Reel mowers are super simple to operate. That’s what people love so much about them. You push the mower forward, and the blades engage and start to spin, cutting the grass in the process. But when a reel mower is not spinning, that’s a problem. If you planned to do some lawn maintenance today and started to push your reel mower like you always do, but the blades won’t engage, the grass isn’t going to get cut.
There are a few possible causes of a reel mower not spinning, which we’ll talk about below. Because reel mowers are so basic in design, there are not many things that can go wrong, which helps to narrow down the possible causes.
Reel Mower Not Spinning: Possible Causes
95% of the time a reel mower not spinning the blade is caused by either a damaged or worn pinion gear or a damaged or missing pawl lever. Check both of these parts by removing the wheels.
Troubleshooting a Reel Mower Not Spinning
Now I’m going to talk about each of these issues, one by one to describe them in a bit more detail, as well as explain what you might need to do to fix the issue.
Pinion Gear Damaged or Worn Down
You’re going to need to take off the wheel for this, as the parts that you’re going to need to look at are hidden from sight on most models. This will involve removing one or more bolts, so have a wrench at the ready.
When you’ve got the wheel off, you’ll notice a series of grooves all around the outside of the interior part of the wheel. You should also see a smaller pinion gear attached to the end of the axle. This pinion gear fits into the grooves on the wheel, and when the wheel turns, it rotates the pinion and that’s how the blades spin.
Over a long period and a lot of use, this pinion gear could be worn down to the point where it either slips or doesn’t lock into those grooves at all. When this happens, you can rotate the wheels as much as you want, but the blades won’t spin.
Solution: The only solution in this situation is to replace the pinion gear. You need to be careful to order the right one for your exact reel mower model. If your mower is extremely old, it can be difficult to source these parts, but talk to the manufacturer as they may be able to offer a solution. It’s also a good idea to replace the pinion gear on both sides at the same time.
Broken or Missing Pawl
I know, I know. This stuff can seem a bit technical. I had no idea what any of this stuff was called before I went through this process for the first time too.
Inside the pinion gear, there’s a small piece of metal (or sometimes they’re just made of plastic) call a pawl lever. This might not look like much, but it’s actually pretty important and if something happens to it, it could result in your reel mower not spinning.
The pawl has a flat edge and a beveled edge. They’re positioned so that when you push your reel mower forward, the pawl locks up the pinion gear so that it drives the blades. But when you pull it backward, the pawl is released so the pinion gear doesn’t engage the blades.
If this pawl lever is either damaged or missing (perhaps you had the wheel off at some point and didn’t notice it drop out), it won’t lock up the pinion gear and consequently, the blades won’t spin.
Solution: You need to source a new pawl from the manufacturer and fit it. You could also make some sort of “homemade” solution like in the video below if it’s not impossible to source the correct pawn for your reel mower.
In my experience, there are not too many possible explanations for a reel mower not spinning the blades. It’s usually always something to do with the gears. Check that the blade cylinder will spin freely (wearing gloves and being very careful) first, and that it’s not simply debris stopping the blade cylinder from turning. If it does spin freely, pop the wheel off and look at that pinion gear and pawl. 95% of the time that’s the cause. Good luck!