Turf Magazine - February, 2013


Mower Maintenance Boosts Productivity

Small-town Georgia pro shares how he keeps his units producing day after day
By Ron Hall

The morning we caught up with Joey Cuzzort he was visiting his mom. He had just left his doctor's office where he had undergone a routine checkup, and he was taking one of his rare days off. "I work pretty much around the clock," Cuzzort says almost apologetically, acknowledging the week that we had traded emails and played phone tag.

Joey Cuzzort started his
professional mowing company
22 years ago, which serves
customers in three counties
in northwest Georgia.
Joey Cuzzort started his professional mowing company 22 years ago, which serves customers in three counties in northwest Georgia.

Cuzzort, 40, is the owner of Cuzzort Lawn Care, and has been offering professional property maintenance services in Cedartown, Ga., and surrounding communities in Polk, Haralson and Floyd Counties for the past 22 years. For 20 of those years he operated under the business name of Greenscape. Two years ago, when his father retired and started helping him in the landscaping company, he gave the company the family name.

Cuzzort built his lawn care operation, starting as a teenager, on the basis of being a local guy that shows up when he says he will, does what he promises to do and treats his customers as neighbors, which many of them are.

This Georgia lawn maintenance company owner realizes the simplest of truths when it comes to contract mowing - once you settle onto the mower seat and crank up the engine you want to mow and keep mowing until the job is done. You don't want to have to stop the engine, climb off the seat and replace a belt or make some other adjustment that could have easily been done the night before.

Although Cuzzort is the company owner, he still does more than his share of mowing. Lots of mowing. The turfgrass he mows in north Georgia is mainly tall fescue, and most years it starts growing in February. That's when Cuzzort Lawn Care starts ramping up for the season, gaining momentum each day until Cuzzort and his other operators, which sometimes include his dad and a son, are in full production mode.

When the season is full bore, Cuzzort Lawn Care employees put in 56 hours a week on Vanguard-powered MidMount 329 Grasshoppers and the company's granddaddy, a Model 325 powered by a 25 hp Kubota diesel engine with more than 14,000 hours of service already logged.

When the grass is growing, the company will have seven people out mowing, trimming, working on beds, or cleaning up residential, commercial and some church properties, too. Most of his clients' properties range from 1 to 2 acres, he notes.

The exception is a 250-acre private lakefront estate.


Mower Blades: Be Sharp, Stay Sharp

A dull rotary mower blade does not cut grass blades, it tears them, which makes for an unattractive lawn and leaves the grass vulnerable to disease. Anybody who mows grass, and especially a commercial cutter, realizes they have to regularly sharpen the blades. How often the blades should be sharpened depends on how much mowing you're doing and the mowing conditions. Mowing in sandy or dusty conditions or in high, tough grass, such as Bahiagrass or St. Augustinegrass, will dull blades faster than mowing a bluegrass lawn in suburban Chicago, for example.

Sharpening mower blades is relatively simple, especially if you use a bench grinder or a professional blade grinder and you've done it a few times.

But, let's start by discussing safety. Mowers are, by their nature, potentially dangerous even when they're being worked on. Make sure you wear a pair of stout work gloves when removing, sharpening and replacing blades, and professional-grade goggles or safety glasses when grinding blades. Also, make sure you have a clean work area. Remove any equipment or other objects from around the bench or blade grinder.

Remove the blade: Remove the spark plug. Why chance the mower starting unexpectedly when it only takes a few seconds to remove a spark plug? Squirt some penetrating oil on the blade bolt and nut and block the blade so that it doesn't turn when you begin wrenching the nut. Some folks use a block of wood under the deck for this purpose and others use a C-clamp.

Sharpen the blade: Hold the blade firmly so that the beveled edge on one end is easily accessible. Turn the beveled edge to the correct angle. The angle at which you grind the blade will depend on the blade manufacturer's recommendation. Typically, the angle is 40 degrees, but check nonetheless. If you put too narrow an angle on the blade it will cut well initially, but will quickly dull and nick easily; too blunt an angle and the blade will "beat" rather than cut grass. Move the blade back and forth across the grinder with a soft touch until you get the edge you want. Grind both edges of the blade equally, attempting to remove the same amount of metal from them. Don't force the blade against the grinder because you will likely heat the blade too much and cause the metal to loose its hardness. In other words, do not grind until the blade starts glowing orange.

Check for balance and straightness: Buying an inexpensive blade balancer is money well spent. It can tell you at a glance whether a particular blade is balanced. Observe the blade to see if it tilts to one side or the other. Remove small amounts of metal from the heavy side by moving the edge across the grinder. An out-of-balance blade will cause a mower to shake, and running a mower with an unbalanced blade will eventually damage the mower.

Remount the blade: Are you still wearing your work gloves? Good. Remember, you're handling a sharp blade and there's no reason to get a bad cut on your hands now.

Replacement time: If a blade is badly bent or it is cracked, discard and replace it. It's unlikely you can straighten a bent blade without weakening it. Blades spin at high RPMs, and, as remote as it might seem, you don't want to run the risk of a blade shattering and causing property damage or injuring someone.

"That's a four-person job," says Cuzzort. "We plan on a four-hour day with two people mowing and two people trimming. We've been doing it for the past 21 years."

Cuzzort says he's as meticulous about caring for his equipment as he is with his clients' properties. "I'm real picky," he admits. Cuzzort does practically all of the maintenance and spends about three hours on each machine every week during the mowing season.

"I keep my equipment indoors and locked up; and during the season we do maintenance on our mowers daily, weekly and monthly," Cuzzort explains. "If something breaks, we fix it or get it fixed right away."

Cuzzort follows the following 10-point mower maintenance program, which he credits with keeping his equipment in top running condition. Some of the following items he does daily, some weekly and some monthly.

"It's worked for me," he says, adding with a chuckle that it's time he put together a similar maintenance plan for his own health. This small-town Georgia lawn care company owner knows what he's talking about.

1.) Check engine oil and all fluids.

2.) Check the air filter to make sure the inside of the seal and the inside of the filter are clean. Even if the outside of the air filter is dirty, as long as the inside of the filter is clean, the filter is functioning properly. If you need to clean the outside of the air filter, tap the filter in your hand to remove dirt and debris.

3.) Blow debris from the mower deck.

4.) Check the air pressure of the tires.

5.) Check belts for wear or looseness.

6.) Check to make sure the deck of each mower is level.

7.) Check the front wheel bearing for wear.

8.) Check each blade for sharpness. Sharpen as necessary, making sure that each blade is properly balanced after sharpening to prevent vibration damage to the mower deck.

9.) Check each blade spindle for loose bearings.

10.) Keep the underside of the mower deck clean with a scraper or flat tool.

Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine and is approaching his 29th year as an editor, writer and researcher in the green industry. Contact him at rhall@mooserivermedia.com.