Frugal Lawn Care: Sharpening Mower Blades

This is a guest post from Kevin, who writes about how to get out of debt, stay out of debt, and build wealth at No Debt Plan.

When my wife and I purchased our first home a few years ago we needed a lawn mower for our small yard. I ended up buying an electric lawnmower that fit our needs.

Whether you use a traditional gas mower or an electric like me you will run into maintenance issues. With a traditional gas mower these include air filters, engine oil, topping off the gasoline, and mower blades.

Thankfully with an electric mower the maintenance issues are minimized. There is no oil. There is no gasoline. I need to look as I’m not sure if the thing even has an air filter (because there is no need for air to mix with gasoline in the engine).

However, we did run into one maintenance issue recently: mower blades. And that makes sense — all mowers have blades, right?

(Photo by somegeekintn)

Comparing Cost of Replacement Vs. Sharpening Mower Blades

Did you know you can have your lawn mower blades sharpened? A lawn mower blade is a piece of metal like a knife. Over time through continual use it becomes dull. Dull blades don’t cut grass as well as sharp blades. Cutting with a dull blade is also not great for your grass.

The cost of a new blade for my mower is $17 through Amazon. That’s not bad, and I actually plan to purchase a second blade. (More on that in a moment.)

I called around to a few lawn mower shops (Google: “lawn mower sharpen” and your city) and found a shop that would sharpen the blade for $8.

That’s an easy comparison: $17 for a new blade versus $8 for a “new” used blade. I could sharpen my current blade twice for every new blade I needed to buy.

Rotate Two Blades

As I mentioned above I plan to buy a second blade. At the end of the day having two blades makes life a lot easier than owning just one blade.

Take me, for example. I discovered my mower blade was quite dull the last time I mowed. I determined I needed it sharpened, but didn’t have a spare handy. This would seem like an easy fix: just go to the store and buy another blade, and get the original blade sharpened. Since I had purchased an electric mower online my properly sized replacement blades were only available online. (Just my luck.)

Having a second, sharp blade on hand makes life easy because you can take the old blade off and get it sharpened at your leisure. The new blade should last for quite a while giving you and I time to procrastinate on finding a sharpening shop while not sacrificing the quality of our mowing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have this leisure and had to hurry to find a shop, get the blade off the mower, and have my wife take it down to the shop to get it sharpened. The sharpening took an hour and was back in our hands the same day.

Safety First When Changing Lawn Mower Blades

I can’t finish this article without clarifying some safety issues. As a general rule mowers are dangerous and have full capabilities to remove an unhealthy chunk of your body from you.

Safety first:

  • Disable your mower in as many ways as possible. With gasoline mowers make sure you disconnect the spark plug. With plug-in electric mowers make sure the mower is not plugged in. (For battery mower users, I can’t help you. No idea how they work.)
  • Blades are sharp. Be careful. Wear gloves or use a towel to hold the blade while you are loosening/tightening the socket that holds it in place. And make sure that when it comes loose that you haven’t been pushing too hard with your arm — you could push the blade into your hand as it comes loose.
  • Always use a proper sized and balanced blade. If your mower takes a 19″ blade, get a 19″ blade. If you get the blade sharpened make sure that it is still in balance. To do this just balance it on your finger or some other device to insure one side isn’t higher than the other — an unbalanced blade will shake the mower and generally isn’t a good thing to operate with.

You also have the option of sharpening the blades yourself with tool files. While I’m sure this is a relatively easy skill to learn I’d rather not deal with the hassle of doing it wrong or ending up with an unbalanced blade. The $8 spent is already a savings of $9 over the regular blade cost. That’s frugal enough for me.

Trust TruGreen for your lawn care, lawn maintenance and landscaping needs.

Comments

  1. Do you have any idea how often that blade on the electric is supposed to be sharpened?

    I bought my electric a few months ago at a closeout sale, and while warrantied, there was no instruction manual with it – so I don’t know how often to sharpen it. – I have a VERY small yard – and it gets smaller every time I put in another raised bed.

  2. I have a push reel mower that I used last year for the entire summer without sharpening once.

    I didn’t even realize how dull it was getting until my wife notified me this year that it was a good idea to sharpen it once in a while.

    I decided to do it myself, and it’s really unbelievable the difference when you’re using sharp blades. I went from struggling to pull out grass to gliding across the lawn like skates on ice.

    It’s really easy to do yourself and I would recommend it to save even more money, plus you can regularly sharpen it just a little before each mow to keep the blades at their sharpest.

    It was $10 for a flat metal file, and that will probably last a couple summers.

    You simply pull flat against the blade pulling away always in one direction.

    I’m not an expert on lawn mower sharpening, but there are plenty of guides on the Internet.

    Then you don’t have to bother hauling your mower to the store each time either, plus you save extra money.

    If you like menial mind numbing acts like I do, you’ll also enjoy the repetitive act of grinding your mower blades into a sharp rotating lawn sword.

    There’s a primitive sense of pride in the whole act, plus you’re saving good money over time.

  3. @marci: There’s not really a regular schedule for these things, but I’ve read they should be sharpened twice/year, and more frequently for large lawns. I’ve also read that commercial services should sharpen them every 40 hrs of use.

    I sharpen my own w/ a grinder just once/year.

  4. @marci: I don’t have the manual in front of me, but the easiest way is to just tip the mower on its side and (carefully) rub your finger on the edge. If it’s dull — sharpen it.

  5. @Marci: I sharpen blades once or twice per year. First, at the start of the mowing season and again in late summer. I typically check blades near the end of summer because here in the south we often have to mow through the fall with warmer temperatures,.

  6. That’s what I love about this blog – the interaction! Thanks to all for the sharpening info! Nice of you to help an older woman out :) That’s why I bought the electric mower this time – figured less maintenance for me to have to deal with, and no gas mess either, as I store it in my wood shed :) One less thing to worry about!

    Thanks again!

  7. Buying online might be fiscally cheaper, but buying from a mom and pop store gives you a person to talk to, to help solve your problems. Cheapest is not always the best.

    Plus, if you have problems, you can’t throw a brick throgh your computer window!

  8. Good point about having a second blade handy…. I take it these points would work the same with a non-electric push mower, too (as Max says above)… plus the non-electric mower saves on the electricity too (and is a good bit of exercise!).

  9. Timely advice, I was doing some serious rock cutting a few hours ago and that dang mole is back, so I mowed a few of his mounds over as well. Just a good reminder to take those blades off and make use of my air tools that have been sitting idle since last year. I second the notion of the local mom and pop, I’d much rather do that than support a big box store.

  10. @Tammy: Check with a lawn mower repair shop, or similar shop that works on small engines (or a metal cutting shop). They should have a grinding tool available that should be able to put a fresh, sharp edge on your yard tools.

  11. I just bought the lawn mower blade sharpener from Ace hardware (also available on line) that can be used with a drill to sharpen the blade. It comes with instructions. Balancing is easy if you have wise. It was 8 bucks but looks like it could last for 20 uses. Avoid hassle and buy new if you are not good at handyman’s job.

  12. I am a certified crazy lawn nut, so take my comments as you will.

    Cutting with a dull blade fractures the grass instead of cutting, leaving a larger wound area and makes the grass more prone to disease. You can tell when a blade is too dull because the ends of blades of grass will brown about 48 hours after cutting. With a sharp blade the grass will look considerably “greener” between mowings.

    I sharpen my blade every 2 weeks (4 cuttings or so). It can easily be done with a bench grinder ($45) or a cheap angle grinder ($20 + vise) and there really is no issue with messing up the blade balance. I have no training, and have sharpened my blade at least 500 times over the life of my mower. The amount of metal removed is very small compared to the total mass of the blade.

    If you keep up with it, sharpening should take no more than 2 minutes (depending on how accessible your tools are).

    Don’t be put off with the “bench” in bench grinder, they are very portable, easy to use and come in surprisingly handy. A freshly sharpened spade or tree snip will make gardening so much less of a chore.

  13. Frankly – dull mower blades are one of the reasons a company like mine stays in business. People hate to mow and if the yard looks bad when they do – they call us!

    Some people never THINK of just getting their blades sharpened, but I come from a pretty frugal household and it wouldn’t have occurred to me NOT to do it!

  14. Its amazing what a good sharpen will do for the lawn mower. Also, slight tune-ups will definitely extend the life of your mower even though they don’t make them like they used too.

  15. I sharpen my lawn mower blades after three cuttings. They not only sound different because they are sharp they cut so much more efficently.

  16. I too sharpen my Toro Personal Pace mower blade every 3-4 mows. It dulls fairly quickly, and I’ve on so many resources that sharp blades are key to 1) the engines efficiency and ability to cut through thick lawn, 2) the grass health and future growth. I till the mower to the side away from the air filter (after pulling the spark plug wire) and use a drill adapter griding stone ($5.00 on amazon.com) on my cordless drill. I make 4-5 passes on each side, then debur the edge and I have knife like sharpness. Takes all of 5 minutes.

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