Sharpening a Reel Mower

When you’re gardening, it’s not just about the quality of your plants. It is also important to have a comfortable experience with your lawn mower and tools. That means taking time for sharpening when needed so that every blade works as well as possible and cuts cleanly through grass without difficulty or unnecessary pain from cutting too deep.,

The “how to sharpen a reel mower with a file” is a process that you can use to sharpen the blades of your reel mower.

Vintage boy mowing lawn with reel mower father doing gardening.

It’s the year 1968. I’m sitting on the front porch of my grandfather’s little San Diego home. Gramps is wearing a Pendleton shirt and khakis as he pushes a reel mower over his front yard. The blades snickety-snickety-snickety-snickety-snickety-snickety-snickety-snickety-snickety-s I get a whiff of freshly cut grass. He lets me carry the grass catcher and throw it away (this is pre-compost era).

Drive around on a Sunday morning today and you’ll hear a chorus of lawnmowers instead of church bells. Lawnmowers that use a lot of gas and pollute the air. A gas-powered lawnmower emits more pollution than eleven automobiles and accounts for 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Homeowners also leak over 17 million gallons of petrol a year while filling up their lawn and garden equipment. That’s far more than the Exxon Valdez.

Reel mowers are also more environmentally friendly. The reel mower’s blades work like a pair of scissors, snipping off the top of the grass instead of revolving blades that chew up and whack it off. Examine the difference between the cut of a rotary mower on a grass blade and that of a freshly sharpened reel mower:

Grass cut by sharp blade vs dull blade.

On the left, the reel mower’s surgical accuracy. On the right, things are a little different. A clean cut heals more quickly and decreases the risk of infection. I’m not joking.

There are various causes for the increase of power mowers, in my opinion. Lawns have doubled in size since the 1950s, much like the typical home. Many individuals are undoubtedly unable to mow a large lawn using an 18-inch reel mower, or at least we believe they are. Although pushing a reel mower provides a good exercise, we live in a sedentary culture. People are perplexed by the concept of pushing a reel mower. It takes a little longer. We don’t have time, or at least we don’t think we do. Brett has already done some research on the subject and detailed the advantages of using a reel mower for us – he owns and uses one himself.

Smaller lawns and bigger flower beds and gardens, in my opinion, are beneficial. Reel mowers make a lot of sense in that case. They’re more compact, simpler to store, quiet, low-maintenance, and have a refined appearance in your garage or garden shed.

An Old Mower Can Be Recycled

Brett’s guidance is quite helpful if you’re seeking to purchase a new reel mower. Another alternative is to give an old reel mower a tune-up and recycle it. The good news is that most antique mowers are constructed in the same manner as Sherman tanks. Steel blades of excellent quality keep their strength; all the mower need is a thorough cleaning and sharpening.

Craftsman reel mower on green lawn grass.

Exhibit A is a Craftsman Reel Mower, which is about 40 years old. I got it from an elderly gentleman who was selling it at a garage sale. Although it hadn’t been used in at least 15 years, the components were in good condition, and he was ready to sell it for $25. He requested $35, but there were few takers. I brought it home and put it in my garage to get used to its new surroundings.


I took out the Craftsman 18, hosed it down to remove the cobwebs and grime, and began the sharpening procedure a few days ago. Today, I’ll show you how to accomplish that, whether you’re repairing an antique or maintaining one you’ve owned for a long time.

Sharpening a Reel Mower

The blades and the bed knife are the two most important pieces of a mower. The remainder of the mower’s purpose is to support these two components. Wheels turn a gear, which spins the blade mechanism, which is made up of a sequence of 5 to 7 helical blades. The angle makes it easier to clip the grass. You may vary the cut height using a roller behind the bed knife.

Vintage reel mower placed on earth.

It’s tempting to get the files and angle grinders out and start grinding and filing right now. Not only is this unnecessary, but it also has the potential to damage the mower. To chop, you’ll need a lot of space. It’s like trying to sharpen scissors while filing blades and bed knives. It’s not looking good. Because reel lawn mower blades function like scissors, they aren’t always as sharp as they are precise. The blade’s edge must be true and parallel to the bed knife. Lapping does this.

Lapping kit for sharpening reel lawn mower.

You’ll need two things to lap your blades: lapping compound, an abrasive, and a mechanism to spin them. A lapping kit comprises of a crank and a jar of lapping compound. The lapping compound is essentially a heavy-duty abrasive suspended in a thicker goo so that it does not fly off the blades when spun. The handle fits most mower shafts…except mine, which is great since I had other plans. You’ll see what I mean.

Reel mower remove drive wheel for sharpening.

So, let’s go for a lap! Begin by removing the drive wheel, which is normally the left one when looking forward from behind the mower. Remove anything that is covering the attachment mechanism. It might be a nut, a cotter pin, or a retaining ring, as in my case. Remove the wheel to reveal the gear that drives the blades, whatever it is.

Reel mower removing cogs and gears for sharpening.

Remove the gear as well, as well as whatever is holding it in place. The shaft that drives the blades will now be visible.

Adjust your blades to make sure they’re in touch with the bed knife. On various mowers, this may be done in a variety of ways. The most common method is to utilize a threaded rod and a bolt, while some people use a screw and a retaining bolt. Adjust the blade so that it meets the bed knife evenly throughout the whole width of the blade, whatever it is. Note: If a blade is significantly bent and hangs up on the bed knife while the others spin freely, it may be restored with a few hits with a hammer or a twist with a pair of pliers, but this should be avoided if at all possible. The engine (you) can’t always create enough power to bend the blades while they’re going, therefore they’re normally straight.


There should be some resistance and a scraping noise when you rotate your blades presently. That’s excellent. It indicates that the blades are too near to the bed knife. It’s time to make a shift.

Painting applying lapping compound to reel mower blade.

Apply lapping compound to the blade edges using a tiny brush. Just a bead over each of the blade edges will enough.

Start cranking once it’s been coated…but do it backwards. That’s true, you’ll want to sharpen your knives backwards. As the blades run, the lapping compound between the bed knife and the blades performs its work, ensuring that the cutting edges never contact.

Crank for an extended period of time. Maybe ten minutes. Reapply the lapping compound as necessary. Increase the volume. When the compound has abraded away the surface and generated an exact edge suited to the knife bed, you’ll see a flat, shining surface on the blades. Continue to spin as you add additional compound. Even though there is still some rust visible at this time (below), you can see the beginnings of a glossy edge. That’s OK.

Vintage sharp blade illustration.

Your arm will most likely begin to pain. Rethink your ability to crank. I did, and I cobbled up a cordless drill using a piece of inner tube and a jury-made socket. Whatever works for you. I began slow and ran the blades for a minute, added more compound, and ran the blades for a bit longer and a little quicker, making sure the drill was on low and going backwards. As the lapping advances, you’ll notice a change in the scraping sound as the blades are sharpened and material is eliminated.

Vintage close up adapter.

I guess I did the practice for five minutes altogether, only adding compound a couple times. I was finished when each blade had a gleaming sheen.

Vintage sharp edge illustration.

Examine your blades and clean off the compound as much as possible. If there are any areas that don’t seem to be as clean as the rest of the surface, apply additional compound and move the bed knife closer to the blades. You won’t run out of blades, so don’t worry. A second loop was unnecessary for my mower.

I then backed off the blade just a smidgeon. The space between the bed knife and the blade should be no wider than a blade of grass, else the bed knife will not cut anything. I’m talking about a very little amount of back-off, maybe a few thousandths of an inch.

Vintage testing sharpness of blade.

With a piece of paper, test your lapping work. It should be able to cut like a pair of scissors. If it doesn’t, move the knife bed about until it does.

Vintage closeup view of reel mower.

Reassemble your mower in reverse order, cleaning up along the way and re-greasing any parts that need it.

If you’re fixing an old mower, you may dress it up even more after sharpening the blades if you want a fun little job. On the blades, chrome polish, steel wool, and a little gun oil, as well as a good old toothbrush and some Simple Green, will do the trick. If you like, you may paint the fenders and bars. Replace the top grips. If you want to be a badass, use motocross hand grips.


Vintage sweet cuts with reel mower.

Raise the rear roller to its highest position. Push it through some lush green grass while listening for Gramps’ usual snickety-snickety. A Pendelton shirt and khakis could just be the finishing touch.



The “multi sharp reel mower sharpener” is a tool that helps to sharpen blades on reel mowers. It has a small design, and it is easy to use. This product can be used for various purposes, such as sharpening knives or axes.

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