Fiskars StaySharp™ 18” Max Reel Mower: Product Review
Depending on the size of your yard, this reel mower could replace your gasoline or battery-powered mower.
When asked to review the new Fiskars StaySharp™ Max Reel Mower, nostalgia set in. My paternal grandfather, who passed away months before I was born, used an old reel mower to cut his small patch of grass at his Chicago home. Oftentimes as a kid, I would cut grandma’s grass using that old, rusty mower. I remember having to run as I pushed it in order to get enough momentum to get it moving.
I wondered if the new Fiskars StaySharp™ Max Reel Mower offered an improvement over that reel mower from my childhood that was likely already 50 years old when I first touched it. I decided to find out.
- Weight: 52 lbs.
- Dimensions: 24 x 23.5 x 14.2 inches
- Power source: You!
- Cutting height: 1-4 inches
- Blades: StaySharp Cutting System to eliminate the need for annual sharpening
- Cutting width: 18″
- Warranty: 3-year limited warranty
- Optional grass catcher: Heavy-duty steel, 18 inches
LAYING IT OUT
The box arrived a few days after placing the order – just as the spring rains set in. I let the box sit there unopened for a couple of weeks. Why get all excited about a new toy when I can’t play with it yet? I figured.
Eventually, the sun came out again, and I ripped open the cardboard box. Nestled securely in the box, I found my mower in a box inside a box.
When I got everything out of the box, my first thought was, Is this it? Is something missing? I guess I’m a little conditioned in this day and age to look for battery packs, wires, or at least a long, incomprehensible instruction manual confirming that we’re in some sort of space-age for tools. So in the case of the Fiskars reel mower, everything looked unimpressively low-tech.
Not surprisingly, the contents required some assembly. What was surprising, though, was how quickly the unit went from pieces to ready-to-roll.
Within 5 minutes, I had the handle together. And that included a quick bathroom break.
Next, you’ll find a cotter pin on either side of the frame. The bottom of the handle where it meets the frame comes with four holes that allow you to customize the height of the mower for your height. At around 6′ tall, the hole marked 4 put the handle at a natural height for me.
The final assembly step is to screw the cutting height adjustment knob in place. This knob allows for one-hand cutting height adjustment.
Safety begins before you lose a finger or a toe. Thanks to frivolous lawsuits, I was not surprised to see warnings like “Never place hands, fingers or feet in the reel when it’s spinning.” My dad, who was no lawyer, would have said something like, “Go ahead and stick your hand in there. But I guarantee you that you won’t do it twice.” Just the same, keep anything you don’t wish to see cut severely out of the spinning blades. It should go without saying, but don’t throw stuff in it while it’s moving, because the spinning blades move quickly enough to turn pinecones and twigs into missiles. And, as recommended for most yard and garden equipment, always wear safety glasses (like these), gloves, and closed-toe shoes when operating and maintaining the tool.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Clippings Direction Control – The Fiskars reel mower comes with a grass chute of sorts that allows you to put the grass in front of or behind the mower.
Grass Clippings Bag – There’s also an optional grass catcher that can be purchased separately. Unlike a traditional grass clippings bag, this one sits on the front of the mower and is open on top. The benefit is that you can easily see when it’s full (it holds a half bushel of grass clippings), but it’s more difficult to see where you’re going because the bag sticks out in front of the wheels.
The bag is simple to attach to the mower (it just hooks on) – the built-in handle makes this even easier. It’s made of UV- and mildew-resistant polyester mesh fabric stretched over a heavy-duty steel frame.
How It Works – The manual doesn’t include this piece of information, but the nerd in me wanted to know how the unit works, so I did some reading online. The reel comes with attached blades that spin as you push the mower. But under the hood is another blade (a stationary one that the spinning blade traps grass between to cut) that completes the cutting process. Think of it like scissors. It has two cutting surfaces. In the case of a reel mower, one moves and one is stationary.
IT LOOKS GOOD. BUT CAN IT CUT?
It really does look good. I have never owned a Fiskars product that I would call cheap, tinny, or basic. This unit looks really good. Fit and finish are words usually applied to high-end automobiles manufactured with precision engineering. On that score, the Fiskars StaySharp Max Reel Mower is more Ferrari than Ford Fiesta.
But unless you’re a supermodel, you don’t get paid to look good: you have to actually do something. So how does the Fiskars do at cutting grass?
First, let me describe the size and shape of my yard. I mow about ½ acre. This area includes a couple of large straight flats and more than a few curved landscaped and treed areas that look like kidney beans.
Second, I should mention my grass. Many years ago, someone accidentally planted fescue, because no matter how much the crabgrass, Bermuda grass, clover and assorted weeds try to choke it out, I still see a few blades of actual grass cropping up from time to time. In other words, I’m not picky about what grows in my yard, as long as it’s greenish. That means I’m cutting a wide variety of greens that grow where you might expect to find a lawn.
So I tried the Fiskars Reel Mower in two tests on my varied greenish lawn: one, cutting straight and flat; two, cutting around the curves and contours of the landscaping.
Straight and Flat
At 52 pounds, I expected the Fiskars reel mower to feel heavy. I was pleasantly surprised that since this is rolling-weight, it felt much lighter and didn’t feel burdensome to push. Perhaps as a result of the old, rough reel mower I used decades before, or maybe pushing too many blocking dummies in football practice, I had the urge to run! Which wouldn’t be a bad thing for some cardio, I suppose. However, the owner’s manual clearly states “Do not run while using the reel mower.” While running is ill-advised, the manual does state that cutting power increases the faster you walk.
Fortunately, I found I didn’t need to run. Even walking at my normal pace (which tends to be fast), the Fiskars mower performed very well on my lawn. After lowering the cutting adjustment height to 3″, the Fiskars made nice, precise cuts.
However, there were exceptions to how well the mower cut some varieties of “lawn”. The included one-sheet Quick Tips that came with the mower recommended mowing before the grass reaches 6″ tall. I didn’t have a ruler handy, but I’m guessing some of the grass—Bermuda grass in particular—exceeded that 6″ limit for smooth cutting. After making a pass, I found several patches of grass that needed a second or third cut before it succumbed to the blades.
As far as turning the mower around at the end of the row, it was no easier or harder to turn than a regular non self-propelled mower. Just push down on the handle until the front wheels are off the ground, and then do a 180° turn before pushing again. If you’ve got the optional grass catcher attached to the front of the mower, make sure to give yourself a little more space to make that turn!
I also found it made better cuts when I slightly overlapped the previous cuts. Again, the need to overlap is similar to other mowers I’ve used, even my riding mower. So if you consider the 18″ cutting width is more like 16.5″, you’ll get a better idea of how much cut to expect.
Curved and Contoured
Cutting around my kidney-shaped beds, I could get up to the mulch edge neatly and without displacing any mulch in the process. As long as the curves were subtle, I could easily navigate turns.
Around trees and small landscaped areas, I found it a bit cumbersome to push it forward while simultaneously pushing down on the handle to lift the front end slightly to follow the ground. Again, this is pretty common with any non self-propelled mower. But the real issue with the curves is that it slowed down my walking/pushing pace to the point where I noticed that the mower’s cutting performance dropped off slightly.
For grins, I used the mower in front of my house where I have a fairly steep drainage ditch. The ditch is steep enough that it’s nearly thrown me off my riding mower a couple of times. So I wondered if the Fiskars would work on that patch to help keep me alive for another season.
I’m glad I tested it in the ditch because the reel mower worked great on the slope.
PROS AND CONS OF THE FISKARS REEL MOWER
So should you rush out and get the Fiskars reel mower? Here’s what I really liked about it—
- Easy assembly/set-up. For someone mechanically declined like me, I liked the simplicity of setting up the unit.
- Quality. As I mentioned earlier, the Fiskars mower represents quality. It feels solid and well-made enough to last for years.
- Blade adjustment. While I had no need to use this feature, the unit comes with a simple blade adjustment should the reel blades become misaligned due to hitting a hard object like a rock. The owner’s manual didn’t go into detail about how to adjust the blade, but there’s a handy-dandy YouTube video for that.
- Green. I like the idea of not polluting the environment by burning fossil fuels as I make my yard look good.
- Foldable. If you don’t have a lot of floor space, you’re in luck. The Fiskars reel mower’s handle folds up to a small footprint. Even as packed as my shed is, I have room for this in there.
- Maintenance. The owner’s manual comes with some annual maintenance that is incredibly simple: clean, dry, lubricate, and inspect it. You have no gas or oil to empty, and no batteries to charge. And should the blade stop cutting well, adjust the blade. That’s it. The StaySharp™ blades should never require sharpening or replacing. Can you say that about your current mower?
- Peace and quiet for my ears and nose. With most of my mowing equipment, I wear earplugs. If I don’t, I hear ringing in my ears for hours. And the smell of burning gas stinks. I often find myself with a headache as a result of breathing in the fumes. Using the Fiskars reel mower, though, I could actually put on headphones and listen to music which made the task much more pleasant. And I didn’t miss the side effects from inhaling toxic fumes when I was done mowing.
- Optional clippings bag. While the unit doesn’t come with a bag for catching grass clippings, one does exist. It’s available on Amazon in the $45-50 range. It holds up to a half bushel of clippings which isn’t a lot so you may have to empty it more often than you’d like. On the plus side, since it sits like an open basket in front of the machine, all you have to do is look down to determine when the catcher needs to be emptied.
Here are some things to ask yourself before buying the Fiskars mower—
- How big is your yard and time commitment? I mow about ½ acre each week. I’m not going to lie: it takes a bit of time to push (and at times, push over again) that size yard. If you have a smaller yard, this unit is perfect. Or, if you’re like my neighbor, she chooses to use a push mower as exercise instead of going to the gym. In my mind, she wins twice: she gets her lawn mowed and saves on gym membership fees.
- Do you need your mower to bag or mulch? While the mower cuts well, even adjusting the chute so you mow over cut grass twice does not cut fine enough to compete with a mower meant for mulching grass. I saw no option to bag clippings, either. So if you require or choose to bag or mulch, look elsewhere.
- Are you going to keep your grass under 6″? In my test, I found that the mower didn’t cut taller, tougher grass like Bermuda grass. And due to the rainy spring season, my grass grows quickly. To keep my grass in that 4-6″ sweet spot, I would need to mow more than once each week in the late spring and early summer. If your grass grows very quickly, be prepared for some extra exercise!
- Do you insist on a perfect yard? The mower performed very well where it encountered shorter fescue, but when it tried to cut longer, tougher grass, it required multiple passes. I decided years ago that if I had to choose between a perfect lawn and a perfect body, I’d choose the body. But since I’ve never had either of those, I’ve learned to settle. If you need your yard to look like something Hank Hill from the King of the Hill would be proud of, be prepared to do a little extra work to tame your wild grasses. (You can also read our Guide to Greener Grass).
The Fiskars StaySharp™ 18″ Max Reel Mower comes with a 3-year warranty covering defects and workmanship.
I like this mower. I asked two of my neighbors to try it to see what they thought, and they really liked it, too. By the way, one of my neighbors who tried it is in his 70s. If you have the strength to use a standard push mower (non self-propelled), you will have no problem using this mower. As an added bonus, you aren’t burning fossil fuels, polluting the air, or adding spent batteries to landfills. I plan to keep and use this mower in my ditch area as a much safer alternative to rolling over on my riding mower.
WHERE TO BUY
Last update on 2020-09-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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