Number of Blades
The number of blades a push reel mower has determines what type of grass it works best with. Push reel mowers normally come with 4 to 7 blades, and the number of blade you will need depends on the type of grass you plan to cut. For thickly bladed grass that is bent (or wavy), like Saint Augustine or Bermuda, a seven bladed mower would work better. On the other hand, if you have finer blades, such as with Kentucky Bluegrass or Fescue, then you would want a four blade mower (you could possibly get away with a five blade mower just fine, but for the best cut for fine grass, less is better). When shopping for a reel mower, keep in mind what species of grass you are planning to cut so you can get a reel mower with the appropriate amount of blades.
Reel mowers are available with blades that range between 14” to 20”. It is referred to as the blade width due to the fact that is the width of the swath, or path, the mower will cut in. The major difference between sizes is a matter of potential speed (cutting a wider area at a time reduces the number of passes needed). The reduction in time, between using a 14” and a 20” mower, is about 30% (for perspective, if it takes 30 minutes with a 14” it should only take about 21 minutes with a 20”). When shopping for a push reel mower, especially if you have a tighter budget, consider that wider is not always better and that spending more on a larger mower is not always a sure way to a better value.
Height of the Cut
While some models have a set height of grass they will cut to, others come with the ability to adjust how close to the ground the blades will come. This is particularly important because cutting grass too close to the ground can cause a lot of damage to the plants and soil. It is also something that is determined by the type of grass you are cutting. For finer varieties (Fescues, Buffaloes and Bluegrasses), look for mowers that can cut between 2”-3”, and for thicker blades (Bermuda, Zoysia and Centipede) you only need between 1.5” to 2.25” of cutting height.
Adjustable Handle & Good Grip
A basic feature for any quality reel mower is the ability to adjust the length of the handle to accommodate users of different heights. In addition to being adjustable for height, the actual grip of the mower should have some form of support. In more luxury models, there is even a bit of cushioning to help users get through their task of cutting the grass without wearing down their fingers. If you hands get tired easily, or you have back problems, be sure to look for models that can adjust to your height (so you are not stooping or stretching and putting strain on your back) and that have good support on the handlebar (preferably ergonomic grips at the least to support your hands as they grasp).
Extra Guide Wheels
Traditional reel mowers only have two wheels, which remains an element in basic models. Fancier and heavy duty models of push reel mowers are now equipped with up to four extra wheels, which are smaller than the primary pair and act as additional support for guiding the mower around different terrain. They are also included to help improve the traction and cutting potential (for slightly thicker patches that a basic reel mower may have trouble handling). If your lawn has some hills and divots, or a lot of edges that need attention (such as around flower beds and trees), or if there are stubborn thicket patches, consider a model that has extra guide wheels.
Grass Clipping Catcher
A feature that is more commonly thought of as something a regular push or riding mower may have, there are some companies (GreenWorks) that include clipping collectors with even their basic models, or that offer them as options for adding to their models (Fiskars). Unlike regular bags, these clipping collectors are more like a tray that hangs behind the blades to help catch clippings for re-use. If you prefer to make use of grass clipping for mulch, or prefer the look of a clean cut yard, without having to collect clippings with a rake, then consider models that include or can have a clipping catcher added.