Toward a muscle-powered weed whacker

I’ve been trying to construct a muscle-powered weed whacker. I am a fan of reel lawn mowers, and for the same reasons I like those — quiet, zero carbon emissions, no gas cans or cords to bother with, and so on — I would like a motor-less rotary weed whacker. If such a thing already exists, I haven’t been able to find one.

I do have a weed whip, a wonderful tool — this thing:

weed whip

It works very well in open areas, but it does not reach down into the rocks which we have as a border around our front flowerbed, nor into the gaps in the chain link fence around the side of our yard. Spots like this one:


For these areas, I want a rotary weed whacker.

How would I make a manual weed whacker? With, I reasoned, the awesome power of a salad spinner. Or the type of gear that’s used in a salad spinner — one that converts linear motion into rotary motion. 

(There must be a name for this mechanism, but I haven’t been able to find it.)

Most salad spinners use crank handles, or push knobs, but I found one with a pull cord; the fine Prepworks spinner made by the noble people at Progressive International.


This is the mechanism, cord, and flywheel-spinner.

So with a broom handle, some other wood, and a string as an extension for the pull cord — passed through eye hooks — I assembled this tool:


And I tried it out using wire as the cutting edge.

Before I did this I cut away most of the disc, or flywheel, which spins around in the lid of the salad spinner. I assumed this would speed up the tool, and allow the wire to spin faster, but in reality I think there might be value to leaving some weight there so the disc can hold its momentum as a proper flywheel. In any case, I then attached some wire to the rotor so that two ends stuck out past the cover.

This thing did not work. The spinner would not achieve enough rpm to spin the wire fast enough to cut anything. 

Prototype 2: A new cutting method

So I took off the wire and instead mounted a thin strip of metal on the rotor. You can see it protruding at about the 5 o’clock position in the photo above. 

This time, it actually did cut grass. But nowhere near well enough to be useful.  In the next day or two I will post the Next episode: Prototype 3.  

Why am I writing and publicizing this, when clearly I am onto something that I can patent and use to earn untold riches? Because there are plenty of better tool-makers and mechanics out there who could do it more quickly, and the planet needs this new tool pronto. 

Reviewing a Fiskars mower!

In Cleveland last week I had the chance to use a Fiskars mower. This has been a lifelong dream of mine . . . well, maybe that’s overstating, but I was curious to use one.

The mower did a fine job cutting, no complaints . . . but I like the Scotts mower I own better.  The Scotts is lighter, and less expensive, but it’s holding up very well.  I find it easier to push than the Fiskars was.


So easy, it’s as if I am not pushing at all

My new reel mower is so easy to push, sometimes I feel like I am not doing the work at all.


(An easy) Row to Hoe

I am re-posting this excellent bit from a farm in Wisconsin about an engine-less push-weeder thingamabob (n.b. this is not the technical term for it).

The snow may be blowing outside, but warm and toasty inside we’re scheming for the coming season. Ordering seeds, finding piglets, and today, putting a new handle on our Row Hoe.


When we picked up the old Row Hoe from a friend, neither of us realized how useful it would prove. It may be a rusted old garden tool from the era of the victory garden, but when I first took  it by the handle and pushed it through the soil I was astounded at the ease with which it cleaned the weeds from between a row of onions. Simple but elegant in it’s design, an 8″ diameter cast iron roller wheel loosens the soil ahead of a knife that cuts the weeds off an inch or so below ground level. Or, simply flip the handle over and push it the other direction to engage several knives to uproot mid-sized…

View original post 69 more words

Anniversary of the first U.S. reel mower patent!

reel patentJanuary 28th is the anniversary of the first patent issued in the U.S. for a reel mower, according to
1868 . . . makes you wonder if sales took off in part because slaves weren’t cutting grass anymore. In any case, happy reel patent day!

So, the electricity for green electric mowers . . .

dominion pieI’ve seen electric mowers referred to as “zero emissions,” but of course a lot of the electricity we use is generated by fossil fuels; which means the emissions exist, but they’re just happening at a power plant.

Where does my electricity come from?

I live in Northern Virginia, and my electric utility is Dominion.  Dominion generates electricity mostly through nuclear, coal, and natural gas. Dominion has this pie chart on their site, explaining their sources.

The coal-burning plants have emissions, and  there are also emissions with natural gas, through methane leaks. As for nuclear . . . well, I know nuclear energy has many fans, but personally I’d rather use muscle power to power my reel mower than nuclear to power an electric mower.

The Dominion report is here — the “generating facilities” link:

Reel mower weigh-in!

Like a feather!

Like a feather!

I recently replaced my old reel mower, which is probably 60 years old, with a new one. The old one’s gears were so worn on one side that they did not turn the wheel consistently.

The new one, an 18-inch Scott’s Supreme, is considerably lighter: it weighs around 21 pounds.  I weighed it with a luggage scale we have; the reading came out each time to between 20 and 22 pounds.

Then I weighed the old one . . . I thought it would turn out to be heavier than it really is: It’s 31 pounds.  (Again the scale read 30 to 32 on different weighings.)  It seems like it weighs twice as much as the new one, when I use it . . . maybe the better treads on the new tires make that much of a difference. In any case, it feels like a big difference. Snip.

The old mower.  Rest in peace.

The old mower. Rest in peace.

Reel commercial

The Endorsement Committee of Reel Mower Rally has not yet decided whether or not to approve this commercial . . . anyway, in the meantime, here it is:

The reel lawn mower physique

Defender getting smoked

Defender getting smoked

One reason to love reel mowers is that they provide exercise. Look at the marvelous physical attributes of this reel-mower user, for example (the tall one, not the striker). His neighbors may pay to use a gym, whereas he can just mow his lawn and Look This Good. Now all he has to learn is not to turn his back on the guy with the ball.

Why reel lawn mowers excel, Reason #37: Safe around kids

Long live the new reel mower!

Long live the new reel mower!

I like my reel lawnmower because I can use it in one part of my yard while my kids play nearby.  Well, this should be past tense, at this point; my kids are no longer toddlers who need to be watched every moment. But when they were age 3, it was enormously convenient to have them playing in the right half of my front yard, say, while I mowed the left. I could mow without worrying about stones getting thrown at them by the mower.

Now, of course a determined 3-year-old can hurt himself anywhere, and I’m not saying that I could mow right through their game of let’s-pretend-we’re-in-the-Wizard of Oz-movie. But again, I was able to keep an eye on them while I did yard work. Before I had children, this would not have occurred to me as anything particularly important, but once the kids came along I found it enormously helpful.

(And now that they are older, they can pitch in with this mower at a younger age than I would want them to be in order to use a power mower . . . but wait, that’s Reason #61, and deserves its own post.)