The April 25, 2006
It's raining in New York lately, a lot. Which makes the grass grow, which
causes consternation for the Pinfeed crowd. We like the latest in lawnology,
for its labor-saving and gee-whiz, but we're put off by the side effects of
noise, pollution and physical danger (yeah, I know, for a lot of you that IS the
gee-whiz). A high-profile, soft-news item in today's paper is all about the
politics of putting a catalytic converter on a lawn mower. If Pinfeed is about
conservatively adopting appropriate technology, I gotta come up with a term for
overmarketed inappropriate technology; TimeRelease Crack, maybe.
So I bought a little mower from an online supplier. You can't buy it in a store
these days, although you could, twenty years ago. It has no motor, only wheels
and gears and blades. When you push it, a cylinder of 5 helical steel edges
turns with a satisfying 'swish', and each edge scissors across a knife fixed
safely under the machine to cut most of the grass in its path. This mower is
very quiet, cheap to buy and extraordinarily safe, for a lawn tool. Operating
it costs only a couple of hundred calories I can easily spare, and it takes me
about 15 minutes longer to trim my quarter-acre than it did with its gas-burning
How does life get better than this? The Internet provides the perfect tool,
delivered quickly and efficiently to the site where it is most needed.
But this tool is not quite perfect. It takes a little practice to use it
effectively, because the angle of attack and speed of the turning helix
drastically affect how much grass gets cut at a stroke. It also needs
occasional sharpening, a chore I don't particularly mind, but it's tricky and
messy, and a lot of less ideological suburbanites won't be bothered. And if the
grass gets too long, or isn't completely dry, the job descends quickly from
satisfaction to tedium to frustration.
What I really want, for my birthday, for Christmas, for Chanukah, and next 4th
of July, is a redesigned, well-engineered push-reel mower. I have dozens of
ideas for modding my reel, but no expertise in implementing them:
- Make the wheels bigger, with aggressive treads to prevent slipping.
- Make the blade-helix bigger, and the twist more radical to increase the
rate of blade contacts.
- Put a flywheel on each end of the helix, to keep it spinning on the
- Put a roller with teeth in front of the reel, to rake up damp or flattened
blades of grass into the blades.
- Make the knife and the front roller controllable from the handlebar, for
fitting the mower into tight spaces.
- Use lightweight components, maybe some aluminum and a little graphite, to
offset the weight of the flywheels and bigger blades and wheels.
- Make the blades self-sharpening; I know, this will make them wear out;
that's a bad thing? Once a year maybe, ten bucks? Or twice, if you're
careless about roots and rocks. Self-sharpening implies self-tensioning,
- Make 'em wider, at least 24, maybe 30 inches.
I'd pay twice what I paid ($150) to experience a decent prototype, and maybe
triple for a really well-done production model. After all, technology has done
amazing things with strollers, backpacks, golf clubs and tennis rackets; all
low-tech devices that have become pricey status items. If high-tech design is
brought to bear on a 'fine lawncare instrument', it might revive a nearly
forgotten Saturday morning ritual.
Why shouldn't a lawn mower be clean, quiet, and fun to use? Why shouldn't the
effort of walking the machine across the yard be enough to cut the grass? We're
only cutting grass!
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