HOW TO: BACK LAP REELS
Clean your reel: Before you can do anything else, the reel must be free of debris. You should clean the reel before you work on it, during and after you work on it. Rinse it off with a garden hose.
Inspect reel and bed knife: First, move the bed knife away from the reel to displace metal-to-metal contact. Grab the reel and move it in all directions to make sure there is no give. If there is, repair the reel. Also, spin the reel. It should turn evenly and smoothly. Then run your finger across the top surface of the bed knife to feel for anything you might have missed. Inspect the bottom of the bed knife. There should be no turf juice buildup on the bottom. Removing any sand, mud or other grime will ensure the mower is cutting properly.
Grease reel bearings and rollers: It's important to grease the reel bearings and rollers with a high-quality, high-impact water-resistant lubricant. The new grease may squeeze out water, indicating that you need to grease more often. If you're replacing more than two or three bearings per year as a result of water damage from a dozen or so reels, try another product.
Adjust reel for back lapping: Use a 1-inch-wide strip of newspaper as a gauge. Do not crank down on the reel until it touches the bed knife. Place the paper between the bed knife and one blade of the reel. Rotate the reel one blade at a time while adjusting the bed knife down with the bed-knife-to-reel adjustment screw until the paper makes a soft flapping noise. Then work both ends of the reel, and when the distance between the bed knife and reel are just right, there will be a slight drag on the paper as you pull it out. Don't be in a hurry with this adjustment. Done properly, it shouldn't take more than a minute or two for each reel.
Back lap reel: Once the bed knife is parallel with the reel, hook up the lapping machine and spin the reel in reverse. It should spin quietly without any metal contact. Then apply a small amount of 120-grit compound from right to left with a long-handled paintbrush. There will be a grinding noise now. When it stops, do not retrieve more compound from the bucket. Simply apply the amount that is left on the brush until you've used it all. If both are sharp, stop. If not, turn the lapping machine back on, and as the reel is turning, adjust one end of the reel in a small increment. Once you hear the grinding noise again, tighten the other end exactly the same amount. Then apply more compound. Continue this process for about 15 minutes. You may have to mill the bed knife on the lathe if it is not sharp after 15 minutes. If it's still not sharp, apply a little 180-grit compound.
Clean reel: Wash the reel thoroughly again with a hose. Be sure to remove all grinding from the reel. While washing, leave the back-lapping machine running. You will still hear some grinding but once the compound is washed away the reel will turn freely with no metal-to-metal contact.
Adjust reel-to-bed knife and height of cut: Height of cut is the greens keeper's choice. Reel-to-bed knife clearance is the mechanic's job. You want zero metal-to-metal contact. Try for “cut one, leave one” by placing two strips of newspaper between the reel and bed knife and adjust the clearance so the reel cuts one paper and leaves the other. With patience and practice, it will work.
Test greens on nursery or practice green: Check the engine, drive train and operator controls, and take notice of the cut.
Clean mower: Lastly, wash the mower off again. Leaving wet grass on a reel can be detrimental to its performance.
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