Lawn Care Lawn Mower Quality of Cuts

Published on March 6th, 2015 | by Jacks


Lawn Mower Quality of Cuts Problems and Solutions

You have a riding mower or tractor and it’s been reasonably well cared for. It runs great but the lawn just doesn’t look right after its cut. The mower is leaving streaks, stingers or step cutting. Maybe your rider is scalping? Could it be the deck or just some maintenance item you have missed?


First, let’s caution everyone that outdoor power equipment is inherently dangerous. Some precautions need to be observed:

  • Turn the unit off and remove the key.
  • Disconnect the spark plug(s).
  • Wear heavy leather gloves when working around the cutting blades.
  • Never defeat the interlocks installed by the manufacture.
  • Do not leave guards or deflectors off when you are done.
  • Most important, read your owner’s manual.

Basic Troubleshooting

The next things you should check are the basics. When did the problem start? Did you just install new blades? Don’t laugh, are they on upside down? We often see mowers come to our shop for cutting problems that are as simple as low air pressure in the tires. If the tire pressure is not as recommended per the manufacture, the deck could easily be off by a 1/4″ from side to side.

Step Cutting

Step cutting is sharp ridges left in the lawn surface. Step cutting is usually caused by mower deck damage, improper adjustment, or mower blade damage. Normally the deck just needs to be re-leveled. To check for this:

  • Park the unit on a flat surface.
  • Manually turn the blades perpendicular with the direction the tractor is sitting.
  • Measure the outer tip of the left blade to the surface your parked on (don’t measure from the deck shell, it has to be from the blade tip).
  • Write the measurement down.
  • Go to the right side of the tractor and measure from the tip of the right blade to the surface.

The two measurements should be the same. If the measurements are a 1/4″ or more off, it needs to be corrected. The next thing to do is to turn the blades and measure again. If the measurements are not the same, one of the blades is probably bent. Other things to check for are damage to the deck shell, and bent or loose spindles.


Streaking is another common complaint. Streaking is when thin strips of uncut grass are left behind the mower. Streaking is usually caused by operator error or poor blade maintenance. Streaking can occur if the engine speed is too low. All mowers are designed to run at full throttle. Believe it or not you are doing more harm to your engine by running it slower than full throttle when you are mowing. Blades need to be spinning at the correct blade tip speed. They need to be sharp and not have too much wear on the uplifts. The speed and uplifts pull the grass up just like the barber lifts your hair up with a comb to get a straight cut. The air movement within the cutting deck is very important. Decks plugged with grass clippings cannot move the air the way they were designed to do.

Design of the Tractor & Deck

Another cause of both streaking and step cutting is the design of the tractor and the deck itself. If the operator does not overlap the cutting row enough or makes very tight turns, marks can be left in the lawn. The easy way to see the cause of this is to use a jack to raise one rear wheel of the tractor a little off the ground. If your tractor does not have a full free floating deck doing this will cause the deck to tilt. This tilting in tight turns and when one wheel is lifted higher than the other by uneven ground contours will leave marks. The only fix for this is to slow down, make wide turns, over-lap cuts, or buy another tractor with a free floating deck.


Scalping is when the mower deck comes close to or hits the ground. Scalping can be caused by mower deck misalignment, unevenness in the lawn, or by the mower deck bouncing because the ground speed is too fast.

Check the mower deck for misalignment, slow down or raise the deck if it’s too low to prevent scalping.


These tips and guidelines should help you fix common mowing problems to keep your lawn looking the way you want it. Remember though, these are just guidelines. For specific information for the power equipment you are using always refer to your owner’s manual.

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About the Author

Jack's Small Engines has been providing parts for outdoor power equipment online since 1997. We also run a service center for outdoor power equipment like riding mowers, snow blowers, generators, chainsaws, and just about anything else.

21 Responses to Lawn Mower Quality of Cuts Problems and Solutions

  1. Bret Crouse says:

    Sears Craftsman riding mower about 15 years old. In thick grass areas, the right side of the mower deck cuts fine but the left side does not make a clean cut and I have to go over it a second time. The blades are new and sharp. Any ideas? Thank you.

  2. Caleb Hart says:

    My mother has always hated mowing the lawn because it takes her forever to do it. I think it’s because she was allergic to the fresh cut grass. I wonder if she has hired a lawn mowing service in her old age. I know none of my brothers are around to cut her grass either.

  3. Luther says:

    Nice info here. Good job. Your statements make sense.

    I only have a streak of uncut when making a turn and it is on the outside line of the turn.

    I have checked measurement of blade height and that is good based on user manual.

    It is a cub cadet about 12 years old

  4. Kevin R. says:

    Bret Crouse– I have the EXACT same issue, but reversed. It’s my mower’s left hand side that cuts perfectly, and the right that doesn’t.

    On my mower, the right side almost leaves a “hump” or “dome” shape, like the blade is cutting the outside, but not the center, of its path.

  5. B J says:

    My problem is that my tires kill the grass. I have a John Deere 135 and every time I gut the grass a few days later I see brown grass streaks the with of the tires. Do I need to get new tires or top them up with air?

  6. Dno57 says:

    I am experiencing the same problem as Luther and Kevin R.. I have a Scotts 2554 (John Deere) and I have recently completely rebuilt the deck, having this problem before rebuilding. I do make some sharp turns but the step difference is more like 3/4″-1″ on the outside always…not on every pass but on straight aways too. I’m thinking tire pressure, worn hangers but these look good. So what’s next to check? I will appreciate any good tips that I’ve overlooked.

  7. Scott says:

    our husk Varna rider turns hard left but not on the right ?

  8. Jim says:

    when I make a turn with my ride mower my one blade makes a curving deep arc cut into the grass. I have new blades. It did it also with the old blades. I’ve also had “training type” on both sides of the deck.

  9. Sharon Kinney says:

    I have a 42 inch Poulan riding mower bought used. I had a mulching blade installed on it . The problem is whe mowing the grass clippings are piled on top of the deck & all around the parts on the mower. It’s so bad sometimes it chokes out the mower & it stalls, until we can rake some of the clippings off. Is this normal and what can we do to keep this from happening? Thank You

    • Hi Sharon,

      I know how much of a pain this can be. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly common occurrence.

      Make sure that you are only mowing 1/3 of the grass blade’s total length at a time, this will make the clippings smaller and they will mulch easier.

      Raise your mower deck up a bit if you have it all the way down.

      Also, don’t let your grass get too long between mowings. Most mowers only have a 4″ max cutting height, if your grass is longer than this, the clippings will be longer and will not blow away from the mower as easily.

      Also be sure that you are NOT mowing wet grass.

      Wet grass will clump up underneath of the mower and can block the blades and cause it to stall.

      Be sure to thoroughly clean your deck after every time you mow to be sure that the clumps don’t harden underneath of the deck and cause more of a problem!

      Hope this helps!

  10. Kenny says:

    Sharon I have the same problem.I have a brand knew 43 inch John Deere.Such a mess to clean all of that grass out of there after every cut.If you find out was causes this I would like to know myself.Thanks

    • Hi Kenny,

      I think that the answer I gave Sharon above will help you out too!

      Unfortunately cleaning out the mower deck after every time you mow is a part of routine maintenance.

      Be sure you are only mowing the grass when it is completely dry otherwise the grass is more likely to clump and harden on the underside of the deck, making it more difficult to clean and potentially causing your mower to bog down or stall out.

  11. Kenny says:

    I don’t understand how all that cut grass gets on top of deck.Any help will be appropriated.thanks Kenny Guidry

  12. Michael Hozjan says:

    For the past week or so my riding mower refuses to cut grass. The blades spin fine on the driveway but quit when I hit the lawn. I’ve replaced one of the spindles because I heard a noise coming from the deck and it didn’t turn as free as the other one. Didn’t help. If I let it sit in one spot for a minute or so it seems to pick up steam and start cutting for a couple of dozen feet or so. Also lately I’ve been getting a Mohawk cut. It will leave about three inches of uncut lawn in the middle.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  13. David Baughman says:

    I have Massey Furguson 2925 with a 60″ deck. It is cutting about 3/4″ low on the right side. Tire pressure, and deck level are good. I removed the deck and turned it up to check blades they all appear undamaged. What I did find is the left side and center blade are even. The right blade is about 3/4″ lower then the other two. They are not upside down. Could a bad bearing on the right spindle shaft be the cause?

  14. Mikalyn says:

    My gravely 54 inch zero turning radius mower is not cutting on the outside 8 inches of the deck on the left. I recently sharpen the blades. It appears from the inside of the back left tire out no grass gets cut. Any ideas

  15. Delores Lyon says:

    Thanks for sharing these problems and solutions for the quality of cuts made with a lawn mower. I had no idea that the quality of cut is something you need to worry about in the first place! However, it definitely makes sense to address something like scalping or step cutting, especially if it makes the lawn look uneven. In my opinion, most of these bad cuts seem to result from a lower quality lawn mower. I think that if people just bought the right type of mower, then these problems would be mitigated!

    • Charles Wright says:

      I don’t necessarily agree with this. I have a John Deere D140 that is 4 or 5 years old. It is a 48″ mower with 3 blades. Originally, it did a good cut. Recently, the mower has begun to leave a streak of grass between the blades that is not smoothly cut. This is very aggravating in that now I have to make 2 passes where the left and center blades are positioned to recut the strips left by the first pass. I have replaced the mower deck belt with no noticeable difference. I have replaced the blades with no noticeable difference. My next thought is to adjust the belt tension and to attempt to lube the blade spindles. If any of you have a solution to my problem, I would be very grateful for your help.
      The JD mower was about $2000; and, being retired, I cannot afford to replace the mower every 5 years or so.

  16. bryan flake says:

    It is really profound to always wear thick gloves when dealing with the lawn mower. You might not plan on fixing the mower when you cut the grass. However, the machine could break at any time. For that reason, it is just easier for you to always be wearing thick gloves, in case you have to do repairs.

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