Home » Opening Day Preparation: Getting the mower ready.

Opening Day Preparation: Getting the mower ready.
Precision settings are essential to success with cylinder mowers

Opening Day Preparation: Getting the mower ready.

Winter has a tendency to disappear before we have had a chance to organise all of the winter work properly. In particular, I find that mower maintenance is often left to the last minute and not enough regular maintenance is carried out to the blade and cylinder.

Last time, we used all of our senses (nearly) to evaluate the current condition of the green in order to formulate a plan for getting the green ready for opening day. I hope you’ve had time to get a list together, because I want to focus on dealing with the issues you’ve found in the next article in this series. Today though, it’s a timely reminder that we’re still in winter mode and also that we need to think about getting the mower ready.

Two important points:

  1. We are still in Winter Maintenance mode despite Opening Day looming on the horizon.
  2. It’s easy to undo a lot of good work with an ill prepared mower.

De-compacting with the Slit Tiner

sisis autoslit
The recommended tool for the job. image courtesy of Sisis.com

This means that the vital winter maintenance detailed in the Performance Greens Programme must go on and one of the most important of these operations is deep slit tining.

Regular deep slit tining to 150mm from October to March is still the most effective method of de-compacting greens and of maintaining them at a manageable level of compaction, without causing damage below the rootzone layer. The trick with this method is that it has a cumulative effect and it is the regular repetition of the operation that gives the desired results. When weather conditions allow, this can be done as often as weekly throughout the winter months.

Mower Preparation: Sharp Cylinders and Blades

Opening Day Preparation: Getting the mower ready.
Back lapping and overly tight settings causes excessive wear to machines and is damaging to grass plants

The cylinder mower we use for green mowing was developed from an old machine first used in the Victorian carpet and textile industries and although the basic principle of the operation of the machine has remained largely unchanged, today’s bowling green mowers are of course very sophisticated developments on the original idea.

One of the least understood aspects of the cylinder mower is the actual cutting action. It is often assumed that the cylinder acts against the bottom blade, much as a pair of scissors would. In fact the machine is designed to cut more like a scythe; albeit a very sharp scythe.

Back lapping with carborundum paste has unfortunately become a very common practice in greenkeeping for keeping cylinders sharp, but the grass blade finish that results from mowing with a lapped blade producing a scissor fall short of what is required.

It is preferable to have mower cylinders and bottom blades properly ground so that a zero contact setting can be maintained throughout the season.

Lapped mowers invariably have to be set down tighter than desired to achieve a satisfactory cut.

Have a look at the photos below:

turf grass smoothness
Image courtesy of Bernhard & Co

By achieving the surgical precision cut promoted by properly ground and set up blades, major agronomic benefits will result which you’ll will notice:

  • Sharper cylinders produce healthier, stronger, more uniform turf!
  • Fertiliser demands are shown to drop, often by considerable amounts.
  • Fungal disease occurrence is reduced dramatically.
  • Grass is less stressed and takes less time to recover after mowing
  • Grass winters better, forming better root growth. This promotes improved drought and heat tolerance, which can result in less reliance upon irrigation in dry periods (less leakage of fluid from ragged leaf ends)
  • Newly seeded grass establishes quicker as root growth improves while top growth is less damaged using sharp mowers.
  • Green surface consistency, smoothness and speed are more readily achieved and maintained with clean cutting.

Keeping the edge

After an annual spin grind and set up of the cylinder and bottom blade, the mower can be kept sharp and set with zero contact between bottom blade and cylinder throughout the season with the minimum of further input.

Bottom blades are ground to specific angles on the top and front edges, according to manufacturers recommendations and if these angles are maintained the need for tightening down of blades to achieve a clean cut is reduced.

One way of doing this is to have your greens contractor use a machine like the Bernhard Rapid Facer to sharpen up the angle on the bottom blade on a monthly basis during the season.

Mowers Last Longer

Of course all of this effort is good for the green, but there is a significant side benefit to be gained by taking this approach to mower set up and maintenance; the mower lasts longer and needs fewer repairs over its life:

  • zero contact between blades reduces friction and therefore blades last longer.
  • friction causes strain to engines, clutches and bearings so zero contact settings reduce all of this wear, ensuring fewer repairs and less servicing.


  1. Willie Murray says:

    Hi John
    In the past few years I have waited to mid April until I had my mower serviced and sharpened after it had completed 2 or 3 cuts after the opening of the season.
    Although this year due to a mild winter I have cut 4 times at 8mm, I am still wary of damage when I drop to 5.5 mm for the start of the season.

    This has proved to be a good move as damage can be done as I’m still topdressing in the autumn.

    Re Willie

    Downloaded your book on Autumn and Winter Maintenance 2 weeks ago found it so interesting, thanks.

  2. Mike_penketh_bowling says:

    Hi John.
    I understand what you say about back lapping and agree that it is preferable to get the cylinder and bottom blade properly ground.

    We have a Dennis FT 610 (24″) and I have just received a quote for the cassette to be sharpened at the nearest Dennis dealership. The quote came to £401.98. That includes a replacement bottom blade, which they always seem to prefer. That is quite simply not affordable on an annual basis for a small private bowling club. That amount is about 25% of the price of a new cassette.

    Mike Nencini

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