Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mower Maintenance

If you want your mower to last and provide a good clean cut for years, you need to take care of it. That includes changing the oil and air filter. You also need to keep the mowing deck clean and the blade(s) sharp.

I'll get around to changing the oil and air filter later this fall, but wanted to take advantage of a nice day to do the maintenance on the deck.

First step was to get the mower up high enough to be able to get at the blades. I could have just jacked the back end up with my floor-jack, but figured that I might as well raise the front as well. Jack stands were placed under the front end to keep it level, the transmission was left in gear, and the brake was locked.

It's been a year since I cleaned the deck - much longer than it should go without a proper cleaning. Cut grass builds up underneath, creating a block to the cut grass being discharged. It also traps moisture against the metal of the deck which can cause the deck to rust out.

I took a small scraper and got out all kinds of build-up, which should help the mower work a little more efficiently.

Next up was sharpening of the mower blades. I installed these right after buying the mower about 1-1/2 years ago. They're still in good shape, but the leading edge is getting a little dull. There were a few small dings from hitting either branches or pinecones.

Each blade is held in place with one bolt. Be careful when removing a mower blade, as I've heard that some mowers use reverse-thread bolts. When you think you're loosening the bolt you could actually tightening it. These were standard threads.

In many cases you can stick a piece of 2x4 between the blade and mower deck to keep the blade from moving when you are trying to break the bolt loose.

The angle-grinder ($12.00 at Harbor Freight for a 4-1/2" grinder) was used with a sanding flap-disc to remove the grass build-up and to sharpen the blade. There was quite a bit of build-up on the blades, but the sanding disc took care of that quickly.

You'd think that the blade should be sharp like a knife, but realistically, how long would that sharp blade last? I ground the blade sharp and then ran the sanding disc straight across the sharp edge to blunt it. The flat edge is about 1/32" wide.

To make sure the blades were balanced I set them on a small nail driven into the garage wall. As long as the blade stays horizontal it's good enough. Yeah, it's low tech and not as precise as a professional shop could do, but it's good enough for now.

After re-installing the blades and checking for vibration (none), it was time to clean the engine.

I changed the oil last year, but skipped cleaning the engine. I cleaned around the drain plug, but that's it. It's now dirty as the surrounding area. I sprayed on some engine cleaner and brushed it in with a cleaning brush.

A few minutes later the gunk sprayed right off and everything was nice and clean. It'll be possible to see if there are any oil leaks now, and the engine should be able to run a little cooler without a layer of gunk & grass coating it. If nothing else, it'll just make changing the oil a little easier.

This work took maybe 30 minutes and is something that the average do-it-yourselfer can do without a problem. The only tools I used were a scraper, a grinder, and a wrench.

If you don't have a jack or ramps like I used, you could just tilt the tractor and put blocks under the raised wheels to give a little more access.

Later this season I'll put some info online about getting the engines winterized.

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