lawn

What’s Best: A Rotary or Cylinder Mower?

Here’s our take on the three main types of lawnmowers:

Cylinder mowers – Most suited to very flat and well-maintained lawns where the owner is thriving for that perfect “bowling green” finish. The biggest issue is they really don’t work well on long grass and are less forgiving to stones/twigs etc.

Rotary mowers – General purpose lawn mowers that are a step above Flymo-type mowers and are good all-rounders. These mowers cope better with imperfections in the lawn, twigs, acorns etc., and they will chop through long grass easily.

Flymo type mowers – These hover above the grass and are suited to small gardens. They can cope with stones, twigs and other debris and new blades are cheap to buy and easy to replace if you don’t want to sharpen them. Flymo-type mowers are often the lightest too, which is an important consideration for some people.

What About Electric/Petrol Cylinder Mowers?

The cylinder mower we have is a manual (push) mower; it’s not powered by electricity or petrol. That’s fine for us as we have a small garden and we like the fact that it’s quieter, more eco-friendly and compact.

Petrol and electric cylinder mowers aren’t very popular with domestic gardeners, and you won’t find many for sale in the UK. Also, if you use these over stones, twigs or fir cones etc., it will wreck the blade rather than just jamming it.

There are several high-end products available for professionals, but these are typically used on tennis courts, bowling greens and golf putting greens where there is no chance of stones or other debris damaging the blade setup.

Atco mowers are the best of the bunch, but they are heavy, bulky and expensive.

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More From Daniel Woodley:

This guide to the best manual mower was created by Daniel Woodley here at DIY Gardening and was last updated on the 31st of May, 2021.

Discover more lawn and grass care guides over at the Lawn Care section.

Daniel is a keen amateur gardener who completely redesigned his garden and is continually experimenting with new ornamental plants and products.

He also enjoys growing vegetables and fruits in addition to his herbaceous border and container garden.

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Danny Woodley

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