Thursday, September 6, 2012

Technicians, Assistants and Superintendents, Keep Grinding

By Michael Vogt, CGCS


Experienced Turf Equipment Technician for local golf course

Must possess advanced knowledge of:
• Gasoline engines of all sizes
• Diesel engines of all sizes
• Highly complex hydraulic circuits
• Computer operated switching and controls
• The game of golf
• Recordkeeping
• Safety in the workplace
• Theory and application of reel mower grinding

Under the direction supervision of the golf course superintendent the incumbent will be asked to read the mind of co-workers on a daily basis and respond the all equipment needs no sooner than yesterday. In addition to the requisite skills listed above the successful candidates will be expected to work in 100° plus heat and below freezing temperatures; often laying on the ground, and be able to withstand the ripe aroma of decaying, moist turfgrass clippings. Do to the extremely unique equipment used to maintain a golf course, no training will be available. If this sounds like a position for you, you will be compensated slightly more than an oil monkey at the local quick lube. Also, you must supply your own tools that will often be pilfered by co-workers to perform equipment repairs without your approval or knowledge.

Apply in person at - Slightly Dysfunctional Country Club, Dollar Spot Drive, Grinding Wheel, MN

Should the superintendent know how to grind reels and bedknives? Since turf technicians aren’t hanging out on street corners looking for work, superintendents should have at least a cursory knowledge of reel grinding and sharpening. Perhaps part of, on-the-job assistant superintendent training, a period of time spent with a journeyman turf technician to learn the finer points in reel mower grinding and sharpening would be wise. Perhaps mower sharpening should a prerequisite to becoming the head superintendent. It’s always comforting to know a “Plan B” is in place, if for some reason your equipment technician leaves, gets sick or is on vacation a reel sharpening can take place in his absence.


Not too long ago it was a difficult proposition to grind a reel and bedknife to factory specifications. Some readers may recall names of grinders like Peerless and Ideal in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s these grinders were known as “Hook Grinders” because of the hook that guided the grinding stone along the reel blade, one laborious blade at a time. This process of single reel blade grinding was time consuming and produced average results. The finished results and the accuracy of grinding the units rested in the experience and patience of the individual who was operating the grinder. These technicians often taught themselves how to grind by trial and error or by a superintendent that learned from another superintendent and pass the information along.

Backlapping was the final stage of this process and often needed to be conducted for an hour or more to mate the reel with the bedknife. Fast forward to the late 1970’s, manufacturers of grinders with names like Neary, Foley and Atterton & Ellis raced to the industry with the spin grinder. Now a novice turf technician could produce a great grind in less time and be certain that the reel was close to a true cylinder. Gone were the days of long backlapping procedures to make-up for average grinding results that relied on the experienced touch of an experienced turf technician.

During the rapid expansion of the golf industry of the late 1980’s and 1990’s turf mangers were required to lower the height of cut on turfgrass areas in response to better turf varieties and better overall turf management techniques. Superintendents and the turf technicians were challenged to repair, maintain and keep sharp a new generation of turf equipment that delivered much lower and better quality of cut. Greens that were maintained at a height of cut of 3/16 of an inch in the 1970’s are now maintained at 1/8 of an inch. Not only that, we don’t even use fractions to illustrate what heights of cut we maintain. With lower cuts the nomenclature most often used is a decimal equivalent, 1/8 = .125.

Bedknife Grinding
Most every golf course maintenance shop is equipped with a measuring device known as an ACCU-GAGE®. The ACCU-GAGE® can measure height of cut on reel mowers to the ten thousands of an inch. Terms that were being used to describe distances and spaces are now expressed routinely in thousandths of an inch. The ACCU-GAGE® uses a machine shop type dial indicator to measure the distances between the bottom of the rollers and the top face of the bedknife.

Height of cut conversions

Today’s reel sharpener manufacturers responded with advances in technology, making it possible to return a reel to Original Equipment Manufacturers specifications with the “touch of a button.”

Even though these high tech machines that sharpen reels and bedknives are much less reliant on touch the superintendent and equipment technician must have a thorough understanding of how the relationship between reel and bedknife work to keep turf healthy and maintained at desirable heights of cut.


To subvert the simplicity gained from modern machines to enable technicians to prefect the grinding process efforts confusing the issues rage on. Following, is just a sampling of controversial issues relating to the fine art and science of sharpening mowers:

• Relief grinds on reels,
• Light contact vs. no contact,
• Pinch paper flat – cut paper perpendicular,
• Two pieces of paper, cut one pinch one,
• Back lap or no backlap,
• Light touch-ups of bedknife front face,
• Scissor cut vs. scythe cut,
• Hard back relief on bedknife top face.

There exists many ways to condition reel mowers to perform and accomplish an after-cut appearance the superintendent and most importantly the golfer desires. Each reel mower manufacturer has recommendations to maintain. Only though a clear understanding of the theory of reel mower mechanics can a superintendent and turf technician decide on what’s the best method of grinding and sharpening.


Here’s an excerpt from The Greenkeepers’ Reporter, November-December, 1943

“If you are inexperienced do not attempt sharpening with an emery wheel in times like these. Wait until after the war-as there are no new mowers available now.

…no unskilled man should be given the job sharpening mowers with an emery wheel grinder. Anyone doing this work should have a thorough knowledge of what he’s doing.”

Whether superintendent, assistant, or turf technician, each day you are being judged on the quality of turf you maintain. It is to your advantage to have a working knowledge of grinding and sharpening reel type mowers.

“You have to be patient and keep grinding”

Davis Love III

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