How Do Lawn Mowers Work?

by Raymond Archambault
lawn mower

Pretty much everyone who owns or rents a house with grass will end up owning a lawn mower as well.

Lawn maintenance is an important part of living in a house, but many people don’t spend much time getting to know their machine aside from the basics of how to use it.

If you’re wondering what the functionality is like, what makes up the average lawn mower, and what different types of lawn mower are out there, you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty of what a lawn mower is and how they work.


Why Should I Own A Lawn Mower?

Lawn mowers are one of the most important pieces of machinery you’ll need to manage your lawn care. Whether you are just taking care of your own personal property or you are managing a landscaping company, your mower will be one of your most necessary tools. Mowers can be used to cut grass as well as for mulching. Bag models are great for fall yard cleanup, but bag-less models that leave the grass clippings in the grass will help fertilise your lawn and maintain a weed-free property. Lawn mowers will vary in exact features, energy source, functionality, and ease of use, but whether you use a manual push lawn mower, an electric mower, a gas powered mower, or even a robotic mower, it will help you maintain a neat and healthy lawn for the entirety of the season.


Main Components Of A Lawn Mower

There are many components of a lawn mower that aren’t necessary for normal operation. Those components include bags and their attachment mechanisms, cord clips, beverage containers, speed controls, and more. Height adjustment systems aren’t a necessary component either, but we’ve included them on this list of main components because of how often they crop up on every mower type.


The housing of a lawn mower is one of the major contributors to its longevity. If you have a solid, long-lasting steel cage around your mower, the internal components will be very well protected and will last longer. Plus, you’ll be able to safely store it outside and have it be operational come spring. Most lawn mower housing components will be made of steel with some resin-based plastic thrown in. One important characteristic to look for is heat and vibration resistance, so don’t purchase a lawn mower if the materials aren’t up to those standards.


Most lawn mowers will have four wheels no matter their type or power source. The only exception is some manual push mowers that are built on a two wheel system. The wheels on a lawn mower will come in various diameters depending on the size of the mower. Some tires will be standard air filled tires, but many of the walk-behind models will have solid wheels that are more durable and resistant to damage.

Height Adjustment System

A height adjustment system is an important component of every lawn mower because it allows you to adjust the cutting height. Golf courses rely on extremely short grass to prevent interference of the golf ball, but most residential and commercial properties will not make use of the lowest cut settings. If you cut your grass too short, it can kill the lawn and encourage weed growth. The highest settings allow you to gradually cut down an overgrown lawn safely. The height adjustment may be controlled by levers or knobs, and they may control each wheel or the entire deck together.


lawn mower

The rotating blades in a lawn mower is the component that actually cuts the grass. The cutting blade in a lawn mower will vary depending on the size and type of lawn mower you’re using. Most lawn mowers will only have two spinning blades, but others will have more to improve the efficiency of the cut, commonly seen in lawn tractors. Conventional reel mowers have blades that spin on a horizontal axis, but the more efficient rotary mowers use a vertical axis instead and are therefore capable of handling grass that is thicker, taller, and wetter than ideal conditions.

Air Filter

Air filters are one of the components that you’ll only find in gas-powered lawn mowers. They help keep debris out of the carburetor so the machine can function properly. The filters will need regular cleaning and/or replacement depending on the type you get, and while they aren’t an absolutely necessary component of this type of lawn more, they are certainly recommended.


A carburettor is one of the most important components of a gas-powered lawn mower. It is responsible for mixing air and fuel and regulating how much of this is delivered to the combustion chamber. Your carburettor can accumulate debris from the lawn as you mow, so it is recommended that you clean it out a couple times a year to ensure full functionality and efficiency.

Ignition Coil & Spark Plug

The ignition coil and spark plug in the lawn mower is what makes the engine in a gas-powered mower functional. Without it, you would never be able to ignite the fuel and power the machine. Your spark plug should be checked and likely replaced every season, as they are typically rated for about 25 hours of use.

Lubrication System

Every engine-powered lawn mower needs a lubrication system of some kind. A lot of friction and therefore heat is produced as a lawn mower operates, and that heat could quickly damage the internal components and render a lawn mower useless if it isn’t managed properly. A lubrication system will keep the engine cool and well-oiled in order to prevent it from seizing.


The crankshaft in a lawn mower is the component that connects the blades to the mower. the crankshaft spins at incredibly high speeds in order to turn the blades and provide an even, clean cut of the lawn. The crankshaft is one of the most commonly damaged pieces of equipment in a lawn mower; if you hit an obstacle, it will likely be the crankshaft that ends up bent. You’ll know right away when this happens and it will require immediate replacement before your mower can function properly again.

Handlebar or Drive System

Every lawn mower will have some sort of handlebar (walk behind mowers) or drive system (riding mowers). These components give you control over the direction of the mower and allow you to maneuver around the lawn. Each type of mower will have its own design, but they should all be equipped with at least one safety feature. Two of the most common additions include a power cord clip and a safety lever that prevents the machine from starting unless the lever is held in an open position. Depending on the type of riding mower you purchase, your drive system and controls will look different, so we’ll get into the details on that later on.


Maintenance Requirements Of A Lawn Mower

lawn mower

Just like every other machine that you’ll use around your home, lawn mowers will require some occasional maintenance. Some models are less intensive than others, but there will be many commonalities across the board. Performing regular maintenance will ensure your lawn mower always functions at its best, and it will also extend the life of the machine. Let’s take a look at some of the common maintenance needs of a lawn mower.

Check The Air Filter

The air filter in a gas powered mower is exposed to a lot of dirt and debris while you cut the grass. A functioning air filter is essential to the operation of these mowers, so you’ll have to monitor the condition of the filter to ensure it isn’t clogged or damaged in any way. If it is no longer functioning properly, you’ll have to clean or replace it.

Clean The Mower Deck

Whether you have a ride on mower, a rotary lawn mower, or any other type of mower, cleaning the mower deck is something you’ll have to do on a regular basis. As you cut the grass, it will begin to get stuck and accumulate on the underside of the mower deck. It can even happen to trimmers too. Removing all this caked on grass will ensure the machine can function properly and the housing won’t begin to deteriorate.

Keep The Mower Blades Sharp

The grass blades in a mower will begin to get dull over time, and this is something that most homeowners aren’t aware of. Monitoring the sharpness of the blades is even more important if you have a lot of debris on your lawn since it can cause small dents in a blade and effect the edge. Sharpening the mower blades on an as-needed basis will ensure your grass will be cut evenly and efficiently for the life of the mower.

Check Tire Pressure

Air-filled tires aren’t all that common with walk-behind mowers, but most ride on mowers will use traditional tires. It is important that you check the tire pressure and re-inflate when needed, because an uneven mower can affect the grass cutting ability. If a low tire deflates entirely, you may also end up stranded far away from the home if you have a large property. Doing a walk around before a mow is a great way to catch low tire pressure before it affects your day in a negative way.


Types of Lawn Mowers

lawn mower

There are two general classifications for lawn mowers, riding lawn mowers and walk-behind mowers. Walk behind mowers are the most popular for most residential homes as riding mowers are mostly unnecessary unless you have a really big property. They are quite a bit more expensive to maintain and purchase. Both riding mowers and walk-behind mowers have a number of different variations; let’s get into it.

Walk-Behind Mowers

Walk-behind mowers are ideal for small to large properties. They run on many different fuel types and with the variations on the market, there is a model type that can suit every yard and individual.

Push Mowers

Push mowers are a manual mower. They have a motor inside that turns the blades, but they are much smaller units than standard mowers and they lack a power source. Instead, all of the energy for movement comes right from you. These mowers require a lot of physical effort on your part, but they are very quiet, portable, and environmentally friendly. They are ideal for smaller, even lawns rather than ones with inclines. You can use them for large properties as well, but you’ll be very tired afterwards.

Reel Mowers

Reel mowers are also known as cylinder mowers, and their mechanism works similarly to scissors. They have circular blades that spin vertically and trap grass against a fixed blade to cut it. There can be anywhere from three to twelve blades on a reel mower; more blades will provide a more precise cut. Reel mowers are really only ideal on flat lawns with soft, short grass. They don’t work as effectively in any other conditions, but they are the best for creating the striped pattern that is so appealing.

Rotary Mowers

Rotary mowers are the most popular kind of walk-behind motor. They don’t always create the most even cut because of the way the blade moves; it has one long blade that spins on a horizontal plane, much like a blender. It relies on speed to cut the grass, but some spots of grass will end up just being bent over instead of cut down. You likely won’t notice this effect on the average lawn, but if a well-manicured property is your ideal, this isn’t the best option. Because of the way they work, they are best suited to medium-long grass lengths.

Self-Propelled Mowers

Self propelled mowers are one of the easiest types to use because they require no manual effort to push at all. Instead, they move along off their own power and only need your input for steering. These mowers are excellent choices for elderly people or those with some sort of physical ailment that makes regular mowing difficult. These mowers are more complex technically and will require some extra maintenance. One of the most beneficial outcomes of using a self propelled mower is their ability to generate an exceptionally even cut.

Hover Mowers

Hover mowers are the only type of lawn mower that do not move along on wheels. Instead, they hover on a cushion of air a few inches off the ground. These mowers lack the power found in standard lawn mowers, but they are exceptionally maneuverable and light weight. They can move sideways instead of turning and offer exceptional control even at the edge of the lawn. They will almost always electric powered and are quite affordable. They are best suited to smaller lawns and those with many obstacles.

Riding Lawn Mowers

Riding lawn mowers are designed for large and extra large properties. They cut wide paths of grass on a single pass, have longer run times thanks to a big fuel tank or larger batteries than you’ll find in a walk-behind mower. The two main types of riding mower are lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers, but there are some other options out there if these don’t quite suit you.

Lawn Tractors

Lawn tractors will be the most affordable type of ride on lawn mower and are the most popular choice as well. They are very easy to drive and can be powered by both gas and lithium ion batteries. They have large decks to be efficient lawn cutters. There one main downside is that they won’t be able to get too close to obstacles; if you have wide open spaces you can’t go wrong with a long tractor.

Zero-Turn Mowers

Zero turn mowers use lap bars rather than a steering well for direction. They are incredibly versatile movers as a result and are exceptional choices for large properties that have obstacles like trees, posts, or decor/furniture. These mowers can get pretty expensive depending on their size and power, but they are the most efficient type of lawn mower on the market.

Robotic Lawn Mowers

Robotic lawn mowers are not nearly as popular in North America as they are in other areas of the world. Here, traditional walk-behind and riding mowers dominate the market. However, robotic lawn mowers are slowly gaining traction, following in the wake of robotic vacuums and other home assistants. Robotic mowers are small units that operate on battery power. They make it a lot easier to maintain curb appeal and can ensure that your lawn is always well cared for even when you don’t have the time or energy to do it yourself. Robotic mowers don’t require much maintenance at all, and there are a lot easier to store. They aren’t recommended for large properties quite yet, but who knows where the market will take them. For small lawns, a robotic horsepower may be just what you’re looking for.


Power Sources For Lawn Mowers

lawn mower

The power source in a lawn mower is an important component of how it works. There are four different options for power sources, and each one will have its advantages and limitations. The power source is almost as important as the overall type of lawn mower when it comes to compatibility with an environment, so it’s a good thing to understand.


Manual lawn mowers are lacking both an electric motor and a gas engine. Instead, they rely on your efforts to function as grass cutters. They are usually chosen only for people with small lawns or no way to get a standard mower into the backyard because of the amount of effort and manual energy that go into their operation. Manual mowers will be the least expensive and most environmentally friendly options. They are also really quiet and easy to store.

Corded Electric

Corded electric mowers are one of the most popular types on the market. Most residential home owners with small-medium yards will choose this type because of its convenience. You don’t have to worry about fuel or battery power running out, they are lightweight and easy to maneuver, and they can store easily in a backyard shed or garage. Because of the requirement for a power outlet and a cord trailing behind you, you will need to be careful not to get tangled or accidentally run over the power cord. You can cause damage with a vertical or horizontal blade, so it’s best to be aware of the cord position at all times. An electric lawn mower engine does not require any maintenance, and these mower types are one of the most affordable, too.

Battery Powered

Battery powered lawn mowers will be slightly heavier and a lot more expensive than corded electric models. However, the convenience a cordless model brings to your lawn cutting is unparalleled. You’ll have a lot more freedom in your range and maneuverability around obstacles with the absence of an extension cord. The main disadvantage of using a battery powered mower is the run time. If you have a big property, you may find that the battery dies before you’re finished mowing the lawn. You could keep a spare battery with you, but you may wish to choose a different power source altogether to prevent the hassle. One of the other downsides of rechargeable batteries in a lawn mower is that they will eventually need to be replaced; you’ll need to be prepared for that expense.

Gas Powered

Gas mowers will require the most maintenance. They have a small internal combustion engine that will require the same regular maintenance as your vehicle, although it won’t be as expensive thanks to the small engine. You’ll have to buy fuel for the mower and clean and regularly replace some of the internal components. A gas powered mower is the best choice for homeowners that need a heavy-duty mower for larger lawns. Their run time is almost limitless as long as you keep the fuel topped off, and they aren’t tied to anything like a corded electric model. They will be fairly heavy and large, but their power allows them to get through even tough mowing jobs with ease and efficiency.


Drive Types For Lawn Mowers

lawn mower

The drive type of a lawn mower will have a fairly significant impact on its maneuverability and ability to handle different types of terrain. Let’s get right into the pros and cons of each drive type.

Rear Wheel Drive

Rear wheel drive means the mower is pushed forward by its back wheels. If you have uneven terrain or inclines on your property, this will be the best type of drive system because it won’t be fazed by unsteady ground or an uphill climb. The major downside of this drive type is that your mower will be fairly difficult to maneuver. They aren’t great for turns and you’ll have to fight the mechanism if you need to go in reverse. As a result, rear wheel drive mowers are best suited to more open spaces with few obstacles.

Front Wheel Drive

Front wheel drive mowers will be almost exact opposites of rear wheel drive mowers. Since they are pulled along by the front wheels, they don’t fare very well on inclines or uneven terrain like gravel. However, they are incredibly easy to maneuver in tight spaces and around obstacles. If you like to decorate your outdoor space as much as your indoor, a front wheel drive lawn mower will make upkeep a lot easier.

All Wheel Drive

All wheel drive lawn mowers are essentially the middle ground for maneuverability. They aren’t quite as easy to steer as front wheel drive, but they offer even more power than a rear wheel drive system. If your priority is speed and power to get the lawn cut quickly, an all wheel drive model is the best way to go.


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