Mowing the lawn is one of the typical jobs that kids do to earn extra pocket money. The image of a kid dragging his mower up and down neighborhood streets knocking on doors and offering to mow the lawn for a few bucks is not an uncommon one.
Lawn mowers come in many different configurations and with many different features. Some are gas powered, others are electric. Some are mulchers, some are baggers, others are side dischargers. Most suburban homes use some flavor of small push mower so that’s what we’ll focus on here.
Before we get to the actual act of mowing the lawn, we need to do some quick maintenance first to make sure that the mower is ready to go.
If your mower is a gas powered mower, you have to check the fuel level. You can do this typically by looking at the side of the tank or by unscrewing the fuel cap and looking into the tank. It’s a good practice to top off the fuel tank before each cutting.
Some common mix ratios are 32:1 or 50:1. This means that for every 1 ounce of oil in the mix, there needs to be 32 or 50 ounces of unleaded gas. Hardware stores sell the oil in standard sizes that make it easy to mix in with a gallon of gas at a time. If you fill up a gallon gas can with unleaded, you’ll need 2.6 ounces of oil to make a 50:1 mix or 4 ounces of oil to make a 32:1 mix. Be sure to label your mixture to avoid using the wrong fuel in the wrong engines.
Push mowers all have some kind of safety bar on the handle. In order for the mower’s engine to run, this bar has to be held against the handle. If the safety bar is released, a running mower is stopped.
A gas powered mower will typically have a pull starter. To get this one going can require some finesse. With one hand, hold the safety bar against the handle and with the other hand, grip and pull sharply on the pull cord. Pulling gently won’t do the job, you’ve got to actually assert yourself here.
An electric mower should also need the safety bar to be held against the handle, but you’ll likely have a switch or button to press to activate the engine.
If you tip the mower on it’s side, you can see the blades that spin and actually cut the grass. You can remove the blade with a wrench and sharpen the cutting edge with a Dremel or metal file if you’re feeling frisky. For the moment, just make sure that the blade is clear of any obstructions and can spin freely.
A mulcher is a mower that cuts the grass and then cuts the clippings into smaller bits that end up back on the lawn. This has a number of advantages, but the easiest to identify is that there isn’t any need for dealing with the clippings. With a mulcher, you just run the mower over the lawn and are done.
A bagger is a mower that collects the clippings in a bag usually at the rear of the mower. This style is very common and requires that you stop periodically to empty the bag into a disposal of some kind. It’s typical to use a lined garbage can or a garden waste bin for the clippings.
A side discharging mower is one that simply shoots the clippings out the side of the mower. These end up leaving large, nasty clumps of cut grass scattered all over your lawn. This might be ok for large fields or back yards, but if you intend to take pride in your work, try to avoid this type of mower.
Before you start mowing the lawn, you should give it a once over to see if you can spot any large rocks or pine cones or any other obstruction that might get hit by the blades when the mower passes over it. Not only can this damage the blades of the mower, but it can also end up as a projectile that can hit you in the feet or legs.
You should also choose a pattern that you intend to follow. If you’re going to mow the lawn regularly, try to choose a different pattern each time to prevent the grass from growing in that pattern.
Get To It
With your mower ready and your lawn prepped, it’s time to get to it. Start in one corner of the lawn and start walking the pattern that you’ve selected. Take care to make sure that your wheels line up inside the tracks you leave in previous passes. Having the wheel tracks interlocking ensures that you don’t leave ridges of long grass between passes you take with the mower.
Also, if you’re using a bagger mower, keep an eye on how full the bag is getting. If you see that it’s getting full, stop mowing and empty the bag. Also keep an eye on your feet. If they’re getting covered in clippings, then it’s likely that either the bag is full or the vent from the cutting deck to the bag is clogged with clippings. To check for this, release the safety bar, tip the mower on it’s side and check under the deck to see that the vent is clear. As long as the mower is off, you can reach in and clear this with your hand if you need to.
Once you’ve cut the whole lawn, you’re almost all done. You still need to clean up your tools and make sure that the clippings are all disposed of properly. Tip the mower on it’s side again and either use your hand or a hose to spray out any clippings that are stuck to the inside. Be sure to run a towel over the blades when you’re done to help prevent rusting.
Double-check that you’ve disposed of all the clippings correctly and that there aren’t large clumps of clippings strewn across the yard. Also make sure that there aren’t ridges of long grass in your freshly cut lawn. These two things are the most common and easiest to identify signs that the person who cut the lawn didn’t take any pride in his work.