How to buy - Pedestrian rotary mowers

These best-selling workhorses are available in specifications to suit almost every situation.

Within the mower market, the pedestrian or walk-behind rotary mower is a best seller. This is because rotaries offer so much in terms of versatility and choice. But choosing the right model for the job can make a big difference in terms of productivity, finish and the expected life of the machine.

There is a huge range of models available, providing something for every type of work — mowing rough grass verges, embankments, cemeteries, ornamental lawns or giving a first cut to new growth on recently seeded ground.

When selecting a machine, the chief considerations are the terrain, the type and density of vegetation, how often it needs cutting and the required finish. The size of the area to be cut determines the most suitable cutting width.

All rotary mowers share the same cutting action — they mow the vegetation by means of a horizontally rotating blade, or blades, usually spinning at around 3,000rpm. Options include: push or self propelled; side or rear discharge; wheeled or rotary; and collecting, drop or mulch. There is also a wide choice of engines and power ratings.

Engine power is particularly important on sites where the vegetation is long, contaminated with dock and thistle plants or is dense because of infrequent mowing.

Higher engine power will be needed to smash through such material. If you use an under-powered mower, it will stall when the going gets tough.


On the push type of rotary mower, the engine sends all its power to drive the blade and it is up to the operator to propel the machine over the site.

Self-propelled mowers are more expensive but with the engine driving the wheels or roller as well as the blades, these mowers will mean less effort is needed from the operator.

The type of discharge will also affect purchase price. Side-discharge machines often cost less. They throw the clippings out to one side, whereas rear-discharge mowers leave a trail of clippings behind. But rear-discharge models are often offered with a grass-collection system in the form of a detachable box or bag. This type of mower should be used where a neat finish is demanded.

To make it easier to remove the box or bag, many rear-discharge mowers are fitted with a blade brake clutch. This means that for safety’s sake, the blades stop rotating but, for convenience, the engine can be kept running while the collection facility is being emptied.

The mulch mower has neither rear nor side discharge. Increasing in popularity, these mowers are recognised by their domed-shaped deck in which the clippings are retained and re-cut into tiny pieces before being dispersed downwards into the sward. These mowers are also capable of leaving a neat finish, although their usefulness can be limited by the height of the grass to be cut. Tall grass may need double-cutting — the first cut reduces the height of the grass and then a second cut, set at a lower cutting height, completes the job to the finish required.

A mower with a roller should be selected where the finish will look best with a striped effect. Wheeled rotaries are suited to uneven, bumpy ground and in situations such as on verges or slopes, where traction can be an issue.

A mower operating on the hover or air-cushion principle will also offer benefits on sloping ground but really comes into its own where it is necessary to mow across paving stones and kerbs, around irregularly shaped beds and underneath low-growing shrubs.

Try before you buy

As with all machinery, it is best to see a demonstration before purchase. For use in commercial situations, a mower must be well engineered and robustly constructed of suitable materials.

It should also be comfortable to use, so look for features such as adjustable handlebars and an easy-to-engage operator presence control. Check out the safety features and compare the vibration figures and noise levels of the models on your shortlist. Don’t forget that vibration will affect the length of time the mower can be used.

If you work on a variety of sites, remember to consider how the machine will be transported. Weight is especially important if the mower has to be lifted in and out of a van.

Don’t forget to ask about the warranty and dealer back-up in terms of servicing and spare parts.

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