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How to Use a Sod Cutter & Cost to Rent Sod Cutting Tools

Offering one of the most straightforward methods of lawn removal, sod cutters are an effective tool used to remove grass. Sod cutters are ideal pieces of equipment to remove large sections of turf without the labor involved in alternative methods. These tools allow you to prepare parts of your lawn for new grass, or to make way for a new planting bed.

The steps involved in using a sod cutter will vary depending on the type of sod cutter you choose; this could be a sod cutting shovel, a kick sod cutter, or a motorized sod cutting machine. Sod cutting shovels and kick sod cutters are manual in operation and relatively easy to use. Motorized sod cutting machines have slightly more complex operating procedures but require much less physical effort to use. 

What is a Sod Cutter?

Sod cutters, or turf cutters, are manual or motorized tools to remove grass from your lawn. While there are different types of sod cutters, they all perform the same basic function; these pieces of equipment are designed to cut grass at the roots, allowing you to remove whole sections of sod. The type of sod cutter you choose depends on the goals of your job.

sod cutter cutting strips out of a lawn

How Do Sod Cutters Work?

Sod cutters work by cutting into the ground to remove the grass and a thin layer of the underlying dirt. As a result, you can lift and remove entire sections of sod from your lawn. This eliminates the backbreaking labor involved in removing grass from a lawn that has taken root. After using the sod cutter, you’ll be left with a level section of bare soil for new grass, sod, or to use as a garden bed.

Average Cost of Sod Remover Rental

On average, it costs around $100 to rent a sod cutter for the day. This cost can range between $70 and $115 dollars depending on the size of the equipment and the company that supplies it to you. You may also need to pay delivery fees on top of this amount if you cannot transport the equipment yourself. 

Sod remover rental is typically cheaper if you source the equipment from a smaller local or regional rental company; on average, they run about $10 to $30 cheaper than larger companies for sod cutter rental. However, if you rent from a larger chain, you have more of a guarantee that you’re getting quality equipment; these stores are more likely to have stricter standards for maintenance toward their sod cutters.

When to Use a Sod Cutter

You should use a sod cutter as preparation for either laying new sod or creating a new planting bed.

Before Laying New Sod

You’ll need to remove the existing grass on your lawn as preparation for laying new sod. You could do this with a rototiller; however, tilling the soil will leave you with an uneven planting bed and may unearth weed seeds. You would have to level and grade the soil after tilling to make it suitable before laying the sod. Also, any unearthed weed seeds will grow up through the sod, causing an infestation soon after installation.

Using a sod cutter, on the other hand, negates these risks. After removing the turf with your sod cutter, you’ll be left with a flat, even bed for laying new sod. This is especially beneficial if you want your new sod to blend in smoothly with pre-existing areas of grass on your lawn.

To Prepare Soil for a Garden or Flower Bed

Another instance in which grass removal is necessary is when you’re creating a new garden bed. Again, although it’s possible to do this by tilling, it’s better to use a sod cutter. The sod cutter will remove the grass without disturbing the soil structure; you can then follow up the removal by top-dressing the area with organic matter to get it into optimal growing condition.

Is it Better to Use a Sod Cutter than a Rototiller?

An alternative option when planting a new lawn or creating a garden bed is to use a rototiller. It’s better to use a sod cutter than a rototiller for these purposes; rototilling can disturb the soil structure, and will trigger weed growth by bringing weed seeds to the soil surface.

As you’re actually removing the top 1-2 inches of turf, you’re also removing any buried seeds in the area.Because of this, very little to no weeds will grow in the resulting bare soil. Whether you’re planting new grass or using the area as a bed, this will reduce the threat of weeds overtaking your new growth. Rototilling, on the other hand, essentially blends up the soil, turning up weed seeds to the surface of the soil. 

In addition to weed growth, another downside of rototilling is that it can damage the soil structure. Tilling can kill microbes and mitochondria in the soil, affecting the growth of new grass or plants in the area.

lawn with rolls of sod and visible sod lines

How to Use a Sod Cutter

How to Use a Manual Sod Cutting Shovel

The most basic type of sod cutter available is a sod cutting shovel. This piece of equipment appears very similar to a regular shovel, only it has a shorter handle and squared edges. 

A common use for square edge shovels is for the purpose of manually edging a lawn; you can also use this tool as a sod cutting shovel for small sections of turf. This equipment involves the most labor to operate compared to other sod cutters. Despite this, sod cutting shovels are a sufficient tool to remove small patches of turf. 

How to Use a Manual Sod Cutting Shovel:

  1. Mark out the area of sod you wish to remove with the shovel. Break this area up into smaller sections of the sod you want to cut away. 
  2. Place your sod cutting shovel at one edge of a section of sod. 
  3. Use your boot to wedge the shovel into the turf at an angle to the soil surface. As you push it into the ground, you should hear the sound of the shovel slicing the grass’ roots.
  4. Work your way around the edge of the entire sod piece, then use your shovel to lift up and remove the sod.
  5. Continue to use the sod cutting shovel in this way until you have removed all of the sod from the intended area.

How to Use a Kick Sod Cutter

Kick sod cutters have two long handles held together with a crossbar. The equipment has a roller and a flat blade that sit at ground level. 

Depending on the specifics of your project, you can adjust the level of the blade to different heights. You operate this type of sod cutter by kicking the tool’s crossbar to force it along the turf; this action will cut the turf into long, narrow strips of sod you can then easily remove.

How to Use a Kick Sod Cutter:

  1. Mark out the area of sod that you want to remove from your lawn.
  2. At one end of the demarcated area, place your kick sod cutter at the outermost edge.
  3. Use your boot to kick the crossbar of the sod cutter; this will drive the sod cutter into the ground to make the first cut.
  4. Continue using the kick sod cutter to kick and cut the sod until you reach the end of this first row.
  5. Split the end of the strip of sod from the rest of the grass by raising the sod cutter’s handles. 
  6. Roll up the entire strip of sod before removing it from your lawn.
  7. Repeat this process for each row until you have removed all of the sod from the area.

How to Use a Motorized Sod Machine 

The best sod cutter for large areas would be a motorized sod machine. Motorized sod cutters are made up of two components; they have an engine and a cutting deck, with the cutting deck having sharp rotating blades powered by a motor. 

These powerful machines enable the removal of larger amounts of sod without the intense labor involved in the aforementioned tools. However, as motorized sod cutting machines are so powerful, they can be difficult to operate. If you have a large area of sod to remove, it may be best to contact a professional company to do this for you. If you’d rather do it yourself, motorized sod cutters are available to rent for about $50 per hour.

How to Use a Motorized Sod Machine:

  1. Rent a motorized sod machine from your local supplier. Before using the equipment, read over the operation manual to learn exact operating instructions for your model.
  2. Mark out the area of sod you wish to remove. Remove any rocks or other types of debris from within this area. 
  3. Check the gas tank and oil level of your sod cutting machine. Make sure that both meet the manufacturer’s recommendations; add more oil or gas to the machine if necessary.
  4. On your motorized sod cutter, place the gear shift into neutral position and raise the equipment’s blade. Push the sod cutter to one edge of the lawn from which you can begin the removal process. 
  5. Lower the blade on the sod cutter and start it up. Shift into a low gear before gently pulling on the throttle.
  6. Test the cutting depth of the sod cutter by pushing it forward several feet, shifting to neutral, then checking the cutting depth. Raise or lower the height of the blade as necessary.
  7. Shift the sod cutter back into a low gear. Continue to cut the sod along the first row of the removal area.
  8. When you reach the end of the row, raise the handles of the sod cutter; this will push down the cutter’s blade to sever the sod strip from the rest of the lawn. 
  9. Roll up the first strip of sod. 
  10. Shift the sod cutter back into neutral. Position the machine at the beginning of the second row, shift it into a low gear, then cut the next strip of sod.
  11. Repeat these steps until you finish cutting the last row of sod from the removal area.
  12. When you’re finished with the job entirely, shift the sod cutter back into neutral before shutting it off.

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