In Praise of the Basic Lawn Mower: Troy-Bilt’s TB115
Troy Bilt’s TB115 is a rare lawn mower in this age of over-design: a simple machine designed to do one thing and one thing only, and that’s cut grass.
- Simple, with few parts that could break
- That also facilitates ease of maintenance and repair
- Inexpensive and cost effective
- Surprisingly good build quality for the price
- But it’s still not durable enough to necessarily be a “10-year” mower
Our gadgets and appliances are getting increasingly complex. Consider the typical phone. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t touch the thing or pick it up without something happening. And cars? Every year they edge closer in the ease-of-use department to aircraft.
That’s why the TB115 lawn mower from Troy-Bilt is a breath of fresh air. In our experience, it’s one of the most cost-effective lawn mowers in America while also being among the least glamorous–in a design that has been around in one form or another for decades. The push mower, powered by a 159-cc engine (a step up from the 140-cc engine that powered the previous generation), is plenty for the needs of many suburban homeowners without adding another device to sync up to your Internet of Things.
What You Get (and What You Don’t)
The 21-inch mower mulches, bags, and side discharges. In our tests, its bagging capability was quite good, as was its cut quality. Surveying the trimmed top of the grass after we made a pass, we found a neatly cut surface, with no ragged tips. And the TB115 is basically five things: an engine, a deck, a blade, a handle and wheels. It’s propelled by you, which means that there’s no drive axle to wear out, pulleys to slip, or belts to break. The absence of a drivetrain also contributes to the mower’s light weight: 68 pounds. Another contributor is that the deck is not all steel; it’s a hybrid consisting of a steel center with a plastic nose and tail. The main deck body is stamped from 16-gauge steel, given a corrosion-protection coating and a powder-coat finish. Assuming you keep the deck scraped clean during the cutting season and store it that way over the winter, the deck shouldn’t rust through before the sum of other failures requires that you replace the mower.
In its simplicity and build quality, it offers a lot of function in a mower that retails for just under $240. At that price, it should pay for itself in a season or two, compared to a lawn service or even a kid down the street who cuts grass. It’s designed to deliver at least 240 hours of solid mowing. Under typical weekly use, that’s a minimum working life of four to five years. Troy-Bilt makes that estimate based on the 14,000 hours of lab and field testing it says it performed in engineering the machine. That assumes that you’re doing some routine maintenance. But it doesn’t need babying.
Case in point: The mower’s engine is not the familiar Briggs & Stratton but a Troy-Bilt-branded power plant for which you never change the oil. You read that right. Add the oil the mower comes with, then buy a quart of replacement oil. Every time you mow, check the level. If the dipstick calls for additional oil, add a bit, maybe a tablespoon or two of fresh lubricant. That’s all you do. The design verifies what engine and outdoor power manufacturers always knew anyway, and that is most homeowners never replace the engine oil. That’s obviously a problem unless you design the engine accordingly, because as the oil gets dirtier, engine parts quickly wear and break. If you’re a hard core Briggs & Stratton person (and many people are), we’d suggest the Troy-Bilt TB110. It’s nearly identical to the TB115 but is a two-function (mulching and bagging) mower and powered by an American-built 140-cc engine. Another small difference on this mower is that its rear wheel diameter is 11 inches (three taller than the TB115). This helps make the TB110 better able to handle somewhat rougher ground.
Other features that helped the TB115 mower perform well in our tests are its dual-lever deck height adjustment–one lever controls the front wheels, the other the back to vary cutting height from 1 1⁄4 inches to 3 3⁄4 inches. The spring-steel levers are easy to pivot. Pull them in, move the lever forward or back to increase or decrease deck height. You say, “Big deal, every mower does that.” But we cut grass from March to November (sometimes even to December, some years) and test a wide variety of machines. This user-friendly simplicity isn’t always a given.
The mower’s eight-inch rear wheels are molded plastic. They’re not particularly impressive looking, on the other hand, the mower did roll pretty easily over ruts, and a sturdy 1.9-bushel grass bag captures clippings while doing a reasonably good job of filtering dust. To check this, we blast the bag with a leaf blower to get a better sense of how much dust the thing blocked. The TB115 doesn’t have the best bag we’ve ever seen, but it’s a surprisingly good one at this price. Most inexpensive mowers leave you feeling like you’re cutting in a dust storm.
The Fine Points
One of the best features about the TB-115, in our opinion, is that the manufacturer found a sweet spot in pairing a simple donut-shaped deck with a multi-purpose blade that delivers effective mulching and bagging while producing a good cut. The deck-blade combination produces substantial air movement under the deck. That pushes the grass up to be cut clean, and the particles are mulched as they fly around inside the deck then into the bag or out the side–all depending on whether you have the mower set up for bagging, mulching, or side discharge. And we mentioned cleaning earlier: Here, it’s easy. We didn’t need anything more than a putty knife to get the mower ready for the next session.
The U.S.-made blade is worthy of praise, too. It’s formed out of tough stuff: 10B38 steel, a boron-containing alloy–the boron means the metal can be hardened without becoming brittle. After it’s heat-treated (the manufacturing step that sets the steel’s hardness and toughness), the blade can withstand the rigors of cutting grass and the variety of things that people hit while mowing (sticks, stones, beer cans). It’s a good, safe, hard steel that resharpens easily with a file.
For the homeowner on a budget, the kid who wants to get started mowing lawns as a business, or the person with a small yard but still has conditions demanding enough such that they are well served by a gas-engine mower, the TB115 will fit the bill nicely. Yes, it lacks the bells and whistles associated with lawn mowers today. If you push this thing up a steep hill with a full grass bag on a hot summer day, you’ll be instantly aware of its cost-benefit tradeoffs. On the other hand, if you don’t need stuff like a drive axle, then you don’t need it. The Troy-Bilt TB115. It may be small and kind of plain, but the TB115 is well engineered, a decent value for the buck, and a refreshing lawn mower if ever there was one.
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Published at Thu, 10 Jun 2021 21:49:00 +0000