Mower Buyer's Guide
Table of Contents
How to Select a Lawn Mower
You know everything about the landscape you are tasked to maintain, but what mower will best enable you to do so? After completing in-depth industry research on the equipment that most effectively eradicates the eyesore that is unwanted growth, we have compiled top-of-the-line mowers suitable to a variety of needs. These are products we take pride in distributing because we know that purchasing a lawn mower is no off-the-cuff decision. Our wide range of mowers will allow you to find exactly what you’re looking for, and this guide will walk you through your options.
Our mowers can be divided into two categories: rough cut and finish cut. This distinction is the most critical. Rough cut mowers take care of more raw property--landscape with saplings, weeds, rough brush, and woody materials. This is what you’ll mow a pasture with, or an overgrown field, or a trail. If you try to take a finish cut mower out on your pasture, it will damage your blades beyond repair, and the blades will send materials shooting off every which way. The only thing you need a finish cut mower for is a well-maintained, grass lawn. Any kind of undergrowth will compromise a finish cut mower.
About Rough Cut Mowers
Rough cut mowers are the beasts of landscape care. They mow up to 32 acres a day and will easily shred twigs, pine cones, and other minor obstacles. Tow-behind trail cutters will cut brush and saplings up to 3” thick and are most appropriate for overgrown, wild property like forests or overgrown fields. DO NOT use a rough cut mower on a well-manicured residential or commercial lawn. Taking blades intended for rougher organic material will result in a ratty, rugged finish--a lawn that you or someone else takes pride in visually will not be pleased with the results of a rough cut mower.
If you already use an ATV or heavy duty mower (like our zero-turn mowers) to complete tasks on your (or your clients’) property, a tow-behind mower deck will easily fit into your workload. Tow-behind mowers can be easily hitched up and hauled behind as you trek over your overgrown field or pasture, slashing down whatever stands in your path. Tow-behind mowers by design cannot propel themselves, and our rough cut tow-behinds range between 530 and 780 pounds. From there, you have the option of a 44 inch deck with either an electric or recoil start, or a 52 inch deck with an electric start. The 52 inch deck will considerably reduce your cutting time if you plan on mowing anything more than 2 acres.
A walk-behind rough cut mower is ideal for smaller spaces, like a yard that’s growing wild, or a plot with lots of trees that will need to be maneuvered around. Our rough cut walk-behind mowers are self-propelled, which means that once the engine is started, all you need to do is tag along to steer it--and maybe apply the brakes once in awhile. Another major benefit of a walk-behind mower is that they are small, so you don’t need an industrial-sized storage shed to lock it up in. They are also cost efficient for smaller areas--if you don’t save more than 15 minutes or so by buying a tow-behind deck that costs thousands of dollars more, it’s pretty much a waste of your money. Walk-behind mowers can also maneuver around bushes, trees, and tight corners.
If a walk-behind mower sounds right for you, there is only one more question to ask yourself when selecting the appropriate model: Do you need a commercial pro mower, or a standard residential mower? The answer depends on how much time you intend to spend using the mower. If you only use the mower once a year or once a month, a residential mower might work just fine for you. But if you intend on using this machine on a daily basis, or a weekly basis, season after season, you might as well spend a little bit more for a more durable, hardy product that will withstand wear and tear. Our Swisher Commercial Pro Predator Talon 24 inch rugged trail cutter is perfect for any small or medium cutting job. The 11.5 HP Briggs engine has both electric and recoil start, and the unit will clear the densest undergrowth and saplings up to 1.5 inches in diameter. Its single, fixed hardened-steel blade zips through brush with ease, and handlebar mounted controls are easily accessed for total control and safety. Front and side safety deflectors protect against flying debris.
We offer both electric and recoil start rough cut mowers. There is no real difference between how these mowers operate besides how they engage the starter, but repairs tend to be a little more costly and complex with an electric start. Bigger engines are more convenient to start with an electric start, so once you’re looking at the higher horsepower engines, you might lean a little more toward an electric start.
About Zero-Turn Mowers
The zero-turn mower is a revolutionary machine when it comes to lawn maintenance. It daintily leaps over the major hurdle that bogs down cutting time and accuracy: turning radius. That’s actually where the zero-turn mower gets its name--it has a turning radius of zero, which means that its wheels can pivot at a 360-degree angle. Even if there are no obstacles on a yard, at some point, the mower has to turn around, and a standard mower completes this maneuver by veering to the right or left, circling around, and making sure to cut grass missed due to having to veer. A zero-turn mower can approach the edge of a lawn and completely flip around, making for a more professional cut.
If you factor in trees or rocks or other landscaping elements, zero-turn mowers increasingly beat any other type of mower. Their maneuverability allows them to easily circle obstacles, something that takes a lot of care and effort with any other type of mower. Obstacles add to cutting time, but zero-turn mowers can drive around them as quickly as though they were driving straight forward. Furthermore, with models that range from 24 to 28 in horsepower, our zero-turn mowers can haul tow-behind mower decks behind them as easily as a small tractor, while still being able to turn on a dime. These mowers accelerate up to at least 8 MPH, forward and reverse, and have both a front and rear hitch. Zero-turn mowers create a finish cut look, and are designed specifically for manicured lawn care, so don’t take them out into your fields for rough cut jobs.
Our most hardcore zero-turn mower is the Big Mow, which boasts a 66-inch fabricated front mount mower deck for mowing under low clearance obstacles. The electric flip up function on the deck allows for easy cleaning and maintenance. A foot pedal adjusts the electric deck height, and the mower’s rapid response control system makes steering easier and keeps your arms in a comfortable position. The mower’s 23-inch turf tread drive tires allows you to mow at speeds up to 10 MPH. In addition, large 12cc pumps and 16cc motors on each drive wheel deliver smooth, variable speed and direction control. Please note that the mower is too large for residential lift gate delivery. You will need to own or rent a loading dock or fork lift to unload it.
About Finish Cut Mowers
Larger, well-manicured lawns, like a residential yard or a golf course, necessitate a finish cut mower. Note that a rough cut mower will not harm or be harmed by a well-maintained lawn, and if you don’t mind if your lawn looks like a toddler took an enormous pair of dull scissors to it, then just stick with a rough cut mower. However, if you are aiming to keep your lawn looking tidy and neat, a finish cut mower will do the job. The main difference between a rough cut and finish cut mower is the blade(s). Rough cut blades are thicker and denser so they can penetrate branches and undergrowth, potentially deflecting rocks in their path. Finish cut mower blades are finer and thinner to produce a cleaner, more professional look. DO NOT use a finish cut mower on anything but well-maintained grass. Your blades will be damaged, perhaps beyond repair. While our mowers are covered by respective warranties, elements and parts rendered inoperable due to misuse cannot be replaced.
Our finish cut mower decks can be towed behind an ATV or a heavy duty zero-turn mower. Their hitches are adjustable to the left or the right, so you can cover more ground in one stroke. These adjustable hitches are also called wing mowers, because they extend out to the side to increase the span that can be mowed at once. Our finish cut products are all electric start and range from 10.5 - 19 horsepower. We offer decks from 44 inches to 66 inches to perfectly suit your specific lawn care needs.
Our largest finish cut Swisher model is the 66-inch, 19 HP deck, which will dramatically reduce time spent mowing large yards. Its side-discharge cutting deck cuts wide swaths and spreads the grass out to avoid choking. The fuel tank holds 2.5 gallons, it has three blades, and all you have to assemble is the tongue.
Best Practices: Tow-Behind
Wood Splitter Direct’s mower supplier, Swisher, offers the following advice for best practices when using your tow-behind mower. First and foremost, the first time you run your engine, you should break it in. Do this by setting the parking brake, then starting the engine and slowly engaging the blades in a controlled environment where no children are present. Let the engine idle for 5 minutes, allowing for the belts and engine to break in, resulting in a longer belt life. Stop the engine before actually using it on your field or lawn. When you start your tow vehicle for use--be it an ATV or a zero-turn mower--start at a low gear and steadily increase your speed to 5MPH at the most. Your mower is designed to operate best under these conditions. Furthermore, mower decks are intended to be used at full throttle. In doing so you will experience the best results possible. Next, do not mow wet grass. This is fairly obvious if you’re familiar with how grass discharges from a mower--you will likely clog your mower or leave behind unattractive mounds of grass (or other materials) in your wake. If you’re going for a polished look in your yard, you can see why clumps would be a problem.
For optimum ease, mow often and moderately. If you only mow once or twice a year, you are in for a brutal couple of mows. In the case of your manicured yard, mowing moderately is critical--if you cut your grass too short, the roots become exposed to the elements like sun and wind, and you will be cutting the source of water: the blade. In other words, your yard will lose the nutrients it built up in its blades if you cut it below 2.5 inches. Do not use a tow-behind or riding mower to cut materials on slopes at more than a 15-degree angle. If using a tow-behind mower on land that slopes less than 15 degrees, ride up and down the hill, not across the face. Driving across the face of a slope greatly increases the potentially deadly chances that your mower and attached ATV will roll over. If you have control over what is planted on a slope, opt for a ground cover other than turf. Finally, if your plot has experienced thick growth, mow it over twice and don’t overexert your mower. If the mower starts to lag due to the thickness of the material it’s mowing, slow down a little. Don’t try to push (or pull) it past its limits.
Best Practices: Zero-Turn
Zero-turn mowers are perfect for maintaining commercial-sized lawns. Depending on the driver’s input, the large rear drive tires rotate independently of each other. Steering zero-turn mowers might look challenging but is in fact quite intuitive. Many have likened the steering of a zero-turn mower to steering a shopping cart. To move forward, push both handles forward. To reverse, pull both handles backward. When you want to turn right, pull back on the right handle and push the left forward, and vice versa. To make a 360 degree turn, push and pull the handles like usual, but push and pull them to a greater extent. As noted in the owner’s manuals for our Swisher zero-turn mowers, it does not take much pressure on the handles to operate and navigate the mower.
style="font-weight: 400;">As with any mower, avoid cutting wet grass with your zero-turn mower. You will leave behind unappealing grass clumps and defeat the purpose of mowing with a quality lawn mower. Specialists recommend alternating directions every time you mow. For example, if you mow parallel to your lane, the next time you mow, you should mow perpendicular to your lane. This keeps crevices in the grass from forming, or from stripes appearing in the grass. This is more than an aesthetic suggestion. It will increase water flow to the roots of the grass and keep sunlight balanced throughout the yard. Additionally, never mow more than ⅓ of length from your grass. If you do, you weaken the grass by taking away the blade, where it stores its water and nutrients. This allows weeds and other unwanted growth to sprout up around it and ultimately overtake it. If you are working with a neglected lawn, mow twice.
Best Practices: Walk-Behind
Walk-behind mowers are preferable for maintaining smaller yards, like those up to an acre. Best practices for these mowers look a lot like those for other types of mowers, and just because the mower is technically simpler doesn’t mean that it deserves less care. Always wear closed-toed shoes when operating a lawn mower. Even though you’ll be traveling at a lower speed than you would be in a riding mower, wear safety glasses to avoid objects from injuring your eyes due to colliding with the blade. Just like with any other mower, avoid using a walk-behind mower when caring for hills with more than a 15 degree slope.
Our walk-behind mowers are rough cut mowers, so they are not intended for maintaining well-manicured lawns. When mowing dense undergrowth and saplings, wear protective clothing on your arms and legs. There’s no telling in these types of fields, pastures, and trails what is lying underneath the brush--and with our hardened steel blades, rocks and branches will deflect.
For any mower you purchase and operate, be sure to read the operator’s manual and machine safety decals. Swisher’s manual advises users to stop the machine when another person enters the space you are mowing. Even if they are behind the operator of the mower, materials could deflect and harm them. Do not allow any passengers aboard your mower, as they are all manufactured to safely support one user. When maintaining or using a lawn mower, ensure that no children are in proximity to the equipment. If objects or obstacles like bushes or trees block your vision, tread carefully to make sure there are no people or children behind them. It is unsafe, unwise, and illegal to start and use this heavy machinery when tired or under the influence of alcohol or medication.
Operating any lawn mower on a slope is dangerous and can sometimes be lethal. Swisher’s owner’s manuals say to avoid starting or stopping on a slope to avoid tire slippage. It is extremely dangerous to operate a mower on wet grass. Do not attempt to mow on slopes more than 15 degrees. For slopes below 15 degrees, mow up and down the slope--not side to side. If you feel the mower slipping, do not stop the engine--instead, shut down the blades and slowly navigate the machinery downward. Never attempt to control the movement of a riding mower using your foot.
Do not attempt to troubleshoot your mower until the engine is off and the spark plug wire is removed. When transporting or maintaining your mower, ensure the wire cannot contact the spark plug after disconnecting so your engine does not start automatically.
Wear the appropriate clothing, shoes, and safety glasses when driving your mower. Avoid clothing with loose or flowing materials. Wear heavy-duty work boots. Never put your hands or feet near rotating blades or parts. Always inform a responsible adult that you will be operating this machine in case of an emergency.
Depending on what mower you own, maintenance will look a little different, and reading your owner’s manual is critical to properly caring for your mower’s elements. (In fact, you shouldn’t even start your mower’s engine until reading the owner’s manual.) But there are a few maintenance tips that apply to any mower, commercial or residential. A well-maintained mower will last you seasons longer than a mower that isn’t regularly fine-tuned and monitored. Here are the major maintenance tasks you should schedule for yourself to ensure your mower operates at the best of its ability for the longest amount of time:
- Check and change your engine oil on a regular basis. Our Swisher mowers all operate using Briggs & Stratton engines, and they advise users to change the engine oil out after the first five hours of use, and then once every year--unless you use your mower 50 hours every season, in which case you should change your oil every time you hit the 50-hour mark. Briggs & Stratton recommends the following process for routine oil changing. Change your oil when the engine has had some time to warm up. Once it’s warm, stop the engine, and like any time you perform maintenance on your mower, disconnect the spark plug wire and make sure it cannot make contact with the spark plug. This will ensure your engine won’t accidentally start while you’re working on it. Use a rag to clean off dirt and debris from the oil fill. Next, you’ll drain the oil out. To drain, tilt the mower with the spark plug side up. To catch the oil that pours out, spread newspaper out and place an oil pan underneath the mower. Using the appropriately sized socket wrench and extension, turn the plug counter clockwise so the old oil can drain out. After the oil has drained, replace the drain plug. Swisher zero-turn mowers have oil filters that need to be replaced every 100 hours. To replace the oil filter, twist the body counter clockwise using a filter wrench or pipe wrench. Apply a light layer of clean engine oil on the filter gasket. Screw the new filter in ½ to ¾ of a turn past the point that the gasket makes contact with the filter adapter. (Of course, if your engine does not have an oil filter, ignore that step.) Fill the engine with new oil following the specific owner’s manual for your mower. Even when you’ve just recently changed out your oil, you should check the oil before each use.
- Check and replace your air filter at the top of each season. This is one of those things that takes seconds to do but can wreak havoc on your mowing experience if left unattended. Swisher recommends that you replace it at the beginning of each mowing season, but that you should also take a look at it each time you mow. To locate the air filter on the mower, look for a plastic or metal cover that appears removable. It will usually be on the side of the engine. You may need to use a screwdriver or a wrench if screws keep the cover in place, but some mowers’ covers open without requiring tools. Once you locate the air filter, open the cover, and check out your filter. It will either be made of disposable paper or reusable foam, and both are just as easy to take care of. Eyeball it and if it looks dirty, replace it if it’s made of paper, and run it under some water if it’s made of foam. Experts recommend that you apply a little oil on your foam filter before replacing it. Then, simply reinstall the filter, making sure it is oriented the correct way, and replace the cover.
- Change the spark plug on a regular basis. When people have trouble starting their mower, it’s often because their spark plug is too old. Spark plugs need to be replaced each season, or every 100 hours, whichever comes first. Start by disconnecting the spark plug lead. Clean debris off of the area around the spark plug. Using a spark plug socket, remove the spark plug and replace it. A spark plug gauge will help you measure the space between the two electrodes. Make sure the specs for your model match up with the gap between the electrodes. You may need to adjust the gap by bending the curved electrode. Once the gap matches the requirements for your engine, reinstall the plug and attach the spark plug lead. DO NOT over-tighten the plug as you reinstall it.
- Sharpen the mower blades. There’s no point in rolling your mower around if the blades aren’t sharp. Besides, the point of mowing is to beautify and make land usable. Mowing with dull blades will actually damage grass and weaken the structure of the entire blade. You can check a couple things to decide if it’s time to sharpen your mower blades. Unevenness in the yard is a major indicator, since mowers are designed to create an even cut. Raggedness in individual blades is also a surefire sign that the mower’s blades aren’t sharp. Normal wear and tear will result in a dull blade, but if you notice nicks and large chips or large dents, not even a professional will be able to smooth out the damage. To sharpen your blade(s), you’ll need to remove them from the body of the mower. Whenever you’re maintaining or handling elements inside your mower, you should remove the spark plug and make sure it won’t brush the spark plug wire and accidentally start. Once the spark plug is removed, tilt the mower over with the carburetor facing upward. (As a rule, always tilt the mower this way to avoid gas and/or oil flooding throughout the mower.) Locate the nut or bolt that holds the blade on. Loosen the nut or bolt and pull the blade off. If you’re having trouble with the nut or bolt due to rusting, apply some oil on it and wait a few minutes before continuing. A common error people make when removing and replacing blades is that they reattach the blade upside down, which results in a blade that won’t cut anything. Mark your blade in some way (some people recommend spray paint) so you know which side is supposed to face up after sharpening it. From there, clamp the blade in a vise so it doesn’t wriggle in your hands, and file it down with a hand file. You don’t need to sharpen it beyond the sharpness of a butter knife.