Should I Buy a Tru Cut Reel Mower?

cansariSeptember 10, 2009

My $159 Walmart rotary mower has stopped working about 5 years (plug keeps fouling and engine putters out). I also have a relatively new push (non-powered) reel mower, but it is useless during much of the growing season b/c the grass gets to thick for it to cut. I have 4000 SF of hybrid Bermuda (live in North Texas) and like to keep it between 1/2 and 1 inch in height (although with the rotary keeping it at 1 inch is often difficult without scalping). The lawn has a lot of curves and some trees. Some mild slopes in the lawn near the curved shrub beds (which could probably be leveled out some if necessary). I am trying to decide between buying a good powered reel OR rotary mower (don't want another cheap mower). I could probably handle taking the mowing to a shop for service once a year, but taking it more it that would not be desirable. Any suggestions on what type of mower? It would be easy to buy a rotary mower since they are sold everywhere. If I decide to go with a reel I would want one of the professional or commercial Tru Cuts, and am not sure whether a 20 inch, 25 inch of 27 inch would be best (cost not being the primary concern). All opinions would be appreciated. Thanks

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Not too many knowledgable reel people over here. This is by far a pro-rotary site. Come over to the lawn care section of this site. Lot's of reel fans and lots of helpful posts. Just search "reel mower" or Tru-Cut" for plenty of opinions and help.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2009 at 4:44PM
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I've had several Tru-Cuts over the years, 21" and 25". Good machine, but my personal preference leans toward Trimmer. Trimmer is a roller drive, whereas Tru-Cut was traditionally a wheel drive thru a differential. Both brands are generally considered top of the line (for commercial versions) and difference is more a matter of taste.

For your application (4000sf) a 20" should be sufficient. You can go larger if money's no object, but I think it's overkill. I would definitely stay with the Professional/Commercial versions as the Homeowner has been "dumbed down" using pot metal gears instead of steel, and bushings replacing some ball bearings. Also comes with the GC Honda rather than the GX Honda used up range. While the GC Honda is a good engine, it is not in same class as the GX. Since there is relatively little difference in price, I can't see where there is a value proposition for the Homeowner models.

If Trimmer still offered a 20" Commerical (Original) I would recommend that model. Unfortunately, Trimmer has changed hands several times and is now controlled by Eastman, and seems to be floundering. Like Tru-Cut, the Trimmer 20" Homeowner model has been "dumbed down". Uses bushings instead of ball bearings, has belt drive off the engine (instead of chain and clutch), and other cost cutting.

The Trimmer 20" Homeowner and Tru-Cut Homeowner and not bad machines, but if you're going down-market, you might as well look at McLane. They are also roller drive like Trimmer, whom they knocked-off in the 1950's. McLane offers better value for the money, if you shop around, and are adequate for home use if properly maintained.

As for maintenance, all reel mowers will usually need to be backlapped yearly or every other year. They will also require a full, professional sharpening every three to five years.A sharpening is done on an Ideal, Nearing, or Foley grinder. Since you will be spending a fair amount for sharpening, make sure it is a relief grind, and not a cheaper spin grind. Backlapping can be done at home, although it does require some skills and more patience. Figure a couple of hours to do the lapping, reset the blade, and clean everything up.

In my opinion there is nothing better looking than a St. Augustine or Bermuda lawn closely cut by a high quality reel mower. I had St. Augustine for more than 30 years when I lived in the Los Angeles area.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2009 at 11:23AM
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Thanks ggoyeneche for all of your input. I originally considered a McLane (specifically this one from Sears)

I might give the McLane some more thought, and also check out the Trimmer models.

With regard to the Tru Cut, money is really not a concern so my question is, all things being considered except for purchase price, would it be better to have a 20 inch, 25 inch or 27 inch? Would the larger models be more difficult to maneauver?


    Bookmark   September 11, 2009 at 2:02PM
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If you had problems with scalping, then I would say go with the smaller models. I am not sure where reelfanatic is coming from with his post, but I believe ggoyeneche proved him wrong with his excellent post above.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2009 at 3:29PM
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Let me answer your questions in reverse order.

No inherent disadvantage to the 25" or 27" Tru-Cut, except they are heavier and harder to maneuver in tight spots. Scalping could be a problem if you lawn is lumpy. Part of my reasoning comes from your comments that you're going from a cheap rotary and a little hand reel. Still sounds like overkill.

As for the McLane, I was surprised at how low price was. I figured $700 to $800 on the street. I don't think Sears includes a catcher, so expect $80 to $100 more. Even so, hell of a good price.

Lastly, the Briggs used by all of the reel mower manufacturers is pretty good. Keep in mind that a reel mower uses much less horsepower and isn't expected to rev as highly as a rotary mower engine. Trimmer was initially designed with a B&S Model N or 6 with 2hp for the 20", and the 25" came with B&S Model 8 at 2.5hp. McLane used 2hp on their 20" well into the 70's.

I've had a lot of 20 year and older Trimmers and McLanes where the engine was fine, as long as oil was kept in it. Maintain it properly and the Briggs will give you excellent service.

PS: Had typo in first post. It's Neary, not Nearing.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2009 at 3:57PM
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Well, its a new season and I still haven't made up my mind regarding whether or not to buy a Tru-Cut. I have decided to install stone edging to separate the lawn from the beds using flagstone (that is flush with the lawn rather than raised, and probably between 4 inches and 8 inches wide), and also use the edging to create retension so that I can level the yard (which I am planning to do slowly over a period of a few months so as to not smother the grass). If I use a Tru-Cut (with or without a roller), will I be able to ride the machine on top of the flagstone in order to cut the glass ubutting the flagstone (just like in a driveway situation)? If so, what would be the ideal width of the edging in inches? Would the caster wheels have a tendency to fall off the edging. If I used a roller, would the roller get scratched or damaged from contact with the stone? Thanks

    Bookmark   May 3, 2010 at 6:03PM
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I am a big time fan of reel mowing. I am a commercial lawn-care company owner and own a 25" Eastman "trimmer" reel, a 25" Tru-cut reel, and a 20" Trimmer of Fresno homeowner model. I have also owned a King O' Lawn reel which wasn't much to brag about, but still a decent mower. In my opinion, the Eastman is a much more comfortable mower to operate and they last just as long, if not longer than a Tru-cut. Some like the separate drive clutches of the Tru-cut, but I don't find it of much benefit unless you are planning on driving your reel mower to the corner store.

In regards to your question concerning the best width of reel mower, I find the 25" models to be the best constructed the best and are most well fit to the rigors of daily, commercial use. The 20" Tru-cuts are very well constructed mowers, just as well constructed as the 25" reels. In regards to whether a 20", 25" or 27" is the proper choice, it is a matter of how your lawn was constructed. If you have lots of holes and slopes, a 20" will probably be a wiser choice because it will scalp less. IF you lawn is relatively flat, a 25" will suffice. I find the 27" Tru-cut to be too large to be justified purchasing. Not only is it 2" wider than the 25", it is heavier=less maneuverability and it is also a little more expensive. The 27" Tru-cuts are for places like baseball diamonds and large institutions.
With regards to the question about the roller, once again, if your yard is bumpy, a roller would be a wise choice because it will prevent the front wheels from becoming unbalanced. Generally a roller is not needed unless you are wanting to create a striping affect. I have heard both good and bad about rollers, one bad thing is that they lay down the grass making for not as close of a cut. A good thing is the striping affect and it does not scalp. The rollers are made out of a very durable plastic and will not scratch. About the edging, generally the edging I use is brick set in with mortar. However, the flagstone you describe will work. As long as the flagstone is equal with the height of the lawn, you will be able to ride the mower on it with out any problems. Generally 2" is sufficient to avoid the Bermuda runners from creeping into the beds, just keep it trimmed using a string trimmer, stick edger, or walk behind edger preferably. I would suggest doing some research on basic masonry work, especially that concerning flagstone. I would suggest using mortar to set and joint the flagstone with a layer of landscape fabric and pea gravel.

Best of luck on your endeavors and please feel free to ask me any questions.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 1:47AM
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At 70, I still mow my own lawn. In central California, that means weekly 9-10 months/year. For the past 20+ years, I've used a 27' Tru Cut w/a 5hp Honda. In my 60 years of mowing, only the no longer manufactured Jacobsen Manor rivaled the quality and reliability of the Tru Cut.
Yes, I've owned a commercial Trimmer. It's a fine mower providing the lawn is absolutely flat. The fixed front wheels make it difficult to turn, however -- even for this one time major college linebacker. The roller is a problem, in my opinion. Tilting the handle back for turns, even when the roller is raised, often launches the mower forward. Likewise when mowing down hill and approaching a flat section.
For most of its life, my Tru Cut mowed weekly 1 acre. I've now downsized to about 8,000 sq. ft. of lawn. I've never had a problem with the mower -- period -- nor with the Honda. The 27' is easy to handle and maneuver. Also easy to maintain. I use synthetic oil and grease -- more expensive, but the mower's longevity speaks for itself.
Another endorsement: both of my sons have Tru Cut 20' commercials for their homes. Again, never a problem with either.
If there's a better mower than a Tru Cut, I haven't seen it.

Here is a link that might be useful: GardenWeb

    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 3:35PM
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