The Reel Story – What Level are Your Reels?

The Reel Story – What Level are Your Reels?

The subject that is king of debate is on the docket for this weeks blog post and that is Cutting Units! The one subject that hits at the heart of every technician and that many feel they have it right. So much so that they are willing to ignore any discussions at all surrounding it no matter what data or holes others poke into it. It’s the one subject that manufacturers and distributors try to avoid and grinder manufacturers seem to build fraternities on. I too early on was somewhat closed off to others opinions on the subject until I realized this one thing…. If I am not willing to continue to find better ways of doing things there is 100% chance that we will not get any better than we are today. So in a new outlook on this subject I am enlisting help from good friend, John Patterson, to assist with this post. We are going to reject the notion that people are wrong in how they setup cutting units but take the approach that there are different levels of cutting unit maintenance. In this post we will be discussing the different levels just so people can see that there are ways to get better and step up their game so to speak. We are aware there are many who will not agree, but in the spirit of having something out there that defines some differences here we go:

Level 1 – We just need it to cut!

In this level we typically see, not so much anymore, but the courses without grinders. This is a course that will backlap their reels all season and once a year send their reels out to be ground. This practice was instituted because of the simple fact that reels needed to cut grass and grinders are viewed as too expensive to purchase. Typically a new bedknives are simply attached to the bedbar and lapped in until theyconform to the reel surface, and then can be replaced and ground during the off season.

Level 2 – Yes we grind!

In this level we own a set of grinders but we only grind when we can’t get the reel to cut after backlapping. Once the rel is worn to the point that backlapping will no longer get the reel to cut we will then put the reel and bedknife on the grinder or possibly just replace the bedknife and either lap it in or grind it.

Level 3 – Yes we Parallel Cutting Units!

In level 3 we typically see all of the above in level 2 except with the addition of leveling the cutting units. This is typically done using a steel or aluminum plate and rollers are adjusted to the reel, generally within .020 depending on how flat the plate is.

Level 4 – Yes, we Grind More Than Lap!

In level 4 we are grinding more often but will lap in order to get cutting units to their next grind. The thought process here is that we will typically use grinding as our primary focus but will use lapping as a filler to get us through. Once the cutting unit no longer cuts from lapping or we have the time available we will grind. We will also begin using a Pi tape or some other means, to make sure we can take the cone out of our reels that was developed from normal wear or the lapping process.

Level 5 – Yes we Don’t Lap Reels!

In this level we have eliminated backlapping and we are now focusing on keeping our reels and bedknives ground. In addition we are leveling the cutting units as described in level 3. When our reels start showing signs of dulling out we put them back on the grinder for a quick touch up. We are running little to no contact on our reel and bedknife and as we start making contact we begin planning the next grind. We are also checking all cutting units after every mowing and filing the front edge of the bedknife each time. We are also and adjusting our shields within spec to maximize air flow and clipping ejection.

Level 6 – Yes we Can Measure More Stuff!

In level 6 we are beginning to really step up our processes. We are now looking at grinding all of our reels together to keep the reel diameters close in size. We are utilizing the Pi tape, a calibrated height of cut gauge, we are advancing our leveling table to a granite surface plate and dialing cutting units into square below .005. We are paying attention to cutting unit down pressure, roller configurations, bedknife attitude and thickness careful to minimize the drag on the grass surfaces and present a consistent cutting edge across the face of the bedknife.

Level 7 – OCD – You bet!

In this level we are utilizing all the practices in level 6 with the addition of checking run out in all of our rollers and having them ground, machined or replaced if more than .005 out of round. We are grinding our bedbars flat and indexing from the pivot bolt making sure that the distance from pivot bolt to the front edge of the bedknife is the same on both sides. We are weighing down pressure on each cutting unit to make sure everything is balanced properly as well.

Now that you are shaking your head in disagreement with the above classification of levels think about this. It’s two peoples interpretation of what is going on in our industry, but right now it’s the only one. If no one writes about it and no ones discusses it how will anyone learn from it? We are guessing many of you find yourselves in a couple of levels. Meaning that some practices you do, but maybe not all and that is ok. This is meant more to be a guide to let you know that, hey there maybe more ways we can advance how we manage our cutting units. Our hope is that this helps.

Many will look at the upper levels of cutting unit maintenance and say “when would I be able to do all that”? Well, the upper level maintenance practices are being accomplished at many facilities today but no matter where, cutting unit maintenance is made a top priority in the shop by everyone from the top down. In most cases the added steps involved wind up taking very little added time once the cutting units have been gone through one or two times and the techniques are mastered. The payoffs in consistent quality of cut and after cut appearance are tangible, measurable, and as much agronomic as visual. The total cost of all the tooling involved in top level cutting unit maintenance is less than the cost of one set of cutting units.

We know we are going to hear it about backlapping getting a bad wrap and hey that’s fine again this is our opinion. Maybe that’s a good next blog post!



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  1. Bobs Shop
    September 26, 17:25 Reply

    Great read Stephen and John 👍 I do my best to statin the 4…5 range in your blog. I’m doing it alone new 18 hole facility bent greens and fairways cutting premium HOC for this area . Not hard to do once you get into routine. Reely depends on course budget and a good communication between Superintendent And technician .

    • admin
      September 27, 05:34 Reply

      Thanks Bob and you are correct. I think our point in this was to get away from the “if you don’t do it this way your wrong” and just show there are other levels of maintaining them. Appreciate the comments.

  2. Skip Heinz
    September 27, 06:39 Reply

    You are so right. Even using the sip grinders we still go to the leveling block. We are mostly a 6 with some 7’s being greens and approaches due HOC. We measure everything each time and always grind in sets. Funny thing, as you know, I have the original granite block that Noel Chandler showed you the squaring process on. Noel would say you could square any cutting unit, you just might need to use an axe handle. lol Keep pushing the level.

    • admin
      September 27, 06:44 Reply

      Yep Noel set me straight early on that is for sure! Thanks for the comments Skip.

  3. Frank
    September 27, 06:57 Reply

    Really good read Stephen and John. I would say my shop sits around a 5 working on the 6. Just got “The Stone” from turf addict so hoping to get things looking even better.

    • admin
      September 27, 07:03 Reply

      Thanks Frank hope your doing well!

  4. Mitch M
    September 27, 16:47 Reply

    Great read Stephen. This is my first season as a lead tech and how I cared for our reels was much different then we used to. We used to grind in the winter then just keep cutting until they needed attention. At that point we would backlap and face and if all failed, he would then grind.
    My superintendent met a guy that specializes in quality of cut at the golf show last winter and hired him to do a seminar at our club. What I learned from this guy was unbelievable! I would have liked to grind a bit more then I did and I will next season as I’m getting a new grinder this winter. But I was glad to read this and find that I’m doing the right thing for the most part. I see myself acting as a #7 next year. Thanks again for the great read.

    • admin
      September 27, 18:49 Reply

      Great to hear Mitch thanks for the comments.

  5. re-hiker
    December 20, 16:08 Reply

    Good morning Steven, you may remember my Name, I was International Service Manager at Jacobsen before I retired. We exchanged a few Emails on the Subject of Cutting Unit Maintenance. I am glad to read that you still go the way we once determined as the only proper way to do it. After retirement I was still doing Training in Greenkeepereducation in Austria. Just two months ago on their Annual Meeting were several Greenkeepers telling me that they still do it the the way they learned it. So not all the Seed was falling in a Ditch. Keep on the important Education for Technicians on the Golf Course.

    With my best regards from Switzerland

    Robert Ernst

    • admin
      December 20, 17:10 Reply

      Great to hear from you it has been a few years….. Appreciate the feedback and I miss those emails hope retirement is going well and stay in touch maybe one day I can make it back across the pond for a visit!

  6. re-hiker
    December 21, 03:22 Reply

    Good morning Steve, no doubt, if you see a Chance to cross the Pond, take it. My old Man learned me that Live is 99% missed Opportunities and it is Hell of a Job to bring it down to 90%. I am still visiting the US about twice a Year, visiting Friends and Golf Courses out of my time as Troubledhooter. Maybe next tine I take a different Route including visiting You.

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