Winter is coming and it is time to stow away the lawn mower. But before you do that it is worth giving the mower a quick overhaul. With just some basic maintenance you can ensure your lawn mower will last for years. I will guide you through a few easy steps that everybody can do, even for those who are not handy.
Remove any grass clippings
Grass clippings have a tendency to stick and cling to any part of the mower, especially underneath the deck. These clippings will pick up any moisture and will cause metal parts to start rust.
You need to remove these clippings and the easiest way to do this is to tip the mower over on its side. Note that if you have a gas mower you should drain the gasoline tank first. Read the “Gas mowers” section first to learn how to do this.
When you have the mower on its side, remove the cutting blade to get easier access. The blade needs to be removed for the next step anyway, when I will go through how to sharpen the blade.
Find a stiff brush to remove the grass build-ups. Make sure the brush isn’t too stiff and leave marks and scratches in the coating and the paint. If you have a compressor, use it to blow away any clippings left after you have used the brush.
Sharpen the blade
The blade can easily get nicks and dents from running over rocks or branches. A dull blade is not good for your lawn; it will rip the grass off instead of cutting it. A grass leaf that is cleanly cut is less susceptible for diseases. So it is important that you sharpen the blade once in a while.
To sharpen the blade clamp it down in a vise and run a metal file along its leading edge. Make sure you follow the angle of the bevel. You can also buy a tool that is made for sharpening lawn mower blades for about $20. This tool makes it a bit easier if you don’t know what you are doing.
If the blade is damaged you might have to use a bench grinder. If you don’t have one at home take it to a service shop or workshop. They will most likely fix it for a few bucks or advice you to buy a new one if it is beyond repair.
If you have a bench grinder at home, here is how you should do it. Begin by running the blade back and forth perpendicular to the grinder to get rid of any nicks. This will make the leading edge blunt, but hopefully straight. Then hold the blade with an angle, same as the existing bevel, and grind the whole length of the blade. This should make the leading edge sharp again.
Balancing the blade after sharpening
Whenever you have sharpened the mower blade you must make sure the blade is still balanced. An unbalanced blade will cause vibrations and damage your mower. To check if the blade is balanced, you can acquire a balancer for a few bucks or just find something like a screwdriver to balance the blade on.
If one side of the blade dips down, you need to remove some more from that side. Use a metal file or bench grinder to remove some of the metal from the dull edge.
Once the blade is balanced, add a thin film of oil on its surface before refitting it on the mower. This prevents any buildup of rust while it is not in use during the winter.
Lubricate cables and pivot points
Use a spray lubricant and make sure all exposed cables and pivot points are lubricated.
For a gas lawn mower there is a few more steps to ensure the engine fires up easily next spring. By following these steps you will also increase the engine lifespan.
First thing you need to do is to empty the gas tank. Either drain or siphon the gas tank if there is a substantial amount left. If it is only a bit left, you can just leave the cap open and it will evaporate. Of course this has to be done outside.
The reason you have to drain the gas tank is due to the gasoline will breakdown over time. Some of the chemical components will degrade and the ethanol will separate from the rest. If you have added fuel preservatives you can save the gasoline in a separate tank to next summer. Another reason for draining the tank and leave the cap unscrewed is to prevent condensation.
To get rid of the last gas fumes in the lines start the engine and let it run dry. Alternately you can drain the fuel lines manually by disconnecting them.
The second step is to check the spark plug(s). Check if the spark plug is free from sot or if it looks burned change it. Clean the old one up or change it if it has been a while since you have done it.
Before refitting the spark plug pour a bit of oil (about a tee spoon should suffice) into the plug hole. Pull the recoil starter a few times to get the engine piston to move up and down and lubricate itself. This prevents rust from forming in the cylinder.
Have a quick check of the oil as well. If the oil is still clear and doesn’t have any debris in it you can most likely use the oil one more season.
Last thing you need to do is to clean the air filter. You will probably find instructions for how to do this in the operator’s manual.
If you don’t know much about your lawn mower engine and want to learn more I can recommend buying the Small Engines and Outdoor Power Equipment: A care & Repair Guide. This book simply explains how to repair and maintain small engines like a lawn mower. There are plenty of really great instructional pictures as well.
If you have a cordless mower you should store the batteries in a dry and cool place. Make sure they are fully recharged before you put them away. During the winter you should recharge the batteries every couple of months. Alternately, leave the batteries connected to the charger during the winter so they will automatically be topped up once in a while.
Where to store your mower
You should store your lawn mower in a dry place. A shed, garage or a basement are good places to store the lawn mower. Do not let it sit in your backyard where it will get exposed to all kinds of weather.
If you don’t have any space indoors for your mower, at least cover it up and put it on top of something so it won’t sit directly on the ground.
By following these steps you should have a lawn mower that is fully ready for next spring.
Gas mowers only
- Drain or siphon the gas tank.
- Drain the fuel lines or run the engine till it runs out of gas.
- Check sparkplug(s). Change if needed.
- Pour some oil into the sparkplug hole.
- Pull starter a few times.
- Refit sparkplug(s).
- Check oil. Change if needed.
- Clean airfilter.
All types of mowers
- Tip the lawn mower on its side.
- Clean the deck underneath with a stiff brush and get rid of any grass clippings.
- Detach the blade.
- Sharpen the blade with a metal file or bench grinder. Grind only at the same angle as the bevel and the same side. Do not grind underneath the blade.
- Check if the blade is still balanced, if not remove some metal on the heavy side (blunt side).
- After the blade is sharpened, apply a thin film of oil before refitting the blade back on the mower.
- Lubricate any pivot points and cable holes.
- Store the mower in a dry place where it won’t be exposed to weather. A shed, garage or basement is an ideal place for the mower to be stored.
- If you have a cordless mower, re-charge the battery before storing. Either charge the battery every couple of months or let it stay connected to the charger during the winter.