The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent
Education in the basics of greenkeeping

Education in the basics of greenkeeping

December 22, 2020

Table of Contents

  • Cylinder mower basic principles
  • Scythe Cut
  • Scissor Cut
  • Blade spacing and clip rate
  • Education in the basics of greenkeeping

The work seems almost idyllic for many prospective bowling greenkeepers, and I dare say straightforward, particularly when they are easing out of some of the complicated professions they are momentarily compared to. The truth of dealing with nature sometimes does not take long to sink in and what once seemed easy becomes a very difficult and often stressful task, just the opposite of what the new greenkeeper was hoping for.

While in these circumstances, knowledge of the broader related subjects such as soil science, botany, and chemistry would be beneficial, the more basic elements of daily greenkeeping are often brushed over and dismissed as plain. As an example, take mowing. A very simple, routine maintenance job on the face of it that can be performed by anyone, but dig just a little deeper and you might be shocked.

To someone even vaguely aware of bowling greens and their treatment, the Cylinder Mower is perhaps the most common piece of equipment. This is a much more complicated piece of equipment that relies on some reasonably reliable engineering to make it work properly, as it does.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about cylinder mowers is that, during the Industrial Revolution, the concept was not initially intended for cutting grass at all, but for trimming carpets and textiles in the great mills. Bowls and golf greens were cut (remarkably precisely) using scythes to believe it or not before the cylinder mower!

Cylinder mower basic principles

Actually, when learning about green mowers, You can see the motion of the cylinder mower represented as a spinning cylinder cutting against a stationary blade if you look on the internet and in many gardening books to produce a scissor-like cutting action.

While simplifying the working principles of the cylinder mower in this way is appealing, it is fundamentally false. The design of the cylinder mower is based on a revolving cylinder consisting of several blades that are cut against a fixed bottom blade. This is where the analogy with scissors comes from when one metal blade appears to be slicing against another. However, not only are the cylinder blades set parallel to each other but, crucially, they are also set around the middle spindle of the cylinder in a spiral shape.

Only a tiny portion of any single blade is in contact with the bottom blade at any given time as the cylinder spins. This implies that it is possible to set properly sharpened blades so gently that there is actually no contact between the cylinder and the bottom blade, making for a superbly clean and precise cut that is more similar to a precise scythe cut than a snatching scissor cut.

Any metal to metal touch should not be involved in the ideal setup of a cylinder for bowling green mowing, however. Cylinder mowers can be set with zero contact to achieve the cleanest and sharpest mowing of fine grass with proper sharpening, set-up, and adjustment. Weak adjustment and set-up will cause the blades to have unnecessary wear and will fade their edges quickly.

Scythe Cut

Illustration and images of the little green dot traveling at cylinder rotation speed along the bottom blade. As the cylinder turns, each of the 10 or 11 blades on the cylinder perpetually does this. This has the effect of directing a well-honed scythe along a perfectly level line just above the bottom blade. The end result is a very clean cut that results in a smooth finish on the turf. The grass seedlings are cut neatly.

Scissor Cut

If the blades are rusty, poorly balanced, or have too much touch, they begin to behave again like scissors, snatching at the grass. Still, instead of being cut cleanly, the grass is being ripped and chewed. The effect is uneven, green smoothness and confidence will suffer. It will appear ragged and broken to the grass plants themselves.

The leaf tips will be brown and desiccated and for a long time after mowing, useful plant sap will begin to leak out of these ragged wounds. This will provide disease spores with a simple entry point. There are ten or even 11 blades on the cylinder on the typical cylinder mower for bowling green maintenance, while a less costly lawn mower for general use may only have five or six, but why is that?

Blade spacing and clip rate

The distinction lies in the blades' relative spacing and you will find that on the six-bladed cylinder there is a larger amount of space between the blades. If like they are on the ten bladed cartridgeS, the blades are closer together, then the mower would be able to make a finer cut. The proximity of one blade to another on a cylinder is regulated by the practicalities of usage, such as the ability of the cylinder to eject the grass clippings into a smooth cylindrical shape and the mechanics of bending metal.

Blades can be welded closer together if the cylinder diameter is shortened, but if there is a lot of grass to cut, this might get choked up too quickly. But it comes down to a balance between cylinder diameter and number of blades and more blades/closer spacings to bring the blades closer together on the cylinder, which means more clips per meter.

The clip rate is called this. There is less time to wait for the next blade touch to come along as blades are closer together on the cylinder and this allows for more cuts per meter traveled with the mower. This is why there are more blades on green mowers.

Education in the basics of greenkeeping

I hope you find this short article helpful. The advantage of revisiting the essential elements of your greenkeeping work can not be highly recommended enough.

You might well be shocked at how, over time, seemingly basic tasks can be taken for granted. Awareness and knowledge of the finer aspects of these tasks are also what makes the difference to the outcomes.

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