A Girl’s First Power Tool


Heroic_equipmentI never once went "vroom vroom" as a kid. I hate mechanical noise, think the internal combustion engine is the worst thing that’s ever happened on the planet, and believe power tools make a culture soft and allow Asian nations to beat us on science and math tests.

But last summer, I just gave up on the ancient reel mower I’d been using for the past five years. It was given to me by a friend who works for Environmental Defense. He’s spending his career trying to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but NO WAY was he using such a thing.

It made mowing the lawn a sweaty, difficult job and then made me feel foolish and taken advantage of to boot.  It wouldn’t even cut a seed stalk in the grass, let alone a dandelion stem.  I’d get done mowing and have to go out with scissors to finish the job. So I tried to have its blades sharpened last summer and spent a day being sent from one machine shop to another, all over Saratoga County, vainly trying to find someone willing to do the job. That was it for me–basta!

So I bought the Black & Decker corded electric model above for about $230. The model with a battery was about $400, and since I’m only mowing a small urban yard within cord distance of my garage, it works fine.  Yeah, I do have to flip the cord over myself all the time, though I think it you were less spatially retarded than I am, you could figure out a way to keep the cord behind the mower most of the time.

But basically, I am deeply grateful to Black & Decker. I love the fact that the machine is on only when you lift a lever to the handle. Stop squeezing the handle, and it’s off. That means that when I stop every ten seconds to get pine cones out of the lawn up ahead, I don’t have to listen to an idling machine while I pitch them into my flower beds. I love the fact that it no longer takes an hour to mow my bit of lawn, it takes ten minutes. And while I have zero interest in the lawn, it is the frame for the garden, and I feel about an unmowed lawn the same way I used to feel back when I colored my hair and my roots were showing.


Of course, Black & Decker hasn’t solved every problem with my mangy-looking lawn–like the fact that lawn grasses don’t want to grow in such extremely sandy and acidic soil.  Or the fact that the homeowner refuses to give something as boring as a lawn a drop of supplementary water or a lick of fertilizer. Someday, the mower will be replaced…with bluestone. Or the homeowner will be replaced with somebody richer and more fastidious. Until then, great piece of equipment.


  1. I love it — My lawn looks even worse than yours! I’m forever explaining to people who point and laugh (YOU’RE the gardener???) that the lawn isn’t important. So glad you joined the world of the power tool. I recently fell in love with a blower/vac and I’ll never be the same. (BTW – your sign of the shovel link from your bio page is dead.)

  2. Why don’t you try planting some clover in there with the grass? It’s green and over time it will mix with the grass, fertilize it, and form a nice ground cover — of course it does like a slightly more alkaline pH (6-7.5 or so). So you could add lime. Or, you could just plant some blueberries….

  3. Love your lawn. I frequently remind myself of the story my college ecology professor told when he came home to find a report hanging on his front door knob, left by a lawn chemical/care company looking for a new account. The report said that his lawn had a horrendous weed problem, but (curiously) it had no insect pests…hmmm…

  4. The internal combustion engine is a more disastrous idea than gunpowder? I’m just saying. Vroom-vroom is bad, but bang-bang ain’t no picnic.

    The handle-squeezy thing does indeed sound like a good feature. Wish more stuff worked that way.

  5. I just gave away my Black and Decker (we had the one with the battery) and replaced it with a reel mower! We loved, loved, loved it but the battery was at the point where it wouldn’t hold a charge. We were either going to replace the battery or give it to a friend. We gave it to a friend and bought the reel one (which is not as good on fescue as it is on our bermuda grass). Happy, happy mowing!

  6. I’ve had my corded mower for six years now and I *still* have to flip the cord over myself, but it’s sort of second nature now. And contrary to my early fears, I never have mowed over the power cord.

  7. We just got a reel mower, but if my husband doesn’t like it after the next mow, I think we’re moving to the corded mower ourselves. I am happy that someone’s lawn looks worse than ours. We just want enough grass to keep the yard from washing away (it’s on a slope) and to hide the 8 million pieces of broken glass that show up after every rain storm. I don’t know if they used really bad fill for the yard or someone just had fun breaking hundreds of bottles back there, but it’s a constant problem. At least we don’t own it!

  8. You’ll love the electric mower come fall time.
    Simply mow over the fallen leaves and it shreds them into the perfect size for fast decomposition in the compost pile.

  9. I have a reel mower and a gas mower. The gas is a backup for early and late season cuts, as well as for bailing me out when I fall behind. With my potent mix of rich VA soil and sturdy cool-season grasses (and warm-season weeds), I have to cut 2-3 times a week with the reel mower or it gets too long for a decent cut.

    I will say, however, that the grass seems way healthier when cut with the reel. I think it’s the combination of the higher cut and the cleanness of the cut. Plus, it’s a great mower for a “Hey look a squirrel” distractable person like me. I don’t have to shut it off and restart it when I notice a broken branch that needs pruned, a stone out of place, or something shiny.

    And, I can mow in Tevas, something I’d never do with a rotary.

  10. I have the batter b&d and in its 2nd year is working great. Pricey, but hey. I sometimes feel a little angry at my neighbors–their mowers are 3 times as loud, they mow twice a week at least, and I hate thinking about all the stats I’ve heard on how much worse lawn mowers are than cars, planes, cola plants, et cetera. My mower does my 1/4 acre as long as it isn’t too long and wet. Usually, the battery gives out with only a few strips left–no big deal to me.

  11. Reel mowers are for masochists! But then I’m on a slope. And if it rains for a few days the grass gets WAY too tall for reels to handle it. When I HAD a lawn (and those days are over!) I loved my little $110 electric from a big box store that’ll go unnamed, but then it was the only one light enough for me to pick up and carry down the stairs into my back yard. The cord-flipping thing can be a challenge – or an opportunity to choreograph some artsy lasso-style techniques.

  12. A corded electric mower is the only one I’ve every used, and ours is going into its third decade. Managing a corded mower is very much the same as managing a vacuum cleaner. Don’t mow/vacuum over the cord! Start mowing close to the outlet, and drag the cord over the mowed part. Turn away from the outlet at row ends. Invest in some decorative hose guides to keep the cord from decapitating your perennials.

    Lay the end of the cord that comes out of the mower along the handle so that it is always under your hands and ready to be flipped away at the row ends.

    Finally, realize that one day you WILL mow over the cord. Have a replacement and/or repair supplies on hand. But you won’t ever have to buy gasoline or spark plugs, winterize the wretched thing, or breath the smog from an inefficient two-stroke engine ever again.

  13. We have had one of these mowers for 7 years now and have not had to replace the battery; disposing of batteries is the dreaded downside to this mower. Since electricity is generally produced by burning fossil fuels, and you lose ~90% at each conversion, the energy saving element may be nonexistent, but it is quiet and it doesn’t smell bad. Its a great machine!

  14. We have had one of these mowers for 7 years now and have not had to replace the battery; disposing of batteries is the dreaded downside to this mower. Since electricity is generally produced by burning fossil fuels, and you lose ~90% at each conversion, the energy saving element may be nonexistent, but it is quiet and it doesn’t smell bad. Its a great machine!

  15. I’ve had a corded electric mower for at least 3 years. Mine is the B & D with the flip handle, so I never have to worry about flipping the cord myself. It just flips with the handle. (Hard to describe unless you see it.) People tend to roll their eyes when I tell them about it, and my neighbors stare, but it mows grass that caused two “professional’s” machines to break.

    The only downside is that I have a big yard with trees and other obstacles. So mowing takes way too long due to having to maneuver with a cord attached.

Comments are closed.