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Dr Ian Plummer

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Lawn Care
Lawn Mowers

There are many varieties of grass cutting equipment available. The purpose of this section is to give a few hints about the selection and use of such equipment.

It will depend on the quality of lawn you are trying to prepare as to which mower is suitable. Most home owners who wish to have a croquet lawn will necessarily make do with a normal domestic mower.

Some Basics about Mowing

As a guide a tournament standard croquet lawn is cut to between 1/4" and 3/8" (~6-10mm) depending on conditions. Grass is left longer during drought conditions and at the start and end of the season to improve its chances of survival in dry or cold conditions. Generally a croquet lawn is mown 2-3 times a week but ideally it would be cut daily. Frequent low mowing discourages weeds and produces a tight sward. Apart from possibly at the start and end of the season clippings are always collected during mowing so that thatch does not build up. When reducing the height of long grass it is recommended that no more than 1/3rd of the growing height of the grass is removed in each mowing otherwise the grass is unduly weakened. Grass does not grow appreciably below 5°C.

It is desirable on a flat lawn to have a wide mower to reduce the time and distance walked to cut the lawn. Typically a 24" (60cm) wide cylinder mower is used. If the lawn is not flat then a wide mower will snag on regions of curvature and scalp the grass; a narrower mower will do less damage to the lawn and itself. Very wide mowers (e.g. 36") are available. These are seriously heavy and the 'chariot' variety requires a strong person to drive it. It can take typically 45 minutes to mow a single lawn with a 24" mower including trips to empty the grass box.

Whichever mower you select you need to be able to get it to the lawn and have somewhere to store it. Check the basics! Wide mowers might not fit through the door of your shed, or be too heavy to lift up steps or similar. If you have a petrol mower it represents a fire hazard. You are only allowed to store a small amount of fuel on site, hence if you do a lot of mowing you will be constantly filling cans at the garage. Spilt petrol kills grass wonderfully - refill your mower well off the lawn. Lawn mowers are smelly and would not be welcomed in a populated room.

Cylinder Mowers

Atco Club cylinder mower

The majority of mowers used in clubs are cylinder mowers. These comprise of a multi-bladed continuous helix welded to a high carbon steel cylinder bearing against a hardened bottom cutting blade. In front of the cylinder can be a sprung rake or 'groomer' to notionally lift the grass and behind is a heavy roller. The roller gives rise to the characteristic 'stripes'. On non-specialist mowers the bottom blade can be quite thick, e.g. 1/4". Together with the fixings on the mower this limits the minimum cutting height. It is possible to fit a 'shaver blade' which can help - it is simply a slimmed down bottom blade.

A domestic mower may have three or four helical blades on the cylinder, but for a croquet lawn it is desirable to have 10-12. This increases the number of 'cuts per inch' and prevents a rippled finish on the lawn. On most mowers the cyclinder is geared to suit the number of blades and the 'cuts per inch' is independent of the speed of the mower.

Setting Up the Mower

Lawn mowers are dangerous and can readily separate fingers from their owners. You must always disable a lawnmower before working on it. For an electric mower it must be unplugged. For a petrol mower you must take extra precautions. I would advise the following: remove the spark plug lead from the spark plug, turn off and remove the key and turn off the petrol. Engines with magnetos can possibly start if the engine is turned over, e.g. by rotating the cutting cylinder!

There are two basic settings on a cylinder mower; the cutting height and the pressure between the cylinder and the cutting blade.

Cutting Height. The cutting height is set by the height of the cutting blade above the ground. Normally there are screws at the front of the mower which lift or lower the front wheels or roller of the mower. From the notes above you do not want to remove too much height of grass in a single cut. It is wise to do an initial cut off the lawn to check that the height is reasonable.

Shaver Blades. A problem with many cylinder mowers is that the bottom cutting blade is thick and sets the minimum height that the mower can reach. You can order a specially thinned or tapered cutting blade called a shaver blade which allows a lower cutting height to be achieved.

Setting the Blades. The blades on the cylinder bears against the lower cutting blade and a properly set up lawn mower should be able to cut paper. If there is a gap then the mower will not cut, if the pressure is too high the blades will wear quickly and generate heat and, finally, if the cutting blade doesn't lie parallel to the axis of the cylinder then an uneven cut results. There are normally pressure adjustment screws at each end of the cutting blade allowing it to be lowered or raised at each end. The blade should be raised until it just binds with the cylinder blades along its length. The normal test is ... cutting a sheet of paper. With the mower disabled the cylinder is turned and paper fed onto the top of the cutting blade. The cylinder should cut paper anywhere along the length of the cutting blade.

Backlapping. If the cylinder becomes worn or has small nicks in it, it will produce a poor cut. The cylinder can be sharpened a few times by a process called backlapping. You should be aware that the edges of the blades on the cylinder and the cutting blade are likely to be only case-hardened. This technique produces only a shallow hardened layer in the metal and once that is eroded a sharp edge cannot be maintained. The only remedy in that case is to replace the cylinder and cutting blade.

To backlap a cylinder mower the cylinder is rotated in the reverse direction to normal with grinding paste (e.g. carborundum) on the blades and cutting blade. This removes burrs and makes the blades fit together again. Some of the more sophisticated mowers have a setting which reverses the cylinder drive for this very purpose. Lawn mower repair shops can do this process for you and they are able to put external drives on the cylinder to mechanise the process.

Choice of Cylinder Mowers

It soon becomes apparent that this sector of the market does not have a huge Internet presence! There are negligible websites dealing with mowers of the required specification. What this section does is to give pointers to company names and specific mowers. You would be recommended to pick the brains of a local golf green or cricket pitch groundsman.

It is possible to get cylinder mowers with removable 'front ends', i.e. cassettes. You can buy in, say, a 5-blade cylinder, a 10-cylinder or a scarifying cassette. Finally, the term pedestrian is used to indicate a mower which requires the user to walk behind it rather than sit on it.

Allett

Allett Mowers by Turfmech Machinery Ltd, Hangar 5, New Road,Hixon, Stafford, ST18 0PJ, United Kingdom, Email: sales@allett.co.uk, web: www.allett.co.uk. Models: Shaver/Tournament 20" and 24" wide, 10-bladed cylinder, 2.4mm minimum cut. The Tournament differs from the Shaver in which optional attachments are available. Aztec 20" or 24" wide, 10-bladed cylinder, 2.4mm minimum cut.

Atco

Atco-Qualcast Ltd, Suffolk Works, Stowmarket, Suffolk, IP14 1EY, England. T: +44 844 736 0108 Web: www.atco.co.uk.

The Atco Club is a 20" wide, 12-bladed mower with a minimum cut of 2.8 mm or less with a shaver blade (~£2.4K).

John Deere

John Deere Ltd, Harby Road, Langar, Nottingham, NG13 9HT. T: +44 1949 860491, web: www.deere.com

Manufacturers of agricultural equipment. Their 220A (22" £2.5K) and 180A (18") pedestrian greens mowers claim 11-blades, and a minumum cut of <3.2mm.

Dennis

Ashbourne Road, Kirk Langley, Derby, DE6 4NJ, UK, T: +44 1332 824777, Email; Sales@dennisuk.com, Web: www.dennisuk.com. Manufacturers of Grounds Maintenance Equuipment. They offer brouchers and price lists.

Their 'FT' range includes 9-bladed cylinders in 17", 20" and 24" widths. The 'Sport' range offers a 22" cylinder with 11 blades. The 'Super Six' comes in 17", 20" and 24" versions with 9 blades with a 3mm minimum cut. The others claim a 1.6mm minimum.

Jacobsen

Manufacturers of a wide selection of turf machinery. www.jacobsen.com. Popular in America

Masport

From dealers. Masport Olympic 500 Golf 20" wide, 10-blade cylinder, 3mm minimum cut.

Ransomes

Ransomes, Ransomes Way, Ipswitch, England, IP3 9QG. T: +44 1473 270000. Available from many retailers.

Models: Super Bowl 51 - 10-bladed cylinder, 51cm cut (20"), brush and comb set with catcher (~£2.3K), Super Certes 51 10-bladed cylinder, 51cm cut (20"), brush and comb set with catcher (~£2.8K). Super Certes 61 10-bladed cylinder, 61cm cut (24"), brush and comb set with catcher (~£3.3K). Add-on verti-groom (£1K).

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Updated 26.iii.14
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