Cordless technology has come a long way when it comes to power tools. We were curious if the same could be said of cordless lawnmowers. Black & Decker recently sent us one of their CM1936 Cordless Mowers to help us answer that question. About six years ago I made the mistake of buying an electric lawnmower, a corded one. I won’t tell you it was made by Black & Decker, I’l instead refer to the manufacturer as “B & D.” Phew, corporate public relations crisis avoided! Actually, there wasn’t anything wrong with that mower, that is, if you ignored the fact that you had to continuously plug it into an electrical outlet. I avoided the annoyance and eco-unfriendliness of gas mowers, but instead engaged in a spectacular “avoid running over the extension cord dance” every time I mowed. That dance was even more dramatic given our hilly lawn terrain. And it’s not just me. Did you know human’s are genetically coded to go cordless? I offer two items of proof: 1) The iphone 2) One of the first steps in human birth is cutting the umbilical cord. See, we’re all meant to be cordless! Unfortunately six years ago, cordless mowers we’re still a little too “cutting edge” for me to try. Cutting edge, get it?!
Fast forward six years, and there are now quite a few cordless rechargeable mowers on the market, including the Black & Decker CM1936. First, some basics about the different mower options. Gas mowers tend to be the most powerful, with the longest uninterrupted run-time. If you have a huge swath of grass to manage, gas is probably still going to be your main option. Gas also tends to be the noisiest, smelliest, un-green-est, and maintenance intensive option. Plus you have to worry about having gas and oil on hand to keep your beast going. Thumbs down for gas in my book.
Electric, and rechargeable specifically, tend to be considered the most green powered option for lawn mowing (excluding reel mowers like the Fiskars Momentum), especially if you live in an area that uses a lot of renewable energy sources for electricity. I already alluded to my personal dislike of the plugged-in option. It’s a bit like comparing old-school corded phones to cell phones, with the additional possibility you might run over the electrical cord and zap yourself. Cordless mowers have had limited utility in the past since spinning such a big blade tends to suck up battery juice pretty quickly. I think it’s probably safe to say most of us don’t exactly love lawn mowing, so the prospect of running out of battery power (which then leads to a later mowing session) isn’t particularly appealing. Cordless mowers also tend to be pretty heavy, thanks to the additional battery weight.
According to Black & Decker, the estimated run time on the CM1936 cordless mower is about 50 minutes. They also point out that battery run time may vary “depending upon factors including but not limited to charging conditions, battery maintenance, storage and environmental conditions.” By California standards we have a decent sized lawn. By Midwest and back East standards, we have a postage stamp lawn. To put things in perspective, our lawn is about 1500 Square Feet and thanks to the hilly terrain, takes about 20-25 minutes to mow. Our grass isn’t particularly lush or thick, unless you count a few patches of lurking crab grass. The CM1936 powered through the lawn (crab grass included) with no perceptible power loss from when I started to when I finished. Based on our short term experience with it, if you lawn is our size or smaller, the CM1936 should be able to handle it no problem. If your lawn is two plus times the size of ours, your mileage may vary, and you might want to consider getting a second battery, or possibly gas (shudder). Which leads me to a few finer points on the the CM 1936.
If you do need to get a second battery, B & D has made swapping it out extremely easy. Just flip the large latch handle and grab onto the easy to grip sides of the battery and pull. The simple battery removal and replacement system is also handy if you don’t have a charger near where you store your mower. Just pop out the battery and bring it to the charger. Very easy. You can either plug in the charger cable directly into the battery, or via a port by the handle of the mower. We found the charger cable to be a little finicky (you actually have to look at the terminals you’re connecting to line them up easily). It would have been nice if the charger plug had a clear orientation that can only be plugged in one way. Without the battery in place, the CM1936 looks like a convenient place to ice your beer (and make it mobile). I encourage you to resist the temptation since I’m pretty sure beer icing in the battery compartment voids the warranty. Note to Black & Decker, where are your integrated cup/bottle holders in the mower handle? You know, because alcohol and high powered spinning blades go so well together?
Speaking of safety (or my suggested lack thereof), the CM1936 comes with a couple “key” safety features. Literally. The mower will not operate without an orange safety key inserted in the power receptacle the charger plugs into. The next time your teenager requests keys to your favorite garage vehicle, just hand them your orange lawn-mower key instead. There’s also an orange safety button you have to press in before pulling the bar to start the mower (the dead man’s style push-bar). Not that I ever operate machinery without first reading the manual, but if I did, I might have overlooked that button and wondered why the mower didn’t start when I pulled on the start bar. Thankfully I always read manuals first, so that awkward moment of wondering why the mower wasn’t starting would never happen to me. Now, it will never happen to you either!
One downside to mowers is they typically take up key space in the garage, shop or shed. That’s prime real estate! If you’re willing to loosen a couple knobs that secure the handle of the mower, you can actually fold down the handle and then set the CM1936 on it’s rear-end. The result is a surprisingly compact and space-saving profile. It’s a slick feature, although the folding option would be better if the handle had a quick release mechanism of some kind, rather than two spinning knobs that simply loosen and tighten.
One adjustment that is quick is adjusting the height of the mower itself. As simple squeeze of the height adjustment control lets you easily raise and lower the entire mower. If you’re used to adjusting the height on each individual wheel, you’ll find this setup to be a huge improvement and convenience, especially if you adjust your mower height regularly. The adjustment gauge has settings recommended for either mulching (with the mower higher) or bagging with the included grass catcher (with the mower lower). So, do you mulch or bag?
I’m lazy, so I’m all for mulching. Supposedly it’s better for the lawn anyway (since it lets clippings and their nutrients compost back into the soil). The big selling point for me is I don’t have to schlepp a bag of clippings around. Although current reviews are largely very positive, a couple I read about the CM1936 mentioned difficulty with mulching. Since I had no issues at all mulching, I’m guessing these reviewers neglected to read the manual which makes several suggestions for optimizing your mulching performance: 1) Don’t mow when the grass is wet. Wet = bad for mulching. 2) Set cutting height so you’re not trying to fell a forest. Cut off a max of about 1 1/2″ . That may mean multiple passes at different heights if your mowing has been neglected recently. 3) Keep your blade sharp. Dull blades don’t cut very well, go figure. 4) Make narrower passes, cutting less width than the full mower if needed. and 5) As a final resort, you may need to make a second pass at the whole lawn if you’ve got mulch-unfriendly conditions. If you do have to do this, B & D suggests doing it with a different cut pattern (as long as that cut pattern doesn’t have you going up and down hills, which is bad for safety by the way).
All in all, the Black & Decker CM1936 Cordless Mower was a pleasure to use and performed well. It’s relatively quiet, convenient and does the job smoothly. If I were buying a mower for a small to mid sized lawn, it’d be the first option I’d reach for. That is, until Husqvarna sends us one of their cordless Automower solar hyrbrid robotic mowers. That’s when an ice-cold brew and mowing really do go well together! Of course at just under $400 at Walmart or HomeDepot, the CM1936 comes in a little less than the Husqvarna Automower’s $3000 price tag.