Sod-Cutting Tool for New Seeding

Manual Sod Cutter
Quail Manufacturing

Many turf professionals say that when turf is 30 percent weeds or more, it is probably time to clear the area for a fresh seeding. Is it time for a do-over on your lawn?

Many people hesitate to start over because clearing out an old lawn is easier said than done, especially if a square shovel beneath your boot is the method. There are other techniques, of course, including weed killers, smothering, rototilling, and gas-powered sod cutters.

The manual sod cutter, or “sod kicker” as users know it, is a little-known option for creating bare ground. This article looks at the manual sod cutter. 

How a Manual Sod Cutter Works

The steps include:

  1. Mow the intended area using the lowest setting on your mower. 
  2. Water the intended removal area the night before. Moisture helps to keep the stripped sod intact in a “ribbon.” This means easy removal for disposal or, if the sod is good, reinstallation at another location.
  3. Place the cutter at the starting point. While holding the handles, kick down on the foot bar. The blade goes beneath the sod to make the cut.
  4. Push forward to lengthen the cut.
  5. Pull back slightly, then push again to make the next cut.

Cutting depth on the model from Quail Manufacturing of Princeton, MN, (pictured in this article) is pre-set to two and one-quarter inches, but it can be increased to three inches. The blade is set at a 95-degree angle, an angle which must be preserved for effective operation.

Wayne Thompson, COO at Quail, says the machine can work in areas with small rocks ("smaller than a potato"). It also cuts fibrous tree roots.

Sod being rolled up after sod cutting.
Perennial Harmony, Waterford, CT

Ergonomic Features of a Manual Sod Cutter

What's it like to use one? We heard from Petie Reed and Rich Oliver, co-owners of Perennial Harmony in Waterford, CT, who have used the manual sod cutter for years. 

“You just apply your foot on the press bar and push forward,” says Reed. “It cuts the sod, and you roll it up.”

Rich Oliver says he can clear 500 square feet in a few hours with the sod kicker, without undue exertion.

“It’s more a matter of technique than strength,” says Oliver. “Your efficiency improves after using it a bit.” He says it helps to “scalp” the grass or weeds very low with a mower before sod-kicking. “If the soil is relatively clear of rocks and gravel, the tool goes down three inches very easily,” he adds.

According to Wayne Thompson, president of Quail Manufacturing, the tool works for a wide range of people. “You don’t have to bend over to use it. It relies more on upper thigh muscles than back strength. It doesn’t require much upper body strength at all.” Thompson says he’s shipped thousands during his tenure at the firm. Users range from 115-pound women to people over 75. 

Man pushing manual sod cutter
Perennial Harmony

Summary of Features: Manual Sod Cutter

A manual sod cutter is noise-free, requires no gasoline, engine maintenance, or winterization. As a result, it meets the definition of an environmentally friendly piece of equipment.

As for maintenance, the tempered steel blade requires periodic sharpening.

The 26-pound tool from Quail has been made in the US since 1953. It is based on a traditional design that was improved upon by the founder. The firm is currently managed by the third generation of the founder’s family.

Sod cutting by manual sod cutter
Perennial Harmony, Waterford, CT