Lawnmowers generally use two different cutting systems, including cylinder lawn mowers and rotary lawnmowers. These types primarily differ in the quality of cutting, power requirements and the maintenance required for the lawnmower. Each of these cutting systems can be found in many different types of lawnmowers.
A cylinder lawnmower uses a blade assembly that rotates around a horizontal axis, and may also be known as a reel mower. A rotary mower uses blades that rotate about a vertical axis. Early types of cylinder mowers did not have an engine, instead relying on the operator to turn the blades by pushing the mower forward. A rotary mower must have an engine.
The first cylinder mower was invented in 1827, although they were used primarily for sports fields. This type of lawnmower was continually refined until the first lawn mower small enough to be pushed by a human was patented in 1870, and the design for these mowers improved greatly by 1900. The first cylinder mower with an internal combustion became commercially available in 1902, and mowers suitable for residential use were first manufactured in 1919.
A practical rotary lawnmower requires a powerful engine small enough to be pushed by a single person. Early inventors began experimenting with rotary designs in the late 1920s, but it wasn’t until the early 1950s that rotary lawnmowers became available on a commercial scale. Additional advancements since then have included self-propelled mowers and mowers powered by electricity.
Both cylinder and rotary lawn mowers are available in a variety of sizes. The smallest lawnmowers can be pushed by a human operator, and self-propelled lawnmowers use some of their power to drive the mover forward. A riding mower has a seat for the operator and is self-propelled. The largest lawnmowers consist of multiple individual mowers that are pulled by a tractor.
The blade assembly of a cylinder lawn mower may have from five to 12 blades and is typically located at the front of the mower. The rotating blades trap the grass between the blades and a plate that is fixed to the bottom of the mower. The blade slices the grass against the plate in a manner similar to that of scissors. The collection box for the cut grass, if present, is at the front of the mower. A cylinder mower will produce better cutting quality with a higher number of blades.
Rotary lawn mowers have a single blade that rotates around a central axis. The blade must rotate at a much high speed to cut grass since it doesn’t have a plate to press the grass against while cutting. This type of mower uses a chopping action to cut the grass instead of the scissors action used by a cylinder mower. The grass collection box is in the rear of the mower.
The quality of the cuts produced by a cylinder mower is generally superior to that of a rotary mower. This difference is typically unnoticeable, since modern mowers have sharp blades and engines with sufficient power to cut grass reasonably cleanly. Most lawns have minor flaws that make the differences in cut quality especially hard to detect.
A cylinder mower generally requires more maintenance than a rotary mower. The blades of a cylinder mower must be precisely adjusted on a regular basis to create the proper slicing action on the grass. A poorly adjusted cylinder mower will chew the grass rather than cutting it, making the cut quality worse than that of a rotary mower with dull blades. The only maintenance a rotary blade requires is periodic sharpening.