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Reel Mower VS Rotary Mower for mowing yards


LawnSite Bronze Member
Originally posted by LawnMower
Theres still one company around my aria that uses nothing but reel type mowers. There all Locke Mowers. Locke has been making mowers sense the first war I think. The company still has a couple from the 60s.

They do a great job, but require a lot of maintenance. You have the have the right accounts for reel types. You have to charge for them too.

Locke Mower Web Site

The link didn't work for me. I didn't know Locke Mowers were still in business. What I remember of them is that they were huge, heavy machines, that cost 2-3 times as much as rotary commercial mowers. Also, they did not handle nearly as well.
How would you transport a machine capable of 15' wide cuts? On a trailer? A Jacobosen F series weighs at least 5,000lbs.
I have built and maintained golf courses for over fifteen years before starting my own turf maintenance company. That said, I have tried reel mowers in residential turf and didn't like it.
I used a National mower, and while it cut great, the customers really couldn't tell the difference in cut. So why bust my tail to run a slower machine which requires more skill if the customers can't tell the difference? Thats why I stopped with reels.
Rotary mower development has come an extremely long way, addressing such issues as quality of cut, adaptation to different species, ease of maintenance, and versitility due to differing attachments. At the heights commercial properties and residential properties are maintained, why not use a rotary?


LawnSite Senior Member

Some really good info here from you guys. I really appreciate it.... I do have some questions still.....

Grass Mechanic: I'm new to reels....what
does backlapping involve?.....What about
Tony Clifton's comment that reels require very little maintenance?....Are reels to a certain extent self sharpening because of the way they contact the cutter bar?.....You are right
the unit I am thinkjing about is a JAC f10.....Any opinions on the machine itself?....The city golf course and park are currently maintained buy a ground driven tractor pulling gang of reel mowers so I guess from the city's perspective quality is ok w/ ground driven reels.....I'd like to get that contract...and I figure this machine would be the ticket for that (city I think may be biased towards reels because they use it themselves and after all....
all golf courses use reels...I think that would give me the edge over other contractors who bid and are planning to use rotaries.....I hope the powers that be would see it as a plus I'm using "the good stuff" and I'm hoping to sell it so that I may even be allowed a premium for using it (city contracts generally go to the low bidder).
I'm going to look at the mower tomorrrow sometime....Anything in particular I should pay attention to (hopefully you'll see and answer this before I look ... Thanks again.)

SWD : I'd transport the unit on a 21'
Tilt top trailer rated at 14K....It's not a deckover unit so I may have to bulid
something on the deck to allow the fold up wings to clear the wheelwells....I'll use a 1 ton Dodge dually to pull the combo. I agree w/ you concerning the rotaries....
I'd rather have one BUT this reel machine is suposedly in EC and $1800
VS the lowest priced Toro 580 D I've seen at $10,000....Of course I could get both (provided I get enough jobs)
and use the reel mower as a back up machine just in case the other breaks....but I was really hoping to use the reel as the primary Wide area machine and use the saved $$ for other purposes....I'll still use my Ferris 3000s on residentials but on really large fairly open areas I think a 15'
reel mower would still beat
a 61" zero


LawnSite Silver Member
S.E. Michigan
Backlapping is a process done after sharpening, and between sharpenings, to ensure the correct tolerances of the bedknife to the reel. This is done by spinning the reel backwards and applying a fine grit suspended in oil ( there are water soluble, premixed compounds available also) to the reel. The bedknife is then tightened and the grit wears the bedknife to the reel. This process will "true up" warped bedknives and will also remove knicks. Depending upon the amount of use and abuse the reel has went through, additional grit and tightening may be necessary to achieve the correct tolerances. This can take as little as 10 minutes per reel or as long as 1/2 hour or more. On hydraulic driven reels, there is usually a lever or valve than merely needs to be engaged to reverse the reels. On ground driven reels, there usually is an inspection cover on each reel that needs to be removed and a backlapping machine installed to turn the reel. On some mowers, each reel must be removed from the mower to backlap them. No, reels do not self sharpen. This is why backlapping needs to be done. My Rough mowers were backlapped once a month, fairway and greens mowers every two weeks of use.

I have to disagree with Tony Clifton about reels needing little maint. I don't know how much he knows about the workings of reels or how much time he spent in the mechanics shop, but I was the head mechanic for 8 years on a golf course and I've worked with Roseman, Locke, Jacobsen, Toro, National, and Ransome reels. I also ground reels and bedknives for several surrounding golf courses during the winter for additional income on our Ideal grinder.


LawnSite Senior Member
boise idaho
I think reels are high maintenance, however for the amount of acres being cut at a golf course they are also very efficient. In my experience (4 years as a assistant superintendent) well maintained used machines are hard to come buy. Even if you do find one if you don't have knowledge of them or the proper equipment they will be a HUGE expense!

They do give the best manicured look however most people will not pay the premium price. Most golf courses now cut all the roughs with rotaries because of the maintenance costs of reels. Do yourself a favor and don't buy one till you at least mow with someone else's for a season. Then and only then will you see the BIG PICTURE!!

Seriously just trying to help you from making a bad choice.:)


LawnSite Senior Member
Hi All

Again iI appreciate all your comments
and advise and thought I'd just fill you in
on my trip today.....I drove out to see the unit.....From what I could tell the machine seemed to be in pretty good physical condition....very little rust anywhere, hydraulics seemed tight...engine didn't smoke or knock....Over all seemed pretty
decent.....The drive tires and some of the reel tires were a little worn and some of the guages didn't work bit otherwise the reels seemed to function OK....I was going to make an offer but I acted prudently and decided to measure the machine to make sure it would fit on my trailer when I made
a horrifying discovery.....well actually 2....
My custom trailer that was supposed to be 21' long was only 17' (not a biggie since it will still fit)....but not being a
deckover, the width between the wheel wells is only 84"....that unfortunately was the same dist I measured between
the mower at its drive wheels!!!....aarg!....I bet a 580 D may not fit either.....I'll talk w/ the trailer people tomorrow.....My receipy says 21
feet (20 ' flat w/ 1 foot taper since the top tilts) but trailer is only 17' flat w/
1 ft taper)......I'm thinking I'll even ask them to take this one back (they said they would once befor when They accidentally had the wrong tires on
it).....and possibly ask them for the deckover model instead


LawnSite Senior Member
Sorry I must have run out of room on my previous post....not sure why my letters seem so disjointed when typed out either but if I can get the machine moved I believe I'll probably get it and learn first hand about it for better or worse.....as I mentioned before if worse comes to worse and I do get a few more large accounts this could always be my back up wide area mower and I'll probably get a
Toro 580 D (hard to find a 4wd one at a reasonable price tho but half the fun is looking I guess).