Do You Know How to Sharpen Your Push Mower?

I realize there are only 7 of us in the world that use a push mower, but for the other 6 in our small club? THIS is a special day for you. I’m going to show you how to get those mower blades sharp enough to even cut those weird, hard, weedy stems that the mower always misses.

Push mower standing on lawn with white picket fence in background

Say hello to my push mower.  It’s green and red and old.  Not olden days old, but old.  Floppy disk old.

Green and red push mower laying down on grey painted porch.

I knew how to *tighten* the blades on this push mower so they ran across the metal bar properly, but I could never quite figure out how to actually sharpen it.

Blade tightening bolt to the left of the cutting bar on a push mower.

How to Adjust Your Reel Mower Blades

To move the cutters closer to the bar so your lawn mower makes that cool “click, click, click” sound reminiscent of an episode of Leave it to Beaver, you just have to tighten the blade tightening bolts on either side of the lawn mower.

  • Your mower’s blades should come as close to the metal bar as possible without actually touching it. Spin the blades (carefully). If you can hear metal scraping they need to be loosened on that end.
  • Only turn the bolt a tiny bit to get some clearance.
  • There are 4 bolts. 2 that are visible on either side of the reel and 2 on either side of the cutting bar.
  • First adjust the bolts (or screws) on the reel.  Then adjust the bolts (or screws) on the cutting bar, turning them in the opposite direction that you turned the bolts on the reel.

Moving the cutting bar closer to the reel blades on a push mower using a ratchet.

Easy.  Your blades should now be evenly spaced across the whole cutting bar, almost touching it, but not quite.


But sharpening the actual blades is something else entirely. And without sharp blades on your lawnmower, you might as well try cutting your lawn with a sock puppet. You’ll get the same results.

And then I found out how to sharpen my lawnmower blades.  With a blade sharpening kit.

Dull push mower blades with paste, brush and turning handle.

And angels sang and neighbours joined hands in song.

My lawn would no longer look like a 1980’s haircut.

Browned grass tips and tough stems that haven't been cut because of dull push mower blades.

blade sharpening kit is just some blade sharpening compound and a brush.  But it also comes with something very important. A handle that you have to insert into the wheel assembly so you can turn the mower blades over and over again to sharpen them.

To sharpen your push mower you need to take one of the wheels off.

This part might be scary to you; taking your lawn mower apart.  But you only partially take it apart.  Just a little bit.  Barely at all. Just a little off the top.

I know it scares you because it kind of frightened me too.  And I don’t frighten all that easily.  I even got in bed with Jerry Springer once. I have photographic evidence. Which I didn’t spend too much time searching for.

I accidentally found this blade sharpening kit at Lee Valley one day when I was wandering around but you can get the same one on Amazon for $14.

O.K. let’s sharpen those lawn mower blades!

Red reel of a Lee Valley push mower.

Before I get to the steps for sharpening, here’s a look at the blades before. You can see they’re dull.

Applying sharpening compound to the red blades of a push mower with a brush.

  1.  Brush the sharpening compound on the edges of all the mower blades.

Removing the plastic wheel cover from a push mower wheel.2.  Pop off the plastic cover on the left  wheel (the left wheel when you’re pushing the mower).  It’ll just pop off easily.

Using a flathead screwdriver to pry off a u ring on a push mower wheel.

3.  Remove the U Ring. This one’s trickier.  Don’t try to bend it or force it.  Just use a screwdriver or knife and stick it under the U ring and gently pry the U ring up.  It’ll seem like it’ll never come off but all of a sudden it’ll PING right off and you’ll spend the next 10 minutes looking for it.

Wheel removed and laying on ground beside a push mower ready to have the blades sharpened with compound.

4.  Once the U ring is off you can just lift the whole wheel right off.

Removal of wheel cog on reel mower.

5.  Under the wheel you’ll find the cogged jiggy/jaggy wheel assembly thing.  Gently pull it straight up and it will come off.

Green wheel well of a push mower, pointing out where you put the hand crank.

6.  Under the jiggy/jaggy thing is where you’ll attach the hand crank that came with your kit.  Which is the whole reason you had to remove the wheel.

Hand crank attached to a push mower ready to sharpen.

7. Attach the hand crank and turn, turn, turn in a counter clockwise motion.  You’ll be going in the opposite direction than how the blades normally turn when you push the mower.  For 10 minutes you’ll turn.

Then check your blades.

Shiny silver blades of a newly sharpened push mower.

If your blades are evenly shiny and clean looking you’re doing a good job.  If not, put a little more compound on and keep turning.  I had to do it twice and frankly could have done it another time but I got sick of turning.

8. Wipe off any remaining sharpening compound.

Close up view of silvery blades on the red reel of a push mower, newly sharpened.

After sharpening the blades, put everything back together in the opposite order of how you took it apart.

Freshly restored blades on a green and red push mower ready to roll.

Then take your mower for a test run.  It should be much smoother, with a cleaner cut.  Also if you’ve noticed your grass looks brown on top where you cut it, sharpening and adjusting your lawn mower will stop that.

How to Sharpen a Reel Mower

How to Sharpen a Reel Mower

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy(ish)

An easy step by step guide to sharpening your push mower blades.

Materials

  • Reel mower sharpening paste

Instructions

  1. Brush the sharpening compound on the edges of all the mower blades.
  2. Pop off the plastic cover on the left  wheel (the left wheel when you’re pushing the mower).  It’ll just pop off easily.
  3. Remove the U Ring. This one’s trickier.  Don’t try to bend it or force it.  Just use a screwdriver or knife and stick it under the U ring and gently pry the U ring up.  It’ll seem like it’ll never come off but all of a sudden it’ll PING right off and you’ll spend the next 10 minutes looking for it.
  4. Once the U ring is off you can just lift the whole wheel right off.
  5. Under the wheel you’ll find the cogged jiggy/jaggy wheel assembly thing.  Gently pull it straight up and it will come off.
  6. Under the jiggy/jaggy thing is where you’ll attach the hand crank that came with your kit.  Which is the whole reason you had to remove the wheel.
  7. Attach the hand crank and turn, turn, turn in a counter clockwise motion.  You’ll be going in the opposite direction than how the blades normally turn when you push the mower.  For 10 minutes you’ll turn.
  8. Check your blades. If they're shiny and clean looking you're done. If not, add some more paste and do it again.
  9. Wipe off any remaining sharpening compound.After sharpening the blades, put everything back together in the opposite order of how you took it apart.

Notes

Don't forget to adjust your blades as well with the bolts or screws on either end of the cutting bar and the reel blades.

Blades should be almost (but not) touching the cutting bar.

Recommended Products

I'm an Amazon affiliate some I get a few cents when you buy something I've linked to.

 

Maintaining things like your lawn mower, dryer, dishwasher will help them last a lot longer.  If I keep this up with my push mower in years I’ll be saying “It’s old. Not olden days old, but old.  The Cloud old.”

 

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Do You Know How to Sharpen Your Push Mower?

48 Comments

  1. Nancy Ann Page says:

    Karen! Thanks so much for those instructions! Seems like there are more than six of us. I use a riding mower most of the time, but I also have a little push mower I wanted to use to cut up leaves for my compost pile. I didn’t know how to sharpen the blades – it’s been sitting in my tool shed for 15 years. Yea!

    Nancy Ann

  2. Kasia w says:

    I’m not understanding how this works…I envision blades spinning without touching anything, and can’t see how the sharpening compound would do anything without some friction or contact of some sort. (Hopefully that makes sense, but clearly I’m not getting something if not.) Karen, can you explain what is happening that actually makes the blades sharper? (I just bought a home with a tiny lot and hope to just use a push mower…so I’m super excited!) Thanks Karen!

  3. Lynn says:

    Just a thought on ring removal, thread a piece of dental floss through one of The holes on ring, then tie ends together an loop on to wrist . When ring pops , ring will not fly away.

  4. Christopher Dyke says:

    Push mowers !!!
    Lol
    My wife and I both have Kawasaki brushcutters and we spend LOTS of time brushcutting!
    We don’t get the lovely stripes that you used to get with a cylindrical mower though 😕

  5. SuzNKton says:

    We just just upgraded ours! I had a crappy tire one for years and two years ago attended a “how to sharpen your reel mower” workshop at Lee Valley. During said workshop, I discovered that all reel mowers are not equal and it wasn’t all my fault that the mower wasn’t working so well! Saved my $ and got one from Lee Valley this year. Wow! What a difference! Who knew we could get so excited over a mower!

  6. I have 2 Scott’s push mowers, I think they are from the 1950’s; and one with the wooden handles which is much older. I bought the kit like yours. I find it very satisfying to see the blades all nice and shiny after being sharpened.
    If you leave the woodruff key in the shaft and use the proper size socket, you can use an electric drill instead of the crank, as suggested by Garth Wunsch. An ice pick or something equally pointed could help remove the snap ring.
    But I think sharpening could be achieved without buying a kit…….just get some valve lapping compound or rubbing compound and a brush. Apply the compound to the blades. Put something heavy to hold the handle to the ground, and grab one of the wheels which now should be in the air. Give the wheel a quick twist to rotate the blade. It would take a little time, but would save the expense of buying a kit.

  7. Dianna says:

    Will this work even if the blades are really rusty?

  8. Penelope Hedges says:

    But how did you get the U-ring back on?? The first time I don’t know how I got it on but this time I’m flummoxed and not happy 😅

  9. Juan Gigena says:

    Thank you for this article/tips. I’m restoring one form my dad, something to do on quarantine. I now know how to sharppen it. Here in Argentina no such sharpening kit, I will use valve seat paste, I guess is the same. Cross fingers! Keep at home! Cheers

    • Karen says:

      Hi Juan! It is the same thing, it should work well. It’s hard to believe people from Argentina to Canada are all under quarantine. Good luck with the mower. :) ~ karen

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Juan! I’m trying to sharpen my mower here in Chile, what do you call the paste in Spanish? And where did you find a hand crank?

  10. Indawgwetrust says:

    The “u-ring” is called a snap ring and probably should not be removed by prying. There are special pliers that will make quick work of it (snap ring pliers). You can also thread short lengths of 12awg solid wire through each of the holes, then use 2 pairs of regular pliers to grab the wires and pull the ring open.

    • Debra Johnston says:

      My dad (a licensed mechanic & heavy-duty mechanic) called that ring a ‘Jesus pin’ because every time he would take one off he would go ‘Oh Jesus!’ when it popped into oblivion. Finding the sucker in a greasy shop is a challenge. I know. I often got the job.

  11. Kathlene McClellan says:

    I am so glad I stumbled across your site. My husband, who use to could do anything and everything now sadly is working his way through dementia. That means I now am “man of the house” and to find instructions written out simply, with pictures and words I can understand (jiggy, jaggy thing) is a blessing! Thank you!

  12. Marcia Wisch says:

    Dear Karen,
    I have just finished watching some very strange “man” lawn mower sharpening videos.
    No gloves, wiggly camera, dangerous lack of direction…I could go on, but suffice it to say not inspiring. Then I came upon yours and had the best belly laughs of the day! As soon as I saw those gloves I thought, hmmmm could this be a WOMAN???
    You made me laugh AND taught me another thing I can do myself, and I like to keep adding to that list at 71.
    Thank You!
    Marcia

  13. M says:

    Hi Karen,

    From the look of your very good photos, your mower seems to be geared like mine — at least with this type of reel mower, you don’t need the crank arm, just the grinding paste. The jiggy/jaggy sprocket things can just be reversed (i.e., take them off and put them on the opposite wheel – being very careful NOT TO LOSE the metal piece slotted into the gear shaft, which is why I do this with the mower on an old bed sheet, just in case — I had to make a replacement piece the first time I got distracted while attempting to sharpen the mower) and then replace the wheel covers and apply the paste (I do this after because it may drip off while you’re fiddling with the wheels). Swapping the sprockets like this will make the blades run backward when you push the mower in the usual fashion, which will help remove burs from the blade as well as sharpening it and the bed blade on the bottom. When you’re done, just reverse the gears again.

    • Karen says:

      I’m just about to sharpen my mower again and I’ll try it. Thx! ~ karen!

      • Deanne says:

        Karen – any luck reversing the gears? I’m about to dust off our old push mower but don’t have a lot of arm strength. I’m thinking reversing the gears will be easier if I can figure it out!

        • Karen says:

          Hi Deanne! You know what, I can’t remember, lol. I still do it the old way so I’m thinking it wasn’t possible on my machine. ~ karen!

  14. Matt says:

    Great tips on sharpening reel type mowers. Those are my favorite, they cut the grass much nicer and leave better stripes. Sure is more work thoug. Thanks for the post!

  15. Stephbo says:

    You forgot Step 8: Reward yourself with an adult beverage.

    • Karen says:

      Well for me it would be a Diet Coke and entire bag of chips and dip but yes … most would go for the adult beverage, lol. ~ karen!

  16. I’m so happy that you posted this! I’ve had a push mower for a long time and your quote, “And without sharp blades on your lawnmower, you might as well try cutting it with a sock puppet.” couldn’t be more true! Thanks again for the sharpening tips.

  17. Teri Shaw says:

    Just bought a push mower because I’m old and weak and can’t pull the string thingy anymore. And while I, technically, understand the internal combustion and/or two stroke engine I choose to think of it as something with which I no longer wish to be involved.
    My new push mower is very spiffy: light weight with very sharp blades which the manufacturer (someone in Germany who probably thinks I’m mowing really nice manicured city grass instead of rural ‘ground cover’ made up of weeds, moss and assorted things that fall off trees) says won’t need sharpening for years. I’m keeping your instructions in several places (iBooks, Evernote etc) so I can pull them out again in a few months and study them when I’m sure the blades will need sharpening.
    Thanks Karen. You are a fountain of useful and practical information.

  18. Where’s the picture of you with Jerry Springer?!

    • Karen says:

      I’d have to search a little more for it Christie. :) I have video. A lot of it, lol. I was the host at a TV station once that aired The Jerry Springer show and we did a few cross promotions together so we did some segments together, went out for dinner, etc. Very smart man actually. ~ karen!

  19. Nancy says:

    You’re da bomb!

  20. Mary W says:

    I love the sound of your mower LOVE it and it is immediately followed by the most amazing smell on this planet – next to bacon or coffee. Wish they made a room deodorizer like it or maybe I could just crush up some tomato leaves, except I know they are poisonous. I was told I couldn’t use a push mower in FL since the grass grew sooooo tall in just a day or two and it just wasn’t able to cut foot tall seed heads as it just bend them over. So, I live through my memories of the smells and sounds of Wisconsin summers with it’s short fat blades of grass. Thanks for a great memory.

  21. Garth Wunsch says:

    I had a gizmo made by a friendly machinist that fits into my battery powered drill (or a variable speed plug-in type) chuck and replaces the hand crank. No hand cranking involved. Just don’t run it too fast or you’ll throw the compound off and heat up the blades.

  22. Ev Wilcox says:

    When I was a kid, eons ago, the only chore my brother had to do (winter-shovel snow) was push one of those mowers around. Three girls, 1 boy-guess who had to do everything else?! I wonder if that mower ever got sharpened. My dad was a do-it-yourselfer, but not in the extreme. But then, years later, same brother was a long distance truck driver. While driving through an old timey small town he pulled the rig over and made an old man let him mow his lawn for him. It was hot, and the man was pushing one of those mowers. So I guess it all works out in the end, right? Karen, you are a true inspiration, and the jiggy/jaggy thing needs no other name!

    • whitequeen96 says:

      Awww, what a nice man your brother grew up to be! When I come across someone like that, I always tell them, “Please tell your mother that she did a good job of raising you.” But I guess I should mention their fathers as well.

  23. Dan says:

    I’ve got the Lee Valley reel mower which I love. The sharpening kit which I’ve used before is a sandpaper strip which goes on the fixed part of the mower, then you do laps up and down the driveway spinning the reel against that. By then, it’s hot out, you’re hot, and it’s beer-thirty. You’ve got a nice sharp mower and a lawn up to your knees.

    I’m going to have to give this method a go.

  24. Jody says:

    Now I understand the sounds that come from the basement when my handy husband sharpens the blades. It’s the whirling sound of the hand cranking. Re-reading this comment it sounds weird and rude and wrong…but it’s not. Really!

  25. Kristina says:

    It’s like magic! (Seriously, I’m a little thick here, but what exactly sharpens the blades? Friction against something, surely?)

    • Karen says:

      The compound is gritty Kristina and that’s all it takes to sharpen the blades. :) ~ karen!

    • Dan says:

      The sharpening compound is abrasive, kind of like toothpaste. The reel blades spin and the tiny tiny bits of grit in it abrade the blades as they pass by the fixed part of the mower.

  26. Rebecca says:

    I have a push-mower – and I love it and it’s click-clickitiness, but I have been neglecting it and the grass is suffering, and I now have to mow the same plot over and over and over just to cut it – so I’m suffering….so, tonight, I am going to go straight home and sharpen those blades! Yes!…Right after a nap!

    Thanks Karen! Your posts are always an inspiration and motivation to really get stuff done! I wish I had signed up for your 3 months of getting things done :( but I don’t have facebook and I wasn’t up for signing up – but I am planning to shop from your ‘shop’ page in support!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Rebecca. There are a few people in the group who signed up to Facebook just for the Summer of Doing Stuff. They’re just using it for that and that alone. You wouldn’t believe the great things people have got done. I’ll share photos soon. July starts soon and it’s a fun backyard one. I’ll be explaining it next Monday. Give it some thought. ;) ~ karen!

  27. Lavada says:

    Probably one of the more fun aspects of your technical posts is the fact that I learn parts names. My son points out to me continually, “EVERYTHING is not a doohickey or thingy! I don’t know what you’re talking about!!” Seriously, who cannot fathom, “Hand my that thingy that I gave you just before the black doohickey there”? I mean, how much clearer could that be; right? You and I would work well together I’m sure of it. LOL

    • Karen says:

      Jiggy/Jaggy is a very, very technical term. I’m almost positive I read it in the instruction manual. ;) ~ karen!

      • Penny says:

        There are many technical terms known ONLY to TAODS readers (and those who probably would be if they once read one of your posts). My family know the difference between crud, gunk, gubbins and wazz (mainly degrees of viscosity) can tell a whatchamacallit from a farfallnugen and would never put an oojamaflip where a patoolibongo should go.
        I have an ongoing fight with my daughter, though – she claims that ‘smirridge’ is the word for squeezing past someone when there really isn’t room to do so, whereas I steadfastly maintain that what she’s doing is ‘squinching’, and that smirridge is used for the application of Marmite to toast.
        Care to adjudicate, Karen?

  28. Linda in Illinois says:

    haha jiggy/jaggy thingy.. cracked me up. I had a reel mower years ago.. loved it but did not have the strength to push my lawn any longer. I wish I would have kept it now. So how am I the second to comment? I’m usually the last or near last, it’s 8:24 am in Illinois.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Linda! The “allow comments” was accidentally turned off on this post until Fish Pedicure texted me to alert me that no comments could be made. So I only turned comments on a few minutes ago. :) Congratulations on being first. Or second. One of the first anyway, lol. ~ karen!

  29. Melissa says:

    Ordering as we speak. Who knew???

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