I put mulching ‘Gator’ blades on my zero turn the other day. They helped, but still aren’t quite ‘cutting it’ (see what I did there…). Read more to see how you can make your own mulch plug step by step just in time for leaf season!
These are the Gator blades I put on my mower the other day. They helped quite a bit, but most of the grass was still going out the chute because there was nothing to stop or slow down the clippings (mulch plug).
They do make a mulch kit for my mower a 54″ z425, but it is ~$220 before shipping and taxes! Since the deck is so wide it is actually a multi piece plastic filler that bolts inside of the deck. Prior to dumping a bunch of money on the full mulching kit, I decided to build a mulching plug and see if it did the job well enough. I’m sure there are lots of other brands of mowers out there that either don’t have plugs or they aren’t available anymore.
I admit that this is a pretty mundane project, but this is DIY Metal Fabrication! I wanted to show how a project goes from idea to creation step by step. The same steps can be used for just about anything you want to build.
Check out that HUGE hole for the clippings to exit from!
Space saving tip: If you have a spring loaded chute and it is taking up too much room in your garage (like mine was), drill a hole in it and hook a bungee cord to it to keep it in the up position and save some space!
Step one is to take out the two bolts holding the chute on.
Next I took out my sliding square and measured the depth of the deck.
Then transferred it to cardboard with a sharpie and sliced through just the outside layer of cardboard with a box cutter.
Keep trimming and test fitting. Box cutter and heavy duty scissors or tin snips work well.
I cut a slice in the corner and tucked the vertical piece into the deck. There is a good 1″+ between this spot and the blade so I’m not worried about them interfering.
If you look closely in this pic, I put an arrow on the top right of the cardboard that points to a hole in the deck. The point of this is so that each time I put the template back on, I could line the arrow up with the hole to be sure it is in the same position every time.
The left side is going to be tucked into the deck, and the right side has a bend in it to line up with a tab on the deck for an extra bolt (under my thumb in the pic above).
Once I was happy with the cardboard template, I put it on a hefty piece of aluminum sheet and traced around it with sharpie.
Next step is to cut it out with a jigsaw equipped with a metal blade.
Most of the time, you can’t get it all in one cut. I had to go back and trim out a couple of tight spots.
Looks good! (I have NO idea why this says Omaha on it…)
Next was to create the bend. I clamped the metal to my heavy workbench and put a 90* bend in it.
It was all going well until this point where I realized I BENT IT THE WRONG WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!! AAARRRGGHHH, well that is what I get for not paying attention. The metal was too thick for me to bend it back by hand, so I had to get out my DIY Press Brake to bend it back. I show this part because it is important to know how to fix your mistakes.
Since the plug was wider than the frame of my press, I turned the DIY Press Brake die 90* so I could insert the piece from the front.
I jumped on the piece to get most of the bend back out then put it into the press and started bending.
After moving it back and forth and adjusting the die a handful of times, we are back to how I should have bent it the first time!
Fit to the rear.
I cut a slit with the jigsaw so I could start bending the plug to fit inside the rear of the deck.
What it looked like after more trimming and bending with pliers. Again, there is about an inch on the inside between this and the blade, I am not worried about it at all.
Marking the bend for the front side with a sharpie along the front of the deck.
Put in the vice and bent 90*.
Marked for the next bend. (I eyeballed it, this is just a mower after all…)
Put the plug on the tractor and marked through the two chute bolt holes from the bottom with sharpie then drilled them out.
Then dropped those bolts in and drilled the front hole to attach to the tab at the front. (again, eyeballed. This isn’t a rocketship)
Next step is to clean the aluminum up. I don’t like painting things especially when they will be in a situation where the paint is likely to get chipped off. The aluminum won’t rust, and I don’t want it to say Omaha either. To do take care of this, I grabbed my favorite 3M rust stripping drill brush attachment.
Rust and paint stripping drill brush.
Half done. I am still perplexed on why the scrap I was using says Omaha?
I didn’t want this plug to scratch the deck of the mower or rattle, so I put some window foam seal on the backside.
Bolted it on with the factory chute bolts and an extra 1/4″ bolt to the tab at the front.
Mulch plug from rear.
Not sure how I could have gotten it done without my helpers though… 🙂
There you have it. In about an hour and a half-ish including cleanup I saved myself over $220 and rather enjoyed being in the garage. If it ends up not doing the job as well as I wanted, I can always go buy the official mulching kit but at least I can say I tried.
Now YOU, go outside and build something! It doesn’t have to be this specific project. The cardboard and posterboard prototyping method is pretty standard and has been used by fabricators forever. Once you have learned the steps, they apply to just about any project.
Have questions, comments, or other advice? Post your comments below!