Sometimes, old technology continues to do the job best, for some. That’s why the sickle bar mower continues to get used, even today — despite the fact that it is considered a vintage tool with roots that go far back to the original McCormick reaper.
What Is A Sickle Bar Mower?
A sickle bar mower is the early adaptation of today’s mower attachment. Using a extended serrated knife assembly fitted against a blade guard (the guard acts much like the “comb” on a set of hair clippers), this mower is transported in an upward position during transit, and then lowered far to the side of the tractor when in use.
The bar itself is fitted with numerous teeth that are serrated on the top and bottom. Each tooth is typically fastened to the bar with two pins, each. The teeth can be removed individually for sharpening or replacement if needed — preferably by a grinding machine. Finding teeth, pins and anything else related to the repair of a sickle bar are very common.
On the very end of the cutter bar, you’ll typically find a ‘swathboard’ attached to the very tip, which pushes cut material inward after it has been trimmed and makes room for tire tracks. The mower itself runs off a standard PTO (540 RPM), and is usually attached with a 3-point hitch.
Sickle bar mowers come in numerous lengths that provide different cut widths. The most common length is 7′ (approximately an 82″ cut). The bar itself will typically weigh around 600 lbs. All will provide a 90-degree cutting angle, and should also provide a below horizontal angle cut for ditches.
Knowing Its Advantages and Disadvantages
Being older technology, the sickle bar mower has a couple disadvantages:
- Picky about material and land conditions: They typically cut well only when operating on material that is dry and uniform, and tend to suffer with cutting excessively thick or wet material that is not on a relatively flat surface.
- It won’t “condition”: These mowers simply ‘saw’ through grass. They do not condition the grass in any way, and are poor choices of equipment for special needs such as laying down dry hay quickly.
As for its advantages:
- Inexpensive: The cost of a sickle bar mower (especially used, or in the aftermarket) is drastically less than the cost of a mower. It’s a less expensive choice compared to other modern equipment that serves the same purpose, since as a Brush Hog, which is a high cost, high maintenance alternative. New sickle bars typically run from $8,000-$10,000 factory new, compared to mowers, which can cost around $50,000 new. In the aftermarket, a used sickle bar mower will commonly sell for under $2,000, depending on usage and condition.
- Best for Ditches: Sickle bar mowers are still greatly favored for mowing ditches, mostly because it is impractical and typically risky to hang an expensive mower attachment when trimming a ditch, given its slope. Also, when mowing ditches — the “conditioning” aspect of cutting tall grass is not a factor.
Agricultural professionals and landscapers who use sickle bar mowers typically do so for simple tasks like path clearing or for simply laying tall grass flat, which will take longer to dry for eventual collection and round-baling. Here are several other notable and creative uses for them:
- Mowing road or highway-side ditches
- Light to heavy weed control
- Trimming pond dams
- Trimming pastures
- Mowing grass and weeds under fences
When buying a sickle bar mower, you’ll need a tractor that has the minimum horsepower necessary to operate the attachment at a consistent speed. In some cases, there is both a minimum and maximum horsepower range for sickle bar mowers. Be sure to ask the seller what this range is, if it is not stated.
Most of the newer sickle bar mower models have hydraulic cylinders that raise or lower the bar when in use or not in use, and requires a tractor that already has hydraulic outlets for cylinder hoses. Without this, you’ll have to do it manually. This is yet another consideration when shopping for one in the aftermarket.
Be mindful of sickle bars that have welds or breaks — this could be a sign of damage or shoddy attempts put in place to fix damages done to the bar.
View all sickle bar mowers for sale