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Lawn Mower Review, and the Difference between Women and Men

Monday, June 6, 2011, 17:52 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

I bought a lawn mower yesterday. It wasn’t an immediate or dire necessity; I’ve been borrowing my father’s power mower, which just barely fits in my trunk after I collapse the handle and fold my back seats down. He uses it only occasionally (he has a lawn tractor), so as long as I return it every couple of weeks, we’re good. But I thought it was time to buy my own for a few reasons: 1) DF’s mower is somewhat uncomfortable to use; 2) it’s a pain in the neck to drive 22 miles to his house, load the machine into my car, drive home, unload it, and then bring it back when I’m done; and 3) I’ll need to buy one eventually, but the selection won’t be as good if I wait until the end of the season.

Scotts 20" Classic reel mower

Scotts 20" Classic reel mower

Mostly for that last reason, I have spent a few months pondering what I should buy. Three friends recommended an old-fashioned reel mower as a quiet, inexpensive, pollution-free, and easy-to-use option that has worked for them. The Home Depot web site has several models ranging in price from $79.00 for a Scotts 14″ mower to $199.00 for a Fiskars 18″. It would take me forever to mow my lawn with a 14″ wide mower, and I wouldn’t pay $200 for a mower without a motor or any accessories. But there is also a Scotts 20″ with grass catcher for $139.00, which is actually cheaper than it sounds when you consider there are no oil, gasoline, or engine repair expenses. You have to sharpen the blade periodically, but that’s the case with any mower.

As I read up on reel mowers, though, I noticed a consensus opinion among those who owned and reviewed them: they are great if you have a flat, even lawn. I don’t. My back yard, while mostly flat, has lots of ruts and bumps and exposed tree roots. If I pushed a reel mower fast enough to actually cut the grass, it would bounce around so much that half the grass would stay uncut. That factor killed the cheap, environmentally friendly option.

Honda 21" Smart-Drive self-propelled gas mower

Honda 21" Smart-Drive self-propelled gas mower

That left power mowers. I immediately ruled out electric models because I didn’t want to have to worry about either recharging a battery or dragging a heavy-duty extension cord around behind me (yes, one model I saw actually required a cord). I also ruled out push mowers because my yard is big enough (65×132 feet, or 0.20 acre, minus the footprint of the house) and I’m just weak enough to warrant spending more for self-propulsion to help me on the slopes in the front and side of my yard. From there, I considered products I knew: Honda and Toro. My father and brother have had Hondas and have been pleased with the overall quality, the way they cut, the longevity of the engine, etc. However, DF has also been using a Toro, owned by a disabled friend whose lawn he mows. He raves about how easy it is to use, with a self-propel mechanism that works simply by pushing harder or pulling back on the handle.

Honda Smart Drive variable-speed control

Honda Smart Drive variable-speed control

I had never used a Toro, but I’ve used DF’s Hondas (the one he has now and an older model this one replaced). I had no complaints about the older Honda, which was a single-speed self-propelled mower. The current one, though, is another story. It has many plusses, such as variable speed self-propulsion, which makes it better for negotiating the aforementioned imperfections in my lawn, a brake-blade clutch that lets you stop the blade without having to restart the engine, and the mulching feature. But I find the mechanism for engaging the self-propulsion to be very difficult, as it’s operated by the thumbs and requires no small amount of pressure. DF doesn’t find this to be a problem, but I do.

Toro 22" Personal Pace self-propelled gas mower

Toro 22" Personal Pace self-propelled gas mower

For that reason, I was interested in checking out the Toro with what they call the “Personal Pace” feature. It works by pressure on the horizontal end of the handle, which slides into the side tubes and engages the engine. The more you push to move the mower forward, the faster it goes; to slow the mower down, just slow yourself down, which eases the force on the handle and slows the mower down. For someone without great hand strength, that’s a big advantage over the Honda. The downside is the flywheel brake, which doesn’t power the engine and the blade separately. I suppose that’s a helpful feature for people inclined to reach into the grass chute or underneath the mower to clean off clumped grass and end up losing their fingers. I like to think I’m smarter than that, but I’m not willing to spend more money for a brake-blade clutch system.

Both mowers have mulching systems that, according to the DF, work equally well. Both have multiple cutting height settings and are easily adjustable. The cutting deck on the Toro is an inch wider than on the Honda, but that isn’t a big deal with a lawn the size of mine. The Honda engine has a little more power than the Briggs & Stratton engine on the Toro, but the difference probably isn’t noticeable in normal residential yard use. Both come with rear grass catchers, but the Toro has an external lever that allows you to switch from catching to mulching and back again without removing the bag, whereas the Honda has a mulching attachment that must be inserted after removing the bag. The Toro also has a very convenient washout port where you attach a hose and then run the mower briefly to clean the underside of the mower housing.

So I ended up buying the Toro 22″ self-propelled, variable speed mulching mower. It cost more than I had planned to spend, but for something that will probably last me another 25 years with proper maintenance, it seemed worth the extra money to get features that make it easier to use. And it was less expensive than a comparable Honda.

Which brings us to the difference between women and men where lawn mowers are concerned. No, it has nothing to do with the color of the machine. It has to do with how we view tools and equipment in general. I got home, wrestled the boxed mower out of my car, opened the box and cut the sides, rolled out the mower, attached the handle, added oil and gas, and put it into the garage. DF was horrified this morning to learn that I hadn’t tried it out before putting it away. I told him I’d try it when I was ready to mow. And therein lies the difference between the sexes. I view a lawn mower in a very utilitarian way, as something I have because it’s useful. To the Den Father—and many men, I would guess—it’s a toy.

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