Mower set up: it’s all about attention to detail

Published on

May 7 2019

Do we value the importance in cutting unit adjustment as much as we should?

I want to explore just a few of the many variables that need to be considered when taking precision engineering like modern cutting units and achieving the quality of cut expected on sports turf today.

In the early eighties when I started my journey within this industry things seemed so much simpler. The weather seemed to be predictable, four seasons, warm summers, cold winters. Heights of cut were more predictable, one height in the summer, one in the winter and never the twain should meet. Whatever your views on climate change, weather patterns are changing which means we in turn need to adapt to the ever-changing environment we work with. Another big change since my early days is expectations from players. I recall in the seventies the standard expected from a football pitch, by mid-season football pitches in the top-flight clubs would be bare mud in the high traffic areas, something totally unacceptable today. Now we see training academies with multiple pitches that are manicured to the highest standards and demands are high on grounds man and greenkeepers.

Football on pitch

So how do we achieve the expectations expected from us?

Do we value the importance in cutting unit adjustment to help us achieve these expectations? It is my belief, consistent and proper mower set up and maintenance has the single greatest impact on how a sports turf looks and plays. We work with so many variables which alter from machine to machine, location to location, day to day and so on. We therefore need the training and expertise to be able to understand and react to these variables. Poor maintenance and incorrect unit set up may impact on a number of other turf operations we carry out to maintain the playing surface. In some cases poorly set up and maintained cutting units may lead to damage to the turf, this in turn will mean the turf becomes susceptible to disease. This will result in the need for additional chemical application, fertiliser, scarifying, coring and top dressing, all of which is additional cost in time and materials.

Man fixing a mower

As well as good unit and machine maintenance it is also important to remember; Turf conditions must be considered. Mowing equipment cannot remedy a turf condition; the solution to achieving a good quality playing surface with good aftercut appearance is maintaining the partnership between the turf and the machine.

Before we even get onto the turf, we need to give consideration as to what roller or bottom blade we choose? Rollers such as Wiehle rollers give less support than a full roller and allow the unit to sit into work more aggressively. This aggressiveness will help the bedknife gather and push the grass plant into the path of the reel blade. Certain turf, seasons or weather conditions may need a roller that gives more support in which case a solid roller could be an option. This choice could have a trade off as it can cause stragglers as the grass is pushed down and passes under the bottom blade rather than being gathered up into the path of the cylinder blade.

Once we have the correct roller, we need to consider the choice of bottom blade which is dependent on the height of cut we want to achieve. At this point it would be good to consider the difference between bench set and effective height of cut and how this will impact on our height of cut setting. The difference between bench set and effective height of cut will depend on factors such as agronomy, weight of units and weather. Different manufacturers have best set up practice for their cutting units and additional set up such as making sure rollers are parallel, front and back and with the cylinder may need to be carried out. It’s always recommended that you familiarise yourself with the manufacturer’s information relating to unit set up which can be found in the operator’s manual or service manual.

Mower part

When we have chosen the correct machine with the correct cutting unit configuration for our turf conditions including number of blades, rollers and bottom blade it is important to think about ongoing maintenance of our cutting units.

  • Check Tyre pressures are in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations and turf conditions. Verify all tyres are correct and set the same
  • Check for any unit compensation spring and set to correct length for conditions. These springs help ground following and will require the correct setting across all units. Some manufacturers do not require these due to the positioning of the carrier frame
  • Check lift arm counterbalance spring setting to increase or decrease counterbalance on the rear cutting units
  • Check for wear limits of the reel by measuring from the spindle to the outside of the reel. Manufacturers will list wear diameters and recommended replacement diameter
Mower part 3
  • Ensure units are sharp with no visible damage to bottom blade or cylinder
  • Check the unit is on cut, do not be tempted to tighten bottom blade to reel adjustment at the slightest hint of a poor quality cut. This is a standard error and will not solve the issue and could lead to further problems
  • Grease all grease points being careful not to over grease and wipe away excess grease
  • Finally check height of cut is the same on all units.

These points will help but only goes in part to scratching the surface of correct unit set up. It does not address the many variables that are involved in machinery set up to correct quality of cut issues. If not already doing so this article gives you some ideas of what to check and be aware of when setting up your cutting units.

Written by industry expert, Ian Sumpter

Lantra is looking to launch a suite of Groundcare Maintenance courses at SALTEX 2019.

The suite will consist of the following:

  • Groundcare Health and Safety  (mandatory E-Learning course)
  • Groundcare Engine Maintenance
  • Groundcare Hydraulic Systems
  • Groundcare Electrics
  • Groundcare Cutting Units
  • Groundcare Cylinder and Rotary Blade Sharpening.